Q&A with our AFR BOSS Young Executives of the Year 2021
The future of the Australian business industry is bright, if the winners of the 2021 AFR Boss Young Executives Award are any indication.
Two Business, Economics and Law alumni from The University of Queensland were among an exclusive group of 6 exceptional young leaders recognised this year.
Both graduates of UQ's Bachelor of Commerce / Bachelor of Economics program, Fahim Khondaker and Tara Osborne were selected for their leadership in the community and in industry, as well as their strong track record in people and thought leadership.
We caught up with Fahim and Tara to celebrate their outstanding achievement and learn how their studies in commerce and economics led to exciting careers with social impact.
How did it feel when you found out you were one of the 6 AFR BOSS Young Executives of 2021?
Fahim: I was in shock, as I really didn’t think I had much of a chance. They called after 8pm while I was putting my youngest daughter to bed, so I had to finish putting her to bed first, then let the news sink in. My immediate feeling was that of gratefulness for all the opportunities that I have had in life that so many other people don’t.
Tara: I was very excited to be named as one of this year’s AFR BOSS Young Executives. I actually applied last year (2020) and was chosen in the final 10 to proceed to the simulation. I was 38 weeks pregnant at the time and my baby decided to enter the world the day before I was scheduled to undertake the CEO simulation.
What does this achievement mean to you?
Fahim: To say it is an honour is an understatement. I am hopeful that it will challenge some negative preconceived notions that unfortunately still exist in our society. I am an ex international student from Bangladesh who is also Muslim. I hope that this achievement helps create opportunities for some people who otherwise may not have been given one.
The sacrifice my parents made to give us the life that we have here in Australia has been motivating. My father grew up in a village in Bangladesh and today is a very successful doctor here in Brisbane. I still remember the many years when he worked all day and then studied until 1am to sit his RACGP exams, all so we could have the privilege of living in this wonderful country.
Tara: Being named a BOSS Young Executive is a huge privilege and wonderful recognition of the work I’ve put into my career and those that have supported me on that journey. I hope to inspire upcoming talent and be a reference for young women looking to have both a career and family. You totally can have both.
What was the application and review process like?
Tara: The application process included a long list of questions addressing topics like leadership style, career challenges and how you approach obstacles. There were also a couple of personality assessments and a panel interview with the judges.
Fahim: Run in conjunction with global leadership consulting firm Development Dimensions International (DDI), the next step in the application process puts applicants through a simulated day in the life of a CEO of a $26 billion global company. In this simulated environment, you are responsible for an email inbox that gets flooded with emails throughout the day that you have to address, while attending meetings and interviews to present your vision for the simulated company to all staff. The idea is to create a high-pressure environment and see how you perform as a leader under pressure.
“At the end of it all, DDI gave us a detailed report with analysis of our personality, strengths, and development areas.”
Can you describe what you do in your current role?
Fahim: As partner (data analytics and insights) at BDO, I focus on using data analytics to help our clients achieve their strategic, commercial and operational objectives. Our focus is on analysing complex issues and identifying simple ways to discuss them with key decision makers. We work with cutting-edge innovative technologies and often develop sophisticated algorithms to do this, but we focus more on the outcome than the technology.
We work with all clients but proactively seek clients and projects that deliver both commercial and social outcomes (for example, contributing to the future of aged care in Australia through the Royal Commission and addressing workforce and infrastructure challenges that exist in the education system).
Tara: I joined BINGO Industries, a leading recycling and waste management company with operations across NSW and Victoria, shortly after its initial public offering on the ASX in May 2017. I was one of BINGO’s first corporate employees and I was brought into the development team to do a bit of everything from strategy, marketing and automation, sustainability, investor relations and development. It was a very lean structure, and it was an exciting time as the business had gone from a small family-owned company to a publicly listed entity. Over the last 4 years, the company has had a phenomenal growth journey, listing with a market capitalisation of just over $600 million to recently selling to Macquarie (MIRA) for an enterprise value of $2.6 billion.
In my role as general manager (strategy and investor relations) at BINGO Industries, I’ve led the development of the business’s 5-year group strategy. I’ve also worked on both organic and inorganic growth through a number of transformational acquisitions, including our most recent acquisition of Dial A Dump Industries in 2019 for $577 million. Being able to influence and shape the direction of the company and leave an impact in an industry that is going through an enormous amount of change has been incredibly rewarding.
What advice would you give to anyone interested in furthering their career in your industry, especially young executives?
Tara: The waste industry is currently one of Australia’s most pressing social issues. Having a career where profit is aligned with positive impact gives me an incredible sense of purpose. Long gone are the days when people turn up for a paycheque and work 9 to 5. Work is such a huge part of your life and you want to know that you’re investing your time and life’s effort in something that is making a positive difference. My advice is to choose a career that fulfils your sense of purpose and don’t be afraid to take on challenges along the way.
How would you describe the importance of business analytics to future-focused businesses?
Fahim: In an increasingly complex world, it is important for business leaders to make well-informed decisions that are defensible. No one can predict the future, so there will always be risk associated with every decision, but ideally, you want to be certain that you have made the best possible decision with all the information available to you. If analytics is done well, it helps support important decisions and get everyone on board with those decisions.
How did your time at UQ prepare you for the next step in your career?
Fahim: My UQ degrees became entry passes to a world of opportunities. I really appreciated both the technical knowledge I picked up in areas like accounting and finance, and the more analytical, big-picture thinking from some of my economics subjects.
Tara: I had such a positive experience and really embraced university life at UQ. Many of the people I met at university are still my friends today and a lot of the people I studied with have gone on to do some incredible things in their careers.
What does the future look like for you?
Fahim: We are doing some really great things at BDO both in Australia and globally, so for the short-to-medium term I am very excited to be a part of that journey. We are very values driven and want to have a greater impact on the world through the people we work with, and this aligns very well with my own personal goals. I would love to be able to work with lots of organisations and help them have significant positive impact and be even more successful.
“On a personal front, I want to focus on raising my 4 girls and building an even better relationship with them – hopefully they will still talk to me when they become teenagers!”
Tara: There’s so much I would like to do in my current role with BINGO. The growth we’ve had thus far is just the tip of the iceberg!