As Head of Commercial Broker, BOQ Business and BOQ Specialist, Karen fosters our relationship model proposition that allows brokers and their clients to have two points of contact – the Business Development Manager and Relationship Manager.
With extensive experience in the banking and finance sector, Karen has previously held senior leadership roles at ANZ, Medfin and NAB Health, Westpac and the Commonwealth Bank of Australia. She is passionate about the SME market, transformation and growth. Here, Karen shares her experience and advice for fellow women in business.
Q: You’ve had an amazing career in the banking and finance industry. Were there any defining moments – or people you have met – that helped shape your career path?
Karen: My upbringing and the strong work ethic that was instilled in me at a young age have had a big influence in shaping who I am today. Growing up, my grandmother and parents all worked incredibly hard and it was completely normal for me to see them working early mornings and late at night.
My grandmother was a farmer and single-handedly ran the farm while raising eight children after my grandfather passed away unexpectedly. Mum and Dad owned a newsagency, grocery store and brick cleaning business. They worked incredibly hard and had such pride in owning their businesses. Growing up in a family business has definitely driven my passion for small business and given me an understanding of the many hats a small business owner has to wear.
My introduction to the banking sector was also at the hands of a family member. My great uncle Alex Nimmo, worked at CBA many years ago as a General Manager Personnel (these days it would be considered a Group Executive role). He influenced me to apply for a role in banking and not long after, I started working for a retail bank as a teller. Since then, I’ve been blessed to have had many roles across banking including retail, human resources, investor relations, treasury, corporate and business banking.
Q: What is the best career advice you’ve ever had?
Karen: There have so been many! The thing about great leaders is that they are very inspiring and always “on”. I have been lucky to work for and be surrounded by fabulous leaders who always made me believe in myself. So I’ve had firsthand experience of the notion that when you feel good about yourself, valued and safe, you will perform to your best ability.
Early in my career, I was given the advice to “work hard and step outside your comfort zone”. That came from Geoff Ferguson who was the Chief Actuary for CBA at the time. To this day I still hold onto that advice and make it a daily practice to step out of my comfort zone. Whether it’s putting my hand up for a technology bite or doing something new in my personal life, I know that learning helps me continue to grow both professionally and personally.
When I worked at ANZ, Angelo Manos taught me that “you can still win a game of tennis if the score is 6-4”. What he meant by that was to pick your battles - you don’t need to win them all to win the big game. He is an inspirational leader who continues to mentor me today.
And finally, my best mate Shari Fryer has a way of asking, “how will this situation affect you in five years’ time? If it’s not going to have a big impact, let it go”. In essence, don’t sweat the small stuff.
Q: And because we often learn more from our mistakes than our successes, what is the biggest mistake you’ve ever made career-wise?
Karen: We are all human and we all make mistakes, and without doubt I have made many!
In my first leadership role, I didn’t coach well. There was no manual or guidance on how to lead teams. On reflection, I realise I was telling my team what to do without coaching them on the “why” or “how”. I didn’t realise that you need to understand what is stopping people from doing their jobs and teach them in order to get a great outcome – both for their professional development and their impact on the business.
My moment of ‘enlightenment’ came a few years later when I was coaching several team members with the same issue. Although the reasons they were not successful varied, it was understanding the “why” that helped me coach them to a better outcome.
Q: As someone who is passionate about small business and transforming SMEs for growth, what are your top three tips for any business owner?
Karen: Small business is wonderful and I feel so blessed to be in a position where I can have a direct impact on helping businesses – and SMEs in particular, to start, grow and thrive.
Running a small business means you are the director, the bookkeeper, the salesperson, the chief operating officer and employee. My top tips to help any small business owner are to:
- Write a business plan and make sure you set achievable goals. What are they? What does success look like and does it align to your values? Who are your competitors? What makes you unique?
- Take the time to look strategically and tactically at your business to ensure you are running to plan. Embrace technology as much as possible and look for ways that it will make your life easier and your business more efficient.
Q: Are there any business books, podcasts or other resources you can recommend?
Karen: Yes, I really enjoy the reflections in Robert Critchley’s book: ‘Rewired, Rehired or Retired? A Global Guide for the Experienced Worker’. He is particularly talking to people over the age of 50 who are wondering about the rest of their career and how to enrich their life, but as a manager it also addresses how to help experienced workers plot their next move.
Visit the Commercial Broker web page to find out more about how Karen and her team can support your broker business.