Interview with Dr Michael Storey, Isle Utilities
Posted 1 year ago
Dr Michael Storey is Managing Director, Asia-Pacific at Isle Utilities, a global team of scientists, engineers, and business experts, with a common drive to make a positive social, economical, and environmental impact through the advancement of innovative technologies and related practices.
Michael spoke to Impact Innovation about his work in the water industry, his passion for cycling, and his belief that servant leadership is the best way to lead a team of innovators.
What does your job involve?
I lead a high-performing team of scientists and engineers whose aim is to create new value in the water industry. We support more than 350 water businesses globally in the identification and implementation of leading practices in business, technology and innovation.
How did you find yourself in this role?
I was a research scientist in a former life, having completed a degree in microbiology and immunology and PhD in water quality and public health. Following post-docs in Sweden and CSIRO, I embarked on a career in the water industry.
Innovation has played a role at every step of my career – as a scientist and public health engineer, and later in Sydney Water and in my current role at Isle. I have always looked for better ways of doing things – at Sydney Water, it was to protect the environment and public health, to drive greater business efficiencies while providing value to customers and the community. Having spent the formative years of my career in research and development, and later in technology and innovation, I have been fortunate to work with some very talented people.
“Innovation has played a role at every step of my career … I have
always looked for better ways of doing things.”
Do you have a regular morning routine?
I am a keen cyclist and rise around 5am most days. My usual routine involves a ride around Sydney or Centennial Park, and on other mornings an early start in the office. Fortunately, my company embraces a flexible working environment, so I also share the school drop-off or pick-up with my wife.
What is your approach when a creative project gets stuck or delayed?
I work with some extremely talented and dedicated people. When a creative project gets stuck or delayed – we head straight into the war-room. There is no single recipe for getting things back on track, but most challenges can usually be overcome through the collective wisdom of my team.
You lead a large team of innovators. In your experience, what leadership traits or skills best enable innovation?
The best leaders get out of the way and let bright and smart people get on with their work. My leadership style is just that – I have a servant leadership style, and I believe that this really helps innovation flourish. I see a lot of organisations where leadership stifles innovation. People by their very nature will innovate – they just need time and resources, and there needs to be trust between an employer and employee. Empathy is also a leadership trait that best enables innovation to flourish. Whether it is empathy to the customer, or to your team, the best leaders have deep insight and emotional intelligence.
“The best leaders get out of the way and let bright and smart people get on with their work.
I have a servant leadership style, and I believe that this really helps innovation flourish.”
What program or software would you be lost without at work?
Probably MS Outlook. It’s terrible to say, but it’s my CRM tool and document management system.
Tell us about a project you were involved in that ‘failed’. What did you learn?
I brought customer experience design to an organisation I worked for many years ago. It has been used for some time in the retail and banking sector but was completely new to the water industry. To cut a long story short, it failed spectacularly! Not because it was not great work – it was leading-edge stuff and would have transformed the many pain-points in one of our customer service interactions. The reason that it failed was that I did not bring the right people along the journey. Innovation is often about change management and overcoming institutional barriers, rather than technical ones. You must win the hearts and minds of your key stakeholders.
“Innovation is often about change management and overcoming institutional barriers, rather than technical ones.
You must win the hearts and minds of your key stakeholders.”
What start-up, research or new technology are you excited about right now?
Anything that is clean and renewable. The water sector is facing increasing challenges to meet ambitious carbon and nutrient targets, while at the same time planning for increasing populations and climate uncertainty. We are seeing some exciting advances in hydrogen generation, which will form an important part of the water industry’s clean and secure energy future. Having just delivered the Sydney Water Innovation Festival, we were fortunate to see some great research and innovation. The Green Genie from UTS-Sydney was one of those and has the potential to transform the water industry through its ability to capture carbon and sequester nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus.
What is your biggest challenge currently?
My biggest challenge is managing competing demands – on the home and work front. We are experiencing unprecedented growth in the Isle business, and the current challenge is to recruit and onboard new talent to the business. If anyone out there is looking, let me know!
What behaviour or habit has most improved your life?
For the Stephen Covey fans out there – it is Habit #2 – “Begin with the end in mind”. Starting anything with a clear vision that is aspirational, inspirational, measurable, and time-bound has improved both my personal and professional life.
How do you stay up to date on industry trends and news?
The Isle global team is one of my best sources of industry intelligence. We have 100 staff operating in 22 countries, with the sole purpose of identifying leading technologies, innovation, and business practices and sharing that with our global network.
What goals do you hope to accomplish over the next twelve months?
On a professional level, we are at an exciting time in the Isle business. We are growing, so I am keen to bring new talent into the business.
On a personal level and having just entered the 50th year since my birth, my goal is to get into good shape, and improve my fitness.