Case Study


About the McMillan Shakespeare Group

Founded in 1988, The McMillan Shakespeare Group (MMSG / ASX code MMS) is Australia’s largest provider of salary packaging and novated leasing, and a leading provider of fleet and asset management services.   In 2015 it expanded its capabilities to include retail financial, warranty and insurance services in the used car market segment. Delivering a premium service remains at the core of the organisation and MMSG works to ensure this continues to be proudly and consistently upheld.  Their services are provided to major employers and consumers via multiple wholly owned businesses across Australia, United Kingdom and New Zealand.

Suzanne Shepherd, Group Executive Human Resources, talks about bringing LEAP to life

Continuous improvement is very important to MMSG and we seek to lead in all areas of our industry while building a strong, reliable business that delivers genuine savings and an unequalled service offering for a growing customer base. We recognise that our success is underpinned by our people and the Executive Leadership at MMSG provided their support with 100% commitment for the development and implementation of the Leadership Effectiveness and Advancement Program (LEAP) for senior leaders in the organisation. Group Executive of Commercial, Sean Dempsey was appointment by the CEO as the internal champion and executive sponsor of the Program.

In order to create LEAP, I sought to collaborate with others who would help bring LEAP to life. I was introduced to Bernard Desmidt of Exceld and I was immediately struck by his authenticity and that he genuinely listens. At that first meeting he asked deep questions to understand our organisation, what we were seeking to create and why that was important to us. He understood the strategic concept: LEAP is a senior leadership program that looks at leading through deeper self-knowledge; how this informs how you lead; its impact on the people you lead; and the effect this has on others.

Our first program was designed for the direct reports of the group executive teams. There were 19 leaders across different brands in our company from all around Australia. The opening night was a fire-side chat with the chairman of MMSG followed by a dinner with our CEO, COO and our executive program sponsor, Sean Dempsey. It was clear to everyone that our Executive leadership was completely committed and together with Bernard’s contribution, this was critical to the success of the program.

Working with Bernard Desmidt

In addition to co-designing the LEAP Program, Bernard designed and delivered LEAP’s Leadership modules. This was over 3 months with 3 full one-day sessions and his work was integral to LEAP’s success. Bernard’s strengths are extensive and extraordinary. The depth and layering of his questioning approach to reveal the essence and core of whatever the topic or question was challenging. Bernard has the ability and skill to probe at a very deep level to deftly discover the answers and pave the way for self-discovery.

Bernard took this group on the challenging journey from being reactive to being reflective and gave them challenging activities to engage with between sessions. This maximised the effect and helped embed the learning which remains evident today.

One of Bernard’s strengths is enabling others to become “comfortable with being uncomfortable” and to acknowledge their vulnerability as a result. Through building trust and credibility, he enables his participants to discover new ways to look at things and to see problems as opportunities. This included helping people see beyond their own perspectives and through the eyes and experiences of others. Bernard clearly illustrated that while people may differ greatly, by remaining open to the idea of difference being advantageous, the outcome can be far richer and more widely beneficial.

Key results witnessed include a newly opened-up, authentic dialogue with measurably improved communication. There is clearly improved leadership capability within teams and across functions. I absolutely recommend Bernard Desmidt as a leadership facilitator, coach and mentor. He will take you on an extraordinary journey and you and your organisation will be all the richer for it.

Group Executive (Commercial) Sean Dempsey talks about his experience of LEAP’s Leadership module and Bernard Desmidt

As MMSG’s internal champion and executive sponsor of the LEAP program I was pleased to have the opportunity to participate in the program and to work side by side with the cohort of senior leaders in our business. I met Bernard a week or two before the program commenced and my first impression was that this is a very intelligent, astute educator with a strong academic background and who is very likeable. I’m glad Suzanne selected Bernard to deliver the leadership component because Bernard was a great fit for the cohort. His ability to “read a room” of people – their mood, the attention, the feeling, the buy in and to change pace, soften and harden as necessary – was extraordinary.

Bernard has exceptional perception and can read and understand people – know where they are at. He genuinely wants to connect and understand – at an innate level. It’s part of who he is and how he brings the ‘authentic self’ to the program.

The greatest and unique aspect that Bernard bought to the program – that I have rarely seen in any other facilitator or educational delivery – is his ability to enable people to think, feel and speak freely without fear of repercussion. It felt as if people had come together for the first time with fresh eyes and Bernard alleviated any inhibition by making people feel safe to get the most out of their learning. Bernard provided people with enduring tools and strategies to focus on performance rather than personal issues and to lift that performance in a supportive safe way and retain individual and personal responsibility.

The impact on our business

Without doubt, the most tangible improvement is the level of conversation and the quality of performance has improved and matured considerably. There’s now a shared focus of business improvement and it’s about working together and helping individuals to achieve this. As a result, the positive impact on our bottom line is inevitable.

I’d certainly recommend Bernard to an organisation looking to lift the maturity level of conversations at the management level particularly in terms of the conversations that managers are having with their teams about improvement and their own performance. Any forward thinking company who wants to give and get the best out of its people would want this.”


Elizabeth Street, Melbourne VIC 3000

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