Thinkplace appoints first ever CEO, and revamps leadership structure

Design consultancy Thinkplace has appointed its first ever chief executive in Dean Johnson, who will return from launching the business’ operations in Africa to take up the role.

Since its launch in 2006, Thinkplace has operated without a CEO. But the time was right to install Johnson in the position and revamp the leadership structure ahead of further expansion, the company said.

Johnson will move back to Australia from Africa for the role

“Building our business across Africa and beyond, Dean has shown a masterful ability to be creative and innovative with the products and services we offer while remaining single-mindedly obsessed about keeping the needs and interests of our clients at the forefront,” said co-owner John Body, who has stepped into the role of global chair of the board.

While consultancies have struggled to push against the impacts of COVID-19, Thinkplace has added new staff, launched new products, and is planning to establish a presence in the African nation of Senegal, the company said. PwC for example, made Dan Silkstone’s role of director of marketing and communications redundant before he had a chance to start, seeing him return to Thinkplace in a contracting capacity.

“We’ve been fortunate enough that decisions we’ve taken and the people we have around us have allowed us to weather this period and actually keep building,” Body said.

“We want other businesses who are struggling to know that not only do we empathise with the challenges they face, we’d love to help them adapt.

“When the speed of change accelerates as it has in 2020 the speed of innovation needs to increase also. That’s what we’re focused on. For ourselves but also for our partners and allies.”

Johnson is joined by a suite of new general managers across Sydney, Melbourne, and Canberra. Sarah Patterson will be based in Melbourne, Sarah Forrester, Sky May, and Danny DeSchutter in Canberra, and Dane Galpin in Sydney.

“This is the perfect time for this move and the perfect opportunity for me to return to Australia and such an exciting challenge,” Johnson said.

“In this challenging business environment, we are seeing organisations understandably revert to tried and tested ways of working. At ThinkPlace, we see the moment as an opportunity to be bold in evolving both our offering to clients and the way we work with each other. I’m excited to be leading a new, energised and highly-skilled leadership team.”

Thinkplace bills itself as a social impact consultancy, working with government and private sector clients across six countries and pledging to only take on work that creates a positive impact and advances the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. It has been named Social Changemaker of the Year at the 2018 Telstra Business Awards, and one of Australia’s Most Innovative Companies by the Australian Financial Review in 2016.

In addition to Body’s new role as global chair of the board, co-owners Dr Nina Terrey and Darren Menachemson also have new positions. Dr Terrey becomes chief for gender equality, and remains global partner.

From left: John Body, Dr Nina Terrey, and Darren Menachemson

“We believe gender equality is critical to the future of our societies, and that’s why we’ve created this position,” she said.

“As the new chief for gender equality I will be driving initiatives that create a multiplier effect of lifting women and girls while simultaneously tackling some of the biggest challenges we face as humans.”

Menachemson will now be chief for digital societies, and continue as global partner. He said: “How we use digital tech, the new governance, business and social models we create as a result, and the ethics we apply it all, will resonate for the next century.

“As chief digital societies officer, I’ll be working more intensively with the big institutions of government, business and NGOs to help them chart their course through the digital disruption so that they, and society, can flourish.”

All three will still be on the company’s board, but the new structure delineates governance and management. They will also continue consulting for clients, and be involved in new ventures.

The new products the company is launching include online workshop and collaboration service Airlab, and digital platform Engauge, which allows companies, NGOs and governments to carry out research via social media in the developing world.


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