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Getting to know Laminex’s new CEO Sacha Leagh-Murray

Getting to know Laminex’s new CEO Sacha Leagh-Murray


Sacha Leagh-Murray has had an impressive career spanning three decades and has been with Laminex for the past six years. In May, Fletcher Building appointed Leagh-Murray as the CEO of Laminex. To her new role, she brings expertise in sales, marketing, digital, retail and cross-functional leadership within multi-site manufacturing businesses. 

Continuing Australian Design Review’s Women of Influence series, we talked to Leagh-Murray about her career path, the challenges and opportunities for women in leadership in the built world, and the benefits  of collaborating with creative industry leaders, including Kennedy Nolan, Yasmine Ghoniem of YSG, and Mardi Doherty of Studio Doherty.

ADR: Being a woman in leadership often comes with its own unique challenges. Can you share your insights and experience of being a woman in leadership in an industry typically dominated by men? 

SLM: I haven’t found being a woman a great hindrance, even though women in senior leadership in the building industry are still a minority. I think this is actually a strength as companies are looking for more diversity in leadership — not just in gender — so being in the minority is a strength.  

There is definitely still some unconscious bias around, but it’s changing rapidly as companies recognise that diversity leads to greater innovation and performance. Having a workforce that truly represents your end customer base (in our case, homeowners) is critical.

ADR: Over the six years you’ve been with Laminex, you’ve ushered in some significant changes to the product offering and brand perception. How did you build upon Laminex’s design legacy and reimagine it for the modern moment? 

SLM: Laminex turns 90 years old this year and has been a design leader since its inception in the 1930s. Having a Laminex table was the height of fashion in the mid-century, and it’s our 90 years of heritage in decorative surfaces that gives Laminex an almost iconic status in regard to colour and texture. The beauty of Laminex products is the almost infinite design possibilities with our products. 

Laminex is really a palette of surface products, and it is what our customers — cabinetmakers, joiners, furniture makers — do with them that brings design and beauty to spaces, whether that be kitchens, cabinetry or furniture.

ADR: What does being design-led mean to you? Where does it start?

SLM: Understanding our customer, which is generally either a craftsperson working with our product or a designer designing with it. As a supplier to these design-led users, we need to really understand their needs and requirements now and in the future.  

We are often working on new product development that takes two to three years of research development (R&D). This requires an understanding of the longer-term colour and finish design trends to ensure we are working on the right ranges for the future. It also requires a deep understanding of the fabrication and functional design needs of our customers. For example, the physical and performance qualities, or how we can make products that are easier to install and more sustainable.

ADR: Design thinking and design innovation can often be viewed as a ‘nice to have’ as it often comes at great cost with respect to new product R&D. Additionally, design values can be difficult to quantify on a balance sheet. How do you communicate the often ephemeral and intangible value of design to business units who may not ‘get it’?

SLM: Design is our IP. It’s our intellectual property and our defendable value.  Design is what separates our brand and business from being a commodity. I often describe Laminex as being in the fashion business as much as the building products business.

ADR: How did your partnerships and collaborations with Kennedy NolanYasmine Ghoniem of YSG and Mardi Doherty of Studio Doherty come about?

SLM; We recognised that in order to position Laminex as a design leader in the eyes of the design community we needed to work more within the community and peer to peer. The design industry does not like to be “sold to”. It is a tight but highly supportive community. 

By partnering with design leaders such as Rachel Nolan, Yasmine Ghoniem and Mardi Doherty, Laminex was shown in designs and applications that we would not have achieved on our own.  We intentionally partnered with designers who have a history of working with our products and gave them fairly free reign to design with any of our products as they saw fit. These collaborations were genuine and designer-led, and resulted in some amazing projects.

ADR: Why was it important for you to collaborate with these practices rather than any of the other exceptionally talented design firms in Australia?

SLM: We have partnered with industry-leading designers who genuinely love and use Laminex products, are bold and innovative with their colour and fabrication decisions, and who were excited to push the boundaries of what is achievable using laminates and Laminex products. 

ADR: How will your experience within sales, marketing, digital and retail influence you in your new role? 

SLM: Having a greater focus on our customers to improve our service and being bolder in our future ambitions with product and innovation will be a key focus for me to deliver greater growth for the company in the future.

ADR: How do you integrate these aspects of your experience into a more senior business leadership role where the bottom line is your responsibility? 

SLM: Delivering financial performance has been a key driver in all my roles to date, and was just as critical as a sales and marketing leader. I think what I will balance is the need for short-term financial returns against longer-term investment in marketing, R&D and innovation for future growth. Both are important.

ADR: Launching new products is a challenge for all businesses. It would have been particularly challenging during the  pandemic. How did you navigate this to avoid losing momentum? 

SLM: In some ways, the pandemic gave us great focus on what was critical. Luckily, as a business, we already had a strong team and processes around new product development in place before COVID-19. The teams continued to work as usual from home during this time. In fact, we developed and launched Surround by Laminex wall panelling during the Melbourne lockdowns — and this has been our most successful new product launch to date. 

ADR: Talk to us about your customer-focused approach. It’s a ‘given’ to put the customer first. What does this mean to you and how have you achieved this to the high standard you have?

SLM: Having a broader view of who our customer is has been an evolution. Historically, Laminex would have viewed the customer as the transactional trade customer — essentially the cabinet maker.  However, often the drivers of the purchase decision are the specifiers — architects, designers and homeowners.  We now have a view of these three distinct customer groups and develop products and services around their unique needs.  For example, trade customers are focused on easy-to-order service and on-time, in-full delivery, whereas specifiers are looking for a wide range of colours and finishes, samples and easy access to technical information.

ADR:  In our recent Women of Influence series, many of the female leaders we profiled talked about the fact that they felt their ‘feminine’ attributes were a significant component of their success. Can you share your thoughts on this? 

SLM: I am not sure they are strictly feminine attributes, but, I believe collaboration, authenticity, vulnerability and a real care for people are critical in leadership and driving a high-performance team with strong engagement.

People no longer are just happy with a job. They want to work for a company that has a strong purpose in the community beyond profit and cares about them and their development as individuals.  

ADR: How do you define success on a business level?

SLM: Continued growth and development as a business and brand.  Leaving things better than when you got them!

ADR: How do you define success on a personal level?

SLM: For me, happiness is about balance in a number of areas — career, relationships, health etc. If these things get out of balance it can often come at the expense of another.  A continuous improvement mindset and balance of improvement across all of these elements leads to happiness for me.  

Photography supplied by Laminex. Answers have been edited and condensed for clarity.

Get to know another inspiring female leader in the built world, Lisa-Maree Carrigan, director at GroupGSA


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