Tom Sloan joined Sustineo in June 2014. Since then, he has worked through a variety of roles in the company – from a research consultant, to various research and business development management roles and, as Sustineo’s CEO. This week our Communications Coordinator, Will Harris, sat down with Tom to explore what makes Sustineo’s new CEO tick, get his insights on his time at Sustineo, and his experiences designing and delivering research projects in unique contexts across the Asia-Pacific region.
Where are you from?
I wasn’t born in Canberra, but I am proudly bred in Canberra. I started life in Hong Kong before stints in Denmark and Indonesia prior to descending more permanently upon Australia’s national capital.
Do you have a favourite fruit or animal?
The humble mango (or peach or nectarine or pineapple). They are delicious, versatile, and always remind me of the brightness and warmth of spring and summer (which also happen to be my favourite times of the year)!
Who is someone you’d like to meet?
The difference here is between meeting someone and actually having a meaningful conversation! Mark Reed and Rasmus Hougaard are two people who I have actually met in the last year, but would like to have the opportunity to have a deeper conversation with.
Mark Reed has done a lot of work and thinking around research impact in academia, including the development of a research impact guidebook (see ‘The Research Impact Handbook’). Through Sustineo’s research work, we have been looking to apply many of these principles to our work context, but there are some pretty strong contextual differences between the academic context and applied research for clients. I would like to pick his brains on the approach we have taken and ways we are continually reflecting on and improving our approaches in this space.
Rasmus Hougaard is the Managing Director of the Potential Project. Emphasising the integration of mindfulness at the core of a successful business organisation has been something that has really resonated with me personally, and aligns with the collaborative culture that Sustineo has built since its inception. While I have been lucky enough to be engaged with the Canberra based part of the Potential Project, I think having a chat with Rasmus about his breadth of experience with organisations of different types, sizes and cultures would be pretty insightful.
What is an interesting fact about you?
I am an avid sportsperson and previously represented the ACT in softball. I once had desires to be a professional athlete but without surprise that didn’t go anywhere. That said, if you need a social sporting team of almost any kind (indoor soccer, AFL, netball, touch footy, etc.), I can probably help.
What drew you to Sustineo?
To be completely honest, when I started at Sustineo in June 2014 as a research consultant a key driver was trying something new. I had been working at the Australian National University across various casual teaching roles and the opportunity came up to back fill a position. Prior to starting at Sustineo I had a fairly ill-informed idea of what the private sector was and had not previously harboured big aspirations for working in consulting.
The more interesting question is what has kept me at Sustineo in the period since. Fundamentally, a culture that encouraged critical engagement and its team to step up into roles to shape projects has been empowering. The ethical and principled approach to the work we do is important not just in terms of the enjoyment behind the work, but also the process of doing it. As an organisation, an emphasis on truly collaborative and open approaches to working with clients, in-country partners, as well as our own team has been really important for me. Beyond this, the breadth and diversity of work we do, the personal and professional opportunities for growth, and a team of people who are not just good at their jobs but have a passion for doing what we do well (and a recognition it is important), are all things that have kept me firmly entrenched in the Sustineo fold… now even more so!
What’s a surprising part of your day to day activities as CEO?
It is still pretty early days, so surprises and learnings abound! A great part of Sustineo’s culture has always been that there is a pretty flat hierarchy in terms of how the organisation runs. Building accessibility and approachability to all people in the organisation has been an important part of the culture that has been purposefully fostered since I arrived. This means that for dealing with surprises, you are surrounded by people who are available to help and provide guidance – whether that be for graduates, research consultants, the CEO or others in the Executive team!
What has been your biggest challenge since joining Sustineo?
Too many to pick from! In an operational sense, the ebbs and flows (and flows, and flows) of consulting can present both personal and professional challenges. The work we do at Sustineo is important and the people involved in delivering it have a real passion and commitment to doing it well. Like in any organisation, when there is a crunch of project delivery, the team as a whole can become quite frayed. At moments like that, it is difficult to see the broader picture and recognise the positive influence our work is having.
On a personal note, an on-going challenge (and opportunity) is understanding the context within which different clients and partners operate in, as this is a critical part of delivering projects which provide meaningful and useful outputs. Projects require you to jump in and get moving from the start, and there isn’t always the time to work through the ‘known unknowns’ let alone work through the ‘unknown unknowns’. Embedding an approach of collaboration, openness and honesty with clients to seek to understand, effectively, the political economy they are operating in has been our response… to mostly good success!
What has been your biggest success?
The growth of the research team and the track record of work we have over the last few years. It has been wonderful to be involved with building enduring relationships with partners in Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea, growing our internal team and delivering multiple large, complicated and highly successful projects. On a personal note, the work we have done in Solomon Islands, in particular, has been something I am proud of as I have had the opportunity to be involved deeply with each of the projects, working with the same wonderful group of Solomon Islanders each time, and achieving really positive outcomes for our clients.
We have a wonderful team at Sustineo at the moment and together in 2019 we collectively had some brilliant achievements. If working with a team of passionate, collaborative and good people, on work which is meaningful and seeks to make positive change in the world, is something that captures your interest, we have an exciting early-mid career opportunity to join the team… right now! Details at: http://bit.ly/opportunity-to-join-the-sustineo-team