A chat with our new COO Paul Duldig

11 October 2019

He's a cross-collaborator with many varied interests but our new Chief Operating Officer has an interest outside of his day-to-day job that you may not expect. He's a visual artist.

Paul Duldig joined ANU on 2 September to begin the handover process from his predecessor, Chris Grange.

His main role, as the operational head of ANU, will be to continue to improve the University's services, managing a large number of ongoing projects while looking at fine-tuning others.

Paul comes to ANU from the University of Melbourne, where he worked as the Head of University Services.

"People are very welcoming and there's a lot of good will towards the ANU and also the mission, which is great," he says.

"But there's also a desire to do better which is really important. There's a sense that there's better out there somewhere that we can really capitalise on, on top of the foundations we've already got."

ANU is Paul's third research-intensive university he's worked at, the first of those being the University of Adelaide.

"I think what I, hopefully, can bring to the table is the connection between the strategy direction and what people actually experience," he says.

"So I like to understand the strategy and what it means for what it is that we're building, the decisions we're making, how we make them and the capability that we need in our people to be able to do it well - I like to see it implemented as well."

Given he's still very fresh to ANU, the new COO says for the most part he is still in listening and observing mode.

"But I've also got to do the work as well."

That work involves three priorities the Vice-Chancellor has given him to work on; a digital strategy for the University, the financial framework for 2021 and beyond, and the service experience for students, staff and the University's external partners.

"So that means I can't just slot into the existing flow of projects. I've got to question some of that to make sure it is aligned."

Some of that may involve some blue sky thinking around the strategies, he says.

"Because there's a degree of dissatisfaction with some things at the moment but I need to get a sense of whether we've got things in place that are going to work and be effective, and there's not too many of them that we don't get overwhelmed and we can actually do them well."

In his spare time away from the office and managing the affairs of a tertiary institution, Paul likes to work as a visual artist in mixed media.

"Most recently over the last five years, I've been developing an art practice - taking found scientific images and then modifying them with photography and making resin objects to explore the role that science has in our perception of the environment."

He also has a strong interest in music, having previously played in a band and admitting he is heavily influenced by his two sons at home.

"I used to be in a band years ago and play the piano a bit and strumm the guitar but don't worry I'm not going to get up and sing at any university function," he quips.

"But yeah I really like just keeping up with music. Having a house full of 20-year olds, I'm kept pretty young on that as they share stuff."

The new COO is currently listening to Australian singer-songwriter and pop musician Montaigne.

"I just think she's an exceptional, beautiful singer and really nicely crafted songs."

These interests have already seen him invited to events such as a dinner hosted by the ANU School of Art & Design where the recent announcement of the School's $80 million refurbishment was made.

"I'm really excited to have the Drill Hall Gallery in my area too," he says, adding that he is on the board of a contemporary art gallery in St Kilda, Victoria. "I've seen a couple of Drill Hall Gallery exhibitions that were awesome."

"Family's very important as well," he says. "I have a wife and two sons and my niece is living with us as well."

"I'm also trying to stay fit! I discovered today that to circumnavigate the campus is exactly five kilometres!"

Paul has visited Canberra and the ANU campus many times over his life, so the city and the campus is not that foreign to him, nor are the University's objectives.

"I'm keen to help the University become very teaching, learning and research-centred," he says.

"Now it might sound very weird saying that because that's obviously the mission of the organisation, but the challenge is to make that the experience of the entire organisation as well.

"So from a service perspective, rather than us being here because we're finance-centred or IT-centred, we're enablers - so that means we've got to listen to students and the teachers and researchers and really amplify their voice so what we do is built around them because that's where the magic happens."