In this episode, we meet George Hunt, the Chief Information Officer (CIO) of Sydney Water.
George is a recognised technology leader within the global utility sector. He has a successful track record in implementing technology infrastructure to support increasing customer expectations, challenging regulatory outcomes and corporate business goals.
He has held roles as a Global Consulting Partner at Wipro Digital in the UK and CIO for Wessex Water.
George completed a four year technical apprenticeship in a major engineering company, and has a Bachelor of Engineering from Birmingham University, UK and a Master of Information Systems from Kingston University, London, UK.
Connecting with George
You can connect with George Hunt on LinkedIn.
On a story from his childhood that impacted his life
- My most influential teacher was my maths teacher. He encouraged two or three of us to take our maths O-Level a year early because he had faith in us. We all got A’s, which was interesting. That was a defining moment.
- Around the age of 10, I joined the local rowing club and I can’t begin to tell you how it changed my life. I suddenly found myself in a situation where I was surrounded by professional people, people who had achieved a lot. Doctors, lawyers, accountants, really professional people who were driven. I was mixing with kids who had very high aspirations and who were gearing themselves up to go to university and that couldn’t have been further from where I was at that point in time.
On what has made him successful
- The first thing is a genuine interest in how applied technology can make a difference. The welding experience I had with the welding robots was a good example of technology aiding manufacturing.
- The second thing is that I learned quite quickly the power of learning how to advise and influence, as opposed to tell. People are the secret sauce and if you can get a team to work for you, with you, alongside you and they believe in where you’re trying to go, then you can achieve huge things.
- I worked for this amazing guy called John Wolf who’s sadly passed away now. He was one of two people in my life that has been truly inspiring to me and made me realise the power of working with people and getting things done with people, rather than a more traditional sort of management approach, where you tell people what to do. He taught me a huge amount about the power of goodwill, the power of investing in people so that they believe in what they’re doing.
On getting a team to perform
- To win your people’s hearts and minds, you have to have a compelling vision or proposition to offer them. If you sell the proposition to them, you can then sell the journey to them. And if you can sell the journey to them, you can grab their heart. I love a good analogy or story in order to help people understand what we’re trying to ask them to do.
- How do you unlock discretionary effort? Why did you take on the challenges in your life that you took on? Not just because they’re there. There must’ve been something that compelled you to do it.
- If you don’t win the hearts and minds, it’s really difficult to recover as you have no credibility, no goodwill credit that you can trade on when the going gets tough.
Some great analogies to help guide your teams
- Everything worth doing in business is like a marathon; all transformations take years. So you have to have the purpose within your blood and you’ve got to know what the outcome is going to look and feel like.
- The one analogy I use is that we’re trying to upgrade an aircraft whilst it’s in flight. And it’s such a significant programme that it’s effectively like changing one of the engines whilst it’s in flight. This allows people to understand the risk profile of what we’re doing. So we better make sure the other engine is sound and not change too much on an aircraft that’s in flight as we’re introducing risk. And it’s really corporate risk or reputational risk if the aircraft doesn’t keep flying, so how do you feel about that risk?
- There’s a story of JFK walking around NASA in the 1960s and he comes across this guy who’s sweeping the corridor, and he asks him, “What’s your job?” And he says, “I’m helping to get a man on the moon.” Regardless of whatever your role is, whatever your contribution is, there was a clear mission towards achieving an outcome or supporting an outcome.
- We had a number of folk that were used to sitting in the grandstand criticising the play on the field. I thought, “That’s just too lazy. You’ve either got a position on the field and you know what your role is, or you’re nothing. There’s one pitch. One team. One objective and no grandstands.”
On being relevant
- So the feedback was “Be relevant or get out of my way. Or get out my diary.” So the feedback was “Make sure you’re relevant and I’ll give you time. If you’re not relevant, I will not give you time.”
- You’ve got to add some value or you’ve got to make a contribution, so I’m constantly challenging my team to stay relevant otherwise irrelevancy will actually cause them to become extinct.
On the changing landscape of technology
- Technology is an interesting arena because it could just be outsourced or switched. So we need to be open-minded about how to change and stay relevant, rather than just saying, “We keep machines going, keep the lights on.”
- Through the maturity of technology, rather than just being an enabling function, IT has become a partnering function. Digital will actually start to define the strategy of a lot of organisations.
- Don’t describe what you do, start to describe what impact you have, or what contribution or what difference you could make, or what disruption you could introduce that will change the nature of the organisation.
- A CIO is not the technical person in the room anymore, they’re actually at the heart of the future of their organisation. More technical and digital people will be sitting on boards.
On the little things in leadership
- Those little things are simple things like knowing somebody’s name, saying hello, saying goodbye, saying thank you. At the end of the day on Friday, I always walk around the floors of where I am in the Sydney Water building just telling people to go home or asking why they’re staying late, or just saying, “Thanks for doing what you’re doing.” Simple things like that, they just pay you back in bucket loads.
- I have a constant, ongoing dialogue with the people that are going the extra mile for me. We operate a ‘manager once-removed’ process, which allows me to be very connected to my direct report and their direct reports. I go out of my way to understand what makes somebody tick. I know when people are under pressure, so I make sure I go and support them and create an environment that makes them successful.
Final message of wisdom and hope
- It’s very easy for your moral compass to be messed around with in large corporations; you suddenly realise you’re not living up to your values or you’re not staying true to what you believe in. So my words of wisdom are really know who you are. Know what you stand for. Know what you believe in, and stay true to them.
- Opportunities will come your way and there will be opportunities that are aligned with those values, rather than you seek the opportunity only to realise you have to compromise your values.
Go ahead and listen to George’s colleague, Kevin Young, our very first Inner Chief Podcast episode!