A behind-the-scenes look at the people who make us great.
Welcome to the latest edition of the Cogent Crew series, where every month we’re inviting you to get to know a little more about the people at Cogent.
This month Corrie spoke to Stu about his first month at Cogent, his goals for the new COO role and how he lost the chance to name his dog Batman.
Name: Stuart Liston
Time at Cogent: 1 month
Welcome, Stu! So not only are you new at Cogent, but you’ve also joined in a brand new role, and at a very interesting time for the world in general.
Yes indeed! I joined a month ago, so at the very start of the COVID-19 workplace impacts which means, so far, I’ve not worked a day in the office or physically with the team. I’ve worked with Cogent as a client for many years which means I feel quite familiar with the team, so I have to keep reminding myself to stop and learn the basics. It’s been smooth so far, primarily because what you see on the surface at Cogent is a true reflection of how things are behind the scenes. I had very high expectations about the capabilities and values of the team, and they haven’t been let down. I’m grateful it’s working out as expected!
Tell us a bit more about how you worked with Cogent as a client.
In 2012 I joined a company called Hooroo as a software developer. It was a small travel startup incubated by Qantas, which later became Qantas Hotels. Fun fact: I was actually interviewed by a Cogent consultant! About a year later I started managing the development team and later looked after that business for Qantas. Throughout that time we were supported by Cogent’s Boost service.
Stu’s beautiful daughters enjoying the Australian outdoors
So what made you decide to join Cogent?
After seven years I made the difficult decision to leave Qantas. I had a sense I was getting comfortable and that I was getting good at a narrow thing; being effective in a very particular environment. I was looking for something different, where I could learn in a diverse and broad environment. I’ve always looked for opportunities to learn from other people, and I knew that I wanted to work with Mark, Amelia and the other Cogent people I knew. I already had a strong sense of the calibre of the people at Cogent, so I knew I’d learn a lot by being around the team. It felt like an ambitious remit but as part of a team where I already felt safe and values-aligned.
What does your day-to-day at Cogent look like?
I’m an early riser, so I tend to start about 7:30 in the morning. That period before 9 am helps me organise my thoughts and my priorities, plus it can be really quiet and peaceful as most people haven’t started work yet.
As a team, we tend to do operations in the morning, and that’s typically a series of stand-ups to help communicate where we’re at and what we’re working on. Then I tend to spill out into specialist stuff. So for example, we’re brainstorming about learning at the moment, thinking through creative ways of maximising learning for our team given the new cost environment we’re all in.
My role covers some broad topics, such as strategic planning, people and business development and general operations. At a macro level, it’s about contributing to the direction we need to go in and then ensuring the whole organisation understands and is converging towards it. Where I spend my time specifically, on any given day, week or month can be very varied!
Nice! What are you most excited about working on at Cogent in the future?
First of all, I feel a huge sense of responsibility to protect all of the things that Cogent does so well already. So my priority in the short term is to understand how things work, learn about the people, learn about their needs and where the team sees opportunities to improve. Evolution is one of our stated values, and I’m here to help affect evolution. I don’t know where I can have the most impact yet, but I have a natural interest in growing people and teams, so I’m sure that’ll be a focus for me.
One of the things that strike me about our conversation is your ability to say, “I don’t have the answers yet”, you seem comfortable in that space?
In Scotland, I grew up in a culture – not at home but more broadly – where that vulnerability wasn’t common amongst men. But I remember very specifically seeing someone I looked up to be very quick to say that they didn’t know something or that they didn’t have the context to decide something. It was striking to see a person so incredibly capable be the first person in the room to admit when they don’t know something. Seeing it role-modelled made it safer for me to do the same thing.
Nowadays it’s more natural but at the beginning, I had to be quite intentional about it.
A holiday snap in Mull from Stu’s last trip back home to Scotland
That’s awesome! Did you study software engineering at university?
I did quite a broad degree in Web Design and Development. It covered many aspects of design, marketing, and software development. I was a mature student as I took a break after high school to work for a few years. I struggled to engage throughout school, but I always felt like I’d do some kind of higher education.
After a few years of working, I found myself seeing a career coach who asked me what I enjoyed about school. The one thing I really engaged with back then was a website building project. They told me about a university that offered a degree in Web Design and Development, so I decided to give it a go.
What’s your favourite way to spend the weekend?
I’ve got a five-year-old and a two and a half-year-old, and we love to get them out of the house and take them to new places. We also have a pug, Bruce, who we take on walks at the weekend. Funny story about his name – he’s got a black coat so I really wanted to call him Batman, but that wasn’t something that my wife was keen on. We settled on Bruce, as in Bruce Wayne. Bruce sounds a bit Aussie and a bit Scottish so we thought it’d work well! I’m a big fan of giving pets human names.
My inlaws emigrated late last year and live just around the corner, so sometimes we get to pack the kids up and send them over for a sleepover. My wife and I love to catch a movie, go for a meal, or – believe it or not – go Saturday night shopping at Ikea!
Bruce the Pug on one of his wet weather walks
That’s sounding like a pretty good weekend! What is the scariest thing you’ve ever done?
Having kids! I think specifically there’s a moment where you bring your kid home for the first time, and you realise that you don’t have the nurses around, you don’t have the support of the experts, and you just look at each other and go, “oh, this little thing depends on us for its survival!” There’s a moment where the seriousness of your responsibility dawns on you and it’s quite frightening!
Stu’s gorgeous family
What is the best advice anyone has ever given you?
Don’t sit down with a light bulb in your back pocket.
Haha, is that a Scottish one?
It must be. The best advice anyone ever gave me is about the importance of learning and taking accountability for your own learning. I think it’s so important to enhance what you are doing at work by reading and expanding your knowledge outside of work. If you want to be good at something, you have to practice and stretch yourself.
Like the idea of joining the Cogent team? Head over to the Cogent Careers page and say hello!