Q&A with Bernard Fehon
Founder of CEO Sleepout and CEO Fehon Strategy and Design
Graduation year: 1993
Q. Tell us a little bit about yourself?
I grew up in Penrith with 7 brothers and sisters, Dad ran an accounting business with partners and mum was full-time at home. Both were very active in the community. As a child, I wanted to be a car designer but when I left school I also wanted to be independent and earn income quickly so I started an engineering traineeship, got married, bought land and moved into our first house before turning 21.
Q. What gravitated to you design in the first instance?
I loved design as a kid, especially car design, architecture and all sorts of product design. What interested me was how things worked, looked and how good design helped people use products effectively.
Q. What does design mean to you?
When I was young I was surrounded by design-thinking. Whilst my Dad was an accountant, he was also very good at building things and that normally meant designing before building and Mum was a designer in many ways. Both were problem solvers and would find cost-effective innovative solutions to problems. When I was in my young teenage years, they were drawing and planning a lot. This approach to problem-solving and planning I think runs in the family and the combination with art and craft comes through the family also and is evident with some of my siblings and children.
Q. Why did you decide to change your career as an Industrial Designer?
By age 32, my wife and I had 5 kids and the main focus was on providing for the family. By age 35, I decided to leave my job as Design and Development Manager at Sebel Furniture (which was a great job) and move into financial planning with AMP as a way to feed the family and pay the mortgage. Business and finance also run in the family.
Q. Can you tell us about the CEO Sleepout? Why are you passionate about this event?
In about 2003, AMP Foundation was offering money to charities through financial planners. Growing up I had been very aware of the great work that Vinnies do for those most in need and I thought they would be a good charity to help. Rough sleeping is a visible problem in Sydney that you can't ignore, but Vinnies help many more people than the visible ones. In the first few years I was involved in fundraising dinners and the challenge for the organising committee was how do you make a better dinner that raises more funds? My thinking was “how do you design a better dinner?”
The design approach and training in engineering and industrial design helped form my approach to problems and the reality was that raising money and awareness could be achieved in more effective ways than a fancy dinner. My children were doing sleepouts for Vinnies at school while I was involved in the planning.
This prompted the thought "wouldn’t it be easier to do a CEO Sleepout rather than a CEO dinner?"
From there the CEO Sleepout was born.
Q. Can you tell us about your favourite experience working on the CEO Sleepout?
Overall, the CEO Sleepout experience has been a joy. Whilst I have been focussed on growing the event to help raise money for Vinnies, it has allowed me to meet a large number of people that I wouldn’t have otherwise met. It has also allowed me to work with leaders who care about others. The people who have had the most impact are the clients of Vinnies who have spoken at the events. Hearing their stories and watching how a room full of CEOs responds is amazing. They have such resilience and courage that they inspire CEOs and change the way CEOs think. CEOs become more compassionate.
Q. What is the most valuable thing you took away from your time at UNSW?
My coursework and project work at UNSW combined with my learning at Sunbeam Victa gave a well-rounded education and the desire to be lifelong learner. The quest for more knowledge and for personal improvement remains years later.