Tech Leaders Talk Podcast

Brett Fenton

Innovation and experimentation

If you've got a high performance organisation you probably got a high performance leadership team in place there.
Brett Fenton Interview

Have you ever struggled to justify an experiment for your business?

Brett Fenton talks about how he justifies small experiments within the business to drive innovation. We also talk about driving innovation and building strong teams.

About Brett Fenton

Brett started his life as a research scientist working in uranium chemistry. He quickly moved into technology, working for Netregistry until the company was sold. Brett is now an executive director at Arq group.

Brett is very people focused which becomes very apparent during the podcast.

In this episode, you will learn

  • 03:24 - Learn more about Arq Group and Brett’s role at Arq Group
  • 04:05 - Learn why Brett moved from research to technology
  • 09:38 - Learn how Arq group uses podcasting internally and how Brett likes communicating with the team.
  • 15:12 - Brett tells how a tragic event helped shape the way he thinks as a leader.
  • 17:46 - Building trust with your team
  • 21:40 - Creating and implementing a strategy
  • 26:35 - How Brett uses various channels to communicate with the team including podcasting
  • 31:46 - Learn how Brett uses books to help with team building
  • 42:00 - What advice would you give your 20 years younger self?

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Ernst Pelser:

Good morning listeners, and welcome to the show and thank you for joining us. Today I'm really excited to introduce Brett Fenton, Executive Director of the Arq Group. Welcome Brett.

Brett Fenton:

Thank you so much Ernst. I've really been looking forward to our chat and thanks for having me on the show.

Ernst Pelser:

I've been really excited about this all week so, yes. Brett, to start off would you like to give our listeners a quick overview of your background and maybe ARQ Group?

Brett Fenton:

Yeah, sure. I've got a bit of a different background from a lot of people who have gone into technology. I started my life as a research scientist over twenty years ago, and it wasn't for me, and then we can still talk about that transition maybe as we move through the conversation. But, I took a job in a start up, and learned a lot about technology by the skin of my teeth very quickly. And it was a great immersion but then it quickly moved past technology, and so I took on customer service, and finance, and sales and marketing, and moved into a general business management type role, where I sort of happily lived for the next 15 years.

Brett Fenton:

And we sold Net Registry for $50.4 million in 2014, which was a great outcome for the boys who owned it, and for me personally it was a nice achievement to get the business to that scale and successfully get it away. We were acquired by Melbourne IT, who are one of the sort of, very well established brands in the Australian technology market and a major competitor of ours.

Brett Fenton:

It was a funny transition, I'd only ever worked in a start up, and then all of a sudden I'm in this big corporate environment, public company listed on the ASX. I had to find my feet as an executive in a more corporate life. I wasn't sure if it was actually, that my heart was in it. But, over the last couple of years I've really fallen in love with it and, at the point of acquisition the CEO, who has been really supportive of me, gave me two options to take on.

Brett Fenton:

One was in the customer side of the business, one was in technology side of the business, and I took the choice to go into the customer side of the business. Mostly because, at the time, he'd indicated that they'd done a whole lot of acquisitions and needed someone to do all the integration work, and that was going to sit in technology.

Brett Fenton:

I'd done a lot of that with Net Registry and I was kind of tired of it. And, you know, customer side of the business, there were some really interesting projects to do there. So, I took that on and ... But found my way back into integration technology pretty quickly as it turned out. I couldn't stay away and so I've been ... I was with CTO for the better part of three years and then more recently this year, I've just moved back more into a general business management role in the commercial stream of the business.

Brett Fenton:

What Arq Group does right now is, it's an integration of acquisitions that were done. Melbourne IT was the foundation of the business. Domains, and hosting had scaled at this stage in that part of the business, which is the part of business I look after. We have about 400 000 customers, but also moving us away from that domain hosting base into more digital marketing type solutions.

Ernst Pelser:

Okay.

Brett Fenton:

Websites for customers, but helping those businesses succeed online is where the smaller part of our business is.

Brett Fenton:

The flip side of our business is the enterprise side, which is again based on a number of significant acquisitions. Outwear was one, Infoready was one, and so big data analytics sort of at the top end of town. Customers like Qantas and ANZ, in that space.

Brett Fenton:

And then for the Outwear part of the business, mobile app development. And so, much smaller customer base, sort of two to three hundred customers but, it's half the revenue of the business. So, that's how the business puts up.

Ernst Pelser:

Okay, thank you for that. So, you touched on obviously your research background. So, why research and then technology?

Brett Fenton:

That one starts in 1975, my dad never finished high school, he finished his school in Year 9, and my aunt at the time had a industrial business, a scrap metal and recycling, and so my dad worked in that business. Had a traumatic industrial accident, 1975. I was very young and he was told that he'd never work again, and he'd be lucky to walk again. So, he had this very long recovery and at some point he decided to educate himself, so he finished his school certificate, and then his high school certificate by correspondence, and then did an undergraduate degree in chemistry by correspondence. And that timing lined up to ... Then went on to do PhD, he was getting more mobile and he was doing his PhD while I was at high school. And all I heard about was chemistry, chemistry, chemistry. He drove me crazy with it so, there was quite a lot of pressure on me to go into a hard science but, probably more explicitly chemistry.

Brett Fenton:

So, I did that, and then I did a degree in chemistry. And then I travelled a little bit, and then I came back, and the pressure still existed from my parents to do something with that career. So, I did a PhD in the crazy world of uranium chemistry, which was really enjoyable. I was funded by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and the work I found was meaningful and purposeful. But, the more I did it, the more I'd realized that my heart wasn't in it. And I was dealing with big data sets, and I had to write quite a lot of code, and had to deal with the outputs of large data like big data sets.

Brett Fenton:

It was the dotcom boom and I sort of made the decision to transition out. It broke my dad's heart a little bit, you know, and it took him a long time to really, I think, not understand why I made the choices I made, but to sort of, you know, he's really happy that I've had a successful career now, but at the time it was hard for him to understand why I'd moved away from this career that he envisaged that I would go and do something profound. And it just wasn't for me.

Ernst Pelser:

Yeah. So, with regards to technology, did you kind of just, have you always had a passion for technology, or did you kind of, just make that transition?

Brett Fenton:

I've always had a passion for problem-solving, even from a very young age. So it didn't matter what the field, whether it was technology, you know I was always tinkering as a kid. Whether it was electronics, or math or, and so I just had that curiosity. And I think the way that, as I moved into a career in technology, the way that I got to explore that.

Brett Fenton:

I think there's more opportunities to explore curiosity in technology, especially the rate of change in this, sort of, the world we live in today, the fourth industrial revolution. You just think about things like there was no, sort of, the iPhone is ten years old. And you try and think about how you live your life without a smart phone today. Just the rate of advancement is something that you get to solve these really amazing, complex problems everyday, which I really love.

Ernst Pelser:

Yeah, okay. So your research background, you've already touched on problem-solving, and you've already touched on big data and stuff like that. How else have you seen it help your career, as you are now?

Brett Fenton:

Oh yeah. Look, I've got no regrets at all. And I think it taught me how to research, it taught me how to structure a problem, and solve a problem in a really rigorous, structured way. It taught me how to make database decisions. I think, just in terms of business leaders today, I think gut feel gets you so far, but really being able to drill down and understand and measure the things that really matter and then drive performance through those things, I think is a skill that I'm really thankful from my background in research.

Brett Fenton:

But also, I think, just taking a small idea and being able to explore and extend it is something that has also been really useful.

Brett Fenton:

What's the practical application of the work you're doing? And thinking about lateral and tangential opportunities for that. And certainly, application of technology is where you get to do that in real time every day, you know. You've got this great idea, and especially as you connect and work with really smart people. Like "Oh, did you think maybe you can apply that over here?" You know some area or field or situation you never thought of.

Brett Fenton:

And just coming out of, I mean the work I've done as a researcher had a really limited scope of applicability. And so, one of the things I've enjoyed moving out of it, you know, it's given me a good foundation to be able to think laterally like that, but coming into the commercial world and being able to commercialize in real time, really rapidly, is something I really love.

Ernst Pelser:

Interesting, okay. You actually launched a podcast within ARQ Group in itself?

Brett Fenton:

Yep.

Ernst Pelser:

Tell us a little bit about what triggered that and what have you learnt out of that process.

Brett Fenton:

Yeah, look, it's a really new thing for me. I've been doing it internally now for about six months. For me, I believe that one of my major roles in the business is to give to give our people context and direction. So I give them context of what's happening around them so they understand why the work they're doing matters, and why we're approaching a particular situations or problems the way we do. And then setting a course, you know, giving them a clear direction. Certainly not, you know, I don't set the course. I set the direction but I don't chart the course, if you like. That's up to the teams to do.

Brett Fenton:

The way I like to give people that context and direction is through rich communication. So, I communicate a lot with our people. A lot face to face. A lot of written communication. And I just want to try something different. And so, the first time I did it was just an experiment to see how it went. And it was, sort of that quiet Christmas period, and I got a colleague in the business and I said, "hey, do you want to just do a quick run around to see who's here who might have an interesting story. Tell them we'll just test this out." And we experiment a lot with, sort of, how it might work. We did a really low [inaudible 00:11:09] to start with. I just had, I had a really cheap microphone. Used GarageBand just off the Mac, recorded all in one go. And then just pushed it out there, and the feedback was really great. It was... people really connected with it, and so then I just rolled with it.

Brett Fenton:

I think the thing I really enjoyed about it is I can, you know, I've got so much structure in the rest of my communications which makes them effective. I've got a monthly cycle or fortnightly cycle or a weekly cycle, and you've got to work within that sort of framework.

Brett Fenton:

With the podcast, I do it whenever I feel like it, so it's a bit more organic. And I think coming into it, the thing I like is, I might have an idea I want to explore but, quite often, once you sit down with someone and start a conversation, what you get coming out of the podcast when you listen to it at the end, looks nothing like what you thought coming with. And so, it's kind of, you get this element of delight. It's unexpected and I find it really rewarding. And so, it's something that I'd like to do more of. We've actually got an official ARQ podcast that gets published externally by this really talented leader we have in Melbourne, Paul Motion. I'm sort of also picking his brains a little bit. Last podcast I did was a conversation with him where I got to learn a little bit about how he got into it and just, kind of, it was nice to connect with someone just to see some of the commonalities we'd had. We both came into it in slightly different ways but I think we'd found what we enjoyed was pretty similar.

Ernst Pelser:

I'm finding the podcast community is really helpful. And I think people get excited by hearing somebody else is tackling that... Because I think a lot of people also find that daunting, that's not doing podcasts initially, so...

Brett Fenton:

Yeah, I found it... one of the things I really love about it is, I think I've done about seven or eight episodes of it now, and generally I'll have a small idea, but it's not really hardwired. By the time I sit down with someone, have a quick five-minute chat where you sort of might plot a broad set of themes you might want cover, it's certainly not planned out, there's no, sort of, run sheet of questions or anything like that, I record all mine in single block and I download or post-produce them, you know, sort of push it straight out once it's done. They're pretty raw. The whole thing starts and finishes in an hour.

Brett Fenton:

Sometimes it's just a nice way to close the day. You have a great conversation with someone and you get to learn a little bit about them, their story. And you get to leave the office, you might have a really stressful day, you can't walk out feeling a bit of abuzz, you know, you produce something, there's a tangible output, you push it out, the people in the business are listening to it, connecting with it. Then they're sort of pinging it. Generally, straight after you've launched one you've got a bunch of people saying, "I'd love to be on your next podcast." Which creates a bit of a buzz internally. It's nice.

Ernst Pelser:

Interesting. Okay. Now, from your, actually, there was a Paul Motion interview or discussion that I was listening to. From that, I kind of picked up that you're very focused on people. Where does that stem from?

Brett Fenton:

It's something that as I moved into business management with Net Registry I'd never had a course on business management or I certainly haven't got a degree or anything like that. So I had to figure out as I went and I really liked the mechanics... I saw successful business, the success I had to drive out of business, the financial performance really being a... I could break it down into a series of activities and objectives in a really management style way. I was getting really good outcomes from that.

Brett Fenton:

About ten years ago I had a young guy who worked for me and tragically took his own life, and that was really where it opened my eyes up to leadership as opposed to management - it's not the same. And you start to have that realization that the work you do impacts people. And the young guy who worked for me who tragically suicided, it was not really my [inaudible 00:15:38] had a whole lot of things outside of work. I started to think about, you know, what if my job was not to drive performance in the business, what if my job was to create a culture where people could thrive and reach their potential, on the basis that you get outcomes and performance in the business? And so it was quite a mindset shift for me.

Brett Fenton:

And I was really lucky that when we were acquired by Melbourne IT, Martin Mercer, the CEO [inaudible 00:16:04] just appointed him, had a real passion about people. His first executive appointment was a Chief People and Culture Officer. And Amy Rixon, that was who he brought in that particular role and function, again, had a really deep passion about leadership. And so they brought leadership consultancy. And all of a sudden I got to, you know, I was drinking from the fountain quite a lot.

Brett Fenton:

And I just find the people side of what I do today so rewarding. Creating a culture where people are motivated and inspired is something that makes me feel good, as well. They get something really positive out of it, but the business gets something really positive out of it. You know, I think if you create a culture of high performance that gets done in a way that's sustainable and a developmental culture. Especially in the world we live in today right, there's this crazy war for talent and you want to give people a reason to stay and not to go. And so yeah, the people leadership thing is something that I've, certainly over the last five years, has been a part of me. That's probably been the biggest developmental part of my journey.

Brett Fenton:

I've lost twenty years outside, but it's probably also been the part that I've, you know as I've moved through it, I found hard but I've really enjoyed it. It's been really, I've got a deep satisfaction out of it. It's really nice.

Ernst Pelser:

So Brett, talk to me a little bit about, you're talking about creating a strong team culture, what is your approach when you come into a new company or a new team or anything like that? How do you start building that?

Brett Fenton:

I've got my way which is, I'm not sure if it's a good or bad way, it's just a way.

Brett Fenton:

I've done this now twice in the last two and a bit years. I'd kicked off a session with a new leadership team in technology and then on the back of that the new leadership team in what we call the M3 part of our business which is a middle mass market part that I look after. I'm a real devotee of Patrick Lencioni as a [inaudible 00:18:32] of leadership. And I start to think about, what I see in a lot of teams is they jump straight into the to-do list. What are the things that we need to achieve to get the outcomes we want? So they create a to-do list and then they measure progress against that. Or they measure the expected outcomes that had anything getting that or not getting that, then they shuffle their to do list, right? And so with the teams, I generally start with more of a lateral hierarchy of priorities. I have a belief that the performance of any organization, the ceiling of performance of any organization is the performance of the leadership team.

Brett Fenton:

And there's always going to be exceptions, right? Like you might find a company who's doing really well with a really poorly performing leadership team, or vice versa. But I think generally it balances out that if you've got a high performance organization you probably got a high performance leadership team in place there.

Brett Fenton:

And so, what's the quality of leadership that team is providing is one part of that, what performance of the team? What's the organizational health look like, the culture of the organization? How do we approach strategic planning? I think, they're the kind of things I try and get teams to think about before I come and start saying, "Now, what's our 90 day plan? What's our to do list? What's our agenda for the next 12 months?" For example. I think those things become outputs as opposed to start to think about team performance.

Brett Fenton:

And Lencioni's got a really simple model, you know, the five dysfunctions of a team, and I liked it but I sort of get teams to connect into that. Like it's a really simplified model that starts with how, as a team, we have to start with trusting each other. And so you have to develop trust in the team.

Brett Fenton:

It's another area that, as I talk to teams, you start to ask the question of, generally if I ask people, who are already in the team, how long does it take to establish trust? They always say you've got to earn trust. You've got to earn the right to have trust. And I kind of, again, my question is, back to the team, is generally, "Do you have to earn trust or can we freely give trust with some guardrails around it, you know, here are the things that will break trust, you know, let's not do that. Let's just start by trusting before we go on to the next step?"

Brett Fenton:

And again, you find some people just dive straight into that. Other people are sort of more, you know, they carry their baggage from their last job, their last team, or whatever. They've got their own storyline that holds them back from freely giving trust and just starting their performance. But for me that's the starting point of how we develop performance in a team.

Ernst Pelser:

Okay. And then you touched on strategy a little bit earlier. How you start by determining a strategy and then clearly articulating a direction, what's your process there?

Brett Fenton:

Yeah, look, I think, the roles I've worked most recently have been, my strategy has to be, obviously, complementary to the strategy of the organization. And so the first thing I think you have to do is start understanding what that is, you know what are the paths where you need to provide supporting services if you're in any sort of technology leadership role, generally you're not defining the overall strategy for the organization, right. You got some complementary role to play, so you got to start with understanding what, where is it they're trying to get to, then build something that dovetails into that is obviously the first part of it.

Brett Fenton:

Once I start to think about strategy, I've flipped my thinking on this a little bit. Martin Mercer introduced a strategy called Playing to Win. It's basically, strategy is basically the answer to five questions, and it's about choices and it talks about... it's a mixture of creativity and rigor. You know, kind of, and that piece of work is used by companies like Proctor and Gamble to develop their strategy. It starts with, the questions that you have to answer are things like: What do we want to achieve? How are we going to do it? What are the capabilities we need? Etc. And so it's pretty simple.

Brett Fenton:

But more recently, there's an Australian author called Jason Fox and he talks about finite and infinite games, he had quiet a lot of commentary about the Playing to Win framework because Playing to Win sort of already starts to, I guess, indicate, there's a start and a finishing strategy, and that you can win. But the reality is there's lots of companies that have won at a point in time but then became irrelevant, and then really struggled through long periods of, where they haven't been competitive.

Brett Fenton:

Microsoft would be a great example of that, you know, they were so dominant in the 80s and 90s, lost their way a little bit when they missed the internet boat, and probably the cloud boat to a certain extent. And now you look at the way, over the last ten years, they've reinvented themselves and become sort of a powerhouse again.

Brett Fenton:

I think strategy is something that's got to evolve. And it's an infinite game. Like, there's no start and there's no finish. And so, trying to get teams to come in and think about what are our horizons?

Brett Fenton:

I've just gone through a process with my leadership team, thinking about what does [inaudible 00:24:06] in the next year look like? And you've got to put more constraints around that, like time-constraints, resource-constraints, opportunity-constraints.

Brett Fenton:

But if we want to start to reimagine what our business would be disruptive in the way we think beyond next year, what might that look like? And that's a more unconstrained view of the world. So getting the teams together and seeing those conversations, curating them, and then distilling the outcomes from that is kind of how I like to approach it.

Brett Fenton:

I've got, obviously the challenge always is, when you're doing that with a team, not to flay the conversation too much. You go in and, you don't want to go in with it already set in your head and you're just trying to [inaudible 00:24:48] people to way of thinking, right. I find that it disempowers your team, disenfranchises them, disengages them. So I spend a lot of time in, "What's the framework? How do we understand what strategy needs to develop? And then how do we bring the voices of our people to life?

Ernst Pelser:

Okay. You touched on that you've got sort of a bit of a framework on communicating with your team. Talk a little bit about that.

Brett Fenton:

So again, there's just a few beliefs to that. One is that I believe leadership is a contact sport. So we've teams at the moment in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. And so I like to, at the start of the year, or the start of a quarter, the start of a half, it really depends, I think a lot about organizational narrative. What's the story we need to unfold for the year? And then as I'm doing face to face, town hall staff meetings, how does each one of those line up to the overall organizational narrative that I try to steer us through?

Brett Fenton:

So I try to take a strategic approach to the communications to start with, that's the first part. Then there's the rigorous part of it, making sure that I'm doing them. I want to do a face to face every single month in each location, which means that I'm almost doing it every week, right.

Brett Fenton:

And I think that's really important for a couple of reasons. One is that you're standing in front of your people in a vulnerable way. You're talking about the wins we've had, you talk about the challenges, you talk about where we're heading, but you also give them an opportunity to give feedback in real time. It becomes a dialogue as opposed to a monologue, and I think that's really important in that forum.

Brett Fenton:

Some of the other things I like to do is I do a monthly Q&A over Slack, and people can ask questions directly in that, and so they can have them attributed. Or I use, in those sessions, I use a moderator, the people can anonymously ask questions via the moderator. I respect the anonymity, because I think the more you respect that, the more courageous people are able to be in their questions. I'd love to get to a point where no one needs to ask anonymous questions because there's no sanction because you're asking questions. My job is to answer those questions and make sure that you have all the information that you need. I find the Slack Q&As really good. We get a lot of feedback from our people that they find them engaging but meaningful because you're answering the questions that probably everyone is thinking about.

Brett Fenton:

The other part that I do is I do written communications each month. I do two sets. One is, sort of a recognition piece, so we use Slack to... I believe that peer based recognition is far more powerful than taps on the shoulder from above. And so, peers calling each out in real time, every day about the great work they do, aligned to the values of the organization. So we do a recognition piece each month that talks about the call-outs that have been made for our people, it puts it in the spotlight. And so communication for our people.

Brett Fenton:

And then the other one I do is more of just a longer one that's overall business performance, what are we seeing in the broader market, what are some of the challenges, what are we seeing in the business, but I generally wrap that up into the same narrative that I use for the town halls. So you sort of bring all that together.

Ernst Pelser:

Okay.

Brett Fenton:

Well that means a lot of communication right, And then we podcast on top of that, plus the overlay of the organizational comms as well. I think one of the marks of success that we've had in that, and sort of, again, treated it as a scientific problem to solve that was how [inaudible 00:28:41] approached comms.

Brett Fenton:

So you start, you build on it, you take feedback, you evolve it so that it resonates with your people. We've now got a professional comms manager in the organization, they've looked at the structure and framework that we've used in the technology part of the business historically, and they said that, "Hey maybe we should roll that out more broadly across the organization as a standard for communication." So it's kind of a nice endorsement. You put something together, you approach it in a structured way, then the business looks at it and go, "Okay, we can actually use that." And it actually becomes something bigger than you thought it was going to be.

Ernst Pelser:

Yeah, that's really good because normally, I think you've alluded to this, is it kind of happens the other way around, right? That's interesting.

Ernst Pelser:

It sounds like you read quite a lot...

Brett Fenton:

I do...

Ernst Pelser:

Any particular recommendations or anything that's taking your interest at the moment?

Brett Fenton:

Yeah, so I read a crazy, I travel a lot, and so I spend lots of nights in hotel rooms, lots of time in planes, lots of times in airport lounges, and so it's always a great time for me to read.

Brett Fenton:

I'm just reading, at the moment, I'm just sort of in the final pages of it's called The MVP Machine. It's completely unrelated to leadership. It was recommended by our head of business operations, who's sort of got a data background. The theme in it is about baseball, and what they explore in it is, they've taken measurement of player attributes to this whole crazy new level. The reason baseball gets used so much for this is because it's a more statistically driven endeavour than probably any other sport, any other business anywhere in the world. They measure everything. Some of the stuff that they've figured ways to measure was the number or RPMs, the rotation of the ball as it comes out of the fingers pitchers and they found a lot of the pre-conceived ideas they had based on gut-feel of a century of playing baseball wrong.

Brett Fenton:

As they learned to measure different things and the technology becomes available to measure different things, they've completely changed the way that baseball is played, but, more importantly, that players are developed. And I kind of like this, the theme of it is anything that you can measure, that's meaningful in your business, you can put structures and programs in place to improve it, and also differentiate.

Brett Fenton:

And so I really enjoyed that.

Brett Fenton:

Thinking Bets by Annie Duke, who's a professional poker player, [inaudible 00:31:12] PhD in psychology, fascinating book and just talks about there's no right or wrong in business, [inaudible 00:31:17] probabilities at any point in time, and the probabilities are always changing. There's some really great thinking in that book. I found some of the thinking that was quite profound, has changed my view of the world a little bit.

Brett Fenton:

That's always a great outcome from any book you read, right?

Brett Fenton:

But yeah, on average, I'm sort of doing about a book, or a bit more than a book a week, would be my sort of average...

Ernst Pelser:

A book a week? That's impressive.

Brett Fenton:

And one of the things I like to do, internally we got a library, and so, as I see things that are interesting, or people recommend stuff I just get the business to buy them, put it in the library. As I read it, they're open to anybody in the business to read. They got a sign in, sign out sheet, so we can... not so we can keep track of the books, so people can actually see what everyone is reading. It kind of just makes it open and transparent. It's interesting. But we also get people to write in the cover that they read the book when they read it, what did they take away from it. And so it becomes kind of like a virtual book club a little bit, which is kind of nice. And as people pick a book that all might have read, they'll read it and say, "Aah, I saw you read that book, Brett." And you kind of have that nice connected conversation, which I enjoy.

Ernst Pelser:

Yes, very interesting. I like that. Okay, have you ever read a book called How to Measure Anything?

Brett Fenton:

No.

Ernst Pelser:

Quite a interesting book. I picked it up when I was trying to learn a little bit more about how do I measure things in a business and a team. And I found it quite interesting, coming from a statistical background, so maybe a book you want to have a look at.

Brett Fenton:

Yep, I'd love to. And something I'm finding with my leadership team at the moment, again, and I probably see this a lot in, maybe its [inaudible 00:33:09] to this business, but I think it's fairly ubiquitous, you know I speak to a lot of leaders and I just wonder, in business, do people measure the right things? We measure all the outputs, do we figure out what are drivers of those outputs, and do we measure them?

Brett Fenton:

We measuring, we're proactively measuring performance rather than measuring it in the rear-vision mirror, and that's a question that I'm asking in this business, in my teams, and sort of in real-time at the moment.

Ernst Pelser:

Okay. Technology wise, is there any specific technology that you are finding really interesting at the moment or that you feel can change your industry or anything like that?

Brett Fenton:

If you just say one specific piece of technology, I've been really impressed with Amazon Connect. You know, a little bit like when Amazon launched AWS, it was an output of them solving a problem internally, building this great cloud computer resource and then commercializing it. I saw this crazy snap the other day that if Amazon were forced to split their Amazon and their AWS businesses, they'd still both be in the top ten, independently in the top ten largest companies in the world. It's like crazy.

Brett Fenton:

But they had the same with the call centres, and they were trying to deploy call centres at scale, globally. Nothing out there met their need and so they built this cloud based voice solution, and I've been really impressed with what it does. I had [inaudible 00:34:42],but the... you can start to do interesting things with voice that you may not have been able to do before. You know, while I'm talking to you, you might fork a stream of that voice transcription service and run machine learning over it and send them an analysis in real time. And so you can see the sentiment of the call.

Brett Fenton:

So if you're a supervisor, for example, you can... so instead of you traditional methods of understanding sentiment in calls which is to go back after the call and ask how customers MPS top questions, you've got an option to do that. You know, it's got voice based chat, it's got locational service, it's got voice fingerprinting.

Brett Fenton:

They're all kind of, I think from a business part of the business of ARQ which is that sort of mass scale 400 000 customers, voice is always going to be a channel that's interesting for us. And I think being able to do something more meaningful with voice as opposed to just pick the phone up, have a conversation, and then you kind of lost every part of that conversation post putting the phone down. So I've been really, really impressed with that as a solution. We've got a couple of our approved concepts in place internally, with it, but also we can get commercialization opportunities, you know.

Brett Fenton:

Some of our big customers are looking for delivery partners in this kind of space.

Ernst Pelser:

That's quite interesting because I played around with, I think it was Amazon Connect about a year ago, and I've not come across that many customers who's really adopted it over here. So I think Australia seems to have been a little bit slow on the take-up on it. But I think once it gets legs it could...

Brett Fenton:

Yeah, look. I mean, there's some interesting stats on it, right. If you look at the way, if I had to go and deploy a contact type solution internally today, and we could be providers of your Genesis and Avaya’s and your Cisco’s, you'd go through a complex sort of RFPs, do your requirements analysis, you got a big upfront capex spend, you got then a big implementation program, it will be 12 - 18 months really before you take your first call through the solution.

Brett Fenton:

And then because you've spent millions of dollars you going to, it's going to be in place for generally 5+ years, right. And I think it's the same thing as there's still lots of companies that still have a lot of assets in data centre because they're only moving to cloud at the time of a refresh. Which, from a financial sense, that makes perfect sense, right? But the question becomes, "What's the opportunity cost of not doing it early and using it as a competitive or differentiated advantage in the market place?"

Brett Fenton:

And I think Connect is one of those things where people will [inaudible 00:37:26] be on-premise solutions and they're probably not going to off that until they're ready for a hardware refresh. But the challenge you got is all your competitors are potentially looking at the same stuff. It's who's going to be first?

Ernst Pelser:

Any other technologies?

Brett Fenton:

Look, I think it's less about the technology. That was one example because it's sort of, it's something that's playing out in real time for us. I think more broadly though, the whole concept of cloud is interesting. We're seeing faster adoptions to that and also, on the back of that also, the underlying ability to orchestrate at scale is really interesting. I think what we're also seeing, as people put assets in the cloud, what role data analytics starts to play.

Brett Fenton:

And so I think less product-centric technology, but more just broad trends, you know, cloud, data analytics. And you're starting to see that becoming pervasive in our day to day lives. Everyone uses Netflix, and everyone, maybe not everyone, but certainly large footprints of people use Netflix and large footprints of people use Spotify, and they're all these great cloud based services. They learn from your preferences based on their data analytics, you get a really personalised experience. How do we get better at that kind of level of Personalisation in the more corporate world? What would it look like if, I don't know, airlines had that level of personalization? You know, predictive analysis of where your next trip is likely to be, suggestions for it, suggestions for hotels as opposed to rights of [inaudible 00:39:13]take some action, right.

Ernst Pelser:

That is a very interesting... at one of the Amazon conferences, where the CEO of Qantas was talking about how they use artificial intelligence to reduce their fuel costs and stuff like that. It was quite interesting, I think it's a very... it's a interesting world that, a world I'm personally trying to understand a little bit better and how you trans... because I think that the trick is how to take something really complex and turn that into something that's, and explain it in a way that's very easy. I think that's an art in itself. And it actually leads to a question for me.

Ernst Pelser:

with regards to, if you've a idea for, or your team's got a idea for, a technology for the business, how do you go back to senior leadership and go articulate the benefits that can bring to the business? What's your approach with that?

Brett Fenton:

I don't like to do that in a theoretical way, what I like to do is to run small POC, you know, run those experiments. And then bring the data on that back to the business so I can say something that's really tangible. And I think that makes the conversation really much easier. Like I remember, before Amazon Connect one of the last big call systems that they had to put in, I sat down with the CFO, trying to explain the benefit, you know, he's having trouble conceptualising, and you going to spend money on putting something upfront, right?

Brett Fenton:

With Amazon Connect, you put in a small POC, you start to... you measure it, it's a consumption based model, right. So you can predict more accurately what your total consumption cost is going to be, how you optimise that, and you can show clearly, at scale, you can articulate a clear financial benefit, you can articulate a much better experience benefit if that's the thing you're trying to focus around. If you're trying to focus around a differentiated benefit because you're doing something with it, you're leveraging the technology, in a novel way in a business, you can actually demonstrate that.

Brett Fenton:

And so then you can bring that [inaudible 00:41:28] in two ways: One is that you give them the data, but you show them the experience and you get them to immerse in the experience. And then all of a sudden they can touch it and they can feel it. And then it becomes far more than just the usual PowerPoint presentation everyone sleeps through. And you don't get the cut-through and then there's the one person in the room that's always saying hey... there's always one person in the room saying this is amazing. We should do it. There's one person in the room who says, it's a terrible idea, we shouldn't do it. And so you get these long circular arguments, right?

Brett Fenton:

But I think as you bring these things to life in a more tangible way, I found your ability to get cut through increases exponentially.

Ernst Pelser:

Okay. Interesting. Thank you for that. Sort of just to close, a couple of questions.

Ernst Pelser:

So, if you went back twenty years and had to give yourself advice, what would it be?

Brett Fenton:

Probably I'd be more open to... I kind of resisted, I literally started my job in technology twenty years ago, and I always tell people as they're moving through their career journey, or the next opportunity, to move towards something, not to run away from something. And certainly not to run away from something that I didn't want to do it anymore.

Brett Fenton:

I took the first place that would basically have me, and I just wanted to, I ran until I figured out what I wanted to do. But as I emerged into that area, if you'd said to me, "Brett, you're going to have this really successful career in business management and people leadership." I would have said, "well, there's just no way because I don't enjoy doing that stuff." But, you're a 25 or 27 year old, and you've got this closed mindset, about you're going to enjoy and not enjoy in life. And I think the advice I would give to myself is just be more open to the experience and then as you, actually, after you experience, then make decisions.

Ernst Pelser:

Okay. Brett, thank you very much for your time. I've really enjoyed the chat. And thank you to our listeners, and I hope you join us next time.

Brett Fenton:

Aah thank you so much. It has been great being on the other side of the microphone. It's been a different experience for me, but I really enjoyed it. Like, I hope the podcast series goes crazy, I'd love to be back.

Brett Fenton:

Thank you.

Ernst Pelser:

Brett, thank you very much.

Ernst Pelser:

All right, how do you feel?

Brett Fenton:

Cool.

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