So the cat is out of the bag (no pun intended). I am officially moving back to New Zealand! The (handsome) man who I talked into adventuring over to Sydney with me two years ago, is cashing in his credit and taking me back across the Tasman. Go figure huh? While I am thrilled to be moving closer to my most loved friends and family, I am quietly (or not so quietly) petrified that I am committing career suicide.
Why? Founded or unfounded, I have a lot of baggage with working in New Zealand. Graduating with a Bachelor of Design in Fashion in the middle of a recession has scarred me for life. My career got off to a very rocky start and without going into too much detail, going home brings it all back. Which is why I am so excited to have been accepted as one of the 28 students in cohort #48 of the University of Auckland’s Master of Business Administration (MBA) program.
Looking at my CV, you would think it was all sunshine and rainbows – a straight linear line of kick-ass position after position. I have been fortunate enough to have crafted my omnichannel expertise while working for some of the biggest and most successful retail brands in Australia. Including Sheridan (Hanes Australasia), Cue, Veronika Maine & Witchery (Country Road Group). Over eight years, despite a volatile retail landscape and competitive industry changes, in the roles I have worked in, I have contributed to at least double-digit year on year growth for each brand. It hasn’t been easy though.
If I were to graph how my career looks on paper vs how it has felt, it would look very similar to the above. The good news is, I have been thrown enormous challenges, overcame them, shattered my glass ceiling, and made my dream of becoming an Online Manager by the age of 29 – a whole five months earlier than my self imposed 30 deadline! The old saying “every flower must grow through dirt” rings true. Those challenges made me, they were a gift, and although they almost broke me at the time, I am so honoured to have been presented with those opportunities. What helped me get through that difficulty, was that I didn’t do it alone. Along the way, I have had the privilege of working along-side six awe-inspiring, female bosses and mentors.
I am proud to say that through mentorship, I am currently the manager of two of the most significant stores within the Hanes Australasia portfolio; responsible for bringing in 22% of retail dollars for Sheridan. I sit within a senior team of leaders who are tasked with driving innovation and continuous growth. My broad and extensive digital retail experience has covered everything from team management, training and mentoring; engineering SEO, SEM, CRM & loyalty strategies; optimizing web shoots, marketing plans, dispatch operations and customer service; project managing web and UX development; paid and unpaid social, blog, influencer and affiliate marketing; data analytics, reporting, tracking budgets / P&L / OPEX / CAPEX. Can I insert any more buzz words or acronyms in here?
While mentorship has enabled me to surpass my limitations, my biggest challenge is still ahead of me. Moving home to New Zealand. According to the 2017 NZX Report, women hold an underwhelming thirteen percent of NZX-listed company director roles. Compared to Australia, as of June 2016, women held twenty-three percent of board seats on ASX 200-listed companies; Globally, in 2016, women held nineteen percent of Fortune 1000 board seats. So even with all my experience, will I have what it takes to succeed in New Zealand?
So far it has been a very lacklustre search. Not only are the jobs in my field few and far between, but the interesting ones have also been impossible even to get a call back to my application. To think of leaving my now well-established position at Sheridan, managing a team of six, a significant development pipeline and achieving massive numbers to potentially be in the same place I started in is humbling. Enter in why I am doing an MBA with the University of Auckland aka, I haven’t come this far only to come this far!
You have probably read lots of literature encouraging women in leadership positions and their economic virtues. For example, Claire Shipman & Katty Kay’s, author’s of Womanomics, research showed that “woman have a huge amount of power in the marketplace. Companies that employ women actually make more money”. Another very famous example of this is Sheryl Sandberg, the current COO of Facebook, who wrote the life-changing book Lean In. BTW, She invested in an MBA from Harvard Business School and seems it is paying off!
I think a woman doing an MBA is a beautiful thing. A woman doing an MBA in New Zealand is even better. Why? Because we need all the help, we can get! And once I get that help, I want to give back as much as I can.
I want to be a part of the generation of Kiwi Woman who don’t settle for the status quo. I want to create a better future for those entering the workforce today, as well as those entering it tomorrow. That starts with education; to unlock my full leadership potential and pay forward those skills to aspiring female leaders who might otherwise feel forced to look globally rather than locally. I want to be a part of the proud legacy of females in New Zealand who are already doing fantastic work in these areas. To leave no room for argument about my ability at the senior executive level, I need to equip myself well with the best MBA in the country, so my qualifications become as good as my experience.
So, what do I want to get out of doing my MBA? I love and am fascinated by everything the University of Auckland MBA has to offer. I am a bit of a geek and cannot wait to get into subjects like financial reporting, strategic management, marketing for growth, leadership and ethics. The other obvious points an MBA brings is the confidence, credibility, expertise, advancement as well as networking – not networking the aggressive 80’s business card grabbing way, but in a genuine environment where I can meet like-minded and supportive individuals.
One quarter down and I am so inspired by the other women I have met. 10/26 (36%) of the cohort are female and range from 27 to 40-something, and all occupy impressive positions. Meeting these women alone gives me hope of what is possible, and I think these powerful role models get us a long way towards those international standards.
So now that it is time to make the move back to the land of the long white cloud, I am excited by the potential of how this world-class program can deepen my leadership and business skills, so I can too hopefully inspire the women of Aotearoa. Will I get an equivalent job to where I am now in New Zealand? Well, it will be a challenge, but I will never get there is if I don’t try. Either way, I don’t want to limit my challenges – I want to challenge my limits.
Note: To offer full disclosure (and not be a total man-bashing-feminist), the men I have met in class have been brilliant too. Often, they are as passionate and supportive in getting more women in senior leadership positions – one male cohort member, in particular, is focused on the task of raising his young daughters to be empowered to do just this!
Follow me as I blog about my University of Auckland MBA experience. Click here to see all posts about my MBA journey. Coming up is how my fellow MBA Girls and I got through Quarter One, as well as some interviews with those talented ladies, how they got to where they are at and why they chose to do an MBA. Stay tuned!