Seeing people thrive

Interview: Liam Timms, Fund Manager, International Towers

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Liam is a highly regarded real estate and funds management professional with over 25 years experience in the real estate, construction, development and funds management industries. His work has covered commercial, retail, residential and industrial asset classes.

Liam is passionate about driving innovation and diversity in his investment mandate from Indigenous engagement, to education and training for all, as commitment to a better future.

Why is environment such a critical factor in the success of a business enterprise?

Whether you’re aware of it or not, environment plays an active role in every business. In my view, there were inconsistencies that were apparent in the way things have always been done. I didn’t see an integration between the behaviours of people at the coalface, and what the long-term performance objectives of the organisation were – such as strong culture and diversity, and all the benefits a thriving, diverse community could deliver. I couldn’t see a traditional approach being able to deliver that for International Towers. So prior to the buildings being completed, I set out on a mission to scope what ‘success’ looked like for people who were to work here – just to be here – and that ultimately came down to the people that operate and take care of the place.

Companies and products don’t come to work at a place each day; it’s individuals – people – that come to work every single day, and their journey doesn’t begin when they arrive at the building – it begins when they leave their front door. Their experience began at home. And so as building managers, we may well be the first person they interact with each day as they arrive at work, so we had a big opportunity – and I believe an equally big responsibility – to make that interaction a positive one. Our goal was to ensure that we would interact with and influence the experience of every single person that came to our buildings.

Often, that interaction was very subtle and invisible – from simple things like our standards of cleanliness, or the physical ambiance of our public areas, or a feeling of safety and security. Also, the idea of feeling welcome, I thought, was critical to delivering that level of positive interaction. So regardless of who you were, you felt invited. That’s one of the reasons we moved away from traditional, fixed reception desks in some of our lobbies, so that there were no physical barriers to people flowing in and out of the space, and so any engagement with our concierge team could happen at eye level without a barrier in between.

Before the towers were complete, we commenced developing an internal culture program that we called ‘BarangaYOU’, which dictated the mind-sets of all of us as a team. Operating as a successful team meant everybody felt they were working for the same common cause; nobody was too important to take care of someone else’s task, everyone was part of the same journey. I could see a similar approach and philosophy happening in other industries, but I hadn’t seen it happening successfully in the area of property management.

What was unique was that these mind-sets weren’t just communicated to our management team, but to every occupier within the buildings, so that we could be completely transparent about what we expected from ourselves, and what they should expect from us. This would enable us to have a stronger, honest relationship, and ensure everyone worked towards the same goal.

Which leads to the idea of shared values. How did you arrive at the base values that would ultimately shape the foundation of the International Towers community?

We interviewed an extensive group of individuals – from facilities staff to customers – asking them what they expected when they came to work and, just as importantly, what wouldn’t be tolerated. It wasn’t just about what we should do, but also about what behaviours weren’t acceptable. There was an incredible amount of research
done to articulate what was going to work, and what wasn’t. These were real people that would be working in International Towers, providing us with their own personal views and insights, and this gave us a very powerful foundation on which to develop a values platform that would guide all of our decision making. It enabled us to really question what we were doing, and why we were doing it, and it created a mind-set around how we
should make certain decisions. When you can clearly articulate your values, then often decision making becomes very easy, because you have this very clear framework and reference point on which to base your judgements and actions.

Perhaps one of the greatest examples of this in action was our very first day of operations. In all my years of delivering major projects of this scale, with all that’s involved, I had never seen a first day run so smoothly. Ten days before going live, we took all of our tenant partners, service providers, and supervision and management team off-site for a whole day of immersive experience, sharing the mind-set and culture across International Towers. We had done a tremendous amount of work prior to becoming operational to ensure everyone involved in our community shared the same goals, the same culture, and the same mind-set.

"People can’t work in isolation, and that applies to businesses as well. We know that people thrive on connections, and connecting with others who are like-minded and share similar values." - Liam Timms

We know individual companies have a culture, but rarely do the buildings they occupy have a culture, especially one designed to foster happiness and success. Why was it important for International Towers to respond so differently to the traditional model?

Often, there are a lot of short-term decisions made relating to long-term relationships, and this simply doesn’t align with what I believed successful partnerships needed to thrive. So making that significant investment in establishing our values and our positive culture from the start was critical to the long-term success of the community – and the success of the individual organisations that formed the community. It’s much harder to try and ‘retrofit’ a positive culture and progressive values into an environment that is already established and lacks any of that framework. However, over the longer term, I believe we’ll see a significant return on the investment we made, because its very purpose is to nurture successful outcomes and relationships.

In addition, investing in culture also gave our community a significant point of difference. The decision to join our community is less about ticking boxes on a spreadsheet and more about sharing similar values and seeing the opportunities to benefit from the cultural framework that we’ve established in our environment.

We’re already seeing tangible benefits, much earlier than we anticipated. For instance, staff turnover rates within some of our service sectors are well below industry and CBD averages. Our security team is a typical example. In our first three years of operations, the turnover has been between 2.5% up to 6.5% against an industry benchmark of 24%. With our retention being well above 90%, this delivers great benefits in relationship consistency, significantly reduced cost of turnover and enhanced effectiveness, by reducing the extensive period of onboarding new team members.

As any organisation can testify, there is enormous financial cost associated with staff turnover – not to mention the loss of expertise and relationships – so we are already seeing the tremendously positive benefits of our early and continued investment in creating a positive environment and community. In fact, International Towers, Tower Two and Tower Three was recently named Best Managed Building at the JLL Asia Pacific Property and Asset Management (PAM) Awards, with our 22-member strong team, led by International Towers General Manager Tony Byrne, chosen from 17,000 staff in 14 countries within JLL’s Asia Pacific operations.

Tell us more about the values- based platform you created to help establish the positive culture within the International Towers community.

We spent a lot of time developing what would eventually be called the ‘BarangaYOU’ program. Everyone in the International Towers team, and the majority of our tenant partners and their teams undertake the program soon after joining the community.

It’s built on a fairly simple concept based on five key ideas: “We before Me”, which teaches us that when we work together, we can accomplish great things, much greater than the sum of individual efforts; “If Not You, Then Who?”, which is all about being the change you as an individual wish to see, and encouraging people to take action and personal responsibility; “Heartfulness”, which focuses on the mindful care for self, others and our place; “Incurably Curious”, which encourages creative thinking and not being afraid to have new ideas; and “Carpe Diem”, which invites us to seize the opportunities we are presented with each day, and to be the truest version of ourselves we can be.

I believe all of these philosophies are something we all instinctively relate to and aspire to, so by taking ownership of them, and adopting them as our ‘official’ values, we are setting the standard for which all of our decisions and behaviours are judged, and also the standard we expect our community to live by. And when that community is made of highly engaged, diverse, intelligent people numbering in the many thousands, and all adopting these values in their daily experiences, it creates a very powerful community capable of extraordinary things.

What motivates you?

Seeing people thrive. People are very capable, and will thrive under the right circumstances and within the right environment. I believe that wholeheartedly. Too many people are put into such prescribed positions where they don’t flourish, they don’t become the best versions of themselves. So, in many ways, a big part of my role is to create those circumstances and nurture that environment, and use my influence to open new doors or create opportunities for people. When people are genuinely engaged in what they do, that energy becomes infectious, so it just keeps spurring the whole team to stronger relationships and bigger and better things.

Great ideas don’t come about after exhaustive analysis, or trying to minimise the risk of any failure whatsoever. They come when people feel the safety and security to think differently, and when you have partnerships that allow you to trial new things. Not every new idea will work, but when it does, that’s when things become interesting, because you can present people with new opportunities, new inspiration and greater confidence.

How important is community?

People can’t work in isolation, and that applies to businesses as well. Too many organisations operate in a solitary state where their interactions are limited almost exclusively to within their own four walls – their own culture, their own processes. We know that people thrive on connections, and connecting with others who are like-minded and respectful. Take that to a higher level – we know businesses need connections to thrive, so how do we create that opportunity for companies to make positive connections?

That’s why it was so important for us to create a genuine community at International Towers. It’s an environment where individuals and organisations can interact with each other, often spontaneously and informally, with the idea being that everyone will learn new things, be inspired in new ways, form new connections and develop fruitful relationships. This is also why diversity is so important, because it can greatly enhance the interactions within the community.

Innovation and disruption will continue to impact the business landscape in the next five to ten years, which will no doubt change the needs of many businesses in terms of physical environment and workspace. So, having a highly diverse community – diverse in size, diverse in segment, diverse in expertise – with enterprises at varying stages of growth and with an evolving direction and focus, our community will continue to thrive. More importantly they will have the opportunity to adjust their focus. This includes their physical footprint – to reflect their business priorities as time goes by. There aren’t many workplaces in the country that can provide that level of flexibility and opportunity.

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World-first white paper launch - the positive built workplace environment


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.