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So You Want My Job? Iris CTO Maktuno Suit on transforming clients so they don’t need him

Maktuno Suit, CTO of Iris

Welcome to So You Want My Job?, where each week we ask the people working in some of the industry’s coolest jobs about how they got where they are. And, along the way, we dig into their philosophies, inspirations, processes and experiences. Hopefully, our interviewees can help inspire you to pursue (or create) a job that’s just as exciting.

This week we speak to Maktuno Suit, chief transformation officer of Iris, to mark the launch of The Drum's Digital Transformation Festival. Don’t forget to subscribe to our bi-monthly newsletter, Working It Out, which gathers up the best new marketing vacancies and helps you get interview-sharp.

What did you want to be when you growing up? Does your job now resemble that in any way?

I actually wanted to be a rugby player but I got badly injured with two slipped discs at 16 so that didn’t happen. I then became interested in people and social problems so thought I might do something connected to societal change. That is me trying to reach for a connection that isn’t there. So my job now doesn’t resemble that in any way.

How did you get your job? Tell us the full story!

I used to work as a psychotherapist treating high-risk offenders. I used to innovate approaches to treating psychopaths. About 10 years ago I was talking to a lawyer friend in a party who was talking about their challenges in a corporate setting. Their problems were all to do with managing people and dynamics – and psychopaths of a different variety. I gave her some advice, which magically worked, and she said: “Would you come and train my firm in what you told me”. I decided to do that and entered the business world.

From that point I have come across more and more challenges in corporate contexts that are all to do with people – whether it is repositioning your brand for customers, building a new propositions or products that meet customer’s needs, transforming your leadership and culture or changing your organisation to becoming more diverse and inclusive. Everything in business comes back to people. Many people find it mind-boggling how diverse my career has been. I have started businesses, worked in public policy, service design, youth work and management consulting.

The common thread is that I have deep passion and expertise in understanding people and how they work. All my previous experiences make me who I am and enable me to see things from unusual perspectives and solve problems with surprising tools. I wouldn’t change the divergent path I have taken to where I am.

Ok, so what do you actually do? How would you explain your job to a taxi driver?

I help organisations to change and grow. As people, we don’t like change. We like to do things the same, figure out what works and repeat it. I help businesses to think about how the landscape they are in shifting and think about the key things that they need to do to evolve and thrive in a new business environment.

Once I help the business to figure out what they need to change, I then help to tell the narrative and take the business on the journey of change-making sure that we don’t stop moving forward when it gets tough or people start resisting it.

Do your parents understand what it is that you do?

My mum doesn’t have a clue what I do as my job is constantly evolving and changing. Also when you work in transformation your job is often changing – when you have got to the point where you have helped a business to transform and it doesn’t need you, you move on to the next challenge.

She knows that I am obsessed with the future, emergent trends, always helping a new business owner, so she has definitely felt my transformation energy.

What do you love most about your job?

I love the diversity of challenges and problems that I have to solve every day. One second I can be talking about our employer brand with our marketing department, the next I can be talking to our strategy unit about our operating model and processes, the next I can be conceptualising what our values and behaviours are and how they should translate into our learning and development strategy. I love helping people change, from when I did it one to one as a psychotherapist, to working with large organisational dynamics, I am passionate about people thriving and enjoying. It is dangerous to stand still, but it feels safe, I like using my energy to inject expertise and drive to keep moving forward.

How would someone entering the industry go about getting your job now? What would be their route?

I didn’t come from the advertising and marketing industry, I came into Iris as a management consultant. Often consultants manage transformations as they are brought in to a business as an external voice and perspective to bring wider industry learnings about how to solve problems. So many consultants end up as transformation experts so I would recommend pursuing that route at a respected consultancy that provides you with broad and diverse experiences.

You can also start to be an undercover transformation agent on the job. Whenever I had a job in the past, I would always end up talking to the CEO about innovation or how we could stay current or anticipate future trends. Everyone can engage in transformation. It is about spotting things that be changed and then deciding to do something about it. Start to change the part of the system you are in, and maybe your curiosity about change will lead to you looking after it for a whole business.

What advice would you offer to others entering the advertising industry, especially at this weird time?

I entered the advertising industry just before the pandemic. I hadn’t worked within it before, except for some isolated consulting work. I come from a more analytic consulting background, but the advertising industry often feels more connected with intuition where it is concerned with the look, feel and emotional connection of brands.

When working in our business I have been conscious of adapting my style and adopting creative language and symbols that people in our industry appreciate. I have needed to learn to speak the advertising language to build trust with the people.

What would you say is the trait that best suits you for your role?

My ability to understand complex systems. Often in transformation you need to be able to see how lots of pieces of the puzzle fit together. You need to be able to see the big picture but also dive into the detail as one change somewhere can have an adverse impact elsewhere.

I will be cheeky and also add in my ability to listen and build relationships – in transformation roles you will need to manage and influence lots of different stakeholders.

Who should those who want your job read or listen to?

I would advise listening to everyone and everything as transformation is about understanding and presiding over lots of different, diverse areas.

I keep my thinking and reading as divergent as possible to understand different viewpoints and solutions. Seek out knowledge and information from different disciplines of knowledge. Watch films – I recently got into Star Wars and have loved dissecting the narrative and the characters in it over popcorn with my wife.

Read the latest business book – I recently read ‘Lost and Founder’ by Rand Fishkin about the start-up world. Engage with random and interesting things, I am currently reading a book on Japanese philosophy.

Learn new things that feel totally unrelated, things that you are interested in.

Last week we quizzed Camilla Kemp, chief executive officer of M&C Saatchi.

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