People // October 2023 Ideas People
What does innovation really mean? When it comes to new ideas and successfully implementing them, we meet 101’s quiet revolutionaries adding value to their companies, teams and cultures. Share this on LinkedIn, Twitter
Louisa Lin | Investment Banking Analyst, Flagstaff Partners "My definition of success is being happy."

Louisa is the founder of ACRYLIQUE, an innovative press-on nail brand revolutionising the beauty industry. A recent graduate in her first full-time role at Flagstaff Partners, Louisa has adapted to a full-time career, showing that with hard work and innovative thinking, anything is possible.

How have you got to where you are today?

Back in high school, I was really good at science. I was a hard worker, but I got top grades in Biology. For the first few years of uni, I didn’t work that hard. I suddenly had all this freedom and realised I could work and make money, so I was distracted. Then, when it was time to apply for internships, I realised I really needed to bring up my grades and my WAM so that I could apply for the internships I wanted. In the industry I’m in, you typically only get an interview if you have a WAM above 80. I knew that I wanted to work in finance, so I gave it my best shot. I did some case competitions, won some internships and it’s the experience of those case competitions that has brought me to where I am. 

Why did you decide to pursue finance over law?

I just felt that law wasn't natural to me. I would try twice as hard and get half the grades I was getting in commerce and finance. I didn't want to do a job that I'm not good at. I want to do really well in my career, so I pursued something that felt more natural to me.

As an investment banking analyst, what does your job entail? What does an average day look like for you?

We focus on mergers and acquisitions, as well as capital raisings. One of the notable transactions we’re working on at the moment is helping ANZ buy Suncorp Bank, which is going to be one of the biggest transactions in the space in the past decade. The fact that I can work on a large deal like that, not on that specific transaction, but be exposed to the skills involved, is really good. My day-to-day is very different, for example from Monday to Wednesday this week I was working on a 120-slide deck from 9am-8pm every night, but now that's being reviewed so today I don't have too much on. It's very up and down with busy days and weeks, and then other more relaxed periods. It’s not that balanced, but sometimes I like that.

What does it take to be a good Investment Banking Analyst?

You need a few key strengths: technical skills, attention to detail, and a strong commercial understanding. We work with ASX-listed clients so we need to produce work that’s well-considered, high quality and accurate. Equally, it is important to have soft skills like communication and relationship-building. When you become more senior in the business, your job is to bring in business. My strength lies in the relationship-building side as I’m intrinsically curious about people.

Tell us about ACRYLIQUE and the work you do on top of your role at Flagstaff?

I launched the brand in November 2021, with 14 months of prep and brand building beforehand. ACRYLIQUE sells salon-grade press-on nails that apply in 10 minutes, last two weeks, and actually look real. They cost half the price of salon nails, and can be reused up to five times. I noticed a gap within a smaller subset of the already-saturated beauty market. There are people who work in professions where getting salon-done nails is just impractical. For example, nurses, chefs, musicians and even people who type a lot like me. My best friend Anna is a nurse and a midwife, so she can’t get her nails done professionally for hygiene reasons, but she loves beautiful nails. Now, she can apply my nails in less than 10 minutes and they look like she’s just spent two hours at the salon. Before she goes back to work, she peels them off, and stores the nails to reuse.

During COVID, a lot of struggling nail technicians started hand-making nails and mailing them out to clients. My perception of press-on nails had always been bad. There were the ones from high street chemists which look fake and flimsy, and then there are the ones the nail technicians had started doing which looked real. I thought there must be a way I can create a brand around this. I’m not a nail technician and I don’t know how to make nails, but I was sure I could source a supplier and create a brand that makes real-looking, high quality press-ons. And that’s what I did. Now, ACRYLIQUE is a year and a half old and it’s accelerated my learning in every way.

In what ways is the business innovative?

It’s a DIY beauty product that solves several problems. It helps time-poor people as it’s a product that can be applied in under ten minutes on the go without compromis- ing on look and quality (I’ve applied a full set of nails in a moving car!). It is also budget-friendly. I know a lot of people have had to find ways to cut expenses. ACRYLIQUE costs half the price of a salon visit, and can be re-used meaning the cost per use goes down over time! Finally, for people with an active lifestyle, parental responsibilities or employment commitments, it is a product you can use when you need it.

What advice do you have for people looking to start a business?

They should just start. I spent 14 months preparing but if I had launched a year before, my business would probably have grown more than it has today. It’s called ‘analysis paralysis’ – don’t let it stall you because time in the market is much more important. Once you start a business, you’ll come across many challenges that you can’t plan or study for, so just start! It takes a lot of mental strength. As a solo founder, it’s tough to shoulder all the burden when things go wrong. When customers complain, when you have doubts or when you don’t have a business partner to validate your ideas, you sometimes feel like you could quit any time. Having confidence in your idea, your ability to work through anything, and a good sense of yourself so that you can pick yourself up is essential. Before I started the business, I was a very emotional person. I was reactive and setbacks would consume me for days. Now I don’t think twice. Starting a business has helped me build character and resilience and it’s that sort of learning you can’t put a price on.

What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced building your business and how did you overcome them?

I think capital constraints is a big one. As a solo founder, funding the whole business myself was hard because when you start working with manufacturers, especially high quality manufacturers, they demand a minimum order quantity. When I found the supplier for some of my biggest US competitors, I knew straight away that I wanted to work with them but I needed to order and import 5,000 sets of nails at a huge cost. The first time I've ever imported them! To me, that's crazy. That was a huge investment, but I took the risk and I did it but that was definitely one of the biggest challenges starting this.

How does your business grow and evolve to adapt to the future?

Always being forward looking and anticipating trends. I think for a product like mine or beauty products in general, it's important to stay up to date with what's actually trending. What do people actually want and usually it’s things that celebrities have endorsed.

The last three years have been incredibly challenging for many people, and I'm sure running a business isn't without fault. What do the next few years look like for you?

Even though the last few years were challenging for a lot of people, it gave me time to build the business because I could do my uni work from home. I had a lot of time at home and instead of sitting around, I wanted to do something with that time. The next few years are going to be challenging because my job is going to take up a lot of my time. I plan on taking a more passive role in the business, which I can afford to do now because I've got an employee who helps me execute my ideas. In the past, every time I had new ideas or product launches, I had to do it all myself. I still actively think about the business, the strategic priorities and what can I do to push the business forward, but once I have those ideas, I’ll hand them over to my employee. I think that's the only way you can really scale a business. As a founder, your time is valuable. I can’t waste hours creating graphics anymore. When you get to a point where you can have people work for you, you re-evaluate where your time is best used.

To what do you credit your success?

My definition of success is being happy. The business isn't where I want it to be yet, but I can see the potential and I’m happy that it’s progressing. I think my upbringing and insecurity have a lot to do with what’s driven me to work so hard and achieve these goals. I’m the only child of parents who were born and raised in China. They never went to uni. They gave me the opportunity to get a really good education in Australia and earn a decent income. Growing up we didn't really have luxuries. We lived in a very modest apartment and drove an old car, and when I was in school, I was super embarrassed. I think that was a huge insecurity for me but it drove me to want to be successful and earn a lot of money. But, as I get older, I realise that, either way, it doesn't matter what brands you have. I think letting go of the need to look wealthy has liberated me. I don't need that anymore. I do this because I want to bring ideas to life and to take control of my future. The thing I prioritise and value most in life is freedom. Having my own business gives me freedom and I can enjoy going on those holidays I never got to enjoy when I was young.

It sounds like you enjoy challenging yourself!

Yes, I'm always looking for the next new thing to take on! But over time, I've also learned to balance that with appreciating how far I've come so that I’m not always living in the future but also enjoying the present.

Cassandra Abbley | Director of Group Health and Safety, Logos "I've never had a job where the days are the same."

Cassandra is an outcome-driven leader with extensive experience in Health, Safety, Environment and Sustainability strategy, risk management programs and establishing and implementing governance frameworks and processes.

Tell us about your journey, how did you get to where you are?

I didn't know what I wanted to do. I went to university because that's what you did and studied Health Sciences. I really enjoyed the people-centric component and I have noticed throughout my career that the times I work best are when I’m engaging with people and working collaboratively to make change or create something. I moved into health and safety because I got a career placement as an officer in the local government. It was meant to be a three-week placement but they kept me on part time for four months to finish a project, which got me thinking I quite like this, so I got my first full-time job in my last year of university. After that first job, I've really never written a resume because I got poached into a consulting role from that placement, stayed there for seven years and then moved to another consulting firm for another eight years. Logos was a client who I ended up moving over to, and I just keep evolving as experiences and opportunities arise in front of me.

What does a normal day look like for you?

I've never had a job where the days are the same. From consulting, you spend a proportion of your time in all different organisations and then you come back into the office and write a report. Logos is really no different. Logos has been acquired by another larger organisation which my role has been elevated into, so I now work across this broader group. Most days include a lot of team meetings, across our ten countries, with team members in Singapore, India, Indonesia, China and Sydney. We spend a lot of time collaborating with other parts of the business. I also try to carve out some creative thinking time; time periodically to consolidate conversations that I've had, ideas that I've started thinking about and to look for opportunities to add value to what we do and how that's shared across the business. It's very hard to find and you have to be disciplined and lock it in. I’m always listening and learning and I think it’s valuable to hear what other people are learning and to pull it all together and use it to add value, rather than it getting lost in business as usual.

How do you innovate in your role at Logos?

Listening is a big part of it, but also being able to communicate. In my role, I communicate to the board, to our external stakeholders, contractors and to our teams on the ground, so appreciating who you’re communicating with and what you need to say is really important.

I’m in a discipline where there is no right way or wrong way of doing things, so I have to continue to keep myself informed so that I can be as flexible as I can to get to an end goal that meets all parties’ needs. When the existing path is not one that people either understand or want to be a part of, I have to pave a new path every time. That has enabled me to work across regions that historically don’t value health and safety in the same way other countries do. Or working in markets that don’t have robust regulatory frameworks like others do and bringing people in on that journey.

Presenting an accessible picture is the best way to ensure people will come and talk to you and want to work hard for you and with you, so creating that presence in the workplace is really important. I think these attributes have been fundamental in helping me create this function and ultimately doing so in this new environment, which is a large global, real estate investor. Logos see the value in that and take it on wholeheartedly, which is rewarding.

How does Logos differentiate itself in a crowded market?

I think what differentiates Logos is its entrepreneurial spirit. We're a small team in comparison to what we create and it’s a flexible environment which means that we all adopt an entrepreneurial and flexible attitude. It means that people just naturally work well together and have a desire to make it work. I think Logos's ability to allow for that entrepreneurial flexibility in the workplace, recognising that there are parameters we must work in but also giving us freedom and autonomy makes it a really unique work environment.

How do you ensure growth and evolution to keep adapting to the future?

I'm going to come back to listening and understanding. I’m not a classic academic, learning is something I do in real time. I learn from people, from body language; I'm observant and I process all that information and create a narrative to determine how we move forward. But I also think connecting with others and not doing it alone is really important, so that you're aware of what's moving and changing in the environment. The future can be daunting; when there are lots of unknown paths and changes happening all around you. Something I always stand by is to do what's in front of you and do it to the best of your ability and then take the next step. I'm all about one step at a time, focusing on what you can do well with the people and support around you.

Kate Dillon | Director, Employee Strategy and Experience, Gilbert + Tobin "I try to focus on things that give me energy and course-correct if something doesn’t."

While the traditional portfolio of non-executive directorships is well recognised, the case for combining two demanding day jobs is less well established. As Director of Employee Strategy + Experience at Gilbert + Tobin and Director and Founder of purposeful fashion e-tailer, She Lion, Kate is passionate about demonstrating that this is not only possible, but that the combination is mutually reinforcing.

As a director at G+T, what does your job entail and what does a normal day look like for you?

At G+T, I cherish the ever-changing nature of my “normal” day. This allows me to be intrapreneurial within the firm. My role involves a strategic overlay on employee strategy and experience, which means I get to work on a diverse range of projects. It could involve traditional employee experience elements, such as optimising the overall work environment for our people. On other days, I may be focused on supporting facilitation or capability for team offsites, or specific consultancy to internal stakeholders. All these aspects excite me immensely, as they contribute to building a positive and progressive culture within the firm. Each day brings new challenges and opportunities for growth, making my journey at G+T immensely fulfilling.

What does it take to be good at what you do?

Persistence, active listening, and curiosity.

Tell us about She Lion and the work you do in that space.

She Lion was originally about beautiful tools for the modern working-woman; luxurious handbags made with distinctive interiors that command attention, never compromise functionality and ensure that you bring your A-game to every business encounter. Having practised as a lawyer for some time, I had become increasingly frustrated at not being able to find a bag that suited my needs – so in February 2014 She Lion Group was born. Then, following a year of extensive networking, many RMIT handbag construction and digital design courses, research and development, an eight bag collection was launched in July 2015, designed to embolden the wearer to #WalkFearlessly. We are now stocked on The ICONIC, Wolf + Badger, OCTANNER, and our own site:, and have added “zero-to-wear” Australian made apparel, and keynote speaking to our offering.

What’s one thing you’ve learned from starting and running a business?

A key learning along the journey has definitely been the danger of “not knowing what you don’t know”. I have had to accept and embrace the feeling of vulnerability, a position contrary to my legal background where I’ve been trained to rarely put myself in such a position willingly. This has been confronting and it still is, though the silver lining is that it incentivises me to push through the fear and find a solution. My grandfather’s mantra has been instilled in me from a young age: “anything is possible with a bit of guts and determination” (or G&D as he refers to it). This has kept me going and become a pivotal pillar in the She Lion brand. I’ve also learned that things that appear simple from the outside are far more complex in reality, but if you persevere and ask lots of questions, you’ll cultivate the confidence to know that you can find the (often evolving) answer.

Chelsea Patten | Manager in ESG, VFMC "I have always sought to leverage my knowledge and skills in different contexts."

Chelsea Patten is a Manager, Investment Stewardship at VFMC. VFMC’s investment stewardship approach focuses on four key areas of work: active ownership, ESG integration, undertaking major ESG projects, and collaboration, covering governance and culture, climate risk management, modern slavery, human rights, ethical supply chains and labour standards, occupational health and safety, and gender and diversity.

How have you got to where you are today?

I started my career in chartered accounting before switching to corporate for almost 20 years. This is my first role working with an asset owner. During this time, I have worked with people I really admire and respect. Making the effort to establish a relationship with people and staying connected has been invaluable. I have always sought to leverage my knowledge and skills in different contexts and, to this end, my roles have traversed accounting, investor relations, government relations, a Chief of Staff role, and my final corporate role was as Head of ESG APAC at BHP. In joining VFMC I have the opportunity to bring these skills together on the other side of the table as an investor.

As a Manager in ESG at VFMC, what does your job entail? What does a normal day look like?

I start every day reading the news. I like to know what’s going on! It’s also important to have an awareness of current affairs in the ESG world. My day always involves some collaboration and information-sharing, as we are working to better integrate ESG across the asset classes. We regularly engage with companies and vote at company AGMs, so every day has some element of research to support this activity. That said, there is no standard day in ESG – it is varied, and often involves being responsive to issues (of which there are many) that arise.

What innovations have been made in the ESG space recently that stand out to you?

Innovation is so important in ESG as it drives progress and enables organisations to achieve their ESG goals. I’ve especially enjoyed following the innovation that has contributed to creating more inclusive, diverse workforces, a key ESG thematic. Innovations such as rethinking the design of work, where it gets done and recruiting based on required attributes (not just ‘years of experience’) and from different target industries.

How do you ensure growth and evolution to adapt to the future in your role at VFMC and outside of it?

Reading, speaking to a diverse range of people and always trying to pre-empt the issues. The pace of change in the ESG space means that we are always learning about new ESG related issues and needing to rethink and adapt to the evolution of existing ESG themes. Ultimately, I want to help manage risks we face, such as climate related risks and also contribute positive, real-world outcomes.

What does it take to be good at what you do?

Effective communication with an ability to influence, a pragmatic approach, the ability to analyse complex issues, willingness to collaborate and never thinking you’re an expert – there are none, the space is dynamic!

What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced over your career and how have you overcome them?

I’ve had moments where my personal values are at odds with decisions being made around me. It can be hard to reconcile but I now know where I ‘draw a line in the sand’, and I place enormous value on being able to put my perspective forward and being heard.

To what do you credit your success?

A solid education, diverse work experience, working with some great mentors and always being open to trying new things.

Can you tell us about some moments you are particularly proud of?

Many years ago, I was involved in developing an organisation’s climate change position statement. At this time, detailed climate change positions and disclosure around climate change was evolving. Development of the position statement involved many stakeholders, lots of butcher’s papers and a number of robust discussions! The position has been tweaked over the years but has stood the test of time.

Eibhlin Fletcher | People & Culture Manager, Growthpoint "Be daring. Say yes to opportunities, not no, and make sure the right people are on your bus."

As well as People & Culture Manager at Growthpoint, Eibhlin is the founder of Get a Grip of the Grind – a women’s mentoring company with programs that dare women to be bold and fierce both personally and professionally.

Tell us about your journey to where you are now.

I've had a very circuitous journey. I studied Chemistry at the University of Limerick, on the West Coast of Ireland, and enjoyed university life so much that I applied for a postgraduate course which I did at Reading in the UK, where I met my husband.

My first job was working for Rolls Royce as an emissions technologist. I worked on the Trent 900 Airbus – the engine that's on the Airbus A380 which was the big aircraft that was being launched. I got to test segments of it and whole engines, which was an incredible scale up from using milligrams of catalysts to engines that would occupy whole buildings. I was at Rolls Royce for about six years where I migrated over to process improvement, lean manufacturing and change management. 

We moved to Australia from Derby with a nine-month-old baby and I started trying to get a part time job, which in Australia 20 years ago, was really hard. I had no connections and no family to support me. The first place that took a punt on me was a council in Melbourne, who put me in their People and Culture team. I did a lot of strategic planning, leadership development and values work and that's what got me into the people and soft skills side things.

Then I had two kids and wanted more flexibility, so I ran my own consulting business and Get a Grip of the Grind manifested out of that. And then I got de-energised working for myself. I wanted to go and work back with the team in a business where I had more skin in the game and that's how I became a People and Culture manager.

Working with people is obviously something you're passionate about?

When I was younger, I was never that vocal. But I like seeing people evolve and grow into their potential and that sometimes needs a kick. There are very few people who are motivated to move themselves into that space. We're conditioned to stay in the safe zone rather than take risks that are going to help us to grow and develop and live our full lives.

I think the People and Culture space became a lot more real for me when I got to work within a dedicated team and work with values and leadership. That's when I started realising how important values are to me and how they act as a barometer that allows you to bring more of the stuff that keeps you motivated and engaged into your life and move away from the stuff that's not.

What does it take to be good at what you do?

There are probably a couple of hats here. There’s me as an individual, then there’s me operating in the People and Culture space and then there’s me running Get a Grip of the Grind. When I look at the connectors, a lot of the work is listening and coaching. When you’ve got a human-centric role within a business, the relationship aspect becomes quite important, so my values come to the fore in terms of listening to people so that they feel heard and seen. Then coaching them to extend.

I like operating in a company of Growthpoint’s size because I know everybody as an individual; they’re not a number and equally our executive team knows everybody as an individual, which is rather special.

In my work, it’s important to be firm but fair, and build similar processes within the business. There’s a lot of courage required in a role like mine to balance the voice of the employees with the expectations of the business.

In Get a Grip of the Grind, I push people to be more courageous in the workplace and life generally, because I want them to live a fulfilling life. When it comes to risk, my view is if you’re not hurting anybody and there are no major adverse consequences, why not take the risk and have a life of no regrets rather than living inside your comfort zone, which in the long term is not healthy for the soul.

Can you tell us about it and the work you do on top of your role at Growthpoint?

Get a Grip of the Grind is my passion project. It manifested when I was running my own business doing a lot of executive coaching, mostly with women. I saw women sacrificing what kept them motivated through poor lifestyle choices as they juggled family demands, career pressures and conventional expectations. Daily habits were eroding resilience at work and home and debilitating their ability to make good decisions. The grind was shaping their identity. They had lost their sense of self. Work performance ultimately suffered, and so too did personal happiness and relationships. Time out of the grind was elusive, let alone the ability to go on a journey to rediscover what keeps them motivated.

So, I set about building opportunities where women get out of their grind by adventuring in nature to supercharge their passion to reinvigorate their lives and ambitions. My work is grounded in the science of spending time in nature, away from urbanisation, healthy living and adventuring. Through a partnership with the University of Melbourne and University of Newcastle, we discovered there is very little scientific evidence on female-only programs based in nature and focused on stepping outside of their comfort zone.

I don’t want people to stay within their limits, settling for what others want for them, nor do I want people to blend in or get stuck in their grind. I want people, especially women, to live their big life with no regrets. 

Where does the name Get a Grip of the Grind come from?

I used to run a retreat and I think the financial cost was an impediment for women, who are very poor at investing in this sort of experience for themselves. They'll spend money on a weekend yoga retreat, or they'll go and buy some clothes, but they wouldn’t be as quick to invest in ‘me time’ on a very curated program like this, which only took six people.

My husband said, “Why don't you try a festival format?” And I asked, “What am I going to call it?” And he just came out with, “Well, you're helping them get a grip of the grind. Why don't you just call it that?” The whole thing is geared towards taking women out of their grind into an oasis where they're supported to go on a transformation journey and return home with positive actions and a different way of living their lives that they've seen is possible. And we've had some incredible stories from that. 

What advice do you have for others looking to start their own business?

I would say, just do it.

You're the third person to say that.

Take some time to do a bit of research if you want to understand what the market is like and whether you've got something niche, but don't get bogged down in it and don't live a life of regrets.

I made a decision to launch Get a Grip of the Grind when my uncle died of prostate cancer. He was always an entrepreneur, a very well connected businessman in the local town near us, in Clonmel, Ireland. We didn't know how long he had left, so I went back to see him for a week. When I returned, I thought, “I'm just going to do it. It doesn't matter if it fails. What matters is I give it a shot because I don’t want to regret not giving it a go.”

How do you balance a high-profile job and running a business? Does it weigh on you heavily or do you find it easy?

I've had a rollercoaster with Get a Grip of the Grind. It was a challenge because it's hard to convince women to take the time out of their grind. They don't want to spend money on themselves, they don't want to leave their kids, they’ve got to trust their partner to care for them to their standard. That’s a big blocker.

The other thing that's challenging about organising the festival is that it can feel quite thankless year after year, but then we get incredible stories like the one that just appeared in our inbox the other day. It was from a woman who only came to the festival once. She sorted out her finances, started doing hikes, then went on overnight hikes, then she went on an overseas holiday, then she decided to backpack around South America. And now she's living in El Salvador. And she said, “Who would have thought a kick in the arse weekend in the bush in Victoria would have made this possible?” Stories like that make you realise it’s worthwhile. 

Do you find that your experience in the People and Culture space has helped you understand how demanding women's lives are?

I think it's actually the other way around. When I thought about building dedicated programs for women, I buried myself in research for six months to understand what would make an effective program. The issues really haven't changed much. I'm a working parent and I've been through the whole cycle of everything that entails, and I have a mix of working parents and high performing women in my network who are very committed to their career, so I’m in touch with the issues. 

For me, it was about designing a program that would have a similar impact to what I did on a one-on-one basis, and scale it to a festival (of sorts) while ensuring it has the same impact. Through the research, I worked out that time in nature, being active and adventuring outside of your comfort zone all affect your cognitive functions. Also, what you eat, how you nourish yourself throughout the day, and sleep. So, there’s this melting pot of lifestyle factors that enable you to live a more full and healthy life.

This was the bigger driver and learning (that informs my HR practices) rather than staying across emerging women's issues, which I do, but that all happened before I became a People and Culture Manager, but it massively informs my work.

How do you find downtime for yourself?

Exercise is my number one priority. I'm absolutely pedantic about it. I get up early and do it every day. I wasn't the parent who would sit on the sidelines of my children’s activities, instead I would go for a run to fit my exercise in.

I think women optimise their time really well, but not for self care, for others. For me, exercise is the last thing that gets dropped. 

To what do you credit your success?

I think growing up on a farm and watching my parents graft day after day after day really helped form some of the values that are now prominent in Get a Grip of the Grind.

That grit and endurance to be able to commit and to make it work and, as part of that, learning from what's not working and understanding how to evolve. It’s also about taking a chance. Be daring. Say yes to opportunities, not no, and make sure the right people are on your bus. Don’t put self-limiting beliefs and boundaries on yourself.

I'm happily married and have been for 20 years, we’ve got two kids, so it’s not just about me. There is a balance. But it’s about not acquiescing to the current world order, but standing to fight for your space and what you want out of it. I've got two daughters, 19 and 15, and I don't want them to feel the limitations of the generations of women that have gone before them. So, I try to be a good role model in that regard.

Lloyd Way | Managing Director, Miles Advisory Partners "Our people are our best assets."

Lloyd has been with Miles Advisory Partners for ten years. An innovative leader, he represents a ‘changing of the guard’ in investment banking, challenging traditional industry approaches to be more inclusive and empower a new generation of young investment bankers.

Tell us about your journey to where you are today.

I knew I wanted to do something in and around this. I studied Finance and Economics at uni, but I didn't really know much about M&A to be honest. In my second to last year, I went to a PWC event and met one of the partners who was in corporate finance, and we got talking about Canada and snowboarding and that sort of thing. He was about to go back to Canada and so was I. He said, “Come and chat to me on Monday morning”, and I went in there and learned more about what they do. A couple of weeks later, he offered me a graduate role and I went from there, so I was really lucky. I love doing what I do, so it was really good to have this chance meeting. I’m not sure I'd be here otherwise!

How do you think you’re innovative in your role?

Traditionally in banking you have to work your way up through the ranks. You grind really hard at the bottom. I don’t believe in working that way. I’d rather our junior staff have a good work-life balance and feel empowered. I like to make sure that they want to work with me and feel like they’re part of the problem-solving and decision-making process. If they believe they have a part to play, they’re going to do a better job. So I’m very happy to roll up my sleeves and do what I need to do to make sure they play an active role in the business. Our people are our best assets, so making sure that they’re outcome-driven is my way of being innovative. I’m a massive efficiency fan in everything that I do. I try to get the most efficiency I can at work and at home, which drives my partner crazy sometimes, but the way I do that at work is really just making sure that people want to be there.

What does it take to be good at what you do?

A few things. We have to be analytical and able to pick things up and problem-solve quickly. Often, you’re in the room and you need to solve something in front of a client or there’s lots of things going on, so it helps to be quick on your feet. It’s also about being a people person. People have to want to work with you both internally and externally. When you’re thinking about winning work, you’ve got 20 minutes at the start of the meeting to impress someone and make them feel like they want to work with you because there’s three other people who are about to walk in and try to do the same thing. At the end of the day, you get picked because people want to work with you. And so, it’s about building that kind of connection quickly.

How does Miles Advisory differentiate itself in a crowded market?

We are known in the industry for providing advice and we've stuck to our knitting around what we call ‘mid-market’, which mid-sized, typically founder-owned and founder-led businesses. We dedicate a senior team and do the best for our clients. The way we measure success is if people come back to work with us again. Around half of our clients do, which is pretty rare in M&A because usually people have one business to sell, which they sell and you never see them again, so it feels like we’re doing the right thing.

How do you ensure growth and evolution to keep adapting to the future in your role at Miles Advisory and outside of it?

I think as we grow, one of the key things that we've been very focused on is sticking to what we know. As you grow, I think it’s easy to either push up in terms of deal size or get people that don't align to the culture and what you're trying to achieve. When I joined the firm, there were three people (in our Melbourne office) and now we have nine and hoping to add a few more. But we make sure that as we grow, we get people that are right for the role so we continue to build on what we have established.

What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced in your career and how have you overcome them?

I think the biggest one was making the move from New Zealand to Australia. I was at PWC in New Zealand, working on quite small stuff and I wanted to work at the big end of town for a big investment bank and access some bigger deals. Again, I was really fortunate. I met the guys at Miles and was blown away by what they were doing. But, it was a challenge for me because it was quite different from what I had envisaged for myself, which was working for a big organisation. But Miles has turned out to be a great balance of doing bigger stuff, but working with privately held businesses and seeing the difference you make. In banks or big corporations, decisions aren’t emotional, they’re business. Here, a lot of what we're doing is more emotional because you can see the outcome.

To what do you credit your success?

Being in the right place at the right time! But I’m also very driven and keen to continue to grow. I think hunger and drive are massive. I’ve also got a lot of energy, which I think helps as well! Honestly, I was very fortunate. I've worked alongside really good people my whole career and learnt a hell of a lot from all of them.

Rohan Manikath | Managing Director, Miles Advisory Partners "We like to do a lot of prep work."

Rohan has been with Miles for seven years and is a Managing Director on the leadership team. The first to get into the trenches with the junior team, Rohan leads by example and has been successfully completing transactions in a challenging market.

Tell us about your journey to where you are today.

Coming out of high school, I didn't really know what I wanted to do. I've always liked business so I kept my options open rather than try and go down a single path. I think I played it safe. I studied Engineering and Commerce at university, which are probably broadly the two most employable categories, so keeping the options open! I started at PWC as a grad in 2010, at a time when the business was starting to look forward as opposed to backward, and I really liked that. It was when Xero was taking off and people were talking about how to add value beyond accounting. I had the opportunity to do a lot of new and exciting stuff like creating dashboards and forecasts for businesses. Then I got a taste of transactions, which is a whole different thing, and that has led to a career in M&A advisory.

What does a normal day look like for you?

It’s pretty varied as you'd expect. The reality is that most days are filled with a mix of phone calls, emails, talking to the team and to clients or prospective clients. We have young babies, so I get up pretty early. I always check my emails as soon as I wake up and figure out what I've got to do today. I spend more time at home in the morning now because I often don't get home early enough, so I make sure I see the kids before going into work. I’m usually running a mix of deals. A founder, a family or a PE firm has trusted us with their business, and we've got to get them the best possible result. My job, first and foremost, is to lead that transaction and get the right outcome. And so the day will be a mix of doing whatever is needed on that deal, which depending on the stage, could be reviewing documents or calling bidders and pitching the asset. I spend a lot of time on the phone, and not often scheduled calls – something happens, or an opportunity arises and you have to react.

You’re in the office five days a week, is that a mandate or by choice?

I’ll call it a soft mandate. We’re a small team and there's so much learning that happens by osmosis. The junior team are all quite young and if they're not in the office, then they miss out on things. Because there are so few of us, if some people are at home, it changes the dynamic. If you've got a reason to be at home, then that's fine but so much happens spontaneously and if you're not around, you miss the energy. It also means you're only talking to your team members when you've got something for them to do, which isn't fun. We also like each other's company. And that's the kind of environment we want to create.

What does being a good leader look like to you? Would you say your leadership style is innovative?

Personally, I think it boils down to being able to get the best out of people, which is hard to do. I haven’t got it all figured out, but I think that’s what it is. You want the people you’re working with to be the best version of themselves and create an environment that enables that. I guess innovation is about fresh ideas and creative ways of doing things, but how does that filter through to leadership? I try to lead by example. I would never ask someone to do something that I’m not willing to do myself. We get in the trenches. I do have to get better at delegating because it’s vital and I’m still finding that balance, but having that mentality is fresh and if you just create an environment where people enjoy being at work, they’ll take care of the client. It sounds like common sense, but it doesn’t often happen. It’s also important to understand the individual and what other pressures they might have, personally or otherwise. We need to protect and help each other.

How does Miles Advisory differentiate itself in a crowded market?

We're a mid-market focused corporate advisor and that means different things to different people. We’re deliberately focused on privately held businesses, so we work with large, founder-led or family-owned businesses, or Private Equity owned companies. Our clients have built businesses that are worth hundreds of millions of dollars. We're advising them on realising the value of their lives’ work and they trust us to do that so that's a position of privilege. One of the ways we differentiate is that we genuinely enjoy working with these types of clients and as one of the most active platforms in Australia, we have such a breadth of experience in this market. So we are very adept in dealing with common issues, navigating structural complexities and recognising that it can also be a very emotionally involved process. It’s not just about the numbers. There's often different objectives involved, different dynamics, egos and the like.

We like to keep stats. One of our stats is that over half our work is repeat business which is great in the M&A business. A big part of our business is referral and it confirms the way we approach deals. We spend a lot of time understanding the individuals and their objectives, which, if there are multiple shareholders, can often differ. Understanding the businesses deeply upfront is critical. We like to do a lot of prep work. We don't just rush things out to market. This means, when we go into a process, we're well prepared, we maintain a timeline, maintain competitive tension, and get excellent outcomes. I think our long-term success rate is about 80 percent. Clients trust us and give us autonomy because we’re focused on championing the best result for them, whatever that might mean to them.

What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced during your career and how have you overcome them?

I think the biggest challenge is the voice in my head. Do I want a career or do I want to be an entrepreneur? I’ve always had this desire to be an entrepreneur. But I grew up with academic parents who were very risk averse, so I did the conventional thing and went to university and got a job, even though my head always goes to entrepreneurship. Even though it’s a challenge, I think it helps me operate the way that I do, because I think entrepreneurially about how we’re going to solve problems, and when I see a business, I want to learn about it. So, tapping into it has helped make my work better. Leadership and trying to motivate others can also be a challenge. We’re in the people business, you deal with different types of people and you can’t lead everyone the same way. It’s challenging but not insurmountable. I’m proud every time we get a transaction done, because when someone, especially a founder-led business, trusts you with their life’s work and we help them realise the value of that, it’s a huge privilege.

To what do you credit your success?

I think I've been lucky in the sense that I've been given opportunities. But when given those opportunities, I make sure I give it my all. I know the value of hard work and I think that's a big part of it. I’ve kept my options open which gives rise to opportunities, but when I get it, I make the most of it. I'm also lucky that from a young age I've been naturally curious, which is probably thanks to my parents instilling the value of knowledge and education in me, but fundamentally I’ve always wanted to learn things. That still comes through in what I do. I’m also lucky to have a partner that supports me advancing my career. She wanted to take a pause in hers to focus on the family, so that helps massively. It’s challenging having a young family, making sure I work in a sustainable way and get enough time to sit down and play with my kids, but we’re overcoming it quite well.

Tell us about some moments you're proud of, inside or outside of your career.

I'm very proud every time we get a transaction done. I still remember this guy who was in a business from the time he left school. He was a small, 10 percent shareholder. He didn't know anything else. The founder was selling the business and he got his share of it and was able to buy an apartment in Torquay, which was a dream of his. He was so happy, completely over the moon. It's great to see life changing things like that. That's why I like doing what we do. I’m also very proud of my young family. Basically every time the kids do something new, which is pretty much all the time at this age. I really have to resist the urge to show people photos.

Daria Radchenko | Partner, Kearney "It shows that you can't predict the future, so you might as well dream big."

Daria Radchenko has become one of the youngest advisers promoted to partner at Kearney after joining the management consulting firm almost eight years ago. As well as focusing on telecommunications, the COVID-19 lockdowns in Melbourne gave her time to develop a new hobby – interior design.

Tell us about your journey to where you are today.

I had a Bachelor in Sociology specialising in analytics. After university, I worked for a Market Research company helping corporates launch new products, as well as government entities like the European Commission to gather intel within the European Union on the voice of the public. So, it was more research focused. Then I did a Masters in Economics to give me broader business knowledge on top of the skills I already had. My first job in Australia was at a boutique consultancy where we ran one of the largest benchmarking studies among professional service firms and advised on go-to-market based on the results. I realised I was very passionate about the consulting part of that job and moved to a pure consulting house, Kearney.

As a partner, what does your job entail?

There is a big focus on growing the business and pushing the thinking. Staying close to global trends in the industries we serve and having a point of view on what that means for our clients. Bringing the latest global expertise from our work overseas and applying it to the Australian landscape and vice versa. The other big portion is delivering the work so there are live projects that we support alongside. We had a large nine-month transformation for one of our clients and it’s making sure the team is delivering the best answer to the client and engaging at the right level, pushing the thinking but delivering results at the same time. The third piece is about building and attracting strong talent to the firm, with a big focus on diversity. I’m part of the Diversity Leadership Team and we’re designing dedicated training for our female consultants but also creating a stronger network for them to make sure they get the opportunity to be coached, supported and be successful in the firm.

What do you think it takes to be good at what you do?

I think technical skills and a high quality bar are a big foundation for success. But the two things that have kept me going are passion and entrepreneurship. If you don’t have the intellectual curiosity or you’re not truly passionate about what you do and what that means for you, your firm and your client, you can do a good job but you’re not going to excel. For me, being spread across different industries during my tenure with the firm, and more recently specialising in the telecommunications sector, I’m genuinely passionate to see what will happen in the industry in the next three years, I think it’s the most innovative and dynamic industry out there. There’s a lot of technological change happening and it was the backbone of getting us through Covid, so I think that interest and passion for the topic is number one. In terms of entrepreneurship, our leadership has been great at empowering all of us coming through the ranks. We’re part of the fabric of the firm and we’re fully supported, but it’s up to us how we manage our careers and how we structure our projects to get the right answer to the clients. I think having the opportunity to be independent and creative in how I work and how I show up has been a big part of it.

You were involved in the new fit-out for Kearney. In what ways is it innovative?

I worked closely with Axiom (design group) to agree on the design and configuration changes to the space and then managed the ideation, budget and delivery, ensuring that the final result reflected the initial ideas. It was a big part of my life for six months, but super exciting because design is a passion of mine.

We didn’t want the new space to look like just another office. It was clear that flexibility and comfort and the vibe of the place was becoming more important, and also realising that we have people who work from different locations, so technology and communication needed to be seamless from wherever you are. In terms of the layout, we made sure there are a lot more collaboration spaces for people to come together; it’s not just about sitting at your desk, it’s about having workshop areas and bringing a bit of fun into the workplace. We expanded our kitchen and lounge area, which now has a table tennis table, booths and a PlayStation. Given how hard we work, we want to play hard as well, and on a Friday night there’s a lot of activity in the office with people letting their hair down, talking about the week and bonding.

At Kearney we pride ourselves on having a very strong culture. We hire top talent but we also invest heavily in an environment where people want to stay. From a tenure perspective, we know that we are above average and I think culture has a big part to play in that. I recently interviewed some new consultants who came into the office and they said that it doesn’t feel like a corporate, faceless space. We have digital displays everywhere telling stories about our colleagues, Kearney originals, and showing our personality. We’ve purposefully designed the office with this in mind and it’s encouraging to hear that people who are looking to join Kearney notice it as well. 

You’ve recently been promoted to partner – what does that mean in terms of leading the business into the future?

It’s a big responsibility but it’s a really exciting time for me personally. Having come up through the ranks, I understand who we are as a firm and I’ve experienced first hand the best coaching and apprenticeship, so I want to make sure new consultants joining the firm also have that experience. From a growth perspective, I’m really excited to find new directions for the firm and expand our horizons. I love developing some of the ideas that were previously constrained by scope into new offerings and products. It’s an interesting time; we’ve proven we can work remotely but there is the question of what leadership looks like in the post-Covid world. You can no longer tap your colleagues on the shoulder every day, but also you can't always rely on only leading by example because they’re not always seeing you in action. Trying to figure out my leadership style and how to lead the firm and our clients is crucial, but I’m genuinely excited for the future. I think we’ve come out of Covid strong and we’re looking at strong growth in the next chapter.

To what do you credit your success?

A lot of people have been instrumental in my career. From my upbringing to the mentors I’ve had over the years. My rock is my belief that nothing is impossible and everything is an opportunity, and I genuinely mean that. Looking back over the last eight years I’ve had with the firm or ten years since coming to Australia, if you had asked me then where I’d be in ten years, I would have never imagined that I’d be where I am now. It shows that you can't predict the future, so you might as well dream big. I think that excitement for the future and the bold, aspirational goal setting has helped me aim higher, achieve and learn a lot in the process.

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