The road to retirement: WE Buchan without Tom Buchan

WE Buchan EVP Rebecca Wilson reflects on the retirement of Tom Buchan, who has been at the helm of the public relations agency for the past three decades.

This year marks my 20th at WE Buchan. It’s a relationship that has not only lasted the test of time but flourished. Like any long-term relationship there have been times where I’ve been completely loved up, and others when I thought we were headed for divorce. While many of my work family have separated, here I remain two decades on.

When I think about successful relationships there are many things that contribute. Transparency. Trust. Selflessness. Advocacy.

This story isn’t about me though. It’s about the man I’ve spent that 20-year relationship with, a relationship that has surpassed marriages, divorces, children, and the inevitable ups and downs of business. It’s about Tom Buchan, who after four decades, is retiring.

Gemma Hudson, Tom Buchan and Rebecca Wilson

Early on, Tom’s father wanted him to be an architect and join the family business. Despite his father not being a man many people said no to, Tom did. He instead went on to start Buchan Consulting in 1985. As an economist with an incredible business mind, he gave the art of communication legitimacy. Throughout his career, Tom worked on some of Australia’s most defining campaigns including the original Transport Accident Commission shock advertising that still runs today, and national gun reform following the Port Arthur massacre. He also influenced the country’s biggest infrastructure projects including Melbourne’s Transurban, Southbank, and Myer Bourke Street and Sydney’s Customs House. He led financial literacy programs with the Australian Taxation Office, major banks and superannuation funds, and he built trusted partnerships with Australia’s business and political leaders.

Tom was an entrepreneur but has never felt comfortable wearing that badge. For him, the hallmarks of entrepreneurship were simply set in his DNA, this much he took after his father, and were imprinted in each decision he made. There were failures and disappointments along the way, but these also formed critical input to the success that came.

Tom Buchan with Melissa Wagner and Rebecca Wilson

Tom always thinks two steps ahead. Our workplace has been one massive chess board; learning to anticipate what’s happening in our industry, how we can stay a step ahead and be in a position of strength for success. He is a dynamic decision maker. For the uninitiated, this could be viewed as a little scrappy and he wasn’t one for overly detailed strategic plans… or strategic plan at all. His thinking was deliberate, concise and exact but with a self-awareness and openness to the opportunities he hadn’t yet thought of.

People who inspire don’t set out to do so. But it is their actions that ignite a movement. They ignite a desire that doesn’t require definition, it just starts to exist. Tom taught me to believe big, to always look up and out, and to be the captain of my own ship. He encouraged me to take chances, to embrace serendipity and to view my own professional development as incremental.

Tom ignited my passion for commerce and to be an advisor rather a practitioner. There were very few opportunities handed to me on a silver platter, but there were hundreds of seeds planted that just needed me to find a way to water. I have been in the privileged position of cultivating a bumper harvest. Tom’s leadership is as much subtle as its opposite knowing when to nurture and when to poke. It wasn’t always well received, but it was always well intended and steered me in a direction that would get me to that moment of understanding why.

Tom Buchan’s retirement dinner

Tom’s plans for retirement started a decade ago when he put in place the first steps to gift a business that had three decades of his grease and grit etched in its finger prints.

First a remarkable partnership with WE Communications and two American women Melissa Waggener and Pam Edstrom, who shared the same passion for independence, for building a dynamic agency, and for doing it with heart and purpose.

The second was a succession plan. One where he deliberately became the co-pilot and provided the important coordinates to allow others to fly. Those others included me, the interminable Gemma Hudson, and a leadership team that I believe is the one of the strongest in Australia – Kyahn Williamson, Nichole Provatas, Michelle Ryan and Nathaniel Bradford.

Tom and I have talked about retirement a lot over the last few years and there has been a transition period that has allowed both of us to embrace the new status quo. I won’t be able to swivel in my seat and communicate to Tom in our own sign language between the glass any more, but I also know that I and the 55 people in our team who all have a little bit (or in my case a lot) of the Tom DNA that will continue to shape the way our agency continues to evolve.

Rebecca Wilson, WE Buchan EVP, Australia and Singapore.


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