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24 hours with Dermot O'Gorman, CEO of WWF Australia

Tiffany Loh
Smarter Writer

Tiffany Loh is the Smarter Business™ & News and Digital Editor, with varied writing experience always looking for a unique story

Tiffany Loh
Smarter Writer

Tiffany Loh is the Smarter Business™ & News and Digital Editor, with varied writing experience always looking for a unique story

There is no longer such a thing as the nine-to-five workday. Telstra Smarter Business™ profile small businesses and track what is a typical day.

The CEO of World Wildlife Fund Australia (WWF), Dermot O’Gorman, has a demanding but fulfilling job that sees him setting up camp (and office) anywhere from the Great Barrier Reef to the tropical forests of Borneo. Dermot explains his strict rules for maintaining a work/life balance, the reason why he’s known to be seen wearing a panda onesie in the office, and more.


In the morning

Tiffany Loh: What time do you wake up in the morning?

Dermot O’Gorman: My phone alarm wakes me up at 6:10am during the week as I go swimming for an hour three times per week. It’s a good way to unwind before going to the office and it keeps me fit. On the weekend I wake up without an alarm around 7am.

Tiffany: Newspaper, radio or iPad before work? 

Dermot: I usually start work before I get to my desk, checking emails on my iPad at 8am. I also look at Twitter and send some tweets.

The minute I’m out the door from home I’m digitally connected – texting, checking emails from the previous night, calling colleagues – and the same is true on the way home. The commute to work has really become part of setting up my day. I have a rule that I don’t have meetings first thing in the morning unless I really have to. I like to have that time to react to things from the previous day and map out the day while building in flexibility for unexpected issues that may arise.

Tiffany: How do you usually spend your first hour at work?

Dermot: It depends whether I’m in the office or am out in the field. It varies enormously but the best days are when I’m lucky enough to be out in the field seeing the wonderful work that WWF does. Sometimes I’m fortunate enough to have the Great Barrier Reef or the tropical forests of Borneo as my office. When I’m in the office the first hour is spent planning the day ahead after checking emails on the way to work.

During the day

Tiffany: Does your business vary from day to day or do you often repeat the same processes? Why/why not?

Dermot: My days are incredibly varied day to day because WWF works on so many different issues. On a given day I could be working on anything from turtle conservation to renewable energy, through to sustainability in the finance sector, to the effects of palm oil on forests in Borneo. The only bits that remain the same on a day-to-day basis are the internal business processes.

When we have an event on for a particular campaign, the standard office routine can get tweaked a bit, such as when I wore a panda onesie to work for Wild Onesie Week to raise awareness of endangered species and generate funds for WWF.

Tiffany: Lunch; at your desk or out of the office?

Dermot: I mostly try to go outside the office just to get a bit of fresh air, sit down and have a bit of lunch and a drink. I often have work-related lunches that take me away from the office. Very rarely do I sit at my desk and eat. You need to take a short break during the day. 

Tiffany: Do you listen to music while you work? If so, what? What’s your process to get you working?

Dermot: I never listen to music while I work; I like to focus on what I’m doing. I tend to use music to relax, music as a break from work. 

Tiffany: What’s the best part of your job?

Dermot: I enjoy going out to WWF projects in the field. When I was in China, I managed to go into one of the panda reserves and we hiked up into the mountains at 5am in the morning and sat on the mountaintop for about an hour and a half. We were rewarded by seeing a young panda coming out through the bamboo. Experiencing the results of our conservation work is one of the things that keeps me motivated and inspired. 

Another particularly rewarding aspect of the job is meeting the people doing the research and conservation work – that can be in the field or it can be business leaders or other conservation partners — people who are doing a fantastic job with their work. I enjoy doing all that I can to help them succeed in their job. 

Tiffany: Tell us something that you have to do every day that most people wouldn’t know about.

Dermot: I probably spend more time on social media than people think I would. A couple years ago I got a member of the WWF team to coach me in Twitter. I use it almost daily and look at what people are saying about conservation and use it to find out what’s topical. The digital transformation that society’s going through is going to be an important part of the conservation solution space over the next decade and so I think that it’s important for CEOs to be involved.

Winding down

Tiffany: It’s 3:30pm. How many cups of coffee have you had?

Dermot: I used to have two cups of coffee before 3:30pm but at the start of July this year I gave it up. Last time I stopped drinking coffee for eight years – I’m not sure how long I’ll give it up this time around. It’s difficult in this job because everyone wants to grab a coffee with you.

Tiffany: How much work do you get done after 5pm, or do you use that time to allocate tasks for the next day?

Dermot: I have a rule that says once I’ve walked in the front door at home I don’t look at email until around 10pm when I may need to check a few things for the next day or address a call or email from Asia, Europe or the USA.

I have a rule to separate myself from email, for example, I never look at email before I walk out the door. I need that space to enjoy time with family and think what is important to me to get done that day.

Tiffany: Does your work come home with you?

Dermot: Yes. I try to keep meal times free for the family and avoid checking emails, but sometimes the global nature of our work requires me to be available when other countries elsewhere in the world are at work.  

I also work on weekends, but I try to carefully manage that space. If I’m going to do some work I set a window of time to I look at emails and make calls rather than continuously checking throughout the day. 

Tiffany: Who’s cooking/buying dinner tonight?

Dermot: Actually, I’m doing dinner tonight. My son and I are making pizzas together because my wife is especially busy with work at the moment. The vast majority of the time my wife does dinner – she is by far the best cook in our family.

Tiffany: What’s the last thing you do before you go to bed?

Dermot: I kiss my child goodnight in his bed and then I kiss my wife!

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