The spotlight was firmly directed at one issue during this year’s international Women’s day: the comparative lack of females in senior management positions. Even in a country that now has a female prime minister and governor-general, the absence of females in C-level executive positions means younger generations have to look harder to find role models.
This makes Jane Kittel’s (B. Teaching, 1995) career trajectory all the more noteworthy. Recently handed the reins of Westpac-owned BankSA, the born and bred South Australian is returning to her roots in the Festival state. This follows her position as general manager for Westpac’s pacific banking operations where her responsibilities extended across seven south pacific island countries. Kittel says the role was just as rewarding as it was challenging. during her four-year tenure, the region saw rioting, political unrest and a tsunami, which hit samoa in 2009.
Kittel is clearly accustomed to handling challenges, a skill that will be invaluable in her new role at BankSA. In a climate where negative public sentiment towards the financial sector is high, Kittel says successfully steering the bank through a tough economic climate is a key challenge for 2011.
"What’s required is a real step up in energy and focus and in tough times you have to be that much more disciplined about everything you do."
Kittel strongly believes that to make effective decisions, you need to make sure you know the context in which you’re making those decisions. This means a substantial part of her time is spent away from head-office, talking to members of the community.
“My whole job is really about building and developing relationships, with our customers and with the BankSA team. We have a really important role to play in the economy and helping communities grow and prosper, helping individuals grow and prosper. To do this you really need to get out there, building that face-to-face time.”
Recently, Kittel’s visit to a local community was a more charitable affair. The md put herself up for auction to raise money for the Queensland flood victims. Her hometown branch in Port Augusta scored the winning bid and had Kittel at their disposal for an entire day.
“They put me to work as a teller. I’d never been a teller before but it was fantastic. I was dealing with customers and processing transactions. It was fabulous, for me that type of experience allowed me to understand what the everyday challenges and opportunities are at that level of the business.”
Determination and commitment are qualities Kittel has in abundance. A background in human resources management, which had a focus on teaching and learning, led Kittel to study a Bachelor of Teaching (Adult Education) at UTS. Back in the 1990s, the course was run at Yarramundi – a two-hour drive north-west to a small town near the Blue Mountains. Trekking this far for classes would be an impressive effort for many Sydneysiders, but it was a mammoth effort for Kittel because she didn’t even live in NSW. Based in Melbourne, she completed the course while working full time and studying another course part time, flying up to Sydney for her classes. Kittel still remembers the time fondly. Her fellow students were mostly from the armed forces, which provided an interesting learning environment.
“It was the first time in my life I was called a civilian. It was a bit unique because there weren’t many females, but it was a great experience.”
Kittel says this is just one of those opportunities that came in her direction that she grabbed with both hands, even though the timing wasn’t the best. Taking advantage of every opportunity is something Kittel advocates strongly.
“Opportunities come in many forms, but you should never turn one down – even if it means doing something you’re not immediately interested in because you never know where it will take you. When you meet people, make sure you take the time to talk to them – it doesn’t cost much and you don’t know what opportunities might come out of that conversation. People are interesting and everyone’s got a story to tell.”
Kittel holds a similar view when it comes to personal development.
“Always be focused on continuing to learn and develop – either through formal study or on the job. The way that I have done that is to always ask questions. If you don’t understand something, don’t fudge your way through it. Be brave and ask the questions.”
Words: Vanessa Marks