If there’s someone who knows a thing or two about overcoming adversity, it’s Anna Thomas, COO of Stockdale & Leggo. Anna grew up at the MCG Pub in Melbourne and was kicked out of home at 19, but became the first woman in her family to get a uni degree (and now she has multiple qualifications).
Her career has taken her to stints at Optus, Colonial State Bank, AXA Australia, Hewlett Packard and Drake International. She’s smashed glass ceilings to become a leader within the 82-year-old Stockdale & Leggo business, where she’s bringing the company into the future with a focus on modern work practices to ensure staff happiness and a true culture of teamwork.
Anna grew up in the MCG pub where her father was publican. Her mother had the old-fashioned belief that women are supposed to be ‘barefoot and pregnant’. Despite this upbringing, Anna was determined to go to uni and have a degree under her belt. Her grandmother was a driving force in her life, who told Anna to always believe in herself.
“I lost Mum at a very early age; I wasn’t even 21,” said Anna.
Anna took over her mum’s shoe importing business before getting her first job at Optus. She juggled her social sciences studies with three part-time jobs and also went on to get qualifications in marketing and business management.
“What I wanted to do is get a wide variety of experience. I went into the telco industry, went into finance, health, the IT industry. I think along that journey what I was looking to do is find myself. I knew I wanted to be a leader; I didn’t know what type or where.”
No doubt her early life experience built a degree of resilience in Anna.
“From a really early age, Mum would tell me a story where I was sitting on a box when I was about five years old. If anyone came near me, I would say, ‘Go away, I can do it myself!’ I have a strong attitude and if someone says no to me I always question them so I can learn.”
On leadership and running a team
Anna’s husband Peter is CEO and owns the Stockdale & Leggo company. Anna put her hand up to take on her current role and says it wasn’t a popular decision.
“A lot of franchisees thought, ‘What does she know?’, and people thought I got the position because I’m Peter’s wife. I’ve had to work really hard to prove myself.”
As a leader, Anna is not the type of person who can sit still. Among her focuses are raising the bar in customer service, reinventing the company and ensuring everyone in the team has their voice heard.
“We have 1,050 people in our group. They are all boyfriends, girlfriends, husbands or wives, and we are responsible for those lives. The worst thing a leader can do is sit in their ivory tower and say ‘Now my job is finished’. A leader’s job never finishes. I love what I do, and it’s an industry that needs changing.
“I’m enjoying not only giving back to the people we work with but giving back to the organisation. Pete had been in the industry for such a long time; as a leader it can be lonely doing it on your own, and as leader you don’t [always] get it right. As long as you are authentic, it’s better to have a go than sit still.
“As a leader you need to be innovative, be creative and create a culture where no matter what, everyone has a voice and right to be heard.”
Changing the industry
The industry was a ‘boys’ club’ when Anna first came on the scene, but she says younger people do not tolerate that.
“We have 485 females in our business. Out of 85 leaders, we have 25 females. We have 17 female principals.
“There needs to be a lot more job-sharing to cater for mums and dads who are stay at home. Pay structure needs to be looked at. It’s about being transparent and honest.
“The industry has gone a little too far in that it’s about agents, not about customer service. In terms of how we’ve done it, we set clear goals in terms of updating our IT platform and changing the culture of the organisation. They are not small tasks to take on board.
“You’ve got to create a vision and have your staff buy-in. You have to make sure everyone is rowing in the same boat.”
Anna’s goals for the foreseeable future are growing the company and changing the industry to empower women and families to create better balance.
“A lot of years have gone into working extremely hard and making sacrifices and not spending time with family. I want to balance that out and I’m looking for ways to contribute, so we do events for women and business coaching programs with Deloitte.
“In my own team I have two ladies who job-share and a single mum who works from home. I want to empower women more in relation to work and life balance.
“I’ve realised it doesn’t matter if you’re female, male, young, old or from any culture, everyone has doubts and life is hard. It’s about being able to create a safe environment where people can talk about that.”