Reflections on a stellar career as CEO of Spatial Vision

Glenn Cockerton has stepped down from his role as CEO at Spatial Vision, but we took the opportunity to pose a number of questions to him to reflect on his 24-year tenure. Here you will read his candid responses on the company’s accomplishments, lessons learned and his planned next endeavours.

Glenn Cockerton

Accomplishments and challenges

Looking back on your tenure, what accomplishments are you most proud of?

During the last 24 years the company’s accomplishments are many. Some with special significance for me are:

  • Seeing Spatial Vision expand from its early base in Victoria and develop a client base spread across Australia and recently internationally.
  • The negotiation and continuance of the long-term contract with the CFA/Emergency Management Victoria (EMV) supplying Victoria’s emergency services organisations with topographic mapping products: the hard copy Vicmap Books and digital tiled product – Mapscape.
  • Delivering the adjustment phase of the Digital Cadastre Modernisation project for the Victorian Government – including building an incredibly resilient partnership with the Dept Transport & Planning/Land Use Victoria project team.
  • Seeing Spatial Vision’s values and purpose reflected in how we operate as a company both in terms of our employees and our clients.
  • Spatial Vision’s graduate program.

What were the biggest challenges you faced during your time as CEO, and how did you overcome them?

  • The Company withstanding and subsequently recovering from the operational effects of the COVID pandemic – both for our staff and the broader trading environment. This demonstrated one of the things that makes Spatial Vision special – namely how we value and support our staff. This took a team-based response and reflects the inherent resilience of the company.
  • Recruiting and on-boarding the Digital Cadastre Modernisation adjustment team – which saw the company expand by some 25% over 12 months and then having to say goodbye after the project was completed.

Leadership and management

Can you share a memorable moment or experience that defined your leadership journey?

A key moment for me was securing the role of Spatial Vision’s first CEO in August 2000. I grabbed this opportunity to join and help shape a young company with both hands and have been richly rewarded (in terms of both my professional career as well as my own personal satisfaction) ever since.

Another memorable time was having my enthusiasm for broader industry engagement (first through SIBA, SSSI and the Victorian Spatial Council, through our relationships with RMIT and Melbourne universities, and more recently with Locate Conferences Australia and the Geospatial Council of Australia) supported by the company as part of how SV “gives back” to the industry in which we operate.

Another was being the recipient of the 2024 Peter Woodgate Award earlier this month at Locate24. I am very honoured to have been recognised by AURIN/GCA for my contributions which of course could not have happened without the support of Spatial Vision.

How would you describe your leadership style, and how has it evolved over the years?

I believe some things have remained relatively consistent: always striving for consensus and taking a long- rather than short-term perspective. Over the years I have gained a better understanding of my strengths (and weaknesses) and have sought to build a team with both shared values and the ability to complement each other. Increasingly I have tried to provide an environment in which people can develop both their technical skills and leadership.

What strategies did you implement to foster a positive company culture and drive employee engagement?

A key threshold was reached when we sought to more formally “codify” our values and purpose as a company. Involving the staff in the process of identifying and verifying our values was very satisfying – the concordance that we found was striking – and especially significant given the diversity that exists across our staff. Since then, we’ve produced a statement setting out what we as a company are trying to achieve which we know strikes a chord with clients, current employees and job applicants.

What advice would you give to aspiring CEOs or future leaders based on your experience?

“There is very little that is new under the sun”. Therefore, seek out and consult with those who have experience – they have much to offer. (That probably sounds just like you would expect of someone of my generation!)

Business strategy and vision

How did you approach setting the strategic direction for the company, and what factors influenced your decisions?

Clearly our corporate strategy has evolved over the years. But essentially, it has sought to build on the company’s core strengths – durable client relationships based on a deep understanding of our client’s businesses, and a strong service ethic. Spatial Vision has been fortunate to be well positioned as providers of solutions to many of our clients’ problems. Our strategy has been to target similar organisations in new markets as well as continue to invest in the services that flow from new products and technologies.  Underpinning this has been the desire to continue to focus on work that makes a difference for our staff, our clients and our communities.

What do you believe are the key drivers of success for the company in the future?

I expect that the company’s future success will continue to be founded in our core competencies, values and the enthusiasm of our staff. Key opportunities exist in addressing climate change and assisting our clients with digital transformation more generally. Expanding our advisory services, the continued demand for sophisticated geospatial and IT solutions, and growth into new markets remain strong prospects. The degree to which the company is able to effectively and efficiently harness the potential of AI and machine learning will also be pivotal in the future.

Were there any strategic decisions or initiatives that didn’t go as planned? If so, what did you learn from those experiences?

Someone once said something to the effect of “if you are going to fail, fail fast”. Another is “if it’s worth doing, do it well”. New ventures need commitment to make them work. There have been a few occasions during our history where we did not adhere to the above and have suffered the consequence. One was trying to reconfigure parts of our business to product sales – examples include EmerGeo and CloudGIS, products that may have had a better outcome had we approached them differently. In contrast, the company has, and continues to invest significantly in understanding the client needs for the Vicmap Books and Mapscape products.

Impact on the industry

How do you think the industry landscape has changed during your tenure, and how has the company adapted to those changes?

As more and more organisations provide systems to support their people in their working lives, mainstream geospatially enabled applications on enterprise desktops and on mobile devices are common. As a result the need for “GIS boffins in the back room” has almost evaporated. Geospatial has almost become a commodity (although scratch below the surface, these systems still need specialist support). As a result, the company has had to evolve (and is still evolving) its service offering towards the new work opportunities that flow from this trend.

What do you see as the biggest opportunities and challenges facing the industry in the coming years?

Digital transformation remains a key aspiration of many our clients and so continuing to develop offers geared to these needs will be vitally important in the future. The need for many organisations to untangle how to take full advantage of the many benefits that arise from new technologies will continue to be a very valuable service and one that Spatial Vision needs to be seen as an active contributor.

There is a concern that many of our client projects are getting larger, and therefore that increasingly Spatial Vision may need to scale itself to be considered a legitimate option for these types of projects. The industry has seen significant consolidation during the last two decades. Our competition is becoming more defined and is generally larger. This is a potentially critical issue going forward.

One of the key challenges of our industry is that geospatial science and surveying are niche disciplines with little presence in the overall array of career options. As a result, we continue to produce relatively few graduates and, in many periods, experience severe workforce shortages. This will not change soon and may well impact the industry’s growth.

Personal growth and lessons learned

What are some of the most valuable lessons you’ve learned during your time as CEO?

In no particular order:

  • Be bold, be timely, but don’t be overconfident nor too conservative.
  • Prioritise your time, make sure you focus on the important issues.
  • Make sure you give yourself time to think but don’t over think things.
  • Don’t procrastinate.
  • Don’t be quick to judge.
  • Don’t over rely on what worked last time.
  • Try to make decisions based on evidence recognising oftentimes there isn’t enough data.
  • Recognise you can’t get everything right. Own your mistakes.
  • If you are not making mistakes, you are not learning.
  • Always be open to what you can learn (never stop learning).
  • Surround yourself with enthusiastic people.
  • Live your values, be kind, ethical, fair, considerate.
  • Listen, especially to your staff.

Legacy and future outlook

What do you hope your legacy will be as CEO, and how do you envision the company continuing to evolve after your departure?

I hope that I, along with my colleagues, have positioned Spatial Vision to continue to be successful. We have worked hard to equip it with what it needs to transition to a new management team, and lots of opportunities.

I hope the company continues to grow and develop and enables our employees to contribute to making the world a better place. After all, the future of the company will be largely determined by the imagination and efforts of our staff.

How do you plan to stay involved with the company or contribute to the industry moving forward?

I have been fortunate to exit the CEO role in a manner and timing of my own choosing. For this I will be forever grateful. Going forward I will remain on the Spatial Vision Board, currently in the role of chairman, and as a shareholder. I will maintain a close interest in the affairs of the company and will do all I can to support Cameron as the new CEO.

In the short term, I will be undertaking some special projects for the Board. I may also get involved in delivering external client projects (in a very part time capacity) if needed.

Outside Spatial Vision, I intend to remain connected to a number of industry groups – I will continue to support the GCA (I am a member of the Audit and Risk Committee of the Board of GCA), I will continue to Chair the working party behind the 2030 Space and Spatial Roadmap released last year. I am also a board director for the newly formed Geography Victoria. That should keep me suitably busy!