Westpac Group’s CEO, Gail Kelly, is a trailblazer. Beginning her banking career as a teller, she couldn’t have imagined that her trajectory would include multiple CEO roles and a spot on Forbes’ list of the world’s most powerful women. What got her there? Certainly, her love of people, her generosity of spirit and her healthy self-awareness played a role. But Kelly also has a penchant for putting herself out there and creating lofty goals for herself, as well as for the organizations she leads.
When offered her first line management position with Nedcor Bank in South Africa (an unlikely step for an HR executive), she didn’t have a clear sense of what the job would entail. She took it anyway. About the risk and opportunity of a lifetime, Kelly says:
“My advice would be: dig deep. Gather all your courage in your hands. You’ve been offered this opportunity because you are worthy. You don’t have to be 100% ready for this job. You don’t have to be 80% ready for this job. You do need support around you and you do need a determination and a preparedness to work hard. But back yourself.”
Back herself, she did. Kelly may not have understood the industry in its entirety, but she went into the position with her eyes wide open and a willingness to learn. Years later, she is the CEO of one of Australia’s oldest and largest banks. Far from complacent, though, she took the reins at Westpac and made a goal to have 40% of the managerial staff be women by 2014. Kelly accomplished that goal two years early. Now the goal is set at 50% by 2017. That’s ambitious in the male-dominated banking and finance industry.
Not only an advocate for women, Kelly is a steadfast proponent of the “service revolution” and a staunch advocate for innovation on behalf of Westpac’s clients and customers — as well as for staff. At the opening of a new innovation center called The Hive, she spoke of the service revolution with characteristic confidence:
“We are going through a revolution. This is a step up in innovation, a step up of new energy that’s being deployed around innovation and you guys right here in The Hive are at the heart of that.
“We’re stepping up this energy, this focus, this push around leadership and innovation. And the timing is good because the world at the moment is moving so jolly fast.”
Gail Kelly is our Grounded Leader of the Week for her generosity of spirit and her belief in others’ potential. She pushes boundaries and passionately moves her teams and organizations forward, displaying deep resilience in the face of obstacles, allowing her to succeed beyond her wildest expectations.
Interview with Gail Kelly by CNN’s Nina Dos Santos