It wasn't a university course that best trained Kim Gillis for managing the largest post-war increase in Australia's defence spending.
As helpful as it was, he doesn't even count his experience working in defence industry as the most valuable preparation for managing more than 1 per cent of the nation's GDP.
The foundation for Mr Gillis' three years leading 6000 staff at Defence's Capability, Acquisition and Sustainment Group was more local.
His time helping establish Emmaus Christian School, Dickson in 1997 gave him the most valuable skills for the job he regards as the time he worked the hardest in his life.
Mr Gillis, a long-time Canberran now spending most of his retirement on the South Coast, has been appointed a member of the Order of Australia for his service to public administration and defence projects.
The former Defence Department deputy secretary said there wasn't a harder task than starting something from scratch like Emmaus Christian School, which he helped launch with a handful of other parents.
"I learnt more about managing things and people and money in doing that effectively charitable work, than I did being a deputy secretary or being a CEO," he said.
His path to one of the Defence Department's top jobs moved between the public and private sectors. It was an experience he said also equipped him for his later career.
His starting point was Australian Customs, where he began as a customs officer searching bags and later became the operations chief for the largest heroin and cocaine seizures at that point in the nation's history.
Mr Gillis said his experience in Customs grounded him in the importance of ethics, integrity and professionalism.
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"I learnt through my Customs experience that ministers genuinely want to be told the truth, they don't necessarily like hearing it, but if you tell them and you tell them the whole story and you tell them with absolute integrity, they will listen to you and they will do the right thing."
He went on to manage patrol vessel purchases for Customs and later moved to the private sector, where he established Austal Group's military business and its United States business.
Mr Gillis was working at Boeing when he returned to the public service to manage the Defence Department's $250 billion acquisition portfolio.
It was his second stint working in Defence, following six years at the then-Defence Materiel Organisation when he managed the purchase of the navy's Canberra class amphibious carriers.
He's been so busy since leaving Defence in 2018 that "retirement" is probably a misnomer for his new life. At 56, he has 10 grandchildren to spend time with. He mentors small businesses pro bono. He also has more time for his hobby, historic cars.
The Australia Day honour is welcome news for Mr Gillis after bushfires forced him to evacuate his South Coast home on more than one occasion this summer.
In early January, he saw one of the navy vessels he helped purchase sitting off the coast at Eden, a sight that made him reflect on his career with satisfaction.
Returning home one day, he also saw military vehicles driving down Brown Mountain while assisting bushfire responses.
"The link for me is you spend all those years in Defence and then starting to see these Defence assets used for things I never really contemplated that they would have a direct impact on my life."