‘The Engine Room’ aims to build the profile of Australian Grand Prix Corporation (AGPC) staff members and provide interesting insights into what it is like to be part of the team working on two iconic international events, the Formula 1® Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne and the Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix in Phillip Island.
Tom Mottram - Division Manager - Operations & Risk
1. You’ve been at AGPC for nine years, tell us about your career pathway that got you where you are today.
It is hard to believe that I have been with the Australian Grand Prix Corporation (AGPC) across two stints for almost 10 years. And still to this day I am grateful to be working in an industry that I absolutely love and thrive in. It’s one thing to love your job, but it’s another thing altogether to live and breathe your job because it is something you truly believe helps shape you not only as a career professional, but as a person.
Looking back on it now, I think I was always going to have a career in the sporting/events industry. Like most people with a passion for sport, I quickly realised that a career as a professional sportsperson was an unlikely pipedream, so the next best thing was to help stage these sporting spectacles and events that play such a special role in people’s lives and in society in general.
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted what the sporting and events industries mean to so many people around the world – it is not only intrinsically ingrained in their way of life but also plays a vital role in bringing people together. Sport and events remain one of the few platforms where people from all walks of life can come together and enjoy a common bond with one another. I probably didn’t know it at the time nine years ago, but this is what motivated me to be involved in the industry.
I wouldn’t say that ‘event operations’ was what I initially envisaged for myself in the industry, and to be honest, I was just happy to be there in the first place. After completing a degree in Sports Management at Deakin University, I knew the industry was the right one for me and I was happy to take any opportunity I could get. My first taste of events was a role volunteering at match day functions with the Geelong Football Club. I’d drive down the freeway from Melbourne to sell raffle tickets at President’s Club lunches – and I loved it! Just to be a part of the inner sanctum of an AFL club was a huge buzz for me.
As I gained more experience, I was lucky enough to be involved in events such as the Australian Masters Golf Tournament, which had me working alongside Tiger Woods and the international travelling circus that came along with it. I still look fondly back on that event as one that in hindsight kick-started my career in event operations.
From there, I found myself in a role with the Victoria Racing Club (VRC) responsible for the membership application process for reserved spaces at the Spring Racing Carnival. It was my first corporate sporting events role I had been in, and it solidified the desire to be a part of the top-tier sporting events world. That desire put me in the right place at the right time, and I accepted the role of Accreditation Coordinator at AGPC.
I spent the next six years with AGPC, working my way through roles from Accreditation Coordinator, to Venue Operations Coordinator and then to Venue Operations Manager. I gained invaluable experience in these roles working with some amazing people both on and off the track. After working across six Formula 1® events and six MotoGP™ events I was offered a role with sports management and events consultancy company, TLA Worldwide.
My role with TLA was as the Senior Account Manager for Cricket Australia (CA), managing all of CA’s fan engagement activations. I was involved with some really cool fan experience campaigns and activations, travelling throughout the country for both the men’s and women’s Ashes series. One of the most unique and challenging activations I was responsible for was the build and management of a pool and deck within the Gabba arena in Brisbane.
Another “sliding-doors” moment presented itself where I found myself accepting a role back with AGPC as the Senior Manager - Operations & Customer Experience. I can honestly say I learnt more in those next 18 months in that role than I had in my whole career. That role elevated my learning and capabilities immensely and I am truly thankful for the opportunity that AGPC afforded me.
At the end of 2018, AGPC was finalising the exciting engagement and consultation services with the Vietnam Grand Prix Corporation, which presented me with a promotion to my current role as the Division Manager – Operations & Risk. Taking on the responsibility of the Corporation’s risk strategy and framework has by far been my steepest learning curve and I one I am finding very fulfilling and rewarding, to not only challenge myself but to thrust myself outside of my comfort zone. Whilst I am in a constant state of learning, I am also able to bring my own unique experiences and approach to the role – an approach and opportunity that I am thankful for every day.
2. Risk management at major events is more than ensuring crowd safety, can you describe your role in more detail?
I was lucky enough to take over my role from my current General Manager, Amy Hill, so I have great guidance and a sounding board to bounce ideas off. Amy has always been a great mentor to me, and she was a key reason why I returned to AGPC.
The role wears two distinct hats: one in leading the Venue Operations team with our mission to create the ultimate customer experience through operational excellence. Essentially, we identified this mission and purpose to be quite simple – everything we do, we do for the customer. Whether this be designing a venue that allows all of our customers to maximise their enjoyment throughout the day, ensuring they can get to and from the venue with ease and without complications, or ensuring all of our patrons can attend our event knowing they will be kept safe and that their safety is our highest priority. We do it all for the customer.
The second hat I wear is the “risk” hat. It goes without saying that the operational element of my role goes hand-in-hand with the risk part of my role, but it is a lot more than just ensuring crowd safety at our events. Ensuring crowd safety is a significant priority that is inherent with any large-scale major event and one we need to constantly be focused on. To that end, the way in which we manage that, and any other risk priorities, are the end result of a sophisticated risk framework that AGPC is constantly monitoring, reviewing and adjusting for the current and projected environment. Motorsport itself has inherent risks so the way in which we manage these critically important risks is why we are able to successfully deliver world-class events in what can be a high-risk environment.
Apart from managing the critical risk factors associated with running two major motorsport events in front of a worldwide audience, my role is also responsible for ensuring our broader enterprise/business risks are appropriately managed and mitigated against. This component of my role requires a strong understanding of all aspects of our business, both from a governance perspective and a functional and operational one.
Our diverse activities mean that our risk profile is multifaceted, be it event-based risks, storage and logistics risks, compliance obligations or business continuity risks, and it requires us to stay agile and adaptable. Our ‘Event Readiness’ program is key to this ensuring we are prepared, resilient and able to be in a state of readiness for all types of conditions whether those be extreme weather conditions, planning for continuity of transport services during our event weekend, a global pandemic or any other unforeseen events.
There is never a dull moment in risk management at AGPC and it requires me to be in a constant state of reviewing the external and internal environment, and projecting forward to see what may be on the horizon.
3. You’ve advanced your career with AGPC by holding a number of positions across the organisation, what has been your greatest accomplishment and why?
I would say I have many small yet significant accomplishments for myself personally and others that are proud team achievements. I am incredibly lucky to play a role in staging two global major events, and I have learnt along the way that reflection is key for both personal and career growth. On the Sunday afternoon, right before the main races of the Formula 1 and Motorcycle Australian Grands Prix, I make sure I take the time to truly stop and literally take in the achievements that my team and I have been able to accomplish – it gives me an immense sense of achievement. Not many people get the opportunity to work year-round on a project whereby all your hard work, long hours, dedication, sweat and tears are there in front of you for you and the rest of the world to see.
Some personal accomplishments that I am proud of are based on influencing change to achieve greater outcomes for the organisation. Some of these changes include implementing our Security by Design framework which saw AGPC at the forefront of Counter Terrorism and Event Threat Preparedness planning, successfully designing and implementing a new Command and Control Centre called ‘GP Command’ for our events, travelling to Vietnam to advise the newly-formed Vietnam Grand Prix Corporation planning to put on their first ever F1 event, as well as creating the Venue Design & Operations Committee which changed the way we design and operate our venue to have a customer-first approach to venue layout and design principles.
With all that being said, I’d have to say that my greatest accomplishment to date was when I was honoured to receive AGPC’s Mariyana Burela Employee of the Year award in 2019 (named after an AGPC colleague who sadly passed away just before my time at AGPC). I was, and still am humbled that my colleagues, the Executive Team and Board felt I deserved such a significant award in recognition of my hard work throughout the year. I have always maintained that the accomplishment would not have been possible had it not been for an amazing team around me.
4. Australia’s safety and security landscape has changed considerably over the past five years, how has this effected the way major events operate?
Event safety and security has always been an important part of our event planning and delivery and the nature of that planning continues to evolve rapidly in response to a changing external environment. This is an area that we put considerable focus, resources and proactive planning into. After a number of terror-related incidents overseas in areas of mass gatherings and events, it forever changed the way major events were planned for and operated.
AGPC has been a proactive industry leader in the event threat preparedness space, creating a Security by Design framework aimed at ensuring the integrity of our security posture of our events were critically assessed and enhanced. We have continually implemented new technology, assets and standards with our Security by Design framework focussing on areas such as perimeter integrity, accreditation, hostile vehicle mitigation, technology capabilities and our GP Command operations. Together with our partners in emergency services and security, we have created a rigorous set of security standards which sets out the base security expectations for our events.
These systems have been a cornerstone to our event planning every year and one we must continually monitor and never become complacent in. The landscape of safety and security at major events has certainly evolved over the past five years and will continue to do so. However, our commitment to patron safety will always remain paramount to how we plan our events each and every year.
5. What inspires you outside of your day-to-day role and how do you get the best out of yourself and your team?
Building a resilient team that fosters great culture, team dynamics and a desire to impact meaningful change is what inspires me outside of the day-to-day duties of my role. I believe that ultimate success comes in the form of surrounding yourself and others with great people who share a common purpose and commitment – to enjoy what they do with the people they do it with. Although it sounds simple enough, this approach forces you to take a look at your own leadership style and constantly reflect on how you engage with your team members and colleagues every day. Our team holds pretty high standards for ourselves and that can sometimes come with its own challenges, yet it is one we are always prepared to stand up to at the end of the day.
If this year has taught me anything, it is that we are a resilient bunch and we will support one another no matter what is thrown our way. Although we never saw the F1® cars go around the track at this year’s Formula 1® Australian Grand Prix, the 2020 event is one of the proudest events I have been a part of. To see the way that our team conducted themselves to get to that final stage and then to see the event ultimately cancelled was one I will never forget. We did not get to witness the full spectacle of the event as planned, but what we did see was the ultimate demonstration of teamwork, adaptability and resilience.
6. You’re a member of the recently formed Senior Leadership team at AGPC, how do you see this position adding value to the business?
I am genuinely excited and grateful to play a role in AGPC’s Senior Leadership Team (SLT) and see this as a great opportunity to add value to the business on a number of fronts. The SLT platform provides the senior leaders within the business opportunities to make impactful change across the organisation both strategically and culturally.
Being in an organisation that fosters a culture of high-functioning teams means that we are transparent in many areas of the business. This allows for open and honest communication between teams and individuals. I see the role of the SLT as one that must harness this transparency to ensure the business ultimately sees long-term and sustained success. We hold ourselves to our own highest standards and we want to ensure we continue to uphold these standards and be a positive example for the wider organisation. Being able to lead and take on projects such as staff feedback survey results, building on business KPIs and engagement with the Corporation’s strategic direction are all valuable ways in which we can add value to the business.
One of the areas I am most excited about is the mentor program we are looking to implement that will enable continuous learning, career development and succession planning for the business.