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Life lessons from a charity chief

What can Australia’s female CEOs and board members tell us about career, life and money? We spoke to Sandie de Wolf AM, Berry Street CEO, to find out.

As a seasoned social worker, traveller, football supporter and grandmother, Berry Street CEO Sandie de Wolf AM reflects on her career, life and attitudes towards money – and provides some learned advice.

Career

I actually wanted to be a historian. But when I fell into social work and saw what we could achieve by working with others, a switch inside me was flicked on – I knew that for me there was nothing more important than helping as many children as possible to have a good childhood.

After 20 years in the industry, I was appointed CEO of Berry Street in 1994 which is now the largest independent child and family welfare organisation in Victoria. Berry Street provides services across the state, employs more than 1000 staff and has an annual turnover of more than $80 million.

Build a personal and professional community of people you can trust.

Sandie de Wolf, Berry Street CEO

As a CEO and career woman, my recommendation to other women would be to invest in your own support network. Build a personal and professional community of people you can trust, as their knowledge, mentorship, resources and skills can be invaluable, and you never know where opportunities may present themselves down the track.

  

Life

The values my parents demonstrated and my work with disadvantaged people did a lot to shape my attitudes around spending money and valuing life’s gifts. It certainly helped to give me a deeper appreciation for things that can’t be replaced, including good relationships and quality time with family.

To that end I took an eight-year work hiatus to raise my two children. I would do that all over again. My advice to anyone who can afford to – make the most of your time with your kids while they are little. Time goes so fast and children grow up before your eyes. 

Working for Berry Street has reinforced how fortunate I am and has shown me that a good education goes a long way to achieving financial security.

Money

When I was growing up, life was simple. We weren’t poor but we weren’t rich either – and with a mortgage, a young family and only one income, simple money management strategies such as budgeting were hugely beneficial.

To this day I still bring my own lunch to work when I can and allocate my own spending as wisely as possible. Working for Berry Street has reinforced how fortunate I am and has shown me that a good education goes a long way to achieving financial security. It’s also shown me how unfair life can be sometimes, so I try not to take anything in life – money and relationships included – for granted.

I always recommend that women take control of their financial future. I’ve seen a lot of women, children and families in positions of poverty due to unforeseen circumstances, such as illness, death or job redundancy. If you can, don’t rely on a partner’s income, a prospective pay rise or the chances of winning the lottery as the key to your financial happiness. Educate yourself about your finances and develop good money management habits as early as you can. And I’d really encourage people to get involved in a cause they believe in – it’s very humbling and rewarding.

After all, you never know what’s ahead of you.

 


 

Berry Street is a partner of ANZ MoneyMinded financial education program.