Q&A with Bernadette Stone: CIO of Brisbane City Council
Bernadette Stone is the Chief Information Officer of the Brisbane City Council and the quintessential woman in digital. With over 20 years’ experience in IT and senior management positions in Enterprise Strategy, Mergers and Acquisitions, Bernadette has demonstrated her passion to drive change in fast paced environments. Companies on her resume include Accenture, Rio Tinto, Queensland Rail, Aurizon and Virgin Australia.
Clearly, she has built an impressive career in male dominated industries and we were excited to chat to her about her career journey and developments in IT.
These are incredible professional accolades, but tell us, who is Bernadette the person?
Wow thank you… and that’s a big question. I guess first and foremost now I’m a wife and a mum of three girls. I used to be driven by very different things and definitely lived to work rather than the other way around. I now prioritise my time. I love simple things like winding down with my husband on a Friday night, gardening (geez now I sound old…) and watching my girls in whatever competition they’re in. Work is still important to me and I have a high work ethic and I loved to be challenged and to be part of real change. However, I think I have the balance not in a bad place right now – most of the time – where I didn’t before…
What is something that not many people know about you?
I guess it used to be little known that I’m hearing impaired. I was embarrassed about it for a long time and in some professional situations it can pose quite a challenge so actively trying to keep it hidden was hard. I learned to accept it for what it is and seek out help when I need to, such as letting the Chair of a Board know prior to a meeting or potentially weaving it into my introduction in large meetings.
What are you currently watching/reading/listening to?
From a leadership perspective I’m listening to Marty Moore’s leadership podcasts – you can find those on yourceomentor.com.
You are a Brisbane woman through and through. From completing high school at Yeronga High to now being the CIO of Brisbane City Council. What is your favourite thing about Brisbane?
In fact I grew up in North Queensland in Mackay and came to Brisbane in Year 12. I do love Brisbane and it’s where I want my three girls to grow up… Beyond the liveability it’s the community spirit that I love. We saw it through the 2011 floods where my neighbourhood of Fairfield was greatly affected where the community stood up and gave everything they could…
A lot of people, particularly in the tech sector, feel the pressure to go overseas or to Sydney/Melbourne to ‘advance’ their career. You are obviously a shining example that that isn’t the case. Did you ever feel that pressure?
No not at all… but then I’m more of a generalist technology leader rather than heavy tech. We’re really lucky now that every business needs technology to truly forge ahead and more and more organisations are looking to their technology organisations to provide the leadership to enable business transformation. So opportunity is everywhere…
Becoming the CIO of Brisbane City Council is no small feat. How did this opportunity come about?
Based on what I’d read about the role I reasonably suspected that the organisation was seeking a leader that was strong in execution. That played to my strengths in delivery and transformation. Whilst that turned out to be predominantly true at this level, it’s not just about matching capability, it’s about a cultural fit and alignment with what direction you describe you’ll take the organisation. I was also up against pretty seasoned CIOs and although I had all the experience across my roles I didn’t have that CIO title to really demonstrate I had put it all together. Thankfully the timing worked for me where the priority seemed to be for a business focussed leader who could run technology rather than the focus on technology itself…
You’ve transitioned from one unique role to another so seamlessly. We speak to many people who struggle to translate their experience and skills to different roles. What advice do you have on that topic?
I’m glad it looked seamless… most of it was grabbing opportunities I thought moved me forward in some way. The fork in the road for me was at the point I chose to leave contracting to be an employee. That was a serious pay drop for me for more accountability. I knew the general direction I wanted my career to take to C-suite whether that was in IT or not I hadn’t determined. It was definitely the right move for me. My advice is not to be afraid to take sidewards or even seemingly backwards steps. The other thing I was focussed on was being good at it when I got there and so I tried to have as many different but relevant experiences as I could. I believe you should chase roles that strikes that balance between you having the capability to perform the role and giving you that growth you need to progress.
What tips do you have for other CIOs about growing and developing a high performing team?
For me, my role as CIO is just one role in the team and you need to work for them as much as they work for you. I try to set clear, aspirational but achievable strategic directions and lay out the broad accountabilities for each area. Anyone working in IT knows that there are not many things we can do day to day that don’t rely on another team. We have done a massive amount of work on shifting the culture to ensure that we put accountability where it lies and not just make decisions for another area. The biggest challenge is changing the belief system that this slows you down – it’s easier if I just do that myself – when in fact it not only makes things faster, the result is more sustainable. We are also developing a culture of great respect for each other and seeking to understand each other’s priorities and challenges. Every CIO is different but in each IT organisation there are so many moving parts – maintaining a stable, reliable environment whilst enabling change in the most commercially viable way is challenging. But for me, it’s all about being consistent and investing the time into your team for incremental change toward the end goal… Do that, and the outcome will follow.
And for people that aren’t CIOs yet but definitely hold it as a career aspiration. What would you say to them?
I say go for it! There’s not a lot of areas within an organisation that you can really enable transformational change on the scale that you can in IT. That’s what drives me. It’s a role that draws on a massively diverse set of skills as well – managing operations, commercial skills and high level of business acumen to ensure you are driving value delivered by ICT across the Enterprise. Knowing that going in – choose your roles to fill your skill gaps.
What is next for you?
What’s next for me is what is now! Right now we (me and my fantastic leadership team) have set audacious goals for a target state that is transformational. Working with great people is important to me and that’s what I have in my team. I also need to know I’m creating impact. Seeing through this change will broaden and deepen my capabilities which will enable me to further my executive progression.
A huge thank you to Bernadette for taking the time to chat with us about your impressive career in digital so far. As an Advisory Board member of Women in Digital, we are sure to hear from her again soon. If you want to read more Q&A’s with the top women in business, head over to our blog and stay updated on our Facebook and Instagram pages.