October 2023

Leading the charge for change

Meet Tasos Katopodis

Consult Australia’s new President, GHD leader Tasos Katopodis, has a strong sense of social justice and a desire to “give back” to our industry.

Tasos’ parents migrated from Greece “on a promise and without a word of English” in the 1950s.

“My folks came with the shirts on their backs. They didn’t know where they were going. They only knew there was a country called Australia with jobs for unskilled workers. They worked hard and did their best. I hold on to that migrant history and it keeps me grounded.” 

A trained environmental engineer, Tasos is now a key member of GHD’s Ventures business. Prior to that, he led a number of GHD’s strategic initiatives and before that, GHD’s Sydney operations – one of the largest of the global engineering firm’s operations – for nearly five years. 

“I am at a stage of my career where I find it very rewarding to support and shepherd other people’s careers. I want to give back.”

Consult Australia plays a “unique” role in the built environment industry, Tasos observes. “No other association is focused on advocating for consulting businesses.”
More than 58,600 design, advisory and engineering businesses operate across Australia – and bringing more of these businesses “into the Consult Australia tent” is a keen area of focus for the board of directors over the next year. 

Consult Australia’s team “does outstanding work” to advocate for fairer procurement, contracting, liability and insurance and “to ensure we flex appropriate muscle”. But these are complex and challenging issues. “We’ve been talking about unfair contracting my whole career. We won’t solve this overnight. But we can continue to elevate our voices and these important issues with governments.”

Championing change starts with curiosity

One challenge that Tasos does believe can be “transformed” in a generation is diversity and inclusion. 

“I’m passionate about diversity. Even though I was the child of migrants and was often the ‘outlier’ myself, I was also brought up in a world that was sexist, racist and homophobic. I say this bluntly because that was what it was like. It was homogenous.”

It is important to acknowledge the cultural biases that we carry with us, Tasos notes, referencing Consult Australia’s Everyday Respect report, which found two in five people in consulting professions had experienced ‘exclusionary behaviours’ in the previous two years.

“I think of myself as progressive, and I have a natural disposition for social justice. But I still have to confront and challenge the internal biases I grew up with. 

“Everything I learnt about First Nations’ people, for example, was taught to me at school through a colonial lens. Starting from the point of curiosity – of wanting to learn more about First Nations’ history – has helped me to think differently and to do what I can to make GHD’s workplaces more inclusive.”

Profitable and purpose-driven

Climate change is another arena of action for Consult Australia members. Many engineering, architecture and design firms have set net zero targets. “But our carbon footprints, as individual firms, are not that big. Where we can make the biggest impact is by influencing the embodied carbon in projects,” he says.

“When I look at my own firm, I see faces light up when we talk about renewable energy projects or the energy transition. The generation shaping the future wants to be involved in solving the big problems today.”

Consult Australia’s team is laser focused on ensuring members have profitable businesses, Tasos adds. “We all want successful businesses that make money. But most of us chose our professions because we had a higher purpose. Whether we are tackling climate change or solving a technical challenge, we want our work to make a difference.”

Diversity and the net zero transition are big agenda items, but Tasos’ professional mission is matched by his personal one. “I have two adult daughters, a five-year-old daughter and a two-year-old grandson. My life is a real Modern Family – and I want to contribute to a better future for them.”

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Leading the charge for change