In the first of our “Two at the Towers” series, let’s meet your very own 1st class experience guru and a friendly face from one of the world’s ‘big 4’ accounting orgs
Fi Bracks. NSW Communities Manager, KPMG
Hopelessly devoted to the greater good. And motorbikes.
There are two things that jump at you on first read of Fi Bracks’s LinkedIn profile. The first is that she seems like a master in the fields of stakeholder engagement and coaching. And the second is the big beaming smile which seems exclusively reserved for when she’s around motorbikes.
So, first thing’s first. Tell us about how you help KPMG. "I’ve been lucky enough to be able to make some elements of my work my own. While the coaching has been in development for some time, I’m now part of a pool of associate coaches within our business. I’ve also been lucky enough to have a side-hustle approved which is a coaching approach to mental health.”
“On top of the coaching, it’s all about identifying opportunities for internal engagement and making the most of them, continually enhancing communication and agility,” says Fi, giving an immediate first impression of someone who really knows their stuff. “I’m one of the lucky ones who can say with their hand on their heart they love their job. KPMG doesn’t just say it cares about what every stakeholder thinks and feels, they walk the talk and have given me the tools to take engagement activations to places that make a real difference.”
Fi loves a good story, and she takes a moment to think when asked for an example of how engagement feeds into progress at a behemoth like KPMG.
“You only have to look at the vibrant, innovative communities within KPMG to see evidence of true positive change in culture and behaviour. There are many communities, but just looking at the two I’m involved with, you see ‘KPMG Green Champions’ making sure we’re at the forefront of sustainability in all that we do, inside and outside the organisation."
"And the ‘Connecting With Purpose’ community provides a safe space for people to come together virtually. This has been really useful during the pandemic, but with all parts of our business providing similar offerings, we have switched this to more of a TED-style talk, where quarterly we offer our people an opportunity to talk on a subject they’re passionate about, in a safe and welcoming space.”
“It’s just great to work with a company which leads by example and does what it says it’s going to do,” smiles Fi. She explains that KMPG operates under an admirable yet ambitious four pillars of corporate citizenship, encompassing Indigenous Australia, Mental Health, Climate Action and Lifelong Learning.
Motivated by mental health and caring for the mind
From her years working alongside the national security community and the police in particular, which saw exposure to hundreds of trauma cases on both sides of the thin blue line, to when her family member became mentally unwell, the mission for better mental health has been at the heart of Fi’s professional and personal life for years.
“It’s what makes me get up in the mornings,” she explains with an enchanting practicality. “Mental health has been a huge part of my professional life since my work alongside the police, but when my family member became unwell years later my drive went into another gear. The desire to be part of the solution, to make life better, truly energises me at my core.”
The obvious topical question to ask someone so driven by making a difference in mental health, is what her perspective is on the pandemic, now we’re more than 18 months in. “Well, like most people, my family and I have had personal challenges. My kids are in the ACT and my parents are in WA, so we’ve done the stress around separation, being unable to care for each other and missing big occasions, but all things considered we’re lucky. And instead of dwelling on the negatives, I think there are many positives about this pandemic. We’ve learnt a lot about caring for ourselves and each other, about our society, and about our planet. I’m really optimistic about how this experience can help us prepare and succeed in the future.”
Running away to the circus and a life on two-wheels
After so many inspiring, insightful remarks from someone so clearly dedicated to the greater good, we’re ready to let Fi talk about motorbikes. Specifically, her beloved Triumph T100 Bonneville Street Twin. “She’s beautiful,” smiles Fi, “and it’s a great story how we came to be together. I pretty much ran away from Canberra to the circus of Sydney, driving myself and my stuff up in a four ton truck, leaving my grown-up kids to fend for themselves while I found out what happens for me in the next chapter.”
“I soon learnt that the first secret to getting around in Sydney while maintaining your sanity was two wheels, so for the first time ever I made the switch from four wheels and bought myself a 155cc Vespa scooter. Then I learnt the second secret to getting around in Sydney, namely that those two wheels better have some grunt in the engine to get up all those steep hills! The Vespa really didn’t cut the mustard in that respect.”
“After a short time struggling to get up the hills on my scooter, I met my partner and his passion for big bikes is one of the many things I fell in love with about him - my Triumph T100 followed soon after we met. He’s also a great walking partner, a great talking partner, and he’s really good at challenging how I think.”
The synergy between International Towers and KPMG
Fi doesn’t seem one for small talk or platitudes, so when she tells us how much she loves the International Towers vibe and how much natural synergy there is between us and KPMG, we take it as a genuine heartfelt compliment. “It’s an incredible working space,” beams Fi, “the engineering, the infrastructure, the community, the sustainability. Sustainability is huge for me personally and KPMG, and we love how you put so much effort into giving tenants an engaging, quality education on what you do with waste and your other impressive eco-efforts.”
Fi proudly tells us that, of the ten-plus waste streams operated by International Towers, KPMG uses many of them - four main waste streams and several specialist waste streams. “And that Pixar-like TenANT video about recycling, that was outstanding,” adds Fi with an excited smile. “Do you know, that was our highest ever ranked Yammer post in terms of engagement. Everyone was so tired from Covid, and this bright, clever, creative idea really captured the essence of belonging to this community. Nice work.”
When she’s not out smashing the stigma surrounding mental health, helping people improve their lives, using the heart on her sleeve to make the world a better place, or tearing up the streets on her Triumph, Fi can be found reading, thinking, cooking, baking or zooming with her family.
We did plan to ask Fi what else she would love to be doing if she wasn’t doing what she’s doing. But it’s clear she’s already doing it.
Malcolm Nixon. Head of Partnerships, International Towers
Smooth operation is more than an objective. It’s an obsession.
As Head of Partnerships for International Towers, there’s never a dull moment in Malcolm Nixon’s day. Because Malcolm is one of the proud custodians of the ‘Premium’ rating the two towers attract, which means he and his team are charged with making sure there is excellence in every corner for more than 10,000 tenants every day.
“And it’s not just about delivering excellence,” explains Malcolm. “Myself and my team are here to make sure the high expectations of our tenant partners are met seamlessly and without fuss, providing an effortless professional experience that’s so smooth and so reliable, you barely notice we’re here.”
In fact, you only have to spend a few minutes following Malcolm around as he tends to tenant partners and cultivates top-shelf experiences, to notice that he is remarkably comfortable in his own skin when directing such super-high standards. Instead of being intimidated by the extraordinary expectations of quality at every turn - premium brands choose to set up shop here in part due to the superb service ranking - Malcolm relishes in the responsibility. He literally loves the pressure. So, what’s the story there?
“One word,” smiles Malcolm. “Qantas. Specifically, more than two decades as part of the team that helped create world-class experiences in air travel, both in the plane cabins and on the ground in the lounges. In the same way that our team at International Towers has to continually innovate and evolve to maintain our coveted ‘Premium’ rating, at Qantas we had a relentless focus on offering a degree of understated style so perfected that it kept us in the top tier band of five-star airlines, year after year after year. Who would have thought there were so many similarities between premium office space and an international airline.”
‘Verbal Judo’ and the art of stepping aside
After a quarter of a century with Qantas, half of this time in the air with a plane full of personalities, as you would expect there is many a story that makes Malcolm smile, or shiver, in the telling. But when squeezed to share one favourite takeaway or learning from the whole experience, Malcolm tells us about his experiences using ‘Verbal Judo’.
“The philosophy of Verbal Judo lies in the indisputable fact that those who stand and talk tend to have a lot better outcomes than those who stand and fight. Talking is your only tool to deescalate a situation in the air, a really valuable tool that’s used to deliver information and options to your audience, offering them friendly tones, letting them have the last word, kindly giving them as many ways as you can think of to exit the situation peacefully without losing face.”
When asked for an example of Verbal Judo in action, Malcolm recounts a tale of two “gigantic, rather under the weather” European oil riggers who had opened their Duty Free alcohol during a flight from Australia to Asia. “They had hands the size of dinner plates, they were already rather merry and they were not in the mood for being told what to do by the likes of me,” recalls Malcolm. “But a bit of friendly banter, being on their side, and simply explaining the issues they would face with the strict port authorities on arrival unless they gave up the rest of the illegal cache, eventually got them over the line.”
“But it doesn’t always work with every personality,” Malcolm warns. “Sometimes people just don’t like your style, no matter how good you are at talking, and whatever you say just winds them up even more. That’s when the next vital skill comes in handy – the knack for knowing when the audience is out of your reach, being big enough to step aside and let someone else with a more suitable personality step in. There’s no shame at all in backing off to keep the peace – humility is a trait to be proud of.”
From a flighty life in the air to a rock-solid foundation of community
When unexpected redundancy from Qantas in 2014 brought an end to Malcolm’s 25+ years with the airline, he went to see a career advisor while carrying, by his own admission, a big bag of bitterness and feelings of betrayal. The advice he received was: If you can afford it, take six months off, it will change your life.
So, Malcolm did exactly that. After decades travelling the world without time to even look out the window, he finally had space to smell the roses in some of his favourite places on the planet during an extended European travelling spree. And it did indeed change his life, as is clearly evident when you hear the passion in his voice talking about things like the English countryside, Parisian highlights, Greek architecture, Spanish culture and Turkish Roman-built water storage systems.
Back on Australian soil after his sabbatical, Malcolm was refreshed, reset and ready for the next challenge. One Tuesday about 4pm he received a call from one of the International Towers management team, saying a friend had recommended him for a program facilitator role and inviting him to an event on Cockatoo Island the next day at 8am. Malcolm accepted the invitation, without really knowing what it was for.
The event turned out to be a wonderful team-building and negotiation skills workshop for International Towers tenant partners and team members, and Malcolm loved it. Later that evening the enthusiastic group moved to another venue, and Malcolm fondly recalls the conversation that ultimately led to his offer of employment.
One of the key organisers asked, “So, Malcolm, do you like us?”
Never short of a quick reply, Malcolm retorted with, “Do you like me?”
The endearing response was, “Well, you’re still here aren’t you?”
Nearly six years later and Malcolm is an integral part of the International Towers community. “I consider myself so fortunate to have had the opportunity to be part of International Towers and I enjoy nothing more than working with our community during the day, and then getting to know them a bit better at our social events."
Except gardening”, concludes Malcolm, with another wry smile. “I enjoy my gardening just that little bit more.”