As the CEO of Westpac Bank (one of Australia’s top four) and one of Forbes’ most powerful women in the world (number 62 on the most recent list), Gail Kelly has quite a lot of impressive experience being a leader. She was the first female CEO of a major Australian Bank or top 15 company, and has been in the position at Westpac since 2008.
Her beginning in the banking world was a humble one – she started as a bank teller in South Africa. Kelly worked on her MBA while pregnant with her first child, and became head of the human resources department at Nedcor Bank in South Africa five months after having triplets. Shortly after a move to Australia, she was named CEO of St. George Bank, in two short years, capitalisation of the bank increased by $3 billion.
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World leader and philanthropist Nelson Mandela left a lasting impression on Kelly, as he did on millions of others around the globe. “Nelson Mandela was an outstanding leader and a mentor for me. I was in South Africa at the time he was released. I was in South Africa when he was inaugurated as the first president. And he — after the 27 years of imprisonment, a lot of it in solitary confinement — truly understood that his vision, his purpose, was to transform South Africa, a reconciled South Africa.”
The CEO at Westpac since 2008, Kelly overseas $670 billion in assets and 36,000-plus employees. As if this is not a big enough job, she made it her mission from the beginning to have 40 percent of the senior management positions at the company filled by women by 2014. This goal was reached by 2012.
“The banking world is a particularly tough area to crack for women. I was in a forum yesterday where there would have been 60 leaders of banks and insurance companies and I was literally the only woman,” said Kelly. Her goal by 2017 is to have equal gender involvement in senior management positions.
Her efforts to help women break into finance are inspiring, just like her leadership guidance. “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 percent ready for this job. You don’t have to be 80 percent 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.”