'Playing an active role in shaping change': Q&A with UniSuper's Anand Thomas August 2019

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One and a half weeks into his new role as chief strategy & marketing officer at UniSuper, we ask Anand Thomas the big questions: what's on your to-do list, what are you most excited about, what are the unique challenges in the role, and are you expecting the unexpected? He also names the people and experiences that have shaped his career so far and about his work to 'return the favour'.

What's the first thing on your to-do list in this new role?

No surprises here, the first thing on my to-do list is to spend time with my team, stakeholders and members to listen, observe and come up to speed on the lay of the land. My role at UniSuper is quite broad, but fundamentally it is gaining an understanding of member needs and the unfolding regulatory and political environment to then work through with Kevin and the leadership team the path forward for UniSuper. This includes identifying the capability needed in the business to deliver the target state, and then prioritising and monitoring its execution.

Areas I am particularly passionate about are member outcomes including engagement, transparency and simplicity – areas that are constantly developing as a result of evolving member expectations and technology advancements, so this is something that I will keep at the back of my mind as I go through the process.

"...the superannuation industry as a whole is facing unprecedented change, and this is going to be interesting."

You've not worked in the industry super fund sector before, are you anticipating surprises?

Whilst I haven’t worked in the industry super fund sector before, my career has been in financial services, the last 6 years of which have been insurance, so I am reasonably familiar with the sector. I am also quite familiar about working for an organisation that puts members interest first, having worked for MLC Life Insurance, which is 80% owned by Nippon Life – a mutual life insurance company.

Having said this, the superannuation industry as a whole is facing unprecedented change, and this is going to be interesting. This is one of the aspects that got me interested in this position. I also believe the diversity of experience I have in financial services coupled with the talented team at UniSuper that complement my experience will better position us to successfully navigate the different opportunities that come our way.

What unique marketing challenges does the industry super fund sector face?

Probably the most unique aspect of marketing in an industry super fund is being clear how the marketing activity will result in better outcomes for the industry fund’s existing members. This is very different to a retail environment, where the primary driver of marketing is to largely attract new customers. So, marketing’s focus has typically been on improving the experience and outcomes for existing members, rather than traditional above-the-line activity, which is more synonymous with the retail financial services industry.

What excites you about the new role?

I’d say there are three aspects:

One: the opportunity to be a part of an industry that is in the midst of significant change, and playing an active role in shaping that change.
Two: working for one of the best performing superannuation funds in Australia.
Three: stepping into a role that is critical to defining the future direction of the company and getting the whole company behind it.

Through my career, I have held multiple roles across strategy, marketing, product, digital, and transformation programs to name a few. This position at UniSuper brings all of this together, and it’s personally pleasing to see how my past positions have helped get me ready for this role.

Will you be outlining transformation plans for UniSuper?

Kevin O’Sullivan (Chief Executive Officer) and the team commenced a transformation journey in 2018 to get UniSuper ready to address the different opportunities in an ever-evolving environment. The creation of my position at UniSuper along with a new Chief Operating Officer role was an outcome of that work.

Using this as the foundation, I will be working with Kevin and the leadership team to further refine and build this transformation journey. Central to this will be adopting a commercial mindset and an unrelenting passion for execution to deliver better member outcomes including engagement, transparency and simplicity.

"I have been blessed to have held a variety of very different roles in my career (some might say more than the norm) and this was made possible by some exceptional people who took a chance on me by valuing capability and passion over experience."

Is there a particular colleague throughout your career who deserves a special mention?

It’s very hard to single out a particular individual as many people through my career and life have helped made me what I am.

I have been blessed to have held a variety of very different roles in my career (some might say more than the norm) and this was made possible by some exceptional people who took a chance on me by valuing capability and passion over experience. Each of them in their own unique way have, and some continue to shape me. These include: Asad Batla, Michael LaBrooy, Nick Reade, Philippa Sholl, Steve Rubenstein, Sam Plowman, Chris Smith, John Harries, John Salamito, John Busselmaier, Megan Beer, Sean McCormack, David Hackett and now Kevin O’Sullivan.

It would be remiss of me not to call out my wife, daughters and parents as not only have they shaped me but also encouraged me as I have navigated my career journey.

"As a first-generation immigrant, I found it very hard getting my first job 17 odd-years ago."

What do you like doing in your spare time?

I try my best to make time to mentor/guide individuals seeking career advice in Australia. As a first-generation immigrant, I found it very hard getting my first job 17 odd-years ago. Despite having worked in larger organisations overseas, people were very reluctant to give me a go in the beginning as I didn’t have local work experience. Eventually I did get my break thanks to some fantastic people. And it is my turn to return the favour for those individuals wanting a break like me many years ago. So, in my spare time, I try to meet with individuals to guide them through the process and connect them to people where I think there is a fit.

Besides this, I enjoy tennis and double up as an Uber driver to my two daughters over the weekend. I used to be an avid reader of fiction with Clive Cussler, Jeffrey Archer, Dan Brown and Harlan Corben being among my favourite authors.

What legacy would you like to leave?

I’d like people to remember me, as someone who has made a difference by creating and leading high performance teams, whilst having fun along the way.

And what advice would you give to your 21-year-old self?

Be curious, hungry and humble. Learn to take calculated risks, and master the ability to connect the dots.

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