Running accountant goes extra miles for Gold Coast Airport Marathon

Tony Mullen CPA is CEO of Events Management Queensland

Tony Mullen CPA, chief operating officer at Events Management Queensland, has taken a proactive approach to better understanding his business and its offerings.

When Tony Mullen CPA took on the role of chief operating officer of Events Management Queensland in 2004, he bought a new pair of running shoes. A regular jogger, his training was suddenly lifted to a new level when he was accepted to compete in the Tokyo Marathon. 

It wasn’t just his fitness that was on the line – the gruelling event also had important ramifications for his work. Mullen’s employer manages the Gold Coast Airport Marathon, as well as the Pan Pacific Masters Games. Attending another marathon would help him see his own event from a customer’s point of view.

“It helped me to understand what is important operationally,” says Mullen.

“What do people need before the race? What do they do after the race? How do you crowd-manage tens of thousands of people? We’re always critiquing our organisation to improve our product.”

Mullen and his colleagues have done a fine job of improving their product. A decade ago, the Gold Coast Airport Marathon attracted 11,000 runners. This year, on the first weekend in July, more than 28,000 will compete, with the event now ranked a “gold label” road race by the International Association of Athletics Federations. 

The Pan Pacific Masters Games, the world’s largest biennial masters games, attracts 14,000 competitors across more than 40 sports. Every second year, when the two events combine,
they contribute more than A$40 million annually to the Queensland economy. The marathon on its own provides a A$20 million boost.

Professional development: Corporate learning solutions

For Mullen, getting to know his customers has paid off handsomely. This same concept – the importance of the customer – partially convinced him when he was just 19 to seek a university degree. He had dropped out of school at 16 and was working in back-office roles for NAB, but soon realised that those in the corner offices boasted degrees.

“I knew that customers and numbers were the basis of business, so I did a Bachelor of Business with a double major in accounting and marketing,” says Mullen. “Marketing would help me understand customers; accounting would give me the numbers.”

The following few years saw him in an event management role at Warner Brothers Theme Parks, then an accounting role for GE in London. After a stint with an accommodation provider on the Gold Coast, he took on his current job.

Mullen continues to place high value on education. Over the past 20 months, he has been a very frequent flyer, completing an Executive MBA at Britain’s Cambridge Judge Business School. This meant attending Cambridge University for 16 weekends and four week-long blocks – a major undertaking. 

“Cambridge has got that worldwide brand and is always in the top tier of universities in the world. Some of the smartest minds in the world go there … and then there’s me,” he smiles. 

As much as the qualification itself, Cambridge provided a networking opportunity that meant Mullen was more than willing to make sacrifices to personally foot his MBA bill.

“We had a relatively small cohort of 54 people, including from Google, Microsoft, Rolls-Royce, entrepreneurs, a surgeon and finance people. They came from 20 countries. That network, during and after the degree, is important.”

With his degree finished, Mullen’s focus on customers – along with his running routine – is back in full swing. 

His horizons might have broadened, but for now he says he’s keen to stay here … and keep his feet on the ground.

One piece of advice

“Master the technical aspects of accounting, but just as important are soft skills such as communication, networking, negotiating, creativity and presenting.” 

Read next: How do you make the leap from CFO to CEO?


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July 2016
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