Reflections by Maxine Bazeley.
Last night I attended the CBRE offices in Melbourne for an International Women’s Day event organised by the YAICC. This group of young professionals had gathered to hear insights from the CEO of REA Group, Tracey Fellows. The interview led by YAICC’s Jodi Weinberg, began with some quick preference questions designed to get right to the important things, such as Melbourne over Sydney, Australia over Canada and Hilary over Trump. With politics out of the way, the conversation delved into Tracey’s career path, balancing family and executive life as well as sage advice for aspiring women leaders and those seeking to support them.
Tracey’s first job as a graduate was at IBM and their yearlong internship program instilled strong values around servicing the customer, this has remained a thread for Tracey throughout her career. She admits she hasn’t been very clear on her career path, and doesn’t advise not having a 1, 2 or 3 year plan but has always operated with the belief that doing an exceptional job would get her noticed and lead to the next opportunity. This way of working has certainly served her well with progression to Senior roles within IBM and then Dell before joining Microsoft as a Product Lead then becoming a Director.
Despite this Tracey still suffers occasionally from a lack of confidence. She said ‘No’ at first when she was offered the top job with Microsoft in Australia. Why? Because she was listening to her own insecurities telling her she couldn’t do the job. Luckily, Tracey was given the weekend to think about it and after unpacking her reasons, realised she was basing her decision on blocks she was creating herself. Her advice in situations where someone else believes you can do something, is to take their word over doubting yourself.
After taking the job she was assigned a mentor, the Microsoft country head of Italy, who gave her the best advice anyone could. Umberto Paolucci said over the phone – ‘It’s all about love’. This conversation taught Tracey that allowing people to ‘know what’s in your heart’ will lead them to follow you. She still maintains that business is from the heart and leading from this space is what got her through one of her more challenging leadership roles at Australia Post. Tracey says maintaining a strong culture is most difficult when you’re shrinking. ‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast’ she says, and straight away humbly qualifies that she’s likely quoting someone else.
For Tracey, culture is the most important thing and when hiring she evaluates whether the person is going to detract from the culture more than add to it. She admits she has an aversion to ego so can be quite sensitive to it and has learnt the hard way to trust her instincts in the hiring process. ‘Hiring people is the most important thing you do as a leader’ Tracey says and understandably the 4 stage interview process at REA is thorough.
The same goes for doing business with other companies. When selecting suppliers, Tracey looks for cultural alignment too. This is how she came to the final decision in signing the recent home loan agreement with NAB. It came right down to the people they would be working with. “Everything in business is as simple as the people’ Tracey says, stating that we spend too much time at work to be at battle while we’re there.
On work life balance, it’s about limiting contact to during the week. Tracey is strict about keeping her personal time and mostly sticks to the rule of not checking work messages on the weekends and holidays. This would be difficult for someone who is so clearly energised by her work. Her excitement is glaringly obvious when she talks through her Friday appointments as an example of how a work day might be. Within it she has 1:1s, informal client and internal meetings but is most looking forward to hearing the pitches from the REA Hack day.
One of Tracey’s regrets is where her biggest piece of advice comes from. She wishes she had the strength to speak up more when she was the only woman in the room. She advised the best way anyone can help in this situation is scan the room for who isn’t being heard, and give them a chance to voice their opinion. This goes for promotions too where people who don’t ask for them are often overlooked. Women have been more likely not to mention their ambitions and hope their dedication and work attract the reward of progression. Tracey says regularly checking in with people around their goals can help uncover an aspiring executive and perhaps a future CEO.
International Women’s Day is on March 8th and the 2017 theme is #BeBoldForChange.
For information about events in your area and how to be part of the change, check out the International Women’s Day website.