Indigenous Corporate Leadership Program – Andrea Mason at Westpac Group
CEO, Women’s Council
National Manager Customer Advocacy, Westpac Group (March-December 2017)
“I think it would have taken me two years to learn what I took on board this year. I’ll go back to Western Australia with this inside knowledge of business banking. This is valuable as Indigenous Australia shifts from non-profit to for-profit work.”
Andrea Mason is a Karoni and Ngaanyatjarra woman and CEO of the Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (NPY) Women’s Council. Andrea was one of three participants in Jawun’s 2017 Indigenous Corporate Leadership (ICL) program, a ‘reverse secondment’ of Indigenous leaders to leading corporate companies. Andrea participated in the ICL program to achieve a three-part goal: increase business acumen; develop awareness of business fundamentals; and, build stronger connections in the business sector. She was keen to integrate business knowledge into service delivery, to better support Indigenous women across the NPY Lands and to decrease the organisation’s reliance on government funding. Her secondment was at The Westpac Group, Sydney.
During her secondment Andrea was National Manager of Customer Advocacy at St. George Group, a role that exposed her to multiple aspects of the banking business. Andrea was also enrolled in the Westpac Certificate of Executive Leadership, a nine-month course designed to develop the diverse skillset of leaders in the business. Speaking of the knowledge, experience and support received, Andrea recalls:
“I was coached and mentored by business leaders in the Group, right through the nine months program. I was given many opportunities to learn the business model of Westpac from the inside out, by sitting on committees, participating in internal activities, and receiving and giving coaching support.”
While the world of banking and corporate business was new, Andrea brought with her extensive leadership experience as well as expertise. On secondment she provided feedback on key plans including the Westpac Indigenous Engagement Strategy, and spent considerable time with the Indigenous Business Banking Team. As part of supporting the bank to improve customer service and delivery in Indigenous banking, she launched Advocacy All Stars, a St. George Group initiative to spark a renewed customer service focus in bankers and support staff.
Andrea also offered strategic and practical advice to a range of senior managers and department heads within the Westpac Group, based on her knowledge of Indigenous culture and governance, her leadership experience, and Indigenous perspectives on banking. As an indication of the reach of the program at the end of her secondment Andrea delivered a final report to Westpac CEO Brian Hartzer.
In a post-secondment survey Andrea described having benefited from a “bespoke program, enabling my ICL learning goals to be achieved”. While the new context was intimidating at first – she described needing “resilience and grit, because you’re going into an environment where you’re not playing to your strengths” – the time at Westpac allowed Andrea to see up close how business works. As intended, it supported her to develop the business acumen she sought, to expand her contacts in the banking sector:
“As I had limited understanding of the corporate sector, ICL gave me the opportunity to fill this knowledge gap. I now have a better understanding of the business and leadership rhythm of Westpac, and many of the lessons learned will be transferable to other corporations. I feel a lot more comfortable talking to leaders in this sector based on the increased knowledge I have.”
Anthony Mathews (Chief Operating Officer) was Andrea’s direct manager at St. George Group. During the secondment, Andrea invited Anthony to join her on a visit to the NPY Lands and the two spent time visiting communities. The visit gave him practical insights into how Westpac Group can develop financial literacy among Indigenous people in remote environments, adding direct value to the bank’s support for Indigenous customers. It also showed him the context Andrea would apply her ICL learnings to.
Andrea’s ICL secondment facilitated two-way learning, with Anthony commenting, “Andrea’s wealth of knowledge and experience has been priceless to me as a leader but also as a human being. Andrea has opened my eyes to a whole new way of thinking.”
As someone who describes her overarching purpose as “always around the impact on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and nations”, Andrea’s overall reflection on the impact of the ICL program was:
“I want to be a person who leads strategy and tactics in the area of business acumen in the ‘profit for growth’ sector as opposed to where I have worked, ‘profit for purpose’. I am confident I have achieved this.”
After completing the ICL program in December 2017, Andrea resumed her role as CEO of NPY Women’s Council, while continuing her role as co-chair on the Prime Minister’s Advisory Council.
Applying her ICL learning, Andrea is focused on developing strategies and business ideas to increase revenue for the organisation. The goal to become less reliant on government funding is still a focus for her.
One year after completing ICL, Andrea has further developed the commercial arm and cash investment strategy, and is looking at new social enterprise products for the Council. She explains how Jawun secondees have supported these initiatives, adding, “all have either been made possible or accelerated through my ICL program learning.”
Linking these initiatives to the business acumen sought from her year-long ICL experience, Andrea shares how she internalized corporate concepts to transform the NPY Women’s Council:
“Even the phrase ‘business acumen’ is something I’ve applied to the way the Women’s Council works as an organisation, while also introducing cultural acumen and governance acumen.”
‘Operating rhythm’ is another concept Andrea has applied to her organisation and community, and even at the level of national policy influence. As she explains:
“I’m using that phrase ‘operating rhythm’ to help the Prime Minister and Nigel Scullion, other cabinet members and leaders in Central Australia to understand and articulate the operating rhythm of Aboriginal governance. If I explain it in terms they understand, then we’re on the same page and I become a fellow leader who is bringing a level of inclusiveness to how we can all work together to get a better outcome for Indigenous Australians”
Meanwhile at Westpac, Anthony continues to reflect on the two-way learning that defined the ICL experience. He remembers his time with Andrea in the NPY Lands, looking at financial literacy:
“Visiting Andrea’s home in NPY Lands gave me a whole new perspective on how to be a better leader and also a better banker in terms of our customers. Having grown up in metro areas, I was solely focused on the needs of metro-based customers. Now I am able to think broader on how the ideas I have and decisions I make could impact broader communities across Australia”.
Overall Anthony remembers, “Andrea was a mentor to me as much as anything”. Since the end of ICL he has taken on a more complex role with greater leadership responsibilities. He has seen his team retain the ‘diversity of thought’ gained from working with Andrea. And Advocacy All Stars is still recognised at St. George (plus has inspired a Recognition Program at NPY Women’s Council).
The end result for Andrea is greater confidence in her leadership style, vision and strategic thinking. At the start of ICL, St. George managers advised her to “not be cautious, just go for it”, and see it as a journey to enjoy rather than “ticking boxes on a learning list.” One year on, Andrea reflects,
“I have continued to really take more opportunities in my learnings. I feel I’ve matured, and become a lot clearer in my ideas”.
Andrea is now looking to the next generation of young leaders in her region: “Immediately after ICL I began looking at how I could send a message about committing to the next generation of women who will lead women’s lore, women’s culture, and the cultural governance of Women’s Council.”
While this is currently being developed and supported by the region’s Empowered Communities agenda, Andrea expects her plan to strengthen support to the region’s young female leaders to come to the fore next year, 2020, when NPY Women’s Council celebrates its 40th year of operation.
After the success of Andrea’s secondment, Westpac Group went on to host Bardi leader Nolan Hunter from West Kimberley in the 2018 ICL cohort. Nolan joined the Agribusiness team, with a focus on strategy and economic development. His case study can be found at [link].