Inspirational Leaders

Staying Curious is How You Grow as a Person and a Professional

Jonathan Sultoon, Vice President, Research, Energy Transition Practice, Wood Mackenzie

Solar energy from solar panels power a cleaner future.

What's your role at Wood Mackenzie?

I lead a team of diverse people in our Energy Transition practice. We're a passionate, inquisitive, and energetic bunch, and we design new research across emerging technologies, scenarios on how the energy transition will unfold, and what types of carbon and emissions-related solutions can help our clients.

We’re a committed team, with multiple stakeholders across the organization from consulting, to sales, to marketing, to product and design. We must stay on our toes as we generate substantial revenue growth for clients who are deeply interested in understanding how all the facets of the energy transition will unfold.

What initially attracted you to Wood Mackenzie and the role you're in today?

The brand and reputation of the company and the ability to work on all areas across the value chain of the energy ecosystem attracted me to the organization. But most of all, I saw a diverse, creative, intellectually curious group with lots of potential for career and personal growth.

How did you begin your career?

I left university with a degree in physics and wondered what to do with it. Many of my peers stayed in academia or went straight into finance, but it was the perpetual mantra of problem-solving and asking “Why?” and “How?” that led me to energy. Energy is all around us—and the future is inherently unknowable—but there are so many different permutations of it, and influential ways in which it impacts geopolitics that intrigued me as soon as I applied to my first job.

Wood Mackenzie’s work touches every part of the value chain of the energy ecosystem.

How would you describe a good day?

My days are governed quite a bit by my children’s schedule so…

A good day would start by waking after a restive sleep and clearing my emails for the day ahead. Next, coffee and breakfast with the family. My wife and I drop the children off at school and preferably get a walk or a bike in at the same time.

I’d then start with my team calls, problem-solve with clients on content presentations and product demos, hunker down for some quiet time to work on ongoing product roadmap and strategy, followed by some more client demos, leaving time to edit a brand new piece of analysis that my team has written. A great day is when the content turns out well, or we receive good news on business we’ve won.

Afterwards, I pick up the children, my wife and I cook dinner, and we play a family board game before tucking them into bed. Due to the time difference, I often have calls with my APAC colleagues in the evening. Finally, my wife and I can catch up about our days, read for a bit and then turn in for the night.

What’s the most rewarding part of your job?

I am motivated by intellectual stimulation. It can come in many ways. What are our clients’ challenges and how did we answer their questions? How can we creatively win their business? Did we learn new things to apply to a cutting-edge area of research like green hydrogen? How can I understand my team better and their motivations? How can I learn to handle difficult situations better? As I answer these questions and many others, I’m constantly growing, I’m helping my team grow, and we’re helping to improve our mindsets.

Jonny Sultoon working closely with the talented team at Wood Mackenzie.

Can you describe how you’ve arrived where you are?

Wood Mackenzie is a very flexible company and I’ve had the fortune to essentially change careers twice across different areas of expertise and geographies. I was able to establish a good rapport with senior leaders in different places through hard work and motivation to learn about different functions. This allowed me to look broadly at opportunities, not narrowly, and so when the opportunities arose, I was in a good position to pursue them. I would also say that having the trust of my senior leaders and the support to deliver results is essential, and that trust allows me to do my work without fear of failure.

What career advice would you give people starting out?

I’d say three things to someone who is just starting out in their career. First: stay curious as much as you can. There’s a famous quote from Wilfred Bion (Samuel Beckett’s therapist) who remarked, “It’s fascinating how boring the patient was.” I think about this quote a lot whenever tedium gets in the way of learning. Boredom comes naturally to us all; the more you can curb it and stay as curious as you can, the more it will help you develop as a person and develop your career. Being genuinely interested in people and research is crucial for moving up the career ladder.

Second: never being afraid to say, “I don’t know or I don’t understand”. It may sound clichéd, but it’s true. Don’t be embarrassed to ask questions, and don’t let your perception of other people’s responses hinder you from seeking answers when you need them. Chances are that others in the room want to ask those same questions but are afraid to ask them out aloud.

Third: build and spread your relationships far and wide. I’ve made it my goal to always establish relationships with different people across the organization. I’ve seen multiple examples where people are too vested in their direct manager, which if that manager then moves on, or changes roles, that employee suddenly realizes they have limited influence. It’s not healthy and by doing this, you’re directly not taking responsibility for your own career, but leaving it for others to shape.