MAY 2023
CEO of the Chief of Staff Association
Trent Smyth
2 min read
‘Business transformation’ used to signal a one-off event: a large project, often disruptive, sometimes traumatic, that fundamentally changed the way in which the business operated. After the transformation, people within the organisation adapted more or less successfully to ‘the new normal’. We envisaged transformation as moving from one fixed state to another.
However, today’s insecure and unstable environment – in which the COVID pandemic has been followed by the war in Ukraine, rising inflation, and increased anxiety about everything from the climate crisis to the potential of AI (artificial intelligence) – seems to have left us without a sense of normality – new or old. As we lurch from one unprecedented situation to another, organisations and individuals are constantly in flux, as they attempt to respond to or get ahead of whatever challenge is rising to meet them next.

Today’s ‘normal’ therefore, is not a fixed state, but one of continuing evolution, with potentially just as much (if not more) disruption and trauma than used to be associated with a business transformation project, but continuous. It requires a particular type of leadership, combining adaptability, resilience, and emotional intelligence. And it makes ever more demands on the role and person of the chief of staff.
The third Chief of Staff Executive Education Programme at the University of Oxford in May 2023 foregrounded these issues, offering a range of perspectives from the academic faculty and encouraging participants to share their stories. In the discussion and reflection that accompanied this, participants collectively developed new insights which fed into individual playbooks to support action and understanding as they returned to their organisations.
This report captures some of those insights and a flavour of the stories and experiences that were discussed. We are grateful to the programme participants for allowing us to communicate their thoughts and ideas in the anonymous quotes scattered throughout.
Author Bio
Trent Smyth AM
Chief Executive Officer The Chief of Staff Association
Trent Smyth is an accomplished leader with a diverse professional portfolio. As the current CEO of The Chief of Staff Association (CSA), he oversees a leading organization linking chiefs of staff across the military, non-profits, government, and global corporations. Alongside his role at the CSA, Trent has been steering the growth of the Australian Football League (AFL) in Europe as the Chairman of AFL Europe since 2021. His leadership extends to the boardroom, where he supports rising UK decision-makers at OPUS.
Previously, Trent represented Malawi as its Honorary Consul, where he notably facilitated a significant donation of KN95 masks to combat Covid-19. His passion for motorsport was evident during his directorship at the Australian Grand Prix Corporation, where he held various committee roles and chaired the Sales and Marketing committee. For his substantial contributions across international relations, motorsport, and business, he was honoured with the Order of Australia in 2021.