We talk gardening, delivering holiday dreams and a sense of humour with the CEO of Carnival Australia.
Can you tell us a little about your career progression? How did you get your start in the travel industry?
If my path to the travel industry had been a cruise, it would have been an itinerary of seemingly unrelated but always interesting destinations.
I became CEO at Carnival Australia in July 2007 following a career in the health sector, government and banking, all of which involved experiences that have been useful in the fascinating world of cruise shipping.
What would you say is your defining career achievement or the thing you are most proud of?
There are two that really stand out. The first was the introduction of paid maternity leave at Westpac, which was a defining moment for the company and for the financial services sector, with a knock-on effect throughout the private sector.
It made a big difference for women in the workplace but businesses also discovered it was good for them too because so many experienced employees were retained.
The second is leading the resuscitation and ultimate resurgence of the cruise industry, which had suffered significant damage to its reputation.
Carnival Australia has played a huge part in the complete transformation of the cruise industry as it has become the most successful sector of Australian tourism and last year achieved the landmark of one million passengers a full six years earlier than the target we set.
What have been the biggest challenges to success you’ve encountered professionally?
Without a doubt, it’s been the challenge of pressing ahead against the sometimes immovable ‘object’ of the status quo. All too often, people are happy just to keep things the way they are because they would rather go with the flow than embrace the sense of possibility, which can really be exciting.
I have to confess to being the status quo’s worst enemy! I like the excitement of positive change and I think we need to be dynamic.
With the benefit of wisdom, what advice would you give your 21 y/o self when you were starting out in your career?
I would want my younger self to know that the job you will ultimately be doing is unlikely to be what you are doing today and it might just be a job that hasn’t even appeared on the career horizon yet.
So my advice to my younger self and young people in general is to be open to new ideas and new directions and take risks. As I’ve experienced, it certainly makes life very interesting.
How would you describe your business/management style? What sorts of things are most important to you professionally?
First rule, surround yourself with great people and set ambitious targets. No one believed it when we said one million Australians would be cruising by 2020 but we are there six years early.
Now we are looking at three million Australians cruising each year, the equivalent of 10% of the population and more than double the current market penetration, which is already world leading at 4.2%.
Second rule, don’t try to do other people’s jobs. Being a CEO is about leadership to set the direction of the business. Third rule, in order to surround yourself with great people, you also have to develop your good people. Find exceptional talent and nurture it.
Who are the people you admire most professionally or in any field/walk of life?
Christine Lagarde, the current managing director of the International Monetary Fund, is the standout. She took over after the IMF sustained reputational damage and she restored its’ standing while helping to manage the world through all the turmoil of one of the most difficult monetary and economic episodes in world history.
It has been her steady hand and voice of reason that has stopped a perilous situation from becoming even worse and helped set the path to recovery. She is a woman of great ability and fine judgement.
What do you do to unwind when you aren’t working? What is most important to you outside the office?
Having a farm to escape to and do something totally different from the day to day is the perfect distraction. Building a chicken coup from scratch in the back paddock was good therapy and good fun.
I like to garden – you can’t beat a good veggie garden and it improves the quality of the food we eat. I also like to read – can’t get enough of good books – and go to the movies.
For you, what’s the best aspect of working in the travel industry?
The best part about being in travel and the cruise industry in particular is that you are delivering people’s holiday dreams and helping them build memories of places and cultures that will last a lifetime.
But it is also being party to the energy and innovation that are so essential to business growth in this industry. The industry is growing and there is greater recognition of the value we create.
What one thing gets you through a stressful day?
Not all stress is bad of course. It sharpens the mind and can bring out the best in people. But you do have to start the day with a good cup of coffee and to keep a sense of humour because I find that often the best antidote to stress is to have a good laugh.
You can see the other ladies from our exclusive Women in Travel series here: