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What you can achieve without a plan

REA Group CEO Tracey Fellows tells us what she’s learnt in managing her career, life and money.

I have never been someone with a five or 10-year plan. It never suited my way of thinking. I never had a plan that said, “be chief executive officer of an ASX-listed company”. I haven’t necessarily been sure about my ambitions, but I was ambitious. I pushed myself, but I didn’t think about what I wanted to do next. I just thought if I did a good job someone else would look after me. But you need to tell people – they’re not mind readers.

When I was six months pregnant I started at Microsoft. I think it says a lot about their CEO at the time, Steve Ballmer. He said "if we think you’re right for Microsoft then taking some time off to have your child is nothing". I feel lucky that I was given that opportunity.

I do think women need different career development. If my manager at the time hadn’t said “I think you can be CEO” I would never have been a CEO for Microsoft. I said, “no, I can’t do it”. But he had more confidence in me than I did.

Women are not as comfortable saying “that’s the job I want”. But I don’t think we should have to role model from the men we see around the table. Diversity in the workplace – be it gender, ethnicity or age – is what makes the workplace better.

You can be ambitious and want to achieve things in your career, but I discovered you also need to love your job, and what you do. You’ve got to love who you work for. You’ve got to respect them, feel like you can learn from them, and enjoy the experience.

I’ve never been more excited than I am in the role I’m in now. I love what I do, I love the people I get to work with, I love the opportunities we have. I love every minute of it.

  

Finding your balance

In the office I’m exactly the same Tracey that sits on the couch with my husband Ian and my son Jake.

Having said that, I do create boundaries. I’m fortunate I’m in a position where I do get to have a little control over that. I know if I’m half doing email and half playing with my son I’m not really doing either very well.

A work-life balance is personal and it’s different if you like your job. At the end of each week I want to look in the mirror and say: "Was I a good CEO, mother and wife?" And it’s not every week I tick all three of those boxes. But that’s learning.

For women, this conversation often comes down to work and family. If you decide you’re going to have a family, don’t look back. If you go straight back to work, or take some extended time off, don’t torture yourself about what might have been. It is a very personal decision that has a lot of other dependencies.

Take control of your money

The best thing I ever did was push myself early for a mortgage, because that was forced savings. Before that there was probably a little too much investment in clothing.

I saw my parents go through money troubles. Things can change quickly and if you haven’t got financial security it can feel pretty fragile. For me, financial independence meant property, a home for me and one for my parents. And some money set aside for tomorrow.

Women can sometimes delegate financial responsibility to their partner, but if you want financial independence it’s probably not something you want to delegate. It’s not about keeping things separate – you just want to be an equal at the table having that discussion.


Emma Sorensen
 

Based on interview with Tracey, 25, March 2015