How this chief marketing, tech and innovation officer aligns her company to the customer

We find out how Stockland's Sharmila Tsourdalakis brings together wide-ranging functional expertise together in the name of the customer

Chief of innovation, marketing and technology are common titles to see on an org chart. Less common however is seeing the same person’s name against all three.

But if anyone is seeking clues as to the reason behind Sharmila Tsourdalakis’ far-reaching job title, they might start by examining her undergraduate studies – a joint commerce and law degree at the University of Sydney, with a double major in marketing and accounting.

“Within my second year of commerce/law I was doing an internship with Unilever,” Tsourdalakis tells CMO. “That was my first time working in a sales and marketing team, which was a really amazing experience - getting an inside look at product design, marketing techniques and operations, but also getting an inside view of what the corporate world was like.”

That experience also brought on the realisation that although Tsourdalakis enjoyed studying law, the idea of working as a lawyer was less appealing.

After graduating, she took a consulting role with Accenture, before moving on to a variety of strategy and technology roles with Leighton Contractors, GPT and Suncorp. Those positions proved to be the perfect preparation for her current role as Stockland’s chief innovation, marketing, and technology officer.

“It is a wide remit - it keeps me busy,” Tsourdalakis says.

Bringing so many responsibilities under a single chief has helped Stockland’s marketing and customer teams work more closely with other parts of the business. These relationships proved especially useful during the height of the pandemic, when Stockland needed to find alternate ways to bring its residential property products to market.

Sharmila TsourdalakisCredit: Stockland
Sharmila Tsourdalakis

“Our customer teams really needed to pivot and technology was critical,” Tsourdalakis says. “When we launched our Katalia master-planned community in Melbourne’s north, we did it completely virtually. The digital capability allowed home buyers the opportunity to buy virtually and be really supported through that process. Since the launch in October 2020, we have sold 376 homes.”

Aligning behind the customer

Tsourdalakis says having multiple responsibilities enables her to better organise resources around the customer, with the company’s efforts in technology, marketing and innovation all being aligned to driving customer outcomes.

“We talk about driving customer excellence and customer-centricity across Stockland,” Tsourdalakis says. “We will bring some of that great customer perspective our marketing team has to the other teams. And by having all of these teams together, it creates a strong sense of united purpose, and it is central to our strategy.”

This strategy is also reflected in Stockland Listens, which connects staff across the organisation with feedback from customers.

“Through the pandemic we had over 1800 participants listening in to sessions with customers, where they were hearing about what has worked well and what the pain points are,” Tsourdalakis says. “We want everyone to sit in and listen, including someone who might be in the technology team or the finance team and isn’t in a role where day to day where they can connect to customers. If you can get that customer understanding, you are then going to create the doorway for new ideas and new possibilities.”

Tsourdalakis’ goal now is to maintain the momentum Stockland has created around digital innovation through the pandemic. One manifestation is Dreamcatcher, on online service which enables would-be builders or renovators to browse and pin images from Stockland-approved builders and stylists.

“That is a way to have an inspirational customer journey early in the home buying process,” Tsourdalakis says. “Customers are looking for that omnichannel combination, so how we support them with a wonderful physical experience, but also with the digital experience that really complements that.”

Tsourdalakis’ background in technology also gives her a unique appreciation for how marketing and customer teams can better use data. Her current focus is on building Stockland’s predictive capabilities and using data to better support the company’s ESG commitments.

But when it comes to bringing insights into the organisation, she sees her role as being much broader than just working with statistical inputs.

“In my role we are focusing on what we call sensing and scanning – so how you monitor trends,” Tsourdalakis says. “An example of that would be looking at digitisation and seeing global leading capabilities out there. We are often organising sessions with leading organisations globally who are sharing with us their lessons learned so we can see what’s happening elsewhere and ask how we reimagine what we are doing and bring that into some of our thinking to be a leader in the real estate industry in Australia.”

Having such a wide remit also requires Tsourdalakis to stay current across a wide field of interests. She does this through being an avid reader and by listening to podcasts, with her latest exploration being the book Uncommon Service by Frances Frei.

“It’s a book focused on how you keep customers at the centre of your business decisions,” she says. “I have a real interest in continuous learning. Agility and learning are more and more something that organisations are needing, and if you look at where we are currently at with rapid change, either in what we have just been through in the pandemic, or in broader trends, it is a skillset I have been lucky enough to have the time to invest in.”

Her appetite for knowledge is also something that Tsourdalakis fosters within her team.

“It is something we talk about through their development plans,” Tsourdalakis says. “It is about carving out the dedicated time to put in to your diary when your mind is clear, and you are able to really learn what is happening elsewhere.

“I feel really strongly about the role that I play in developing the leaders of the future, and particularly in developing our teams to develop their capabilities. An open or growth mindset is something we talk about quite a lot at Stockland. And when people can see you make the time to do it, it models that for the rest of the team.”

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