Managing culture

Interview: Tony Byrne, General Manager, International Towers

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Tony Byrne is one of Australia’s most experienced property managers. In a career spanning over 30 years, Tony has managed some of Australia’s most successful and innovative commercial assets, as well as a number of high-profile international projects.

As the General Manager of International Towers, Tony plays a pivotal role in the way culture supports one of Australia’s most progressive workplaces.


How important is culture in the context of managing a building?


I believe culture defines who you are, no matter what type of business you’re in. Every company has a culture, whether it’s a bank, a bakery or a building. I believe culture has to be ingrained in everything you do for it to have any meaning or purpose – your language, your actions, your behaviour, and your values.

One of the things we did here at International Towers very early on, was change the language around how we refer to our clients. We call them partners, not tenants, because that’s the type of relationship we want to have with them. Naturally, that has a big impact on how we go about our dealings and negotiations with them, because a partnership is very different to a traditional tenant-landlord relationship.

It can actually take quite a bit of time for both sides to understand and realise what it means. But when a building owner can have direct conversations about opportunities for collaboration and continuous improvement, then the results can be extremely positive. It can lead to better retention of talent and enhanced productivity. Happiness improves, and so does revenue – for both sides. For the organisation, the building becomes a partner in its success. And for the building, we become the workplace of first choice. So even that simple change of language, one simple word, can have a very profound and significant impact on how the business is run.

What are some of the key aspects of successful cultures?

One of the most important attributes of a successful culture is having diversity of ideas, and just as importantly, providing an environment where different ideas have a voice. In my opinion, the best way to fast- track mediocrity is to always have consensus of opinion. It’s fundamental to a healthy culture – and it’s the very foundation for a healthy democracy – that there are a mix of opinions that are respected and considered before decisions are made.

We experienced this recently with our support for the YES Marriage Equality campaign. Providing support in the form of hosting the campaign’s headquarters was very much aligned with our organisation’s values. But naturally it was a very polarising issue for many people, so it was critical that we allowed people within our own team an opportunity to express their views freely and without fear, and to respect the beliefs of every individual during that process.

How can a property, or a built working environment influence culture?

The built environment has such a profound impact on the way people behave and feel, that it is absolutely crucial in supporting every one of a company’s cultural initiatives. The white paper recently produced by Professor Anthony Grant and his team at the University of Sydney has now made that connection official. You can read more about Professor Grant’s findings later in this publication.

There are so many examples of a building playing a key role in the performance of a business. Not so many years ago, the Commonwealth Bank was ranked fourth out of the top four banks by graduates as their first-choice employer. However, after moving operations to Darling Quarter in Sydney’s Darling Harbour precinct, and using that as an opportunity to rejuvenate its culture, the bank soon began ranking as number one, and I’m confident the workplace played a huge role in that. The location itself become a highly attractive attribute, and somewhere younger people wanted to be.

We also saw similar results with Westpac, who experienced a significant reduction in sick leave across their workforce not long after moving to International Towers. So, the connection between a positive built environment and a positive culture, and strong business performance is very real.

How much then does the built environment rely on how it is managed?

Enormously. The interesting thing about property management is that almost all of the education is based on fiscal outcomes and operational technicalities, such as rent yields, lease inclusions, market reviews, gross reviews, allocations, shared services tables and so on. The one thing that isn’t in the ‘manual’ is culture. Culture is hard to define and even harder to teach. It needs to have buy-in from the owner, all the way through the organisation to the service staff. The person responsible for cleaning the bathrooms at night needs to feel just as good about where they work, and feel just as respected and valued as the management team representing the asset owners. Everyone needs to feel like they are part of the same team.

I’m a huge supporter of the concept of ‘team’, where everyone on the property management side and on the client side feels like they’re working together for the same goals. And to have a successful team, you need true partnership.

Explain how you maintain a positive culture within a building that has so much diversity.

It all comes down to values. Diversity can thrive in an environment founded on common values. So our role as building managers and owners is not to stifle diversity, or even to try and constrain a diversity of cultures injected into the building through our partners, but to ensure that everyone in the building community shares a set of common values. When we speak to prospective organisations who are seeking to join our community, it’s the very first conversation we have, well before we start discussing their physical requirements, because we know if our values aren’t aligned, then regardless of what we’re able to negotiate, it won’t be the right fit.

That’s why it’s so important things such as Green Star ratings for fit-out are committed to, and that their processes and procurement policies are aligned with our own values.

They don’t have to be identical, but as long as we share an aligned vision and share similar beliefs, we know we’ll have a successful partnership.

Even down at a very personal level, most long- term friendships are based on shared and aligned values. You may not agree on everything – and sometimes that can be very healthy for a relationship – but ultimately you share a common set of beliefs, and that’s how you can build trust and that’s how you can move in the same direction.

Culture creates a community, and being part of a healthy, vibrant, positive community is a fundamental need for all of us. So by nurturing and encouraging positive behaviour, we are helping our community thrive. And who wouldn’t want to be part of that?

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The business of ethics

Interview: Maria Claudia, Samambaia, Florist and Owner, Samambaia flowers


Procurement - the what, how, where and why of buying goods and services - can play a significant role in the health and sustainability of communities, and the environment all over the world. An insatiable desire to prioritise quantity over quality, and a single-minded focus on cost reduction over the past several decades has created long-lasting, environmental and social effects all over the world, most often in communities that already struggle with poor living standards.

Thankfully, this is changing. As technology continues to shrink the global marketplace, and simultaneously improve the transparency and awareness about how things are made, companies and individuals are increasingly empowered to make better choices and insist that provenance and ethics are the solid foundation on which procurement decisions are made.

As is often the case, profound change often begins in small, simple ways; fuelled by a determination to do good. It was a small group of coffee-roasting entrepreneurs who began sourcing beans directly from farmers to ensure they received fairer remuneration that sparked consumer demand for ethically sourced product and the birth of Free Trade coffee, which is now a standard for major distributors all overthe world. This in turn has enabled increased investment in small farming communities through way of improved infrastructure, education and equipment; ensuring the long-term sustainability of thousands of micro- farms around the world.

The fashion, technology and food industries have had similar recalibrations relating to the role of ethics in recent years, as consumers collectively demand increased transparency in provenance, forcing global brands to take greater responsibility for supply chains and to improve the wellbeing of the millions of people tasked with making the things we
use and rely on every day.

“Change can only come about if we insist on it,” says Liam Timms, Fund Manager, International Towers. “If we only do business with people and organisations that share our values, and if we refuse to purchase from those that don’t, we’ll see changes in behaviour that will ultimately be better for everyone. Someone needs to be the first to take a stand before others follow.”

International Towers has been committed to the highest standards of sustainability, diversity and inclusion from the very beginning of operations. In fact, a Responsible Procurement Policy was developed well in advance of the community coming alive and outlines a detailed and robust commitment to the responsible and sustainable procurement of goods and services. The policy reflects the international conventions and frameworks, such as the UN Global Compact’s principles on Environment, to which a number of International Towers’ tenant partners are signatories, including Accenture, David Jones, Lendlease, KPMG and Westpac.

In the current globalised economy, it’s reasonable to assume that many products may have been manufactured overseas and that business standards can vary widely across Australia and internationally.

By asking questions of our supply chain, we aim to better understand and support suppliers who are committed to business practices which enhance the environmental and social outcomes that align with those of International Towers. These questions ensure the products we source are: responsibly produced and from socially sustainable sources; avoid contributing to or directly using forced, bonded or involuntary labour; provide workers with safe working conditions free from bullying, physical, verbal or sexual harassment; pay staff appropriately and in line with all applicable laws; ensure no child labour or illegal labour is employed in the business; remove any discrimination on the basis of gender, faith, ethnicity, age, disability, marital status or sexual orientation.

The policy also extends to supporting our local Indigenous communities. The long cultural tradition and heritage of First Australians has a deep influence on every aspect of life at Barangaroo and, as such, International Towers is committed to improving Indigenous participation in the workforce by either directly employing Indigenous staff, or sourcing goods and services from Indigenous-owned or controlled businesses.

In a tangible example of our commitment to support Indigenous communities, we commissioned Indigenous artists from the Northern Territory to create 44 unique Dilly Bags to adorn the lobbies of International Towers, Tower Two and Tower Three, during the festive period.

The installation brought the work of Bula’bula Arts Aboriginal Corporation in North East Arnhem Land, home of the Yolngu people, to Barangaroo, the traditional home of the Gadigal people.

Dilly bags were historically used by Aboriginal people to gather food, carry tools, babies and receptacles for various cultural purposes, but today have a more decorative purpose. The artists from the Ramingining community craft their work to convey the region’s ritual and spiritual significance.

The artists, who hail from clan families and language groups in the area, used natural materials - Pandanas leaf from the Screw Palm being the essential material. The Pandanas leaf is dried and dyed using pigments from the surrounding country, compounded and applied by the artists using ancient knowledge and techniques.

Celebrating stories of diversity

The story of Australia is inseparable from the story of migration itself

Australia is often described as a nation of migrants. Apart from First Australians -
our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities - our population has its origins
in a uniquely diverse mix of other lands and cultures. The story of Australia is inseparable
from the story of migration itself, a tale that marries despair with hope, struggle with opportunity, and oppression with freedom.

In their search for a new life in a better place, Australia’s migrants have given
so much more to their new home than they’ve received. Despite an enormous
diversity in language, culture and beliefs, there is a commonality amongst
all that have settled on this land: an inspiring determination to succeed,
an entrepreneurial work ethic, and an unblemished optimism and belief in the
moral value of a ‘fair go’.

Global fintech TransferWise was inspired to create a photographic exhibition to
celebrate the achievements of Australian migrants and their incredible journeys.

The exhibition, ‘Faces of Australia’ - a portfolio of 20 curated images by
photographer Kurt Tilse, displayed in the ground foyers of International Towers,
Tower Two and Tower Three - inspired a panel discussion event, held to give a
voice to some of the individuals featured in the exhibition.

Opening the event, Liam Timms, Fund Manager for International Towers Sydney,
stressed the importance of providing a platform to support the diverse networks in Australia, such as through the exhibition and its ensuing spotlight on the importance of  diversity.

“One person doesn’t do anything alone, corporate Australia has a big role to play. At International Towers, we are proud of the rich fabric of our community,” Mr Timms said.

Co-founder of TransferWise, Taavet Hinrikus said, “We believe being Australian is more about recognising where and who we are now and where we hope to go, as much as where we’ve
come from.”

International Towers General Manager Tony Byrne said the inspiring exhibition was as much about the stories and storytelling as it was about the exquisitely-shot images. 
“Diversity, in its truest word, means acknowledging all forms of background and identity. At International Towers, we are committed to celebrating the heritage, beliefs and values of our
diverse workforce and visitor base. We are proud to host this exhibition which shows on a macro level the contribution migrants make to Australia and, on a micro level, the diversity of
our own thriving business community,” Mr Byrne said. Many of the other exhibition subjects attended and shared how they were able to achieve their dreams, drawing on support
such as startup incubator Catalysr. Since its launch in 2016, Catalysr has helped 66 “migrapreneurs” start more than 15 successful businesses. Its professional community has more than 500 advisors and investors, who help these migrapreneurs with advice, support and forming valuable business connections.

Catalysr “graduate” Walid El Sabbagh founded vegan, Egyptian eatery Koshari Korner.
He arrived from Egypt in 2015 with experience as a marine engineer but couldn’t find work in his field. The change of course gave him a change to bring a piece of Egypt to Sydney. 

Faces of Australia is proudly being  exhibited at International Towers throughout summer 2018 /2019.