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Working towards a spectrum of change


29 September 2022 at 12:13 pm
Samantha Freestone
Bodo Mann is focused on supporting the tech careers of young adults on the ASD spectrum. He is this week’s Changemaker.


Samantha Freestone | 29 September 2022 at 12:13 pm


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Working towards a spectrum of change
29 September 2022 at 12:13 pm

Bodo Mann is focused on supporting the tech careers of young adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder. He is this week’s Changemaker.

 

Having built businesses and worked extensively with boards, CEOs and senior executives in global blue-chip companies across Australasia and Europe over the last 20 years, Bodo Mann, CEO of Auticon Australia and New Zealand, says he has learnt the value of doing business for good. 

“I’ve spent my career leading consulting teams to deliver outstanding work for some of the most complex businesses on the planet. While this world continues to change and become vastly more challenging there is one constant – diverse teams deliver the best outcomes,”  he said 

“Through building neurodiverse teams, we create the opportunity for groups of people to think differently and this is where my passion lies.”

In this week’s Changemaker, he explains how he uses a lifetime of  experience in the corporate world to empower ASD professionals one at a time through an innovative program born in Germany that has lofty goals of helping techy ASD individuals have productive and fulfilling professional and social lives.

“I want to build a social impact business that delivers real innovation and better outcomes. 

“Not just for our consultants but to demonstrate the power of neurodiversity and how it can give business a competitive edge.”

 

Q: How did you become involved with Auticon?  

Completely by accident, I met Auticon’s Group CEO Kurt Schoeffer while in Germany. We had an inspiring conversation, and I was looking to transition my career to an organisation that could make a difference to the way we work. 

Kurt was a truly intriguing figure and I was fascinated by his leadership style, charisma and the mission and purpose of Auticon, it was really the challenge I had been looking for. 

When asked if I would consider the CEO & MD role in Australia, I embraced it wholeheartedly and couldn’t wait to start changing the world. 

 

Q: How did you get into the job you’re in now?

Having held leadership roles in both technology and consulting businesses I understood the value of what someone like Kurt was offering to businesses in Australia and Europe and I knew this was the kind of business that I would like to lead. 

Largely due to my background and shared vision for the organisation, I think Kurt knew I was the right hire for the job.

 

Q: What does a typical day look like for you?

It’s really a lot of knocking down doors at this stage, I spend a lot of time with C-suite executives and Board Directors as well as clients working on value adding diversity strategies. I also spend considerable time shifting the view of diversity being a charity or ‘right thing to do’ topic to an innovation, productivity, opportunity to extract additional value and access more talent topic. 

I work closely with our new talent identification team that work hard to find our amazing autistic talent and I’m the ‘Chief Cheerleader’ for our management team and crew of consultants. 

However, my day can vary quite a lot as I need to maintain relationships internationally, connecting Auticon Australia to the rest of auticon global, support our global capital raise initiative, report to our existing shareholders and ensure quality control and stellar service delivery to our clients. 

 

Q: What are some of the challenges working in such a unique business?

You need to be patient. In Europe the concept has generally been accepted and people know and understand the benefits well. Here in Australia, we’re about 3 years behind the Europeans and it takes a fair bit more convincing which is evident by our 6 – 12-month sales gestation period.

Another clear challenge for us is cash flow. Auticon is a consulting practice and not a recruitment agent, meaning we hire our team, and they remain on our books and like any consulting practice we need to manage downtime. However, on top of this we employ Job Coaches to support both our consultants and clients in working with neurodiverse teams and invest in IT related technical and capability training for our consultants.  These investments add another layer of cost, but they ensure we drive the right outcomes for our clients. 

To be competitive in the market for IT services these costs cannot be passed on in full making our margins extremely tight and cash can be a challenge.

 

Q: What is your proudest achievement?

My kids. I’m the proud father of two amazing kids who are 16 and 19 years of age. 

Professionally, in more recent times, taking Auticon Australia from just five employees in November of 2019 when the business first started in Australia to today where we are 400 per cent larger with 25 employees and offices in both Melbourne and Sydney. 

Auticon Australia was also recognised by the Australian Computer Society this year winning an award in the prestigious Digital Disruptor Awards.  It was fantastic to be acknowledged for the outstanding work the team do in IT.  

Our plans are to continue to grow, and I’m excited to be working on opening a location in New Zealand in the next couple of months. 


Q: What do you think are some of the challenges being faced in autism advocacy? Are there different challenges in Europe than in Australiasia?

In Australia the unemployment rate for autistic people is around 32% this is almost 10 times higher than the standard unemployment rate and about three times higher than those with a disability. This is seriously disappointing and something that we as Australians need to address urgently. 

We are roughly three years behind Europe in terms of improving opportunities for those on the spectrum and in a country where a ‘fair go’ is part of our culture, this is not right, we should be a leader not a follower.

In the tightest employment market we’ve ever seen in this country, now is the time to explore new ways to engage with sections of the community that are somewhat forgotten it just makes good business sense. 

 

Q: Can you share some detail of Auticon’s plans to grow in the Indo-Pacific?

 

Over the next couple of months, we will open our new site in New Zealand and in 2023/2024 we have plans to expand further into Asia possibly opening in four new locations depending on partnership in the region. 

 

Q: What can we learn from work done in the Autism work-place advocacy and neurodiversity inclusion space in Europe and the UK?

Famously quoting Winston Churchill, ‘Never give in. Never, never, never, never–in nothing great or small, large or petty–never give in.’ While Auticon Australia has been in business for almost three years, Auticon has been around for 10 years now. There have been challenges along the way but our European counterparts have been focused and committed, believing in the mission they never gave in. 

Work overseas has also shown that building the right support model for businesses is key to the success of any partnership in this space. This needs to be underpinned by support from the executive and key business stakeholders impacted by the project.   

 

Q: What do you do when you’re not at work?

Mostly I like to be active, I’m a passionate sailor, windsurfer and wing-foiler. I enjoy an ocean swim, heading to the gym, or going out on the mountain or road bike. 

Being immersed in sport allows me to balance a very active and at times stressful work life, maintain resilience and helps me to process decisions before taking the next steps. 

 

Q: What do you want to achieve by the time you retire? 

I want to make a real impact on the lives of people throughout the region and see that the unemployment rate falls to resemble something close to the standard unemployment rate. 

In doing this I’d like to see a strong, profitable, and sustainable Asia Pacific Auticon business with Sydney as its regional head-office. 

It would be great to see the business eventually list either here in Australia, in Europe or both in future and be proving to investors and clients that a social enterprise can be a valuable investment not just seen as ‘the right thing to do’ by markets. 

It would be great to see the world just being a bit more inclusive. 


Samantha Freestone  |  @ProBonoNews

Samantha Freestone is a career reporter with a special interest in Indo-Pacific geopolitics, sustainable financial market reporting and politics.


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