Age Not disclosed Current role Chief executive officer and managing director of Genworth Mortgage Insurance Australia Tenure 21 months Previous roles Chief financial officer of Genworth Mortgage Insurance Australia; a host of roles at Genworth Financial
ranks and established a very successful career, I feel ethically obliged to make sure women are getting opportunities. That’s why I tend to be very vocal.
Is it sometimes hard to stick your neck out?
It was harder when I was younger. I wasn’t viewed as the most cooperative person, because I was vocal about not being on the golf course or why I didn’t get invited to an event. You make a choice to stand up for yourself. Then, as you see some success, you make a choice to stand up for everyone else.
How did you prepare your pitch for the CEO role?
As the CFO of Genworth, I knew a lot about the business. I’d also had some pretty strong experience in the United States, being in investor relations and also being CFO during the GFC. I felt very comfortable with the technical side of things but I had to build confidence in myself that I had the leadership skills to take the business forward. I spent time focusing on how I spoke about myself; instead of using numbers, I talked about strategy, our customers and our people.
Did you work with a coach as part of your preparation?
I was lucky to have a board chairman [Richard Grellman, now retired] who was very supportive of me moving into the role so I had the opportunity to work with him to make that transition.
You were acting CEO for four months. Did that feel like a four-month-long audition?
Definitely [laughs]. You have two choices: you can either sit back and wait to be appointed – and not do anything – or you can make changes. I thought there were some things we needed to do as a business and I went after those. The company did a global search but when you have someone who is actually in the role and making progress, that was helpful in the decision.
Did they give you free rein while you were acting CEO?
They did. It was “Do it and don’t do it wrong” [laughs]. From day one, I was being held accountable.
Being a former CFO must be a huge advantage when you need to rattle off numbers.
It gave me a great base. You understand the financials of the business and the inner workings. Not many roles before CEO enable you to see the entire business but because you’re reporting from a financial perspective, and even dealing with investors on your own, you become more involved in the overall business.
How do you find the time for strategy?
I think you have to block it in your calendar. Sometimes I do it at night, sometimes I’ll do it on a Sunday morning. It’s finding the time when you feel refreshed and you can spend that time thinking.
And how do you manage stress?
One thing I learnt, coming through the GFC, was that you could work forever and still not be done. So you have to set your own boundaries then explore things you really find interesting to make sure you’re filling that bucket back up.
What are those boundaries for you?
I’m normally here till 6.30, 7 o’clock at night but I don’t then check emails. I turn off my alerts so they don’t ping. On weekends, I have one day when I don’t check email.
What about on holidays?
I try to limit work emails to the morning and I set that expectation with everyone. I also have a really strong executive assistant; when I’m out, she can disperse emails so I can bring the stress level down.
And how do you wind down?
For me to rejuvenate, I need quiet time. I’m something of an introvert and I know when I need to break away and have some downtime.
How do you deal with the pressure?
I think I learnt that through the GFC. At the time, I had some personal challenges, too, with an ill husband [who has since passed away]. You have to keep perspective. My philosophy is that we’re not perfect; we’ll make mistakes. What we hope is that we’re making the best decisions on the best information, views and discussion that we have at the time.
When you started out, could you have imagined that you’d end up in the corner office?
Not at all. I was the first person in my family to go to college. My grandmother emigrated from Ireland and had a rough life. My parents were both middle class – Dad worked in construction and Mum in a back office. I never would’ve thought I’d be sitting here in Sydney, Australia, as the CEO of an ASX 200 company.
“I WASN’T VIEWED AS THE MOST COOPERATIVE PERSON, BECAUSE I WAS VOCAL ABOUT NOT BEING ON THE GOLF COURSE OR WHY I DIDN’T GET INVITED TO AN EVENT.”