Welcome back to our special podcast series, Careering.
In this series we speak with experienced leaders about the unexpected detours in their career journey. Speaking candidly about their experiences, our guest will inspire and motivate, offering advice and suggestions for how to re-route your career when it comes off the rails.
About our guest, Dale Bryce
Dale Bryce is currently Director – Delivery & Commercial for specialist power & water consultants, Entura.
He started his career in public relations, working with Lloyds Register in the UK and later heading up communications for one of Australia’s largest law firms, King Wood Mallesons.
He then took a seven year stint establishing and leading a global capability marketing team at Sinclair Knight Merz, which became part of the Jacobs Engineering Group – one of the largest engineering firms in the world.
Many listeners may also recall that Dale was once the President of APSMA, now ICON.
If you look at Dale’s career path on LinkedIn, it’s certainly impressive and at first glance looks flawless. But closer inspection shows a gap for a few months mid 2014 between leaving Jacobs and starting at Entura. We focus on this period for the podcast, where Dale went from running a global team at a business with 70,000 people to being without a role at all. How did he get his career back on track? This is Dale’s story.
Thanks to the City of Melbourne for funding this podcast series through their COVID-19 business grants.
Graham Seldon: [00:00:03] Welcome to the special Seldon Rosser podcast series called Careering. We’re your hosts Katie Rosser and Graham Seldon, and we specialize in the recruitment of senior level candidates to professional services.
Katie Rosser: [00:00:16] In this series, we interview experienced leaders about the unexpected detours in their career journey and dive into how they got back on track. Speaking candidly about their experiences, our guests will inspire and motivate, offering advice and suggestions for how to re-route your career when it comes off the rails.
Graham Seldon: [00:00:36] And thanks to the City of Melbourne for funding this podcast series, which is produced by Michelle Le Cornu at Brainbox Marketing.
Katie Rosser: [00:00:44] Dale Bryce is currently Director – Delivery & Commercial for specialist power & water consultants, Entura. Splitting his time between Tasmania, their Head Office, and Melbourne. He started his career in public relations, working with Lloyds Register in the UK and later heading up communications for one of Australia’s largest law firms, Mallesons. Now King Wood Mallesons. Then followed a seven year stint establishing and leading a global capability marketing team at Sinclair Knight Merz, which became part of the Jacobs Engineering Group – one of the largest engineering firms in the world.
Katie Rosser: [00:01:21] Many listeners may also recall that Dale was once the President of APSMA, now rebranded as ICON, the Professional Services Marketing Association. If you were to look at Dale’s career path on LinkedIn, it is certainly impressive and may at first glance look to have happened without any upset. But closer inspection shows a gap for a few months mid 2014 between leaving Jacobs and starting at Entura. This is the period we’re going to focus on today, the period where Dale went from running a global team at a business with 70,000 people to being without a role at all and without certainty as to what the next season of his career would look like and where the opportunities would come from. How did he get his career back on track? This is Dale’s story.
Graham Seldon: [00:02:09] Welcome, Dale.
Dale Bryce: [00:02:11] Nice to be here and thanks for the invitation and thanks for having the conversation.
Graham Seldon: [00:02:16] It’s a pleasure. I’m interested, can you describe your journey at Sinclair Knight Merz? You know what life looked like prior to the Jacobs merger?
Dale Bryce: [00:02:25] Well, I was very lucky to be placed there by your good self. And we grew a function – capability marketing function, which was looking after global business units, regions around the world from anywhere from the U.K. through to Chile, in Asia and all over Australia. And we grew that from a very small team to becoming quite a powerful, influential group across the whole business, and some of us were able to become shareholders of that business as well. And it was at a time when that business was growing every year through acquisition. Through an M&A strategy growing with its client base. So it’s really a very exciting time and an exciting business to be within and to be part of.
Graham Seldon: [00:03:21] So, what happened? How did you end up out of a job?
Dale Bryce: [00:03:25] Well, I think you eat before you get eaten and then ultimately you get eaten. Isn’t that what M&A strategies is all about? So we were growing with our clients and we got to the point where at 7000 people, as a group of shareholders, I had to look at other ways of growing. And the shareholder group at that point chose to look at a transformational merger and ultimately ended up being acquired by Jacobs Engineering out of the US.
Katie Rosser: [00:04:01] And so how did that eventuate in you losing your role and what moment did you know that was going to happen?
Dale Bryce: [00:04:10] Yes, so I think in my role and the team generally were very much involved in these acquisitions and implementing that strategy. And every year we would bring on another business and integrate that business. And then when we agreed to undertake this this growth strategy through transformational merger. And I myself was very much involved in that in the internal and the external communications of that. And the strategy of that. So we knew where it was going. But, of course, this could be a two year process. So it was very interesting in itself. But once the demerger was agreed and voted on and implemented, it became very clear that my role at the centre of a business based in Australia didn’t really exist anymore. And so that gave me pause for thinking about what is my role now and where do I want to go.
Katie Rosser: [00:05:26] And during this period, did that affect other people before it affected you? Were you having to deliver this news and make team members aware that this affected them as well?
Dale Bryce: [00:05:37] I think we try to be very open about what was what was happening around us. But we were in this vacuum where immediately after the merger, that happened on a particular date. The implementation process just doesn’t happen overnight. And so there was a period of months where there was just a calm. And I remember talking openly about what this might mean for our team at that time. The centre of operations for Jacobs was in Pasadena. It’s now in Dallas. And we weren’t there. In effect, we didn’t have anyone in the US at that time. One of the reasons for the merger was it was very complimentary in terms of not only skills set geographies and the bulk of the team weren’t at that centre. And so all of us, I think, who were very capable people and had contributed a hell of a lot in our time in the business, had to sort of think what are the next steps? What are the opportunities in this new business for us? Do we want them? And where are we going to go? So for me, I just don’t like waiting. And I got to a point where I thought, you know, I wasn’t happy and I don’t think I’m going to be happy here longer term. And so that’s when I really tried to take control myself and encourage others to make their own decisions. But for me, I had to come to a decision that, you know, the new organization wasn’t going to work for me.
Katie Rosser: [00:07:28] And we’ll come to what you did with that decision in a moment. But there were obviously quite a few months where you were still working the business knowing that this would come to a head. Those months, how did you keep yourself motivated going, knowing, I suppose, that the end is nigh?
Dale Bryce: [00:07:45] Well, there’s work to do and you do it. But, you know, it’s really not as exciting as it was. If you were growing something and developing something and had your own vision and and working with others to implement that. You do what you do but at the same time, think about what your next ideal place might look like. And are there opportunities within the new organization that you could bring to life? You know, I was having lots of conversations within the business. And certainly I remember talking to Graham about, you know, what life outside the business might look like, what the opportunities were there. So, I think I found myself transitioning and exploring options within the business and outside the business, well before I actually left.
Graham Seldon: [00:08:48] That week after you’d left, if you can go back to that first week, you’d gone from running a global team, you’d had such an amazing journey at Sinclair Knight Merz. You’d built a marketing capability function. You’d recruited all these amazing people. And gone through the merger, which was incredibly challenging, mergers are, but they’re also quite exciting for marketing people you know, they’re always really, really busy. And then suddenly you’re not working. Can you talk to us about how you actually sort of felt? How did you feel about your identity in that moment when suddenly you were not running a global team and a global business?
Dale Bryce: [00:09:29] I think we’re all familiar with the stages of grief. And I think before I left, I was going through denial and anger but got to acceptance well before I left. And then you leave. And then I remember someone, one of the general managers said to me, ‘Dale, you’re very Zen at the moment’. And I was in because I had accepted it. In the end, it was my decision. And of course, I accepted my decision. But you’re right, Graham, and then you implement the decision that you’ve made and you sort of think, okay, what are we going to do now? But I just tried to stay grounded. I think I slept a lot for the first couple of days and then it was about okay, where do we go next? What am I going to do? Let’s get out there and and take action to move towards that next decision point, which I hadn’t got to yet. And I knew I needed to be very clear about what I wanted to do and how I was going to get there. And that was kind of my job was to get a job.
Graham Seldon: [00:10:51] And interestingly, during that time, you also had quite a high profile role in the industry because you were president of APSMA (now ICON), which meant that you had to chair a board of senior marketing people in the industry. You had to attend and compare senior marketing dinners and events and everything else. And given that we live in quite a status-orientated world (professional services is certainly not immune to that) how did you how did you cope with that challenge of being out of a job but being surrounded by people who were in high profile jobs?
Dale Bryce: [00:11:34] Yeah, I think that’s a great comment. So, yes, I remember going to see meetings that I would be chairing and there was a degree of before I went into that room thinking, what am I doing here? I don’t even have a job. And and all these guys are the powerhouses of the industry. But I was there and I had a role and I fulfill that role and I knew what I was good at. And actually, you know, I didn’t want any of their roles. I knew that. And so I got very involved in the task at that time, which was to rejuvenate that association and to be a catalyst to change in that space. So I threw myself into that task.
Dale Bryce: [00:12:26] And I think that’s the other thing that’s really quite important, to use volunteering to give yourself purpose at a time where you may not have a purpose. The other thing I did was studying. I undertook the Australian Institute of Company Directors course at that time as well. And so you’ve got to keep yourself busy. Have a purpose in volunteering. In my role at APSMA and ICON at that time is really quite important to me.
Dale Bryce: [00:12:57] Status is probably less important to me personally. For me, it’s about task. Where am I going? What am I doing? How can I make the best of this opportunity that I have? Even though I was unemployed at the time, I knew that I could make a contribution in that particular forum that I was in.
Katie Rosser: [00:13:18] Fantastic. You’ve mentioned taking control and that your job was to get a job. So, what did you actually do in your job hunt to assess your options and look at what next?
Dale Bryce: [00:13:30] I think the funny thing is that those of us that come from, you know, marketing and sales backgrounds, you know, we’re involved in that sales funnel. And if you think about it, treat yourself as a product that you’re going to sell. What does that look like? So for me, I had to step back and a there was a time where I was thinking what is the product? What are my strengths and weaknesses? You need to get out and and talk to clients as you would normally. So I remember having conversations with many people doing that exploration process. What’s the market looking for? I mentioned earlier, you know, speaking with Graham and and I remember talking with you too Katie as well. And getting out and having those conversations and understanding what is it that I can offer? What is it that the market needs? And then coming back, then working on your CV, getting out and just talking to people all the time. So that’s what salespeople do. Right. But you’re you’re actually doing it for yourself. And just throwing yourself into interviews, exploring everything. And again, I remember talking to Graham an opportunity in New York. And Katie, you you and I talked about an opportunity in Vancouver. Well, to me, none of that was off the table. Let’s talk about that.And in the end, I think we all decided that wasn’t you know, those opportunities weren’t quite right for me and for my family.
Dale Bryce: [00:15:03] But, there’s a freedom that comes at this time that I think we can grab as an opportunity in itself and to explore everything. And some things just come off the table pretty quickly and others are well worth exploring. So for me, it was honing and talking to people, honing the CV, directing myself in particular areas of opportunity and being very clear about what I wanted and what the market needed. And it sets yourself up for the opportunities that do come to to mould them into something that you want or, you know, you sometimes you get a really fantastic fit. And it’s a beautiful thing. And you know that. It’s a great fit. And you can be much more confident in that. So for me, it was exploration, honing, and then, you know, the actual interview process getting out there. And again, that’s that activity, I think is really important. So you’ve got the volunteering, but you’ve also got throwing yourself into the opportunity, putting yourself into the market and talking to people and interviewing and doing all the things that we know that you go through when you when you’re in the job market.
Katie Rosser: [00:16:22] So tell us about Entura and how you ended up working there. You know, what was advertised and then what eventuated.
[00:16:30] So, we’re all out doing coffees, we’re dealing with, you know, recruitment consultants like yourselves and and of course, you’re looking at the advertised job market as well. And there was there was a job on SEEK for a role in strategy and marketing at Entura, which is the professional services arm of Hydro Tasmania. And so looked at it, read the ad thought that kind of suits what I’ve been doing and I applied. I remember running into Graham in the Qantas lounge as I was flying down to Hobart for an interview. And look it went well but what was interesting there was we had a conversation about salary and opportunity broadly. And in the end we agreed that I would I would not only take the role for strategy and marketing, but also I head up the national sales function as well. So for me, to have that opportunity to run the entire sales funnel was really a great opportunity. I was bringing quite a bit of capability, I thought, to that organisation. They were giving me this opportunity to actually have direct responsibility for sales. And for many years prior, I’d been advising others on sales and client relationship management and insights, et cetera. So that’s how it ended up. And I was really grateful for that opportunity to to really integrate strategy, sales and marketing for a five year period in that business. And, as you know, it’s unusual for people to have in professional services direct sales accountability. But I ended up with a multi-million dollar sales target every year, and I really quite enjoyed that as well.
Graham Seldon: [00:18:45] It’s a testament to you that you could go to ensure a fair initial conversation and have the conversations to tell them about your experience and then lead it to a position that was more suited to your skillset. Can you just talk us through how you gave yourself permission to do that? Because a lot of candidates dismiss job titles or dismiss opportunities because either they think it’s not the right level for them or they think they’re not equipped to do the job title as advertised. What what gave you sort of permission to go and have the conversation to broaden out scope?
Dale Bryce: [00:19:24] I think that’s how I always approach things, Graham. You know an interview is just the start of a dialogue and you get to the point where both parties start seeing opportunities. And, if I go directly to your question, giving myself permission, you know, if you do the work and the work is around, what are my strengths, what are my opportunities, what are my weaknesses as well? And, you know, I know I’ve been around in professional services for quite a while, and I knew how these organizations work and what their challenges were and how I could help. And I’ve actually been in front of clients a few times, but always, you know, informally. And, I guess you got to just back yourself in the end, don’t you?
Dale Bryce: [00:20:26] And the other thing that I’d say is that if you’ve been in professional services for a while, you’re really good at what you do. You are working alongside world class people because you too are world class and you just got to stop and think about that and acknowledge that and not walk around overly confident, but have a quiet confidence that you have done great things in great places and you can continue to do that. So, I guess I’d always given myself permission to go to places that perhaps I hadn’t been to before. The other thing, too, is I like the excitement of the new and the challenges is kind of what drives me. But you’ve got to know that about yourself as well. And yes, of course, there is a fear. But you’ve got to be have a conference, just step into that fear as well. And back yourself and deliver on the promise that you bring every day to the to the people that you work with.
Graham Seldon: [00:21:37] I like the fact that you say take yourself to places you’ve never been before. And you went to Tasmania. So from Vancouver – no. New York? No Tasmania – why not? Let’s talk about Tasmania, because how has taking a job that requires you to be in Tasmania quite a lot – how has that impacted your family’s lifestyle? Did you know Tasmania?
Dale Bryce: [00:22:00] Well, no. In fact, before I took the role, I don’t think I’d been there for about 20 years. I might have been on a school excursion or something like that way, way, way back. So, yes, it was a new place to me. And then I got to know Hobart really quite well. And what a wonderful place that is. And then you start seeing the lifestyle opportunities that come with with a place like Tassie. And, you know, we have now purchased five acres of farmland outside a place called Richmond just outside of Hobart. So, you know, I think in due course we will end up there. And I didn’t I was going to do that. But, you know, these great jobs that we’re all involved in now we get exposed to wonderful things and wonderful places. And certainly Tasmania for us as a family has been something that’s come along with this new role that I’ve got now.
Graham Seldon: [00:23:04] And you could never have imagined in your wildest dreams, I wouldn’t think, that when you were leaving Jacobs that seven years later you would be contemplating a move in your future to a beautiful part of the world, Tasmania, because of a job change. I mean, I think that in itself is what Careering is all about. It’s about, you know, your career looks like it’s unstable, you going off the road and then actually you find yourself back on track. And that’s a beautiful track and you’re going to a great destination, which is fantastic.
Graham Seldon: [00:23:34] What advice would you give to people who therefore feel embarrassed about, you know, being out of work for the stigma of being made redundant or unemployed? What advice would you give to them now, having been through that yourself? And I’m interested what advice you give them and how they talk about that period of time when they’re not working. Because there is a stigma often about not being able to say, well, I’m the head of marketing here and the Head of Marketing there. Can you give us some some advice?
Dale Bryce: [00:24:05] I think, first of all, don’t define yourself by your job is a really key thing. It’s important part of what you do, but it’s not who you are. And the other thing that you realize when you’re out and about talking to people. And by the way, never hesitate to phone anyone and ask them for a coffee because people are very generous with their time. And a reason that people are generous with their time is because many people have been through this. And many people, as you know, have been careering. And I remember one CEO said to me, you know, he was very open about, you know, he’d had six or eight months off between between roles. So I think as you become more senior, this type of thing does become more common. And it’s more normal than you think. And you’ve just got to be able to be strong in yourself, be more confident in yourself and draw on, you know, all those strengths that got you to where you were in that point where, you know, it’s not the end of your career. It’s just a pause. And the positive thing is that there’s this opportunity to then say, I’m now free to go anywhere I like. Now, where will I choose to go? It’s your choice. And again, I would say don’t define yourself by your job title. And be very clear about who you are and where you want to go yourself and with your family and how you want to spend the rest of your life.
Katie Rosser: [00:25:47] So thinking forward now, what does the future look like for Dale Bryce?
Dale Bryce: [00:25:51] Well, look, I’ve been lucky enough to transition again within the business, moving away from strategy, sales and marketing to this role where you know, around commercial and delivery, project delivery. And again, I when I talk to people, they think, oh, you know, that’s quite a change. What I try and do is build on things that have done in the past and pivot to the future. And so really what I’ve been doing is following the customer journey. And now I’m involved in delivery of projects and building a project management team and making sure that all those projects that we sold are now delivered commercially and well and deliver profit in the business. And I think that’s something I’m really quite enjoying about working with really smart technical people, but making sure that the business itself runs profitably.
Graham Seldon: [00:26:52] Dale, you’ve been so inspiring today? Thank you so much for coming on. It’s an interesting career so far in that we started this podcast talking about how your early career was public relations in London. And here you are now in a really impressive strategy role for a business in Tasmania and the grass, really, is greener for you at the end of this process, which is fantastic to see. And we’re very grateful for you to come on and share your story. Thanks so much.
Dale Bryce: [00:27:21] Thank you. Thanks for having the conversation.
Katie Rosser: [00:27:24] Thank you, Dale. It’s been great having you.