If you’d asked me 20 years ago where I thought I’d be in my career today, I never would have guessed Group Corporate Manager for a family-owned recruitment company. In fact, if you’d asked me only a year ago, I still wouldn’t have picked it. Not too long ago, I was working for one of the Big Four banks and part-way through what I thought was my ‘career for life’. It’s funny how quickly things can change…
Five years ago, I accepted the prized mantle of Regional General Manager for Westpac. I had two decades of experience in the financial services industry behind me and I was at the top of my game. In my new role, I oversaw a big team with a big balance sheet – I’m talking 100 plus staff and a ballpark budget of $6 million.
Having been allocated the region of Central Queensland, I decided not to uproot my husband and kids for my job. I soon became a FIFO wife and mother; the constant travel and long stints away from my family took its toll. It was also a lonely experience, as flights to remote areas were usually packed with men in high-vis gear, not corporate women.
Country Australia is a tough gig. Regional communities are exposed to many difficult circumstances which city-goers don’t really think about – it’s a case of out of sight, out of mind. Not for me, as I was working in the thick of it. Natural disasters, businesses and families affected by extreme weather conditions, minority groups desperately in need of a lifeline. It was pretty brutal.
Despite how tough it was, I made the most of my time as the RGM for Central Queensland. I played a key role in the establishment of the Westpac Community Board in Queensland and, as the Chair, I helped raise nearly half a million dollars for community grants and the Westpac Rescue Helicopter. Being able to make a difference on the ground level certainly made my role more fulfilling.
However, when Westpac restructured its workforce, I knew the timing was right to give my career a shakeup. I’d fallen out of love with financial services. It was time to try something new and reinvent Lisa Kay.
So, at the age of 50, I had my first gap year (you don’t realise how much you need to re-charge until you take your foot off the pedal!). Over my 22-year stint in finance I’d never taken more than three weeks off at a time. A hiatus gave me the chance to focus on my family, health and wellness. I started running and reflecting on the things I really valued and wanted out of life. Being passionate about personal development and furthering my knowledge, I also took the time to learn about topics that interested me. Eventually, I reached the right head space to start a new career.
One day, I ran into an old colleague who mentioned her employer (Davidson) was looking for a leadership coach – someone who could coach leaders to lead leaders. Considering my experience I knew I had some skills that would benefit this role. The icing on the cake? Davidson was a recruitment company, not a bank. It was also a family owned and run SME. In other words, it was something completely different – the perfect stepping stone into a new world of work.
While working as a Leadership Coach at Davidson, I was able (and encouraged) to access the CEO and influence the business to improve its performance. It was rewarding work, so it didn’t take me long to realise I wanted to stick around, to see Davidson grow and contribute to its future success. So, when Bruce Davidson, the Company CEO, asked if I wanted to take on the role of GM for Davidson’s Corporate division, the answer was easy.
In the spirit of my new self-commitment, I negotiated a better work-life-balance, making sure health continued to be a priority. Davidson was incredibly supportive, giving me the freedom to start late on Wednesdays and work from home on Fridays, so I could go running along the beach during the week. There is no expectation for me to work on weekends or take my laptop home at the end of a work day. This arrangement benefits me and the business, as it gave me time for ‘blue sky thinking’.
During my first few weeks in my new role, I was surprised at how quickly I hit the ground running. It turned out recruitment was a lot like finance. It was ultimately about fostering relationships, matching customers’ needs to business offerings and generating ‘sales’. Sales was what I did at Westpac, and it’s what I did well. I know how to lead sales teams to achieve outcomes for the business and its clients.
At Davidson, my goal was to drive productivity and profitability – not just on an individual recruiter level but for the entire team. One of Davidson’s core values is teamwork and collaboration. With this in mind, I encouraged my workforce to start focussing on team pride and accountability. It’s not enough for our recruiters to smash their own targets, they need to be responsible for improving the division’s results with genuine passion. Today, we work towards one common goal: enhancing workplace performance, both internally and externally.
Looking back over my first few months as the GM for Davidson Corporate, I can see how the company has benefited from bringing a pair of fresh eyes into the business. My unique ‘lens’ has breathed new life into the Corporate division and Davidson’s senior leadership team. Rather than being moulded and forced to take on the views around me, I’ve been encouraged to form my own opinions and bring a fresh perspective to the table. I love how Davidson genuinely values and nurtures diversity.
If there’s one thing I’ve learnt from my career transition, it’s to go after the things you really want and back yourself. I plucked up the courage to step away from Financial Services and actively pursue the career and life I really wanted. While I quietly battled with self-doubt and ‘imposter syndrome’ during my early days at Davidson, my confidence has grown as I’ve drawn certainly from who I am, where I’ve come from and what I’m capable of. I’ve also cut myself a little slack. I’ve decided to be patient with myself while I learn the ropes of a new job, in a new business environment and in a new industry.
I’m thrilled by the career I’ve carved out of myself in 2016, as well as the opportunity Davidson has given me to demonstrate my leadership skills can determine new outcomes for the business. The culture at Davidson is incredibly uplifting and empowering; I’m no longer part of the ‘sausage factory’. I have a healthy work-life balance and finally feel successful in the ways that matter to me. There’s nothing more rewarding.