Leadership Insights – Case Studies from the Frontline

By Ben Derwent – Managing Director

Published Date: 2015/10


At Derwent Executive, we complete circa 400 mandates per annum and through these endeavours we engage with dynamic leaders from a variety of sectors, functions and locations. We take pleasure in being able to share their executive journeys with you.

Below is our interview with Mark Brayan – CEO, Appen who joined Appen in July 2015 and is responsible for the company’s leadership, strategy and culture. Mark has over twenty-five years’ experience in technology and services. Prior to joining Appen, Mark was CEO of MST Global, a provider of technology solutions to the resources sector.

Mark has an MBA from the Australian Graduate School of Management and Bachelor of Surveying with 1st Class Honours from the University of NSW.

"Leadership Insights - Case Studies from the Frontline" - Interview with Mark Brayan – CEO, Appen

1.Q - Was there a defining transition that led to your 1st CEO role?

A - There was no defining transition for me. A series of experiences led to my first CEO role. I sought roles and situations throughout my career to prepare for a CEO role, including sales, leadership, international experience (especially in the US for the IT sector) and I completed an MBA. When the opportunity for my first CEO role arose I jumped on it – including travelling from the US to Sydney on very short notice to do an interview in person and show that I was keen to do the job and able to do what was necessary.

2.Q - Disruption and innovation are hot topics, how are these themes impacting your current mandate?

A - We provide data and services for machine learning to the world’s largest technology companies, so we’re helping them innovate and disrupt. We’re also looking for ways that we can disrupt ourselves, so we can disrupt our competitors and provide better service to our customers.

3.Q - What advice would you provide to new CEO’s on managing the relationship with the board?

A - Be open and proactive in your communication with your Board. Board’s generally want to help so lay out your strategies, focus areas and options and seek their input. Give them the confidence that you’re across your brief but get their guidance.

4.Q - Do you see external NED roles as important to your professional development? And if so, when do you believe is the ideal time to kick-start these conversations?

A - External NED roles are an opportunity for professional development as well as an opportunity to share your experiences with other directors and support and develop other CEO’s. External NED roles need to be balanced against the demands of your CEO role and hence best taken when the business you’re running is running well.

5. Q - What are the key attributes of great leaders you have observed.

A - Great leaders and CEO’s are able to rally a team to build a vision and a plan and then lead the team to deliver it. Key attributes include a) speed-of-thought to get across everything quickly and break it down into achievable pieces, b) communication skills to ensure the plan is well understood, and c) empathy to see things from the perspective of others and get their engagement. I believe that great leaders are servants of the business that they run and hence the ability to engage and motivate a team around a common goal and support them to achieve it is fundamental to success.