With an extensive background in operations improvement, Don Sun’s entry into asset management five years ago as Operations Strategist for the City of Calgary was inspired by the concept of continual improvement. It’s a philosophy that syncs perfectly with the main principles of asset management and one that shapes his world view.
“My whole career up until then had been looking at how businesses operate to make them more efficient, and asset management is another way to do that,” says Don.
Now Senior Project Manager for the City of Calgary, Don manages a diversified team of funds and asset managers delivering performance improvements in the city’s parks infrastructure portfolio. Amalgamating projects for a number of infrastructure types, including playgrounds, furniture and hard surfaces, his program operates a three-year budget of $33 million, delivering much-needed lifecycle replacement of parks assets to the municipal precinct.
At just 38, Don’s appointment is a significant accomplishment, but unsurprising considering his dedication to developing his own personal skills. Revealing his personal ‘council of inspiration’ board – a list of famous people who have inspired him, including Albert Einstein, Jack Ma and Warren Buffet – Don has worked relentlessly to gain the skills to be an effective leader. He attributes his strong work ethic to his early life growing up in working-class Alberta as the son of immigrants.
Among other qualifications, Don holds both a Bachelor of Management and an MBA and is a part-time army reservist holding the rank of lieutenant, which sees him switching careers for up to six weeks a year to take up his reservist duties. It’s a position he says, “isn’t a hobby but a fully-fledged parallel career”. It requires him to set clear expectations in the three spheres of his life – infrastructure, army and family.
Despite having been the catalyst for positive change in organisations such as Walton International, GE Oil & Gas and Alberta Health Services, Don set about developing professional skills in asset management. This has allowed him to forge a bridge between his extensive experience in consulting and to apply concepts in real time.
“When it comes to infrastructure asset management, understanding what the principals are is obviously important – including having a baseline training,” explains Don. “When I started in my role as operations strategist, I took an asset management planning course because I had to develop an asset management plan for Calgary Parks.”
Don says he brings a systematic approach to asset management, leaving nothing to chance but being flexible enough to adapt to change. For organisations wanting to devise their own asset management plans, he emphasises the need to find systems that work.
“Organisations need systems, processes, tools and the right culture to fully understand the assets they have and what to do with them,” he says. “If you can figure out how to get data about your assets, then you can really tell the story of your assets and be able to get the resources you need to give the level of service that is acceptable by your organisation. If you can’t, then it’s really hard to justify your choices to manage those assets.”
His management philosophy fuses business strategy and analysis, problem solving and behavioural psychology. Strongly shaping his work are management methodologies Six Sigma and Lean, for which he holds Lean Black Belt certification.
“Lean to me is looking at end-to-end of a value stream, identifying ways to eliminate waste and solve problems,” says Don. “The lens of continuous improvement originated from Toyota’s manufacturing process, but those principles are really applicable to every situation.”
As for life mottos, Don’s is about positive transformation. “If you want something different, you’ve got to do something different,” he says. No doubt that’s solid advice for organisations wanting to implement effective asset management strategies.