Mark Gustafson talks about growth and development at Suncorp and overcoming 'typecasting' by promoting your skills

1 March 2019

Tell us about the role you’re in now?

My role is Executive Manager of Intermediated Distribution Development. My team covers a fair bit of ground. We work with Suncorp New Zealand’s intermediaries on deploying change and we also support all our distribution applications. We are also responsible for developing any new distribution opportunities and managing Vero’s Schemes and Facilities.

How has your role changed since you’ve been at Suncorp? 

I’ve worked at Suncorp for 13 years and had a fantastic variety of roles. I see my time here in two phases – the first was in leadership but I’m now involved more in transformational change.

I came into the business as CEO of a travel insurance joint venture. After five years there, I moved into leadership roles in other business units and with other partners and across different markets. Over the last four years, I have focused on leading initiatives that have helped reshape Suncorp’s New Zealand business including divestment and restructuring of business areas, developing and launching new technology and launching new distribution partnerships in the market.

What are some of the challenges you've faced? 

It is easy to be typecast to what you do today. Sometimes people I talk to are surprised at what I can do or have done in the past. 

If you want to break stereotypes or be considered for new and different opportunities, it’s important to continually promote your skills and follow your interests. Be curious, ask questions and get yourself involved.

The other challenge is you rarely have enough time, resource or funding.  I have learnt that you need to be open with others about what the trade-offs are when making a decision and pursuing one course of action over another. Listening and including other’s views usually translates into a better outcome and acceptance.  

What support have you recieved from Suncorp to help you continue to develop? 

I am a great believer in self learning, and I have found the best development has been through observation of colleagues and also working for four very different EGMs and three CEOs. 

At Suncorp, development is actively supported and the variety of leadership and personal development courses I’ve had access to have given structure and perspective to my on-the-job learning. 

The best structured training I have done has been to train as a mediator. This really focused on soft skills around understanding people, negotiating, influencing and resolving difficult situations. As I have progressed further into my career, soft skills have become more important than pure technical expertise. 

What opportunities for development or change are you looking at now? 

Digitisation is profoundly changing not just financial services, but all parts of the economy and our customers’ expectations.

The digitisation of our business is happening rapidly and that’s where I’m presently focussed on upskilling. The nature of our roles is changing too so evolving and staying current are critical to remaining relevant. 

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