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How I became an economist + advice for aspiring economists – EP141 transcript

Show host Gene Tunny (Left) having morning tea with Indonesian Ministry of Finance officials in October 2015, during a break from a short course on public policy processes.

In Economics Explored episode 141, host Gene Tunny discusses his career path as an economist and offers advice for aspiring economists in an interview with Francisco Garcia, host of the University of Queensland Economics Society (UQES) podcast Worldonomics.

You can listen to the episode using the embedded player below or via Google PodcastsApple PodcastsSpotify, and Stitcher, among other podcast apps. A transcript and relevant links are also available below.

Links relevant to the conversation

University of Queensland Economics Society

https://podcasts.apple.com/au/podcast/worldonomics/id1513275367

Transcript of EP141 – How I became an economist + advice for aspiring economists w/ show host Gene Tunny

N.B. This is a lightly edited version of a transcript originally created using the AI application otter.ai. It may not be 100 percent accurate, but should be pretty close. If you’d like to quote from it, please check the quoted segment in the recording.

Gene Tunny  00:01

Coming up on Economics Explored. And that was great because I got to spend a bit of time in Perth and Perth is a great spot. I love Cottesloe Beach, for example. And, yeah, there’s a great couple of great pubs there and there’s the Indiana tea house and it’s just magic walking along the beach in the morning.

Welcome to the Economics Explored podcast, a frank and fearless exploration of important economic issues. I’m your host, Gene Tunny. I’m a professional economist based in Brisbane, Australia, and I’m a former Australian Treasury official. This is episode 141 on how I became an economist, with some advice for aspiring economists.

This episode is based on a longer conversation that I had with Francisco Garcia from the University of Queensland Economics society. The conversation was for the society’s podcast; World and omics. So, if you enjoy Economics Explored, you might like to check out the UQES podcast too, after you listen to this episode of this podcast, of course.

I really enjoyed my conversation with Francisco. And it made me realize just how important certain skills and traits have been in my career so far, these are things I’ve had to work on, and that I’m still working on. One of those traits is being helpful to others. Because A, it’s a good thing to do and B, you never know just who will help you out in your career journey. It may not be who you expect at the time.

In the show notes, you can find relevant links and details of how you can get in touch with any comments or suggestions. And if you sign up as an email subscriber on our Economicsexplored.com website, you can download a copy of my eBook, Top 10 Insights from Economics.

Now for my conversation with Francisco Garcia of the UQ Economic Society. Thanks to Francisco for a great conversation and for letting me borrow the audio for this show. Thanks also to my audio engineer, Josh Krotz for his assistance in producing this episode. I hope you enjoy it.

Francisco Garcia  02:14

Hi, everyone. Welcome to another episode of our career pathway series. Today we’re joined by Gene Tunny, Director of Adept Economics. Gene, could you introduce yourself?

Gene Tunny  02:28

Hi, Francisco and if you’re in the audience, glad to have you with us. My name is Gene Tunny. I’m the director of Adept Economics. That’s a consultancy firm. We specialize in economic modelling, economic analysis, lots of cost benefit analysis, economic impact studies. And we’re based in Brisbane, Australia, although we work across Australia, we’ve done some work internationally too.

Francisco Garcia  02:55

Amazing. Thank you so much, Gene. We usually in our podcasts, we start with a fun question. So, Gene, if you were an animal, what animal would you be?

Gene Tunny  03:07

I think I’d be a tiger. Yeah, for sure. Just because, yeah, I guess I like the masculinity and the aggressiveness of the tiger. So, either a tiger or a lion. Yes, for sure.

Francisco Garcia  03:24

Oh, that’s amazing. That’s really good. Yeah. Fantastic. So, Jane, let’s start about your experience at UQ. So, what motivated you to study Economics?

Gene Tunny  03:41

Well, we have to go back a fair way. When I think about that, what motivated me to study Economics? So growing up in the 1980s, I don’t know if you’re familiar with Australia’s economic history, but we had a lot of economic challenges in the 80s. And we had a treasurer of Paul Keating, who was probably the most prominent treasurer we’ve had in the last several decades and in terms of getting out in the media and talking about economic issues. And I suppose, because there were all these economic challenges. So, it was obvious, perhaps, that we’re going to hear more from the treasurer, but Economics was always in the news in the 80s.

First, there was the flooding of the dollar in 1983. And then, there were, well, we had all these issues; with well, there was still some inflation, high unemployment as a legacy of the recession in 1983, we had what was seen at the time as a balance of payments crisis, we started having these big current account deficits, and then we had the dollar depreciated. And there were just all of this news about the economy and all of this discussion about what has to be done and there was talk about Australia becoming the Banana Republic, there was an infamous interview that the treasurer of the Australian treasurer, Paul Keating gave with John Laws, probably about 85 or 86. When he says if we don’t sort this out, we’ll end up as a Banana Republic by which he meant that we wouldn’t be a nation with a higher standard of living, we would end up at a lower level of economic development with perpetual political crises, unstable governments, and all the things you associated with that high budget deficits, high inflation, that sort of thing. And it really, captivated people; there was a lot of interest in economic issues, a lot of concern about the economy, and that motivated, well, that led to support for a lot of change. And so, there were things that the government of the day did cutting tariffs, and also, there was private there was privatizations of, of a government owned bank, the Commonwealth Bank; Commonwealth Bank used to be owned by the government, eventually, well, I think it was the next government how government had sold off Telstra; various micro economic reforms.

And this stuff was always in the news. When I was younger, this is going to sound a bit dorky. But I remember I used to watch business Sunday, when I was at school, and people like Terry McCrann, and who else was on it, some other prominent commentators at the time. And so, I just grew up absorbing this stuff and being interested in economic issues.

And so, I did study Economics in high school, but, it wasn’t really a major, I didn’t think of as a career path. I just did it because I was interested in the issues. What I did want to do, I did want to study law, I wanted to become a lawyer. Just because law was seen as an occupation, or something you did, if you were an academic high achiever. It was seen as a high-status profession. And so, I wanted to do law, so, I enrolled in law at UQ, and had to choose another degree because the double degrees were very popular at the time. And I had thought about either commerce or; I think I was initially thinking about commerce, that’s right. And nothing against accounting, I think accounting is important. I just thought based on what I was interested, I’d probably enjoy Economics more.

I wasn’t thinking of being an economist or having a career as an economist at the time, I was probably more interested in studying law; in becoming a lawyer, but I thought I Economics would be a good thing to pair it with.

So, that’s sort of how I ended up studying Economics that had to do with growing up with this stuff. Australia, having had that experience in the 1980s, all of those economic challenges, it’d been talked about within the community; it’s on the news, it’s on the radio, even, you know, ordinary people in the community are talking about this stuff more so than they are today, I think. So, it’s just generally fascinated by it. And I’ve been fascinated with Economics ever since. And so that’s why, it probably makes sense that I have gone down this route.

Francisco Garcia  08:28

Well, that’s amazing. Yeah, that’s really interesting. And so, I think you started then, law and Economics. So how was your experience at UQ?

Gene Tunny  08:42

I think it was excellent. Despite the fact that in the 90s, when I went UQ, it was a bit rundown. Now you go to UQ, it’s just beautiful. And you’ve got all these beautiful new buildings, and everything’s well maintained.

When I went in the 90s, In the early 90s, it was this period after there’ve been some reforms to the system, there was this dark analyzation; there was an expansion of the number of universities in Australia, and I think that meant less money for existing unis such as UQ.

UQ just didn’t seem to have the money to maintain the facilities. I remember that old physiology lecture theatre was just so rundown. So was engineering. But despite that, I shouldn’t be saying that. I’m just remembering what it was like back then. The facilities weren’t great. But what was great was just the environment and coming from high school where you just, I mean, you have to learn all of these formulae and you’re just getting drilled all the time, just having tests all the time and you have to turn up at this time for this class; it was just all very, what’s the word, regimental or authoritarian and uni was less so. I mean, you still had, you really did need to go to lectures, but no one was really forcing you to go. You went because you needed to go to be able to do well on the course. You go to uni; you’d know what it’s like. I mean, you meet a diverse range of people. You don’t just meet the people that you went to school with, you meet people from a wide range of backgrounds, and in even different parts of the world. You’ve got lecturers who, some of whom are great researchers who are well renowned in their field and really challenged you. And I thought it was fabulous, you know, learning and obviously you learn new things. And, you actually learn things more quickly than at school.

So, yeah, I thought it was fantastic. I really enjoyed University. And UQ I think is a great uni. Despite the built environment at the time being pretty rundown. It’s such a beautiful campus and the Great Court is, I mean, that’s got to be one of the best. quadrangles courts of any university within Australia. It’s just such a beautiful place. And when you have the jacarandas blooming in October to signify the exam period coming on. It just looks beautiful.

Francisco Garcia  11:31

That’s so true. The Great Court, it’s amazing, surrounded by sandstone buildings. Like I haven’t seen anything like that. But I think you just ruined the Jacaranda moment for me. I never associated it with the exams period.

Gene Tunny 

Oh, haven’t you? Ah, yeah.

Francisco Garcia 

Maybe it was my first semester too. But no, I’m kidding. It’s so beautiful. Like not only at UQ but close by in St. Lucia. Right. Like, I’m impressed with how good it looks.

And Jean, you also did an honorshonors. I understand it’s in the field of Economics, not the honorshonors from law, right? Yeah. Would you mind sharing how was that year for you?

Gene Tunny  12:21

Oh, that was great. I mean, that was probably after I’d studied a few years, I’d done both law and Economics. And I think at that stage, I was leaning toward perhaps, pursuing a career in Economics, or it was an option. I thought of it as an option. And hence, I thought, well, it would be good to do honorshonors in Economics for a couple of reasons. One, because I thought I’d learn new skills. And you have to do a thesis as part of that, and so that you get good experience writing reports, doing Economic Research; I thought that was important.

Possibly what tipped me into doing it was I did have some great lectures that I think, you know; one of the things you look back on, maybe you don’t realize at the time, but you look back, and there are some lecturers who do stand out and really, challenged you, and really made Economics enjoyable, and just made you see where it could go, what the big questions were, what good economic research and analysis looks like. And in the final year, when I did third year, there were two in particular; I don’t mean to sort of denigrate any of the others I had who were excellent, but the two are, I remember, were Harry Campbell, who was a professor of Economics there. And he did micro Economics, he did a really good class in Advanced Micro Economics. And that was fabulous. And Phil Boardman who did advanced macro Economics. And they’re both exceptional. And, both Phil and Harry and other lectures I had made me think, well, maybe I should think more about Economics.

The other thing I had in the back of my mind as well, it’s another year, I can always do law, I can finish the law degree afterwards. And it would be good to have; because at the time, maybe it’s less so now. But, in the 90s, it was very competitive to get into positions inside the Reserve Bank or the Treasury or the Productivity Commission. So, the top employers of economists at the time in Australia, I mean, they’re still good places to work, but there are more avenues now. More places to apply. You really needed an honors degree to work at those organizations and ideally, a first class honors degree. So that was in the back of my mind, too. Yeah, so that’s essentially why I applied, I thought it would be a good way to expand my skills. I was inspired by some of the people who were teaching me and also I thought, well, if I did want to get a job at somewhere like Treasury or reserve bank, then it would be good to have.

Francisco Garcia  15:17

Yeah, amazing. Yeah, that definitely explains it. It’s quite a good motivation. From what I heard, I think people planning to work at least at the RBA, I think it’s kind of recommended to have at least the honors. So yeah, no, I don’t think things changed too much from that. So, after finishing your honors degree. You worked for the public sector for quite a few years, right?

Gene Tunny  15:51

Eventually. So, I started doing a PhD at UQ. I never finished it. I mean, one of my great disappointments; I never really finished that. But after that, toward the end of it, I thought I wouldn’t mind getting some applied experience. So, I applied for a job in a research unit that was run by John Mangan. I don’t know if you know, John Mangan. He was a professor at UQ. And then he ended up running the Institute of Business Economic; very good liberal economist, very practical, great person.

John was the Research Director at this labor market research unit that was set up by the BT government, which was a Queensland State government here, back in the 90s; late 90s, early 2000s. And it was dedicated to doing research into the labor market, because we still had relatively high unemployment at that time. It might have been 8 to 9%; I can’t remember the exact number. But it was higher than it really is desirable. I mean, now we’re down to around 4%, right? So you think of that it was twice what it is now.

So, they set up this research unit. And I saw that and I thought, well, that would be a good place to work. So, I applied there and ended up working there. And just yeah, really found in working in that environment. Yeah, I enjoyed it. I enjoyed being involved in a job where you could do both Economics, you could do economic analysis, and research. And also, you could have some involvement in the policy process. And so yeah, that was essentially why I went that way. I thought, well, I really do want to do applied work. And yeah, there was that opportunity. So, I took that up at the time.

Francisco Garcia  17:57

Now that’s very interesting. Yeah, I didn’t know about the beginning of the PhD. But that’s super interesting. Well, I think then, after you work there, then you work a few years in the public sector, right? I would like to know, how was it? And how did you end up at Australian Treasury?

Gene Tunny  18:21

Oh, yes. So that research unit, I should have mentioned was in a public sector agency, it was in the Department of Employment and Training. And, yeah, I worked in that department for a few years. And then what happened? It was a big department and they got broken into two and I went from the one department to the breakaway department, which was industrial relations toward the end of my time in Queens and Public Service.

I went to work for a unit called the Workers Compensation Policy unit. And that was really good. There was a lot of really good applied work there, a lot of good policy work, whereby we were making changes to the funding; the way workers compensation was funded in Queensland. I had a really good boss there, Paul Goldsborough, someone who was a mentor to me, and I mean, very good policy operator; I learned a lot from him and he was very generous to me and very important in my career progression. So, incredibly grateful to him.

I got to know Paul; this is how funny things are right? I mean, so much, is influenced by things that you think are quite random. Okay?

One thing important that happened to me was when we had the labor market research unit, we were on the sixth floor of the Neville Bonner building on William Street in Brisbane. It was by the river. Jim saw it was a Lord Mayor thought it was the ugliest building in Brisbane, I think that was a terrible thing to say. He just didn’t like the modern architecture; I quite liked it. And being by the river, it was great, because you could easily get out onto the bike path. And I used to ride in from Auchenflower at the time, and it was easy to get out to go for a run along the river; I thought it was fantastic.

But anyway, we’re on the sixth floor of this building, Neville Bonner on the same floor as the director general. And across the hall, from me; across the corridor was the Workers Compensation Policy unit at the time ran by Paul. And I just got to know Paul, just because you know, you’d run into each other. And we have a laugh together. And occasionally, I’d help because I had good analytical skills. And so, I’d often help people in his team and with their briefings when they had to calculate different numbers they needed for their briefings. Because with workers comp, there’s a lot of analysis of how claim rates have changed, and that sort of thing.

So, as a percent of the total workforce, are there fewer injuries today than there were, you know, whenever in the past, and you’d analyze it by different occupations and different regions and things like that. So, there was a bit of number crunching, I’d help them out with that from time to time. And so, I got to know Paul. And then when he needed someone to help out on this cabinet submission on the funding of Workers Compensation in Queensland, whereby we introduced an explicit levy to fund workplace health and safety. So, I ended up going over to Paul’s team Workers Compensation Policy unit, which was part of the Workplace Health and Safety Division within the Department of Industrial Relations. So, I went over there; I moved out of the labor market research unit, and for a year or so, maybe a bit longer than a year, I was doing really practical policy work with Paul and you know. I really enjoyed that and we would be briefing the minister’s office or the minister would get into Parliament House and, you know, provide briefings to the minister, it was just really stimulating; really enjoyed it; I learned a lot about practical policy-making.

Francisco Garcia  22:36

Well, that’s super interesting, and how, how interesting it is how careers play out, right? It’s just someone that you were working and, and Matt in the same floor.

Gene Tunny  22:50

Yeah. And I think those opportunities are there all the time. And I guess the lesson is, I suppose you know, be friendly, be as open as possible. And yeah, because you never know, where those opportunities can come from. And when I look back, I mean, having been opposite, Paul, was so incredibly important, because if I was on a different floor, I wouldn’t have got to know him. And then I may not have ended up working for him for that time. And then, you know, getting that experience.

Paul’s been important in other regards too. There was also a great Director General, we had Peter Henneken, who was also influential to me. Paul and Peter were good mates. And Peter was a former Commonwealth public servant. So, I learned a lot from Peter too.

But how Paul is important in my story, too, is that it was Paul who took me to the breakfast that was; it was a function of the, I think it was the Australian Institute of Public Administration, the Queensland branch, and they held a breakfast sometime in 2004. Maybe it was June or so. And the speaker was Ken Henry, who was then Secretary to the Treasury. So, this is how I ended up at Treasury.

Although I’d always had in the back of my mind; always had the idea, it would be good to work in the Treasury one day, or I’d like to sort of, work on national economic policy issues. So, when I was really young, not always look at the bank notes, or the currency notes, and you’d see on the notes that there’s the signature of the Secretary to the Treasury, along with the Governor of the Reserve Bank, and when I was young, they were all signed by either Frederic Wheeler, or John Stone who followed Fred Wheeler. And I always wondered, well, who are they and they must be important people if they get to sign the bank notes. I always had this idea that the Treasurer was an important institution and could be a good place to work.

So, Paul took me along to this breakfast in June 2004. And Ken Henry spoke, and it was the time that Treasury was doing all this work on the intergenerational report on the ageing of the population and what that meant for future GDP growth and what that meant for the future budget.

Ken Henry was incredibly analytical, but he could explain what he was doing very simply. And, you know, he just went through it all and told us what the facts were and what they meant for the budget. And he had some great charts as well. You know who I’m talking about with Ken Henry? Very impressive operator. He worked for Paul Keating, at one stage; he was one of Keating’s advisers; very polished, very well presented, very calm; Ken was great. And I remember coming out of that thinking, I want to work for that guy. So, I wanted to work for Ken Henry.

So the next time that there was a Treasury, bulk round advertise; Treasury, every six months, has a recruitment round, where they just advertise for policy officers. And, I thought, Oh, this is great. I may as well apply; throw my hat in the ring. I applied for a mid-level position in the Treasury, which was sort of equivalent to what I had in the Queensland public service. And yeah, I don’t know. I think I was competitive for various reasons. I think I had a good CV at the time, I think I was confident, because I had some successes within the Queensland public service. And probably what got me over the line, though, was because I had been to that talk of Kens. I was able to say how much I respected what Treasury was doing, how much I was excited about it, how I really want to work with Ken. And, and I think that probably got me over the line just because it gave me that extra enthusiasm.

Possibly, because I’ve done work in labor Economics, one of the members of the recruitment panel, Steven Kennedy, who’s the current Treasury Secretary; maybe that impressed Steve, and I’m not sure. So. Yeah, that’s sort of how I ended up in Australian Treasury. Having gone to that breakfast that Paul took me to, was, I think that’s part of the story for sure.

Francisco Garcia  27:58

Wow, that’s true. Again, it’s incredible how things play out. And I’m sure that being that you’ve been in the same breakfast as him and saying that you really wanted to work for him helped you to join the Treasury. And how was your experience of working at the Treasury?

Gene Tunny  28:24

Oh, fantastic. I mean, I think lots of great experience and lots of high points. There were some low points, I mean, I did eventually leave. But mostly, it was very educational, a lot of hard work as well. And very important. I mean, you just realize that you can have an influence on economic policy at a national level, but you do need to do the work and you need to be well prepared. You’ve got to think about all of the issues and just what the impacts of policy can be.

I found it very rewarding. I mean, I worked on various different things; G20 matters, budget matters, industry policy matters, such as car industry assistance. And also, well, budget policy toward the end, the response to the financial crisis, debt policy issues, all of that sort of thing. So, a wide range of experiences within Treasury that I found rewarding.

Just toward the end, there was a very difficult period. And I think for a lot of people in Treasury, to around the time of the financial crisis; very long hours and very challenging issues. And at that time, probably around sort of mid-2009, I thought, well, now could be the time to take up a different opportunity and so I came back to Brisbane from Canberra to work with a good friend of mine Tony Hand, who I met at UQ when I was studying there and he was now running the Brisbane office of Marsden Jacob, which was a consultancy firm. And so, I decided to come back and I thought, well, Tony be good to work for again, and he’s someone who I was inspired by and very impressed with because he was incredibly analytical. He thought about things, very rigorous, nice person, great person too. I thought it would be a good time to come back. So I came back to work for Marsden Jacob.

Francisco Garcia  30:47

Ah, wow. Yeah. That what I believe during the crisis, it might be definitely not the easiest time to work in a Treasury or anything related to economy of finance, and many other places. I was working for, P&G at the time. And I remember, I was an intern, almost of none of the interns were hired as a full time at Procter and Gamble, especially the ones in Sales; I was lucky to be the one in IT. So, I got the job, but a lot of people didn’t. So, not that easy.

About Marsden Jacob, would you mind sharing a little bit what you guys did over there?

Gene Tunny  31:34

Okay. Well, it’s a consultancy firm. So, it does work for clients. And it had a bit of a specialization in Natural Resources and Water and agriculture – agribusiness. Projects I did there included things like analyses of irrigation, investments, that sort of thing. Investments in, there are things called lateral move machines and center pivot machines for irrigation, or they could be building a larger dams for example; those sorts of projects.

So, we did some analysis of that for a department, which was subsidizing some of those investments. There was some money that was set aside for improving water use efficiency on farms for as part of the Murray Darling Basin Plan. That was a sort of thing we’d do.

We were contracted by the Natural Resources Department here in Queensland to do that sort of analysis to help them assess different proposals for that scheme. That was one example. There are examples of, you know, evaluation of different policies, such as the TravelSmart programme in WA; so one of the most enjoyable projects I did when I was at Marsden Jacob was a review of this programme to encourage public transport and also active transport, so cycling and walking in Perth. And so, we looked at a whole range of data to look at, was this actually having an impact? What’s the return on investment there?

And that was great because I got to spend a bit of time in Perth and Perth is a great spot. I love Cottesloe Beach, for example. And, yeah, there’s a couple of great pubs there, and there’s the Indiana tea house and just magic walking along the beach in the morning.

So, I really enjoyed that; it was probably the highlight of Marsden Jacob. Think about a lot; there’s a lot of travel. One thing with consulting, because you often have clients all around the country, occasionally internationally, you do a bit of travel and Marsden Jacob; because it was a national firm meant that I was travelling quite a bit.

So, a wide variety of projects, some private sector projects. Some helping a manufacturing business; look at the Economics of their product, like what cost savings does their product, what could it deliver to customers such as a council for example. One client that I did work for initially at Marsden Jacob and then later I’ve done work for them at through Adept Economics was a company called Urban Turf Solutions, UTS which produces synthetic turf. The artificial grass and I did some work showing just the cost effectiveness of that product just how much you save by not having a mullet, and not having to weed, not having to use pesticides etcetera.

So, they’re all the savings from having that product. And so, I was able to demonstrate that. I did work for the education department here in Queensland, looking at the Economics of a new school that they were looking to set up in Townsville at James Cook University. It didn’t go ahead at the time. The Economics of it weren’t great, because there were already a lot of high schools in Townsville with spare capacity. I don’t know what the situation is now. But at the time, it just wasn’t the right time for it. Yeah,  various different projects.

So, it was very enjoyable. And yeah, I really did enjoy the travel now that I think about it. I got to go to lots of interesting places, you know, travelled across the country, I really enjoyed that.

Okay, we’ll take a short break here for a word from our sponsor.

Female speaker  35:56

If you need to crunch the numbers, then get in touch with Adept Economics. We offer you frank and fearless economic analysis and advice. We can help you with funding submissions, cost benefit analysis studies, and economic modelling of all sorts. Our head office is in Brisbane, Australia, but we work all over the world. You can get in touch via our website, http://www.adepteconomics.com.au. We’d love to hear from you.

Gene Tunny  36:25

Now back to the show.

Francisco Garcia  36:29

So now finally, we are at Adept Economics. Gene, can you tell us how it was to start Adept Economics and what you guys have been working with?

Gene Tunny  36:44

Okay, it was actually easier than I expected to start the firm, at least in terms of the mechanics of it. It’s just incredibly easy to set up a business nowadays with modern technology and software services. So that sort of thing was quite straightforward. I mean, I had to just have to get an Australian business number. So, you will register for GST. You’ll need a website that you can find; there are cost effective ways to get a website. I knew someone who was able to give me a good deal on developing a website, you could also use something like I think it’s Squarespace or Wix, you could probably do it yourself. There are so many good templates out there.

The challenging part is, of course, getting the business, getting the revenue, getting the clients; I guess I was lucky in that I already had a really good network. And there are people I’ve done work for, as a consultant already through Marsden Jacob and I didn’t steal any clients or break any agreement I had with the company. I think that sort of thing is, is not cool. So, I didn’t do anything like that. But I didn’t steal any exclusive clients or clients that I got through Marsden Jacob.

There were clients that only came to me when I was at Marsden Jacob because I was there. So, they’re effectively my clients. So, I knew that because I was able to bring in work when I was at Marsden Jacob that I could probably do it on my own. It was one thing I found when I was working for Marsden Jacob which is a very good firm, I don’t want to run them down at all. But when you work as a consultant, you often; and a lot of firms are like this, you eat what you kill, if you know what I mean. You often have to bring in the business. Some other firms are set up a bit differently. So, if you’re in a big four firm, there’s the finder, minder, grinder model, whereby if you’re the grinder, you’re the junior person, you just do all the sort of data analysis, I was going to say data entry, but no one does that anymore till you just get everything online or just read things in from the PDF. Then, do the charts – the grinding work, reading the papers, summarizing information into tables, that sort of thing.

Then, there the mind, is the manager who oversees the work. And then there are the finders. They’re the partners; they’re the ones who have all the connections and they’re the ones who bring in the big contracts.

In boutique firms, in smaller firms, you often end up having to bring the work in yourself, you’re the one who’s sort of, needs to bring in the clients and then you work on those projects. You can team up with others in the firm to help you win projects. But it does help a lot if you’ve got your own network and you can bring them in. And so, from my experience in Marsden Jacob, I realized I could probably do that; it wouldn’t be as easy as it was in Marsden Jacob because I was working with others there in the firm on to get different projects and the company did have a, it had an established presence in the market. So that was helpful. But I thought I am doing a lot of things on my own already. And I can probably, it probably made sense for both me and for Marsden Jacob as well for me to leave the organization. And so, I went out and set up on my own. Yeah, seems to have worked out, I have managed to keep going, to stay in business. And you know, the goal now is to try and grow that business to expand.

Francisco Garcia  40:53

That is that is very interesting. And if you would summarize a little bit, what type of work do you guys do in Adept Economics, what would they be?

Gene Tunny  41:09

It’s all sorts of things. It’s business cases. So, for example, I’ve looked at the Economics of an algae farm for a company Woods group out at Gunde-Windy. So, they’re developing an algae farm, they’re looking at producing some products, using that algae, some food supplements, potentially an omega 3 rich oil from the algae. And so, I’ve helped them out with some economic analysis.

More recently, I helped out a managed fund or a fund manager here in Australia – Coolabah Capital. I did some work for them, forecasting state budgets. I’ve done work – well, I do a lot of work with Nicholas Gruen, who’s an economist in Melbourne, quite prominent economist. He’s got a business called Lateral Economics. So, I often work with Nicholas on projects for various clients. We did something earlier this year. And the year before for Services Australia, which is the agency which oversees Centrelink, basically. And we did some analysis of the potential benefits of a programme of work; they’d been undertaking called the welfare programme infrastructure transformation. So, Services Australia has been putting a lot of effort into upgrading their systems to make them all run more smoothly and make it easier for Australians to access their services via myGov. So, making that experience better, which is potentially going to save users a lot of time and deliver value to the community. So, Nicholas and I did some analysis for them of that.

Also, we’ve done economic impact studies, looked at various policy issues, negative gearing, for example, for a financial planning firm, I’ve helped; I helped Toowoomba Council get some funding, I think it was about 5 million, they got some funding to upgrade a railway goods shed that they had in Toowoomba. So, I helped them with their funding application for that. Because whenever businesses or councils are making applications for funding for grants, they’ll often need some sort of economic study, or if they want to get a development approval or some sort of tick, they’ll often need an economic impact study, or a cost benefit analysis to show that this project will deliver these benefits to the community or create these jobs.

So, there’s a bit of work doing that sort of thing. I’ve also been involved with the whole process around Paradise dam, and looking at the Economics of that dam and what the costs of the community would be if they didn’t repair the dam properly, which would mean that you might not have as much investment in macadamias, and high value crops as otherwise, and then that would be a loss to the community. So, I was involved in that process.

The State Government has decided that it will repair that dam, which is good news. So, it was a dam that was damaged when there was a big flood back in 2014. And they lowered the dam wall temporarily because they were worried about dam safety. There is a risk because if a dam was damaged, then if you get enough water behind it, the dam could crack, the dam wall could fail. It could break open water, lots of water rushes down into the valley, and obviously bad results. You don’t want that. So, government’s right to probably right to lower the dam, then they were thinking, well, maybe we don’t put it back where it was because, well, they were arguing that that additional water wasn’t necessary because it wasn’t purchased. But what the community argued was, well, we will purchase it in the future, because we’re investing in all of these high value crops. So, there was a bit of an economic analysis there that I did of what the future looked like. So, and that arguably did help that contributed to the state government’s decision to repair that dam.

So, wide range of things and can be, stuff can be influential in decision making, and government decision making. I’ve also done teaching, as part of my work through Adept, because I have that flexibility, effectively self-employed, I mean, I’ve got a research assistant who works for me. But I’m effectively, self-employed. I can choose my own sort of jobs; I can do what I want to do. And one of the things I like doing is I like doing some teaching, from time to time, I’ve done a bit of work with UQ International Development with the University of Queensland economic development. Then the economic development arm of UQ. And they do a lot of capability, building courses for foreign officials, particularly in our region.

So, I’ve done several courses with Indonesian officials from their finance ministry or Ministry of Economic Development, bapandass; things, courses on just general public policy, processes and cost benefit analysis, natural resource Economics. What else have we done stuff on? Infrastructure financing, a range of courses. And that’s been a great opportunity, because that’s meant that I’ve had an interaction with officials in Indonesia and learned a lot about the issues affecting their economy. And I’ve also travelled over there and delivered courses in Bandung, in Java; And that’s generally where we’ve held them. There’s a great hotel on a gorge there. The, I think, it’s the Padma Bandung; it’s a great hotel, a beautiful location. Indonesia is a beautiful place, very lush. And I mean, you’ve got old Java, you know, fascinating place, Jakarta is a huge mega city. And there’s also Bali, I mean, Bali is an amazing Island, just one of the most beautiful places in the world. So always love working with, doing work for UQ International Development and doing those courses for Indonesian officials. It’s such a great opportunity and privilege.

Francisco Garcia  47:56

Gene, at this point of the podcast, we might start wrapping up, right? I think, like we explored your whole career. And so back to Adept Economics, if our listeners are interested in working with you, what advice would you have for them,

Gene Tunny  48:16

I would say that they really should work on developing their skills; just be as good as you can be in your field. I mean, that is just so invaluable. Just become the best economist or the best financial analyst or, or whatever it is you’re doing. Just become the best you can be or the best Economics or finance student at UQ or whatever university you are.

Really develop those skills and be able to demonstrate that you can apply those skills; and that’s not necessarily with work experience that could be through articles, or it could be through a sub stack or it could be through recording your own videos or doing your own podcasts. I mean, what’s amazing nowadays is that, with technology, everyone has access to the means of production, okay? Like 30 years ago, when I was at uni, I mean, the idea that you could record yourself with reasonable quality and broadcasted to the whole world was just ridiculous. You couldn’t do that, you’d need to have your own radio studio to do that right? I mean, we couldn’t do this sort of thing.

Likewise with video, I mean, maybe you could you get a camcorder and record yourself on on a videocassette, on a VHS tape, but you can’t broadcast, you’d have to you know, you’d have to send it to Channel Nine and they’re not going to do anything. They’re not going to broadcast your amateur video recording. But now, that everyone’s got access to the means of production, and as a uni student, if you’re asking on behalf of uni students, you can create content. You can write papers; you can write articles. So, I’d be trying to develop those skills. I mean, some work experience could be good if you can. I’m limited in what I can offer, because I’m just a small operation. And I can’t I don’t take on interns generally, because I just don’t have the capacity. But some other organizations do take on interns. So, if you get an internship, or a part time job, but it’s not essential, because there are other ways of demonstrating those skills.

Really work on your craft. A couple of books I can recommend, well, a few books, actually, there’s one book by Seth Godin Linchpin; “Be Remarkable”. So, one thing that Seth Godin says is remarkable people don’t have CVs. Now, this sounds a bit crazy. What are you talking about? What he’s saying is that if you’re truly remarkable, then it’s your work that speaks for you, you’ve got products or content out there. And it could be papers, it could be articles on websites, it could be podcasts, it could be videos; that’s what is important nowadays, in the modern economy. And in, in this new world that we’ve been living in, that started off in the mid-90s, with the arrival of the World Wide Web and in which has just transformed the way we live and the way we work. It’s just so profound. And yeah, that means that there’s an opportunity for everyone, if you can work on developing your skills and producing good content, you can reach an incredible number of people.

I wouldn’t think about well, what do I need to do to work for a particular firm? I’d think about how do I make myself as remarkable as possible in this field? In the field that I’m interested in? Look at what the people who are at the top of the field; well maybe a few years ahead of where you are? What are they doing? What have they done? What are they producing? Can I do something similar? Can I engage with them? Can I comment on their blog? Or could I, you know, provide? Is there some way I can add value to them? Can you email them? Can you say, Hey, I listen to your recent episode, do you know about this book, or this article; you might be interested in this, that sort of thing?

I don’t know, there are a whole range of things you can do. But it’s about being remarkable. Just trying to learn as much as you can and also interact with the people ahead of you in the field, I think that can help. So that’s one thing, try and be a linchpin that Seth Godin spoke linchpin. I read that; I think that’s what encouraged me to start blogging back in 2010. Because I read Seth’s book. And Seth is very strong on this point about well, remarkable people don’t have CVs, their work, speaks for them. And that made me think, okay, if it’s not for where I’m working, like, is there anything about me that’s remarkable, right? Like what do I have to show that I’m a good economist, that I’m someone people should pay attention to. And that encouraged me to start doing more work, to start trying to write more, do blogging, write articles for publication, that sort of thing.

So, I know that sounds hard, but that’s what you’ve got to do, unfortunately, in this modern world. Well, not unfortunately because if you produce good work that that’s good for you that that makes you feel good. And you’re participating in this great thing we’re all involved in; this great conversation. So, I think that’s one bit of advice.

Also, I’d be reading books by Cal Newport; or following Cal Newport, his stuff, his Deep Questions podcast is excellent. His book, Deep Work, which encourages you well, I think is a good guide on how to be incredibly productive, how to be focused. The type of work you should be doing is the deep work really, really delving into a topic. Making sure you understand it, really do the focused work and try and produce a product that you can present to the world and get feedback on; something that is remarkable. He’s trying to get you to that position where you’re so good, they can’t ignore you. That’s another one of Cal Newport’s books I’d also recommend.

So yeah, that’s what I would say. Just really focus on being as good as you can and figure out how you can demonstrate that. So, you try and try and produce work that will impress people that people will; maybe impress is the wrong word, that others would be interested in reading and can give you feedback on and then that will help you progress that will help you improve over time.

Francisco Garcia  55:20

What a fantastic advice like a range of advice here. Gene Tunny, thank you so much for joining our podcast. It was a pleasure talking to you.

Gene Tunny  55:34

Okay, that’s the end of this episode of Economics Explored. I hope you enjoyed it. If so, please tell your family and friends and leave a comment or give us a rating on your podcast app. If you have any comments, questions, suggestions, you can feel free to send them to contact@economicsexplored.com and we’ll aim to address them in a future episode. Thanks for listening. Till next week, goodbye.

Credits

Big thanks to Francisco Garcia from UQES for interviewing me and for letting me borrow the audio, and to the show’s audio engineer Josh Crotts for his assistance in producing the episode and to Peter Oke for editing the transcript. 

Please get in touch with any questions, comments and suggestions by emailing us at contact@economicsexplored.com or sending a voice message via https://www.speakpipe.com/economicsexplored. Economics Explored is available via Apple PodcastsGoogle Podcast, and other podcasting platforms.

Categories
Podcast episode

EP96 – Managing Government Budgets

Rachel Nolan, a former Queensland Government finance minister, speaks with Economics Explored host Gene Tunny about how government budgets are developed and just how much flexibility governments actually have.

Rachel Nolan is Executive Director of the McKell Institute and is an honorary Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Queensland. Rachel was a member of the Queensland Parliament for eleven years from 2001, when she was elected as the youngest woman ever. She is a former Minister for Finance, Transport, and Natural Resources and the Arts. Rachel was a member of the Queensland Government’s central budgetary decision making body, the Cabinet Budget Review Committee.

Links relevant to this episode include:

Budget of the U.S. Government

The Federal Budget in Fiscal Year 2020: An Infographic

Economics Explored EP31 Paying for the Coronavirus rescue measures with Joe Branigan (Note we’ve changed the name of the show since we recorded this episode so it doesn’t clash with a popular YouTube channel)

Please get in touch with any questions, comments and suggestions by emailing us at contact@economicsexplored.com. Economics Explored is available via Apple PodcastsGoogle Podcast, and other podcasting platforms.