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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Feeding diversity, sustainability, and community

Interview: Ian McKenzie, KPMG Head Chef

Since the beginning of time and the earliest of civilisations, food has brought people together. The preparation and sharing of meals – whether it be around a tribal campfire in the remote outback or a boardroom table in the heart of the city - provides a profound opportunity for people to bond and connect, share stories, debate ideas and to defuse differences.

Food service is also an opportunity to embrace wellbeing, celebrate diversity and champion sustainability, and few know this better than professional services firm KPMG. With commercial kitchen facilities at Barangaroo that would rival those of any international five-star hotel, the organisation takes meal preparation and food service very seriously indeed.

“As an organisation, we believe KPMG is a reflection of the general community itself,” says Ransdale Dinger, National Client Experience Team Leader, KPMG. “We are an international company, which means our people are incredibly diverse, as are our clients. However, we feel some things are universal – great hospitality and service, celebration of community, and the provision of nourishment, and our goal is to use thesethings to bring all people together.”

With a team of approximately 2,500 in Sydney, and just over 7,000 nationally, the KPMG community is a mirror of modern Australia, and the organisation relishes its role as a responsible corporate citizen in every aspect of its operations. One of those is in the preparation and service of meals to its teams and clients. On any given week, the kitchens within its Barangaroo office at International Towers, Tower Three, prepare an average of 500 fine-dining lunches and dinners, cater to hundreds more for breakfasts and casual meals, bake thousands of muffins, and deliver an endless supply of fruit and beverages.

“The sheer volume of food we prepare each week means we have a genuine opportunity to make a difference to not only our own community at KPMG, but the greater community too,” says Ian McKenzie, Head Chef. “We work very closely with our community of farmers and growers, not only so that we can source the very best, seasonal produce, but also to minimise waste and food miles. We adhere to a paddock-to-plate and nose-to-tail ethos, which helps us to deliver an experience that is as sustainable as possible, and that is also very much focussed on the health and nutrition of everyone we serve.”

Currently, around 80 per cent of all waste from the KPMG kitchens is recycled or repurposed. An achievement like this doesn’t happen by accident. By taking control of the supply process – for instance, sourcing sustainably grown, whole fish and preparing them in-house, using the bones to make stocks for soups and other dishes, Ian and his team have been able to dramatically reduce the amount of food waste, as well as the organisation’s environmental footprint. A Waste Management Induction process, hosted by Lendlease and International Towers management, also provided valuable insights into how the industry-leading, recycling and repurposing facilities within the Towers work, enabling all involved with food preparation at KPMG to work together toward a common mission, and introduce processes to ensure they were working as sustainably as possible. This includes a highly disciplined approach to recycling, as well as other initiatives, such as supporting National Recycling Week, promoting multiple-use coffee cups, and working with organisations such as food rescue charity OzHarvest to distribute surplus meals.

Ian, who has cooked for CEOs, dignitaries and royalty all over the world (he was once the chef on the Royal Yacht and cooked for Lady Diana), also understands his unique position to influence the wellbeing of the community he serves. “The way people eat has changed, and continues to evolve,” he says. “People are much more conscious of the role of diet in their overall health, so we try to support that – and even drive that – through our kitchen. For example, we’ve replaced many of the biscuits we used to bake as team snacks with fresh fruit and nuts; we’re serving less carbohydrates, making cold-pressed juices and we recently established a close relationship with Bell & Brio from within our Barangaroo community to make our bread, using pure ingredients and amazing, whole grains. We even adopted a cow from the dairy in the Camden Valley that supplies our milk. The milk is bottled at the farm and delivered straight to us and, on a clear day, we can even see the dairy farm from our office at International Towers. It doesn’t get more local than that.”

Community responsibility at KPMG isn’t confined to the dining table. Outside the kitchens, the organisation has a robust program of events and initiatives, and uses every opportunity to engage with its own community to support a range of causes, from distributing white ribbons to its service teams in support of ‘White Ribbon Day’; purple neck ties for ‘Wear It Purple Day’; and hoodies in support of NAIDOC Week, to even decorating the coffees they serve with icons relating to national causes and community initiatives to raise awareness and start conversations.

“It’s all about experience,” says Ransdale. “If we can improve the life of a single person through our actions, then everything we do is worthwhile. If we can improve the lives of all in our community and beyond, then we have achieved something incredibly special.”

Disrupting the market

Interview: Rosie Kennedy, CEO, OnMarket

OnMarket is a unique, crowdfunding and venture advisory business that is helping democratise finance for investors and bring new, early-stage funding to startups and small, scalable businesses. The company recently completed its 100th IPO and introduced the world’s first App for crowdfunding IPOs, and was one of the first to receive the new crowd-sourced funding licenses in January 2018.

We spoke to Rosie Kennedy about how her traditional finance background led her to help build the OnMarket business.

As a professional, and now an entrepreneur, you have a wonderful mix of experience across traditional finance, financial governance and disruptive fintech. What are the highlights?

I began my career in the money market, then ran the government bond trading desk for what is now UBS.

My next major role was heading up business development at ASX, where my focus was on trying to allow retail investors to invest in fixed interest securities, or debt securities, because Australian investors are traditionally very equity-focused.

I went on to work at ASIC in the area that supervises exchanges. I also helped simplify the prospectus regime for debt issuers – again hoping to free up the debt market so retail investors had an opportunity to participate.

Then you met your co-founder at OnMarket, Ben Bucknell, who was trying to do something very similar in the equity market?

Yes. My passion came from being intimately involved in the bond market, and seeing the importance of diversification of portfolios. It was clearly apparent that retail investors were not being given the same opportunities to diversify their portfolios as institutions. Ben had the same vision in the equity market.

Initially we licensed our intellectual property to ASX, to build ASX BookBuild. This system was built within ASX’strading platform and was a tech-driven solution to improve the pricing on equity issuance by listed companies and improve participation for investors.

As this was a B2B model, we really needed some firms in the big end of town to grasp the opportunities arising out of digital disruption in financial markets. But remember, when we were launching ASX BookBuild, it was before the word ‘fintech’ was in common usage. The reality was that there were a lot of powerful, vested interests in the existing process, and it was not easy to get support for an innovative new approach.

Ironically, that lack of support drove us to develop OnMarket, which is a B2C service on desktop and in the App Store. It’s simple, and a far cry from what we were originally doing, but it seems to solve a real problem for investors (by giving them access to discounted IPOs) and companies (by providing a cost effective way of reaching investors).

What companies do you think stand out in the crowd-financing area?

We’ve had a few firsts. We closed Australia’s first equity crowdfunding offer, Revvies, in March 2018. And we’ve completed the largest crowdfunding deal in the world in terms of the number of investors. The company is called DC Power. They got 15,000 investors, and previously the largest number of investors globally was about 6,200.

One of our more interesting offers is The Cup eXchange (TCX) – which is a sustainable, coffee cup business which is solving the disposable cup conundrum. This offer opened in November 2018, and the minimum raise was covered in the first seven days.

It’s a subscription model where consumers are given two cups and they exchange those cups via scanning. Each cup has an identifier, and they scan the cups for credits. Once the coffee is finished, you pop the cup back to that particular café, or to another participating café.

That cup can be used by any participating café, and it never finds its way to landfill because if the coffee cup is ever damaged – which is unlikely because it’s made in a durable way that is very sturdy – it’s crushed down and made into another one.

It’s on trial in Sydney and Barangaroo, and in Melbourne as well. And they are the first-to-market with this product – there is no reason it can’t go global.

Does a crowdfunding raise also help with marketing and awareness of a business?

Definitely. The smaller companies can also use this process to engage their whole stakeholder chain – from employees, to the suppliers and the customers who really embrace the product and engage with the whole process – it’s a nice way of tying all the stakeholders in. For example, we completed a successful crowdraising for PT Blink – a technology company that is revolutionising the construction process. The key benefit for that group was getting referrals from customers. People saw their story whether they invested or not. As a result, large building companies got in touch with PT Blink to use the product.

You expanded your business to Tower Two at International Towers in 2018. You were previously based in Bligh St in Sydney’s CBD, what was behind the move?

We were looking to scale our business – and the tenant model at International Towers was beautifully configured for that kind of progressive growth.

Also, OnMarket is very much in the innovation business and the incredible strength of the innovation community at International Towers was a big attraction for us. We were drawn to the powerful community of enterprise and growth companies and the partnership approach International Towers takes with its tenants.

I think it’s a great benefit that we’re able to work together in such a collaborative environment, especially on our floor. As an example, with The Cup eXchange I spoke to fellow tenant partners, the Green Building Council Australia about relevant contacts in the sustainability area. They connected me with a terrific person at one of the large accounting firms, who has since put us in touch with a facilities manager, and as a result they’re about to sign a large partnership deal.

...which in an enterprise world is very fast-tracked?

Unbelievably. That all happened in 3.5 weeks. That’s a classic example of the working environment, but also of the collaborative nature of the people here. It’s certainly early days, but the camaraderie we’ve already experienced is fantastic.