The COSOL Journey: Work Culture, History & Success
A Reflection from Non-Executive Director Ron Fredericksen
March is a big month for COSOL this year. We’re moving towards our 18th anniversary and saying goodbye to long term board member Ron Fredericksen. Ron will be stepping down into a non-executive position, effectively entering his retirement. And so, we’ve asked him a few questions, that will shed some light on the culture of COSOL, its history and what it takes to be successful within its walls.
During his time at COSOL, Ron has held three positions- COO (2002-03′), CEO (03′-07′) and Executive Director (08′-Feb 18′). His work here has seen him create vision and direction through the development and motivation of multi-functional and geographically dispersed teams.
Tell us how Cosol has shaped your life over the past 16 years?
The primary purpose of changing to COSOL after a 17 year successful career with BHP was to renew/add to my skill set to set me up for the next 15 years and to have new challenges. My goal has always been to raise and educate my family the best I could and provide a platform to have options later in my working life. These goals have been achieved. My values have not changed but perhaps have become more focused. For the record they are Integrity, Loyalty, Family, Balance, Happiness and Simplicity.
What initially attracted you to the COO position with COSOL?
In 2002 COSOL was at the beginning of its life. I was in need of new challenges. Changing to COSOL was certainly high risk for me. I was leaving a long career in a multinational to a very small start-up company with three young children and a mortgage that added some pressure. When I weighed it up the reasons I was attracted to COSOL still stand. Flexibility of work, location and hours. There was also the opportunity to be absolutely accountable for your actions – basically the company would live or die by the decisions made. It was and still is a great learning environment for those that are prepared to commit.
Why do you think you stayed with the company for so long?
All things considered COSOL has been a great company to be part of, through the good business cycles and bad. I’ve stayed because COSOL has provided the opportunity to learn, flexible work arrangements (a big ticket item for me), it taught me to be a successful consultant, running and growing a business and importantly mentoring and watching others achieve and grow their careers.
What advice do you have for a COSOL newcomer?
Stay marketable. Put your hand up when the opportunity arises, put your ideas forward and be prepared to follow through. The ability to shape and run with an idea, new service line or product will get you a voice. Take responsibility for your own development – sell the value of yourself and the company and you will be supported. Use the opportunity to travel – one of my favourite bits (although I guess that has changed!). Be optimistic and positive. There is nowhere to hide in COSOL. The positive of this is that you will have a profile and this provides opportunity. Finally, focus on ensuring that you keep your work/life balance in check. I learned this a little late – but I am catching up.
Where has the job allowed you to travel?
I have consulted in some great countries which have included Mongolia, PNG, Bolivia, Chile and Colombia. Consulting is not always in a city office – Colombia will be remembered for having a full-time body guard and a risky plane to SUV transfer on a grass runway on the border with Venezuela. Bolivia for dealing with a bout of altitude sickness, PNG for aborted plane landings in fog. Mongolia for sleeping in Yurts and dealing with simultaneous language translations. Chile is special in that I lived over there for three years with my family and worked in a copper mine in the Andes.
How have you added value to Cosol?
I guess this is really for others to answer, but if you want a simple answer, I would say being able to provide a steady hand to guide the company through the good and bad. I believe I have been able to add great value to our customers over a long period in the strategic consulting space and help build the COSOL brand and reputation as a result. We are well respected in the marketplace and I am proud of that fact.
Can you tell us about some of your customers?
I have consulted and assisted over 30 individual clients during my time – all resource companies plus one dentistry practice! The work has spanned from confidential M&A work on hostile takeovers, establishing and reviewing technology strategies through to providing independent mentoring for senior IT executives. In 100% of cases I have been fortunate to have clients who value my and COSOL’s opinions and contributions. We always tell it as we see it- even if it is not what the client wants to hear. This is where the respect is forged.
Is there a consulting piece you are most proud of?
All things considered, my best piece of consulting work would have to be the Petrovis strategy piece in terms of location, scope complexity, size of team, skill sets, language and client stakeholders. Petrovis is a large private Mongolian oil company who engaged COSOL to complete a technology strategy which in the end turned into a business transformation strategy. I had a small team of technology and downstream petroleum specialists, which included a Mongolian support and translation team. We worked in country and in Australia over a four-month period. The scope was complex and included very remote locations. The language barrier when the job required over 100 face to face interviews and all levels of the organisation was an enormous hurdle to overcome. In the end we over delivered.
What has been your most satisfying project outcome?
The most satisfying delivery piece would have to be the OTML strategic plan completed last year. The presentation to the OTML Executive and being part of the catalyst for the subsequent changes to the organisation was extremely satisfying. OTML continues to be a very important client and partner.
What has been your most stressful project?
The most pressure I have felt on an assignment would have to be the four-hour Petrovis Board presentation on which a $350,000 USD payment depended. The client changed the presentation scope, format and extended the audience from 4 to 20 at 10:30pm the night before the morning session. All slides need to be reworked in two languages and scripts changed for the simultaneous translation in the meeting. We got the payment.
What about your riskiest project?
The highest risk project would be the Windows upgrade for over 400 production PCs across seven sites for a major mining organisation. The criticality of these PCs meant that a failure of a PC after upgrade was not an option. Also, these PCs had not been touched in many years. COSOL made some mistakes in that the project was won without allowance for a full time PMO office and sufficient skilled resources. This was a complex, high risk project with direct implications for mine production, and was conducted with a moving scope and disorganised client stakeholders. Our project team involved the coordination of four separate sub-contracting companies to deliver a successful and profitable result, under a fixed price contract.
The learnings still apply today – when you are faced with a fixed price project with a high degree of risk on delivery – break the project down into manageable pieces and manage the variations on scope as a priority. Build in an acceptable level of contingency. In the end there is no point winning a project that is not going to be able to be delivered. Fortunately we were able to deliver a great outcome for the client, but not without heroics from many individuals – something that is not recommended.
Tell us about your benchmarking work?
The recent three benchmarking projects have also been ‘fun’ consulting pieces…. COSOL is valued in the industry for our deep knowledge of the resources sector and the application and alignment of technology. We are well placed to facilitate targeted benchmarks on contemporary topics within peer organisations. The affordable service has provided great value for our clients. They use the results of these benchmarks to understand current performance and to be able to communicate this on a more factual basis. The results are also used in the production of business cases.
What has changed and what has not over the course of your career?
I started my early career in an environment with no internet, social media, email or PCs. Engagement with customers was by phone and involved lots of travel. Video conferencing was a future dream. Thirty years on we operate in a much more efficient environment. Even with all the technology, I place a high value on face to face conversations to get things done and build trust and respect. One thing that I have been passionate about for over 20 years has been trying to get the best alignment between the investment in technology and the execution of the business plan. This is a moving target and there is so much variation between organisations still today.
Getting IT from a cost centre focus to a business value add has always been a goal. It comes down to people and the conversations being had in the right forum at the right time and then backed up with successful delivery. Selling the value proposition effectively is key and not an easy task. Some of COSOL customers executive ‘get it’ and it is great to see real progress and results – Newcrest Mining, Roy Hill and OTML are a couple of progressive companies that come to mind.
What is the first thing you plan on doing with your retirement?
I guess I have a problem with the word retirement. I kind of like ‘encore’. I will be continuing on the board of COSOL as a non-executive director. I’m also involved in a study around time and the transition to retirement with a wellness organisation GreenX7. Outside of this and living on a beach, I will be doing a lot more paddle-boarding, guitar playing and healthy outdoor activities and travel.
Have any holidays booked?
My wife and I have travelled a lot and this will continue – next stop is Sri Lanka, we also have a regular holidays to see our wonderful ‘kids’ and our grandchildren. (Identical twins arriving at the end of March). We are roving gypsies.
Will you miss having an active role?
My work inside COSOL is done. My passions have changed – Grandkids will do that to you. The company is in good hands and in great shape. I am very proud of that and I am honoured to be able to continue in the capacity as a Non Executive Director.
Do you have any parting words of wisdom for the team here?
I think this is where you are supposed to be philosophical and sprout words of wisdom – so I won’t disappoint. Place a high price on your time. It is the one thing that is finite and we all do not know how much of it there is. Be passionate about what you do but make sure you look after yourself on a daily basis. This means getting the work life balance right so you can get the best of both. Again it is the one thing I took a long time to get right.. but I am catching up.
To find out more about starting a COSOL Journey of your own and to see our current opportunities, head to our careers page.