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​ARN Emerging Leaders Forum - Learning from the leaders of today

​ARN Emerging Leaders Forum - Learning from the leaders of today

ARN hosted its Emerging Leaders Forum at the Ivy Sunroom in May, identifying, educating and showcasing the upcoming talent of the Australian ICT industry.

Andrew Thomas - Co-Founder and CEO, Thomas Duryea Consulting

Andrew Thomas - Co-Founder and CEO, Thomas Duryea Consulting

ARN hosted its Emerging Leaders Forum at the Ivy Sunroom in May, identifying, educating and showcasing the upcoming talent of the Australian ICT industry.

Over 130 high-performers attended inspiring keynote presentations and panel discussions, followed by structured networking with notable industry talent champions, including Hall of Fame inductees, and the Emerging Leaders awards - Holly Morgan examined the key takeaways.

Andrew Thomas, co-founder and CEO, Thomas Duryea Consulting

“Apparently, they say 70 per cent of all businesses fail within the first year,” opened Andrew Thomas, co-founder and CEO, Thomas Duryea Consulting.

Standing back from the lectern, looking out to a room full of emerging leaders, the charismatic entrepreneur paused and qualified his statement; “I’d argue it’s around 99 per cent, because they never actually get started.”

Straightforward in delivery, but long-lasting in its reach, in founding a business with three university friends in 2000, Thomas understands the initial blockers of converting an idea into a reality.

“I get it,” he admitted. “You wake up in the morning flooded with amazing ideas but by the time you’re bending down to tie your shoelace and walk out the door, your inbox is going crazy and you’re dreaming again.

Perhaps there’s a reason why the famous Nike tagline was voted one of the best slogans of the 20th century, because as Thomas explained, “getting started is the hardest but most important aspect so, just do it.”

In addressing the next generation of talent, Thomas subscribed to the notion that “if you’re not growing, you’re dying”, challenging the audience to “turn the handle hard” to keep building capacity in the years to come.

Naturally, challenges will arise and progress will be hampered along the way, but for Thomas, advancement comes from within.

ARN Emerging Leaders Forum
ARN Emerging Leaders Forum

“You can always say you didn’t have enough time, or enough money or enough knowledge,” he admitted. “You can even blame failure on a bad manager or bad staff, but the problem isn’t your resources, it’s your resourcefulness.”

For Thomas, resourcefulness is “born out of human emotion”, an emotion derived from the burning desire that shapes “my ability to achieve, to contribute, to be successful but ultimately, to be fulfilled”.

In starting his business 16 years ago, aged 22, Thomas developed a culture in parallel, creating an external reputation that reflected the buzz behind the doors, and led to its recent sale to IT infrastructure and managed services company Logicalis in late 2015.

“Culture, culture, culture,” he emphasised. “I don’t care how smart your people are, you cannot have an amazing company without an amazing culture. We developed an outstanding culture and attracted people because of it.”

Such a culture helped foster a mentality that refused to fail, as Thomas led a team that seized every opportunity, gaining momentum in a market previously reserved for the big players in town.

“VMware initially turned us down as a partner,” he recalled. “But we didn’t take no for an answer and went on to install more VMware than anyone in the country for the next three years.”

While culture is imperative, Thomas stressed that from an operational perspective, success comes to those who lift the bonnet on the mechanics of the business, assessing what makes the company tick on regular basis.

“Take every aspect of your business, understand it, measure it and know what success looks like,” he advised. “If you don’t know what is going on in your business, how can you grow or change it?”

But all insights aside, Thomas left the stage with one simple piece of advice for the emerging leaders of Australia; “find great mentors”.

Rhody Burton - Director of Global Partners, IBM
Rhody Burton - Director of Global Partners, IBM

Rhody Burton - Director of Global Partners, IBM

As a 20-year-old temp travelling around Europe with no ICT skills, Rhody Burton, Director of Global Partners, IBM, lacked ambition and purpose.

“I never had a career plan and I feel that everything has just happened to me along the way,” revealed Burton, in front of the emerging leaders of the Australian channel.

Yet with over 20 years of channel leadership experience, representing the world’s leading technology vendors, isn’t it funny how just doing your thing can be just the thing?

In rewinding back to those early days on the continent, Burton explained the story of the accidental leader.

“Unbeknownst to me, my manager was forced to delegate tasks to me that were way above my skill set, capabilities and experience,” she admitted. “Within my first six months I had my first set of clients.”

But it wasn’t until some years later that Burton derived true value from the experience, advising the audience to be “consciously aware of unconscious bias”.

“My manager later told me, ‘before I employed you I would never have dreamt of giving you those tasks but you proved to me that I needed to break down those barriers”,” she recalled.

Despite the acquisition of greater authority, Burton acknowledged that power is rendered redundant without the passion to accompany it, a key characteristic of all emerging leaders.

“I turned down full-time job after full-time job and just temped until the right job in ICT came along,” she admitted. “And if I think back to my younger self, I’m glad I had that passion within me to wait, which has brought me to where I am today.”

ARN Emerging Leaders Forum
ARN Emerging Leaders Forum

Citing the words of Duncan Bennet during his reign as managing director of VMware in Australia and New Zealand, Burton’s third piece of advice was clear; “step outside of your comfort zone”.

“Duncan told me that when you feel nervous and you know you’re outside of your comfort zone, that’s when you are learning the most,” she said.

In being open to new opportunities through her recent roles at SAP, and now IBM, Burton also applied Bennet’s to her own personal development, in nominating herself for the ARN Women in ICT Awards, in which she won the Rising Star award in 2012.

“My initial reaction to self-nominating was ‘no way, how embarrassing’,” she joked. “I didn’t feel comfortable doing it but there’s no doubt that winning raised my profile. I honestly don’t know if I would have received the tap on the shoulder from SAP, and then IBM, if I didn’t create that brand for myself.”

With it comes confidence, with Burton urging the next generation of channel leaders to “never be afraid of hiring people who could take your job tomorrow”, because “the team around you is what’s going to drive you to be better”.

Signing off with one final token of wisdom, Burton stressed the importance of the local network - “people are open to providing help and guidance so leverage your contacts”.

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