From ballet to bushfires

the director paving a path to purpose

Ballet dancer on stage in black and white with smoke.

Images: Getty Images / vkasintsev; Werner Wynakker / EyeEm

Images: Getty Images / vkasintsev; Werner Wynakker / EyeEm

Author - Louis Costello

Leading with purpose is a term that is often thrown around, but it’s one Tim Kuusik personally embodies.  He started a UQ MBA to change career direction, but now the 34-year-old is laser-focused on creating social impact and transforming everything he touches for the better – from the performing arts industry to communication in bushfire zones.

The performing arts have always been a passion for Tim. In his youth, he toured with the Gold Coast Youth Orchestra, and in early adulthood, he started an electric quartet to support him through university – something he considers his first foray into entrepreneurship.

"My friends and I wanted to play at weddings to make some money while we studied, but we quickly realised it was a crowded marketplace and that we needed to innovate to stand out.

"We bought electric instruments, enabling us to play traditional music at the ceremony and electric pop music at the reception," Tim explains. And it worked. The group performed together for over fourteen years, playing at more than 1,000 weddings. From this experience, Tim saw first-hand the power of innovation.

He studied a double degree at The University of Queensland, a Bachelor of Arts (Music), to indulge his passion, and a Bachelor of Commerce, to please his parents. "I loved music, but I also knew a long-term music career wasn't likely for me. Consulting interested me from the outset. I liked the idea that I would get to apply what I had learnt to help people."

Tim Kuusik performing with Hailey Gibson performing in an orchestra rehearsal featuring in the 2009 UQ Arts Prospectus.

Tim Kuusik performing with Hailey Gibson performing in an orchestra rehearsal featuring in the 2009 UQ Arts Prospectus.

Tim Kuusik performing with Hailey Gibson performing in an orchestra rehearsal featuring in the 2009 UQ Arts Prospectus.

Twelve years into his consulting career, Tim felt ready for a new challenge. He wanted to increase his social impact and move from consulting into the commercial world, but there was one problem.

"When you build a career in consulting, you can get pigeon-holed when people see you as a consultant, an external influence rather than an operator within a business. So, I realised I needed to expand my skills," he explains. "I wanted to shift my focus – the opportunities to give back at EY were great, but I also knew I had more to give."

A partner at EY gave Tim a piece of advice he went on to follow to the letter, which was to join a not-for-profit board to give back and expand his expertise by completing a Master of Business Administration (MBA).

When it came to where he’d study his MBA, Tim carefully reviewed his options. "Although UQ was my Alma Mater and I loved my time there, that wasn’t enough to automatically win me over. I wanted the best MBA for both my career goals and my lifestyle.

“I looked at other programs and quickly realised UQ was the choice for me – it would help me take my career where I wanted to go, and it was incredibly flexible."

Tim started his MBA journey with gusto, getting through a large portion of his studies quickly, but then something changed. He saw an advertisement for a General Management role at Arq Group, a listed company which builds bespoke enterprise technology solutions that have an impact on people, helping them connect and engage. The company also had a strong commitment to corporate social responsibility, something that really spoke to Tim.

Tim credits his MBA with helping him to secure the directorship role. "I knew my UQ MBA was going to open doors – I didn’t realise it would happen so soon. I would never have even been shortlisted for the role if I wasn’t studying my MBA, but I got the job," he says.

"Even though I hadn’t yet graduated, I had already developed the skills and the confidence to step up to a general management position. That was a pivotal moment for me."

University of Queensland Business School Brisbane city venue.

Tim reduced his study load to focus on learning the ropes of his new role, and the UQ MBA moved with him. "I did almost 80% of my course in the first two years, and 20% in the remaining four years. UQ had the flexibility to change with me. I don’t think I would have got that level of support anywhere else."

Tim continued to increase his social impact, both in his studies and his career. At Arq Group, he worked on a project that would have more influence in 2019 than he could have ever imagined.

The team worked with the NSW Rural Fire Service to create 'Fires Near Me', a mobile phone app that allows fire agencies across the country to communicate the location, risk-level and required action with people in bushfire zones.

Timothy Kuusik speaking at a workshop.

Image supplied by Tim Kuusik

Image supplied by Tim Kuusik

"Working on an app like that gives you a chance to stop and think about why you are doing what you are doing. You think about the end user and how they will need to interact with it. It’s technology that is all about people.

"We didn’t know when we were working on it that it would soon become vital to so many communities across Australia."

During his studies, Tim was drawn to UQ's Social Economic Engagement Program, which offers MBA students the opportunity to work with a not-for-profit to put their learning into practice and make a difference. Working with the Queensland Ballet was a natural fit for Tim.

"The Queensland Ballet wanted to build a professional pathway for ballet dancers once their dancing career is over.

"My role in the partnership brought together my background in innovation and learning with my development consulting experience. It also sung to my interest in the performing arts – it really played to both my strengths and interests, while also stretching me."

The experience also got Tim thinking. "Places like Queensland Ballet have limited funding, yet they are thinking about the future for their performers. If they can find the resources to care about people in this way, why can't all businesses? This question is something I’ve taken into my career: how can we care for our people and ensure they have a future?"

Tim also saw an opportunity to help the performing arts in another way. "For many of the performing arts, particularly orchestras, diminishing audience numbers is a real challenge, and of course now coronavirus has raised its own obstacles," he says.

"I spent a year researching, talking to people about why they did or didn’t attend concerts, and overwhelmingly, the research showed that they didn’t go, or didn’t enjoy it when they did, because they didn’t have a full appreciation for what they were listening too."

So, by harnessing his love of music and technology, Tim brought the two together to create GIID. Pronounced 'guide', GIID is a mobile phone app that gives concert goers the story behind the music on their mobile device as they are listening. "By sharing the story of the composer and the meaning behind the music, people connect better with what they are hearing."

Images: Getty Images / Thomas Barwick; Mohamad Ridzuan Abdul Rashid / EyeEm

Ballet dancers on stage with crowd watching
Classical musical concert with cello.

Tim credits his MBA with his ability to continuously innovate – at work and outside of it. "I now really understand the power of imagination, creativity and play alongside technical ability. The two have to intersect and work together to create successful leaders – and successful organisations," he explains.

"The UQ MBA really taught me how to bring together my love of the performing arts and my business knowledge to innovate and effect change."

"The MBA gave me a framework for all the knowledge and skills I have developed in my career, so that I can apply it in every aspect of my life.

"An MBA gives you so much, and a UQ MBA really gives you an understanding of how to use those superpowers for good," he concludes.

Find out more about the UQ MBA.

purple background