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

Qantas - - Qbusiness -

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.


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