Cassandra Kelly spent the best part of her early career working in a hostile world of investment banking. When she finally realised she couldn’t change the attitudes, she honoured her own attitude, which was to merge her own commercial sensibility with her unwavering commitment to give back. That led to the foundation of Pottinger, a corporate and government advisory firm that embeds giving into its cultural DNA.
My decision to work in Asia came about because I decided to try something different. I decided I wanted executive experience; I wanted to actually run a business and not just advise it.
And Asia was calling. It was a time when people were only just starting to think about the Chinese Century but very few people seemed to have actually worked there. I decided, ‘Wow, that’s going to be really important one day. No one’s really talking about it. I’m going to go talk about it, find out about it. I’m going to immerse myself in this enormous potential called Asia.’
Working in Asia taught me a lot about conflict resolution. It taught me about the way of the West – the ‘supremacy gene’ of the West in particular. We know about progress. Besides, look how well we have done. Look how well we are living. We are role models of global best practice. There was definitely a sense that ‘West knows best’.
Learning a new way
Some of the behaviours that go along with that supremacy mindset are really dysfunctional. The traditional command/control management style was becoming ineffective and so people were being innovative and trying new approaches.
I was based in Japan, where people do things subtly and differently. There was a great deal more focus on consensus – although this wasn’t always a good thing either. In spite of my rank and title, I still experienced significant disrespect as a woman in business. The gap in status between a man and a woman in Japan was absolute. It wasn’t something that got debated, or a mindset that anybody thought needed to be changed. Why would you when your position is the right one? Women were inferior.
That was an interesting experience. It wasn’t behaviours or power plays. It was just fact. Given the fact that I derive a lot of joy, inspiration and energy from the interactions that I have with people, it was a genuine shock to come across this blanket belief of inferiority.
Applying the lessons
So while I was working in Asia I wondered what it would be like to have a business where you didn’t have to separate work and philanthropy. I’d existed in a world where people were making shed-loads of money and sometimes gave some away, but their work and their philanthropy were totally different playing fields. They were separate.
We started from a blank page, and we filled it in with us. Cassandra Kelly
I wondered what it would be like to live in a world where the work was the philanthropy, where the essence of the business we created was, in and of itself, philanthropic. Why can’t we create a business that is about impact? This didn’t mean being cheaper and this didn’t mean that we couldn’t charge a premium price for a premium product. It just meant that we didn’t have to compartmentalise ourselves into the worker and the philanthropist. Because we were going to be paid well for doing work that people valued, which would in turn support various philanthropic endeavours.
This is why today, values are our core at Pottinger. They’re not just something we put on a website. They’re not negotiable. You know, we had a belief that if you took a group of people who wanted to work together to achieve great outcomes in the near and longer terms, and that if you mixed all our values, all our desires, all our ideas up together, you would get an organisation that could potentially have a much higher impact because it came from such a truly authentic place.
We started from a blank page, and we filled it in with us.
Pottinger is a global corporate advisory firm owned by its employees. This independence allows them to provide completely objective advice. Pottinger has won multiple awards in recognition of its contribution to staff and clients and was recently highlighted as a role model by the Australian Government’s Workforce & Productivity Agency.
Pottinger’s notable work includes advising on the 2007 AUD$7bn Suncorp-Metway/Promina merger and 2008 AUD$230m sale of its credit card portfolio to Citigroup, and the AUD$4.4bn water transaction and further development of Queensland Urban Utilities in 2010. Pottinger has also launched the Glass Elevator initiative to help connect, inspire and engage senior businesswomen so that they feel better supported as they continue their journey to greater impact and seniority.
Written by Thread Publishing (threadpublishing.com). Connecting the world one story at a time to bring humanity back into business. © 2015
Photo credit: Cassandra Kelly, stocksnap)(