Since I began at TIV I’ve met a lot of interesting people. Students, trainers, athletes, politicians, industry employers and staff. It’s been an amazing ride, but also a learning curve of exponential proportions. And if there is one consistent theme to arise from dialogue with all of the above, it comes in the form of Bill Spencer.
It’s fair to say I liked Bill right from the start. Never a man to mince his words or shy away from an opinion, his no-nonsense style and black-or-white approach to life is not necessarily everyone’s cup of tea, but without question defines the man he is today.
On the surface, what you see is what you get with Bill – at least in the professional sense – and in an industry that relies heavily on trust and respect between student and trainer, Spencer’s hard but fair methods and philosophies command exactly that.
He has a strong presence, so-much-so that it is practically impossible to ever forget your first introduction to Bill, but behind the sharp tongue and tough exterior is a loyal, caring, complex man who is blessed with more qualities than perhaps even he realises.
A devoted husband and father of two girls, Spencer is a man of great integrity. Now in his fifth year at TIV, he has quickly earned a reputation as one of the best Carpentry trainers in the business.
The knowledge and skills he brings to the table are undisputed, but he is also extremely perceptive. His ability to read and assess each individual student very early and adjust his training methods according to their various levels is just one of his points of difference.
He communicates his message with a calm yet assertive authority, and has an innate ability to relate to each and every student on a professional, but also personal level.
Bill’s passion for what he does and his determination in how he goes about it were just two of his character traits that impressed me immediately. His drive and motivation are clearly demonstrated when he talks about how he landed the job at TIV.
“I ended up calling TIV four or five times. I pestered them really,” he says with a smile.
“Initially I don’t think they were interested, but eventually I got an interview – it was the first interview I’d had in 30-odd years.”
“It’s fair to say I was pretty nervous,” he laughs.
With the assistance of his daughter (who he concedes had to teach him how to do a power-point presentation for the interview) Spencer nailed the interview and accepted a job, but despite the immediate change in fortune, it would be a year and a half later before he was eventually offered the position he holds today.
“The whole process took about 18 months,” Spencer says.
“To be offered the role and then put the whole program together took some time, but I’m really happy with the end result,” he adds with conviction.
Bill is clearly not the only one satisfied with the outcome after such a lengthy process. TIV CEO John MacDonald – the man who interviewed Spencer and played a significant part in his appointment – has watched him flourish in the role and offers genuine acknowledgement when describing Bill’s importance to the organisation.
“Bill has been fantastic for TIV,” he says with authority.
“He brings a lot of skill and knowledge to the job, and the way he connects and interacts with the students is just outstanding.”
MacDonald needs little encouragement when asked what sets Bill apart from other trainers in the industry.
“He thinks creatively about what he’s doing, and his integrity shines through,” MacDonald says.
“It’s through Bill that we’ve been able to directly assist young people who have learning difficulties such as ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) and other medical conditions,” he adds.
One of those young people is current TIV student Andrew Collmitto, whose respect and affection for Bill is clearly evident.
“I can’t thank Bill enough,” Andrew says, with a raw emotion that makes your heart sing.
“He pulled me aside on the very first day and said ‘mate I understand kids like you – very shy, very withdrawn.’ I still can’t believe how understanding he was,” he adds.
TIV’s Carpentry Courses located here in Melbourne are now considered one of the best in the industry, and Bill Spencer has been heavily involved since its inception. Almost solely responsible for the development, implementation and management of the entire program (along with TIV owner Reif Keceli), life is now seemingly rosy for the 52-year old builder.
But it hasn’t always been a life of success and structure for Bill Spencer – on the contrary in fact – and when I probe a little deeper it becomes apparent that he has experienced – perhaps more than most – the pain and challenges that life inevitably presents, and has had to battle his own personal demons for a significant part of the journey.
As a wild young man, Spencer found himself on the wrong side of the law more often than not, in fact it’s a miracle in many respects that he is even here today to tell the tale. As he struggled to cope with personal loss and family related grief, his life took a turn down a particularly dark path. Spiralling out of control at an alarming rate, it became acutely clear that something had to give, and deep down Bill knew it better than anyone.
It is precisely at this point of the conversation that you get a true indication of who the real Bill Spencer is. Never one to point the finger or hide behind excuses, he leaves nothing in the tank when describing the pain he has endured and the poor decisions he made as a younger man.
Where others might simply self-destruct, Bill called on every ounce of determination and will to fight his way back into the light, and climb out of hell – and he turned to a higher power to help him do so.
“The day I turned to the Lord was the day I got told (in no uncertain terms) that if I continued down this road, I was gonna die,” Spencer says.
“I really only had one choice. So instead of falling into a hole of depression, my wife suggested I come with her to church, and from that moment on I have never looked back.”
Incredibly, that moment of enlightenment occurred 14 years ago.
Bill Spencer is now a completely reformed man.
So what drives a man of such depth and complexity to get out of bed every morning?
“I just love taking the raw students and helping them develop into really talented people,” he says.
“If the students are fair dinkum and prepared to put in the time, them I’m willing to give them every chance to succeed.
Bill Spencer is a much loved figure at TIV. He is far from perfect, but honest enough to acknowledge and accept his faults and shortcomings. With 34 years experience alone in the construction industry, he is quick to praise his support team of Sean, Luke and John, who together with Bill form a formidable training unit with an enormous amount of skill and experience.
It’s no surprise that Bill has the respect of all of those around him. He genuinely cares for all of his students, from the fresh kid straight out of school through to superstar AFL footballers. He is, quite simply, as good as they come and then some.
Never one to play favourites, he is reluctant to finish the conversation by revealing his favourite student from the Richmond AFL group he currently nurtures – in fact he flat out refuses.
“I love all the boys,” he says dodging the question predictably.
“They’re all good young men, real go-getters,” he adds with a smile the size of Texas.
Somehow Bill, I think the feeling is mutual.