How the rise of working from anywhere is propelling Australian talent to the top

Distance is no disadvantage in the digital age, enabling the world to tap into the wealth of talent at ABB Australia, where a growing number of leaders are in global roles.

Australians are known for our great work ethic and down-to-earth presence. Whether you were born here or have chosen to make your home here, the other thread that binds us is our unique Australian ingenuity.  Previously, Australians with great ambitions to rise to the top were compelled to move overseas to global business hubs in the US, UK, Hong Kong and Singapore – however the tides have changed. With the mass adoption of digital- especially in the last 12 months – and the “work from anywhere” mentality, we don’t have to leave home to bring our talent to the world stage.

Today at ABB Australia we have half a dozen people working as leaders at a global level, and at least as many more working as regional leaders – all doing their jobs from Australian cities. It’s obviously something that makes us all proud, and it hasn’t happened by accident.

There are many benefits having senior leaders working across the globe. It presents balanced perspectives, so you better understand which elements of your strategy need work or attention. Another strength to having global representation in your leadership team is that it enables you to stay close to what’s happening within key markets – for example Australia is the key market for mining for Process Industries.     

Sara Long, ABB Group Vice President Global Account Executive – BHP

Sara Long was the first of our team who took on a global role – and she’s the youngest, too. She is Group Vice President Global Account Executive looking after BHP,  and of course it made sense for her to be in that role once it was decided to create it for that customer, who she was already looking after and who has a large part of their business in Australia. Similarly, Cuveshan Dorasamy is in the same role, looking after Rio Tinto.

Catherine King
Catherine King, pictured with ABB Global CEO Ulrich Spiesshofer (2017), receiving the Global CEO Safety Leader of the Year Award 2017.

Catherine King based in Sydney, is the Global HSE & Sustainability Learning and Development Manager. Catherine was the inaugural ABB Global Safety Leader of 2015 and the Australian Safety Advocacy of the year 2017, and as soon as head office decided they needed that role, no one else was even considered. Harry Polyzos is Global HSE Manager for our Motion Services business, and that’s a role that would definitely normally be done out of Europe, but they knew he was the best person for the role, out of Melbourne.

Sue Paine’s role as global Head of Performance Management, based in Brisbane, was created for her! She was brought into ABB in 2019 specifically for that global job by John Beadle, her Zurich-based boss. She’s in charge of developing ABB’s high-performance culture, and she’s amazing.

The enormous shift to digital connectivity during COVID certainly helped people in our region to take our lights from under the bushel and shine them brightly in online meetings. It gave us an unprecedented opportunity to be present in the offices of our global colleagues: We showed up and demonstrated our talents, and that we are a force to be reckoned with.

Beverly Stacey and Jo Woo
Beverly Stacey, ABB Country HR Manager with Joanne Woo, ABB Global Head of Marketing and Communications

With that, the latest to join the ranks of Australian-based global leaders is Joanne Woo, ABB’s new Global Head of Marketing and Communications for Process Industries. With ABB headquartered in Europe once upon a time it wouldn’t have even been imagined that such a pivotal role could be done from the other side of the globe. Joanne joined ABB bringing a wealth of experience working with leading engineering and technology companies. Her background, as well as her impact within the organisation in Australia made her an attractive candidate for the role. Her appointment is again testament to the core values within ABB – we acknowledge that talent is everywhere, and that diversity and inclusion is a source of competitive advantage for us.

Australia’s wealth of talent is well-known: witness companies such as Atlassian and Canva, born here and both attaining ‘unicorn’ status on the global tech stage as billion-dollar privately owned startups (Atlassian of course has since become a listed company). Some lament our position on the Global Innovation Index, which in 2020 was 23rd. My take is that for decades we exported way too much of our talent: People felt there were better opportunities overseas, so they left.

What’s interesting now is that, because of the pandemic, a lot of those people have come home – that innovation is coming back to its roots, and we’re starting to see some amazing projects coming out of those talented expats who’ve returned.

In terms of ABB Australia, now we have a strong base of people in global roles and for the company and our customers, it means our work is always flowing, always moving. We are creating a nimble pace for all of ABB that we’ve always desired but only now figured out how to do: by having people working at all levels of our business all around the world.

We see the potential for a lot more of our local team to progress to global roles. We spend a lot of time focusing on talent, who we’re going to grow and how. Networking is vital. It’s even more important than technical education because our people already have such deep domain expertise. I’m always making sure that people are being put forward for projects, so that they can observe, participate, and get their name known. It’s about making sure they’re connected to our global network, so when an opportunity arises, they are considered.

Once you’re in a global role from Australia, there is a journey to make sure you’re looking after your work-life balance and it’s something we focus on a lot, making sure that people don’t overwork. When people step into this new global role, it can take up to a year to fully transition. Whenever we have someone moving into one of these roles, we make sure they have a lot of support, because it’s very hard to unplug from your old local daily routines. This is where setting very clear boundaries come in.  We make sure we’re checking in with them and supporting them until they get into a pattern where they transition out of a regular 9-5 shift and into hybrid hours that suit their life.

As we move into the next normal, I am excited about what the future brings. We will see teams finding creative ways to connect. Distance will no longer be a disadvantage in the digital age, enabling the world to tap into the wealth of talent everywhere. And Australians will no doubt embrace these new opportunities.

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About the author

Beverly Stacey

Beverly is the Head of HR for ABB in Australia. Prior to joining ABB in 2011, Beverly held several HR and Learning & Development Management roles within the global utilities sector and subscription television organisations. Beverly has extensive experience in executive and leadership coaching, organisational development, change leadership & management, competency development, workforce planning, job design and remuneration management, mergers, acquisitions and integrations. Beverly is passionate about responsible leadership, diversity, and inclusion within the workplace and is proud to work for a company which upholds those same values.
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