David Gee talks to Brett Mildwaters, the general manager – information technology at Ticket Solutions, whose brands include Oztix, Heatseeker and NZtix.
Brett I’m curious to get an understanding of the key responsibilities of your role.
If it connects to power, I’m responsible for it! Actually it’s not quite that bad — it just feels like it some days!
My key responsibilities cover all the traditional IT areas of infrastructure, support, architecture, development, systems integration, etc., but extend to cover a broader business purview — including strategic planning, corporate governance and client relationship management. Plus aspects of operations, finance, marketing and HR.
You are currently embarking on an Executive MBA. With a busy role and young family – what drove you to take this on?
In a nutshell, I’d hit my personal ‘glass ceiling’.I have held a number of ‘head of IT’ roles over the years, but felt that I wasn’t contributing as much as I could to the whole business in each of those roles, simply due to a lack of broader business skills and knowledge.
With my Executive MBA almost complete, I now not only contribute to the broader business discussions happening around the executive table, but actually drive many of those discussions.
I’d like you understand how these post-graduate studies are already being applied in your current role?Do you find that this is a great way to put into practice what you have just learnt?
Absolutely! The course I am studying is delivered in a number of two-week intensive residential modules — I come back from each one brimming with what I’ve learnt and just itching to put it into practice.
In fact the hardest part is choosing what order to do things — almost everything I’ve learnt can be applied in my current role, but you have to prioritise and pick the things that are going to have the most impact at the time.
Driving delivery is a key and critical part of management, how do you position this work in your day versus the more strategic aspects?
It is a very delicate balancing act and to be honest, one where we tilt slightly towards the getting stuff done side — especially where we have committed to deliver for a client.Our clients have very real, hard deadlines (typically the events they are putting on), so we have to keep a very clear focus on delivering everything our clients need for those events.
Due to that very clear focus, it is sometimes the more strategic aspects that lose focus and get deprioritised.This is dangerous if not recognised so we have put processes in place to identify early if this is happening to ensure those things don’t get lost and that we get back to them as soon as we possibly can.
Could you share a story about dealing with a really tough problem in the last two years and how you resolved it?
You mean other than the challenge of juggling family, work and post-graduate studies? Jokes aside, the toughest problem I’ve dealt with in the last two years was our software development function.When I joined the company, our development team was based out of Bangkok, Thailand – our own staff, in our own office, not outsourced.
This had worked really well for the company for over six years by that stage.However, as is happening to all industries, our industry started to evolve at a rate much faster than it ever has before.We addressed this by significant investment in growing our staffing in Bangkok to try to get ahead of the curve but ultimately we found it wasn’t working.Read more: What kind of CIO do I want to be?
The fundamental problems of time-zone difference (Bangkok is four hours behind during AEDT, three hours the rest of the year) and non-native English speakers meant we were finding ourselves struggling to communicate effectively with our development team. When you have clients expecting new capability to be turned around quickly, excellent communication becomes critical and we were struggling.
In October we made the emotionally very difficult decision to close the Bangkok office, making all the Thai staff redundant, and bring all development activities back to Australia.We had a couple of developers already in our Brisbane office and so we recruited additional development staff based in that office.
It is only early days but we are already seeing a massive turn around with our development activities when compared to the last couple of years and indications are really positive for the future of that function.
What’s the best piece of career advice that you ever received?
‘If something is worth doing, it is worth doing properly.’The trick for me has been to learn that ‘properly’ does not necessarily mean ‘100 per cent perfect’ — sometimes you need to spend the effort to get it absolutely perfect but sometimes near enough is actually good enough.
Recognising which situation demands which level of ‘properly’ has been my personal challenge for years which I am only just starting to master now.
You are working for a dynamic industry — entertainment — that involves a significant amount of technology (ticketing, payments and so on). Do you often find that you are drinking from a fountain with new tech?
Yes and no.As you pointed out, there is a huge amount of new technologies and developments that are either directly pointed at our industry or if not directed, are very relevant.Rather than drinking from a fountain, I sometimes feel we are trying to drink from a firehose.
Just keeping up with the new developments, and assessing each one is a massive challenge. However, once assessed, the real trick is identifying those things that are worth the early investment of time and/or funding versus those things that need a watching brief to see if they mature. All too many new things pass without ever developing into anything useful, but every now and again something comes along that is a game changer.
When you think back to your best boss, what attributes have you tried to also emulate?
Wow, that’s hard.There are so many aspects to being a good boss, but to me I think the following things are critical:
- Being a great leader, not just a good manager;
- Really, truly listening – take on board what staff tell you, don’t ever dismiss what they say out of hand;
- Take the time to provide feedback — genuine, constructive feedback — keeping in mind that feedback on things done well needs to be given just as readily as feedback on areas to improve;
- Consider the needs of your staff before you focus on your own needs;
- Recognise a given situation and what management style is appropriate for that situation — be consultative and consider others opinions as a default style, but be prepared to make decisions and get on with it when the situation demands it.