The Irony of My Career Story

I have had 15 different jobs, in 7 different industries, working in 5 different countries over the space of 30 years and with every job, and every move I have learned something about myself that would set me up for the next part.

So let’s start at the first job, because on reflection now it wasn’t a coincidence I started where I did, and I am sure by the end you will get the irony too

So I want you to picture this… A 17 year old girl living in a town of just 60,000 people in New Zealand. She’s almost finished her last year of high school and she’s pondering her future.

1. Should she be the first in her family on either parents side to head to Uni to do…. but not sure what?

2. Should she follow many of her friends and go travelling for a while….but not sure where?

3. Or should she just get a job and start earning money while she ponders her future adventures….

She’s typical of her age. She loves music, a wide range but especially current, she spends a lot of time listening to songs being played on the local commercial radio station as there are no iPods, Spotify or the internet it’s 1984 – the dark ages really…!

She likes the personalities on the local commercial station – they sound fun, they love their city and talk positively about it, they clearly love people and they seem to know a lot about their music… But most of all, they get paid to talk… she loved talking, could she get paid for doing something she loved? Get paid to do something she got told off for doing at school?

She tells her father she wishes she could work in radio because she thinks she’d be good at it, but she has no experience and there aren’t any women…

He says, go and speak to them, you are smart you can learn and they should have more women.

So she did, the radio station said start practising in the spare studio and maybe one day you’ll get a chance. She does this, she also gets a voice coach and starts to learn how to pronounce maori place names correctly, after her practise shifts in the back studio she seeks feedback on her practise deejaying sessions, she keeps practising weeks turn into a few months and then one night she tells her Mother she is going to give it up as she probably won’t ever get an on air shift… The very next night the Program Director calls and asks “how quickly can you get to the station to fill the midnight to 6am shift?” It was 11.50pm….

..and there started my first career in commercial radio. And I loved it. A dream come true. 2 years on…

I left New Zealand to follow my ambitious parents to Perth with the expectation of working in radio in Western Australia – my confidence told me I would get work in the bright lights and big city of Perth (population then 1.6m – bit bigger than 60,000 I had left in small town NZ) but alas, I had a thuck NZ accent and wasn’t quite what 96FM were looking for. I hadn’t even noticed, wasn’t even aware…

Straight to the country for me so up to the regional town of Geraldton I went (population 25,000) so half the size of the small town I had just left in NZ!! But it was here I learned about resilience and adaptability.

Resilience because I didn’t sound like an Aussie and I certainly didn’t sound like someone who should be on air. I didn’t fut un. The locals didn’t like me much and they weren’t particularly forgiving.

So I figured out if I was to survive (not just keep my job but actually live to tell the story) I needed to change my vowels and sound more Australian, which I worked hard at and soon started to sound slightly better. The Geraldtonians appreciated my efforts and after a bit I could even trick some people into thinking I wasn’t a kiwi until I had a few drinks and/or was around other kiwis and I would soon slup back into my NZ accent.

Another two years on with ambition burning and the need to move on from Geraldton as my Mother’s greatest fear was I would marry a cray fisherman and never leave. Do you know how much they earn? Lucky I wasn’t motivated too much by money or it might have been a reality... 

So off I headed to the largest town in the West, Bunbury and my radio career continued. This time I learned about taking on opportunity. When the sound engineer left suddenly I was asked to start making the ads as his replacement. I called my father again and said I can’t be sound engineer, I have never worked a 16 track desk before? And his response… if you haven’t done it before how do you know you can’t do it?

I spent the next 2 years juggling an on air role with making the ads. This taught me such an important lesson… you don’t know what you don’t know so always give it a go!

The next move was to follow the radio announcer boy I had fallen in love with, he was talented and secured a role in Canberra doing the breakfast show, so off we headed and it was in the Nation’s capital I discovered my passion for Marketing.

Joining AMP in 1992 as the Sales Unit Marketing co-ordinator my role was to help the 20 AMP Financial Planners (average age being 69 years old) move their customer records onto a computer database and introduce them to telemarketing nights! It was a fun gig, they indulged the bubbly blonde and her wacky ideas and it wasn’t until some years later I realised their client relationship model was the purest, most effective form of marketing. It wasn’t efficient, but deep relationships with their customers was effective and is still today something we all strive for in any industry. The learning this time… sometimes the new way of doing things isn’t always the best way of doing things.

From Canberra I joined a Relationship Marketing agency in Sydney and led the Telemarketing & Fulfillment division – my role was to ensure we had skilled staff who were capable talkers on the phones and capable packers of direct mail in support of the client accounts we managed. Here I learned about authentic leadership. I worked for an amazing man who started every day with “Happy Monday, or Tuesday or whatever day it was”.

John was the most intelligent and people loving person I think I had ever encountered. He took the development of his staff (both personal and professional) very seriously and invested immense amounts of time and money in his people. He set up a Uni within the agency which we attended 2 nights every week. I completed my ADMA certificate the other nights. He taught me that building positive relationships with others was the key to success. He taught me that most people get up every morning wanting to do their best and it is our role as leaders to enable this.

What a great foundation for what was to come…marriage! Our first child, a move back to Perth and then along came our second child! I started doing a little bit of marketing consulting at home with the infants so I could keep myself “in the industry” whilst I juggled motherhood, by far the hardest job I have ever had (but also the most rewarding). I started to get itchy feet after a couple of years so the next adventure took us all to Singapore.

I was curious about living in a different place and Asia fascinated me. My husband was born in Hong Kong to expat Australians and had lived there for a time as a boy, and he had such a worldy perspective so it was something I wanted our children to also experience. Another marketing agency leadership role and the biggest learning of my career… self awareness. Just because others speak English doesn’t mean they do things the way I do. Just because they hear me doesn’t mean they understand me. I was working with predominantly Chinese staff, all ten times smarter than me.

Culturally we were worlds apart and I learned this quickly when we were preparing for a big pitch to a key client. Working on this for a good few weeks before the presentation, I thought it was clear what we needed to do and my explanation of this, however just two nights before the pitch when I suggested we do a run through and they hadn’t done anything we had discussed, it dawned on me I would need to change my style. Less talking, more listening and definitely more checking in.

I moved on to a senior marketing role at IBM in Singapore, learned a lot about technology and also how a large US multi-national operates globally. I had a Thai boss who reported into a Chinese boss who reported into an Indian boss. Each had different styles of leadership and I learned so much from all 3.

Returning to Australia in 2005 and my career marketing banking and financial services commenced. I spent almost 10 years with ANZ here in Melbourne and loved the 3 different roles I had. The bank restructured every 2 minutes so resilience and adaptability were again needed. I worked hard, used creativity at every opportunity to solve business problems and achieve cut through in the communications and marketing initiatives we devised. I was grateful for the bank’s investment in me doing my MBA and ensured I used those learnings to help grow the people and areas I was in.

It was just over 2 years ago I was approached to head up the brand & marketing at the Bank of Melbourne and I think I might have landed one of the best gigs in town! I get to lead 10 marketing rockstars – all so very switched on, engaged and passionate about their city, state and the customers we serve. We are having a lot of fun ensuring our brand purpose of helping Victorians make it (The Makers) is amplified widely, creating platforms and communication channels to assist our hardworking staff reinforce why choosing a local bank with a focus on our community is the right way to go.

S0 here’s what I have learned along the way…

What remained constant in my career journey?

– Tenacity, if I wanted something I went for it. I didn’t let doubt stop me, however I had plenty of doubts!

– Self belief (or maybe it was naivety!) I never let my gender, my lack of tertiary education until four years ago, my small town NZ upbringing, my funny accent and my real lack of experience ever stop me from having a go.

– I made mistakes, heaps of them! Some were costly to the organisation, some were costly to my personal brand, but I came through. I wasn’t curing cancer so on a scale of little muck up to major balls up, I really didn’t make too many of the latter! You need to learn and you do this from experience, better to have given something a go and learned from it than not.

Best career advice?

Always display good manners, be humble and gracious, ask questions, curiosity is a mind evolving.

Don’t stress about things, they always work out. Unless you are saving lives, high stress isn’t useful, however energy and adrenaline are positive and we should use them to our advantage.

Stay healthy. Eat well, sleep well and exercise. It’s a jungle out there and you need to be able to fire on all fours. Balance is critical – all work and no play is dull and likely to see you with regrets later on in life. All play and little work is likely to cost your future… and your brain cells!

When people reach out to me, the first thing I note is their behaviour. Far more important than their ATAR score (I never ask this) or where they did their University degree, or their degree marks.

Everyone I know seems to have a great education today… this gets you the ticket to the dance, but if you want to win the job you need more than just the academic. Have you volunteered? Created something special? Written something? Acted, sang, danced – are you doing (or have you done) things which were meaningful and can add even more value to an organisation?

The second thing I note is communications skills. Can they look me in the eye when they speak? Are they passionate about things? Do they have a life outside of work/studies? What is their opinion? Do they listen as well as contribute to a conversation?

Be consistent. This is the hardest part – you need to display the good manners, the curiosity, the graciousness, the calmness EVERY single day. Not just when you’re trying to impress. People my age can smell a fake a mile away 

Back yourself, especially if you’re female. Doubt gets you nowhere. Ask for help every single day; ask for experience, ask for a job.

…and finally, help everyone you can. Not only is this personally very meaningful but it means people will reciprocate and help you when you ask. Really simple philosophy but it works, trust me 

So the irony… I am still talking… just not on radio for the moment! Every day I speak to so many people whether it be via social media, my external network, my team at the bank, my community initiatives, new friends.

The greatest passion I have is people – it’s where I get my energy.

I wish you the very best in your future endeavours.

1 comment

  • Kirtan Varasia

    I really enjoyed and got inspired by your story. Unfortunate that I wasn’t able to work much with you. I would have learned so much from you. Best wishes

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