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Steven Underwood Coalface

Steven Underwood has gone from flying 500 ft above the pyramids of Giza, through the mist of Niagara Falls and above the acropolis of Greece, to being the CEO of one of the most iconic, lifesaving services in New South Wales.

Steven was appointed to the role of CEO of the Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service last year, taking over from Richard Jones who stepped back from the role after 28 years at the helm.

Steven has been in the workforce for 43 years, but it’s been no normal job.

“When I left school, I didn’t quite know what I wanted to do, and I literally stumbled into the Royal Air Force in the UK where I ended up flying for 25 years.

“I was based in Europe for three years, did time in Central America, and the Middle East on helicopters and I flew quite a lot of aeromedical and search and rescue missions. My cockpit was my office, and the view was ever changing, which was a real privilege.

“I was also very fortunate in the last four years of my time in the Air Force to be part of the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team, the Red Arrows. The Red Arrows are the second most recognised institution in the UK after the Royal Family.”

Steven was what’s called Red 10, the operations manager of the squadron. His role was to fly the spare jet and the Red Arrow photographers, so he conducted very dynamic flying around his teams’ formations.

As part of the Red Arrows, Steven wore a red suit with his name emblazoned on it, just like his jet.

Steven Underwood Coalface
The Red Arrows from the era Steven Underwood flew as Red 10. Image credit: UK MoD/Crown Copyright 2024

“The Red Arrows are also a charitable organisation so a lot of the work that you do in the red suit is like the Westpac Rescue Helicopter because you’re out there as part of an iconic organisation meeting people.

“One of the things I really enjoyed was how much joy you could bring in that red suit and as a team we would pick a charity to support for the year.

“One of the most bittersweet parts of the job was going into the terminal children’s hospital ward in London. Those children are facing the end of their lives, but as soon as you walk in in your red suit, they know who the Red Arrows are and the joy on their faces is priceless.”

Steven was part of the Red Arrows for four years before he left flying behind to enter the commercial world.

He started his new role while still in the UK, and then moved to Australia in 2007 becoming a proud Australian Citizen. He moved to Newcastle in 2014 and spent time in numerous places around the world.

“I had been in work for 43 years when I decided to take a break. I took a sabbatical and went to see my family in the UK. I was on the verge of retiring and it needed to be something special to change my mind.

“I looked through the position description and felt I had all the skills and experience to fulfill the role, and then the talent management company that was recruiting were called “Underwood Executive” and my wife said, ‘that looks tailor made for you!’”

Steven reached out to Underwood Executives, and before he knew it, he was offered the job.

“I understood what the crews did on board from my firsthand experience in the Air Force, the fundamentals of getting the clinical team, the NSW Health Doctor, and the NSW Ambulance Critical Care Paramedic, to the point of need, safely and efficiently.

“The biggest thing I’ve learnt so far is what really resonates with everyone involved is just how important the service is.

“It’s inspirational. In my first two weeks I went out to Lismore, Belmont, and Tamworth and whoever I spoke to was there because they wanted to be there and provide that support.

“It’s the same outside of the bases, people have a choice of where they donate and who they support, and they choose us. We get such great support and we’re so privileged.

“The mining support from the mining bodies all the way through to the companies, the workers who donate through their payroll, it’s something we hold dear and value. There isn’t one person who doesn’t value the support we get from mining.”

Steven Underwood Coalface

During his tenure, Steven said he wants to ensure he sets the service up to operate well into the future.

“I want to ensure that this service is around for decades to come, so I’m already working with the team about what does the future looks like, and what does our strategy looks like to secure our contract with NSW Ambulance beyond 2027.

“I’m also looking at how we grow the business, I’ve only been in the role for four months so I can’t tell you what that looks like, but I want to look at what avenues we need to open to ensure the longevity of this iconic organisation.”

Thankfully for Steven, being CEO of the Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service is no behind the desk job and if you head out to the base to see Steven you have to send someone out to find him as he’s gone for a walk to chat to anyone and everyone.

After flying for 27 years, we had to ask Steven if he missed it.

“I get asked this quite a lot because it’s such a dynamic environment, but the day I stopped, for me it was quite easy. I flew for 27 years and there were less than a handful of times in 27 years that I woke up and I didn’t want to go to work – how privileged is that.”

Steven is very confident that this job will be no different.

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