Your Brilliant Career Podcast

The go-to resource for getting the most out of your career

This podcast provides an injection of energy and practical insights to women who are committed to their career. I share tactics, tools and stories that inspire capable women to think bigger and unapologetically achieve the success they deserve.

One of my early realisations was that there are many unwritten rules about career success that no one tells you. Smart women are tired of generic career tips. They want accessible, relevant and practical tips. Each episode includes content that inspires women to step up in their career and experience the energy and reward of being more.

Your Brilliant Career is a podcast that aims to help more women rise and reach new heights in their career.



I always find it fascinating listening to the back story of someone's successful career journey. Have you ever wondered how successful people navigate the tough career decisions, how they orchestrate career transitions that seem insurmountable to others? Or how they emerge as respected leaders, despite very challenging business landscapes.

Well you're in for a treat today, because I have the pleasure of sitting down with Emma Hogan, a true trailblazer in both corporate and government realms. From her senior roles at Foxtel to leading the Department of Customer Service, Emma has achieved a career that most people would say would be close to impossible. But as you’ll hear, her career success has not evolved by chance.

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Emma Hogan

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Your transcript

[00:00:00] Gillian: It's always fascinating listening to the back story of someone's successful career journey. I mean, have you ever wondered how successful people navigate the tough career decisions, how they orchestrate career transitions that seem insurmountable to others? Or people that emerge as respected leaders, despite very challenging business landscapes.
[00:00:22] Then you're in for a treat today, because I have the pleasure of sitting down with Emma Hogan, a true trailblazer in both corporate and government realms. From her senior roles at Foxtel to leading the Department of Customer Service, Emma has achieved a career that most people would say would be close to impossible/ But clearly it's not right?
[00:00:43] And she is joining us today to share her career journey, her experiences, insights into the hurdles, triumphs, her steadfast commitment to empowering women in the workplace and so much more. And I think what makes this conversation so special is Emma's candidness. She doesn't talk at you or try to impress.
[00:01:04] Instead, she just shares her journey in a very honest, practical and straightforward way. It's an easy and inspiring listen. And you will learn shortly that Emma is undeniably a great role model for successful career transitions. There is something for everyone in this discussion. So get comfy! Listen to this incredible story and the advice that she shares.
[00:01:28] It might just give you a new perspective of things that you're not doing in your career that would support your career success in 2024. So let's dive in!
[00:01:38] Well, Emma, welcome to the podcast. It is a pleasure to have you here.
[00:02:31] Emma: Thanks for having me.
[00:02:32] Gillian: You're so welcome. And I'm very excited to have this chat with you today. I've watched your career, which I think has been a fascinating career, and in fact, we have crossed paths and bumped heads throughout it from your time at Foxtel.
[00:02:47] And I don't know if you will remember this, but we also spent a day together, International Women's Day. I think it was with AdShell with Mike Tyquin many years ago. And then of course, in your role leading the Department of Customer Service. And we've had lots of women in the RISE program there.
[00:03:06] So it's, it's lovely to have this opportunity to connect. Let's start by talking about your time in media. I feel that we were both very lucky to work in the industry at what was an interesting time. So tell us a little bit about that part of your career.
[00:03:22] Emma: Yeah, so I joined Foxtel in 2007 and I left in mid-2016. So nine and a half years I spent there. It was such an interesting time because I went across to a HR role there. And then after seven years, I changed over to a customer and digital role. One of the things when I look back on Foxtel that I really loved is that when I first started, it was 800 people.
[00:03:51] And by the time I finished nine and a half years later, it had bought Austar, it had grown its subscriber base significantly. And it was over 5, 000 people then, both in Australia and overseas in the call centres. So, I guess I had an opportunity to grow up there at the same time it was growing up as well.
[00:04:12] So it was a wonderful time for my career because I was able to kind of move at the same speed that it was moving. So yeah, it was really terrific. And then I left in 2016. I took a very deliberate career break and I went to work at ARN News and Media for a while, which was, became HT&E while I was there.
[00:04:33] But I was only there for a short period for a multitude of reasons. But one of them was I had a baby and realised that having already made the leap to customer and digital, that going back and staying in a traditional HR role was not really where my heart lay and that I wanted to grow further.
[00:04:52] So, yeah, I didn't stay there for very long. And then I, after that, I was quite deliberate about really carefully thinking about what I wanted to do next and how I was going to change career in a way that gave me different skill sets than the ones I already had.
[00:05:09] Gillian: Yeah, that's, that's so interesting. And it's a great example of owning your career, which is one of the things we always say to the women that work with us. You're always going to care more about your career than anyone else, even if you've got great people around you, you're always going to be the one that cares the most.
[00:05:25] And then you made this very big decision to take on a senior role in government after working in corporate for so many years. Like, how was that transition for you?
[00:05:36] Emma: Yeah, it was amazing actually. I've said this publicly before, but government wasn't on my yes list. It wasn't on my no list. It was on my never even occurred to me list. But as you do, when you're considering your next steps in your career, you are usually in contact with different recruiters and building relationships.
[00:05:53] And it was actually an executive search firm that asked me whether I wanted to put my hat in the ring for this public service commissioner role. And I had to Google what that even meant, you know, but I went through the process and the more I learned about it, the more I thought actually, this could be a really good opportunity for me.
[00:06:10] What I really loved about it was its connection to purpose and serving the community that you live in. And so, the more I learned about it, the more I became open to giving it a go. And I started in May 2018, and I just finished up a few weeks ago after five and a half years. I did two roles. We can talk about that later, but what I would say is actually the transition was easier than I thought. I had a coffee with a former public servant very early on who gave me a great piece of advice, which was the private sector people who make it in government are the ones who accept the context and try to drive change within it. And the private sector people who don't make it are the ones who come in and try to change the context. And that was really, really important. So when I went in, I made sure I really listened.
[00:06:59] I knew there was going to be nothing worse than a private sector person coming in and thinking they were, you know, different or better than anyone in government. And I can tell you in the first two weeks of being there, I was just absolutely blown away by the depth of talent and the extraordinary skills in NSW government.
[00:07:17] And so I just listened and I asked a lot of questions and then around the three or four month mark, I started to form views and I was heavily consultative to make sure that I brought everybody along for that ride. And also tested my own ideas and the ideas of those that had contributed to what we were going to do next.
[00:07:36] And yeah, so the transition wasn't as hard as I thought, or that some others might think. Conscious though, when I say that I went in at a very, very senior role. So I had a lot of opportunity to shape it. I'm not sure how people feel further through the organization about that transition. I think it depends which part of government you go to.
[00:07:57] They're all you know, government, New South Wales government's the largest employer in Australia. It's 430,000 people. So as you can imagine, there are different pockets that handle things in different ways. So, the other thing I would say is that you know, governance and procurement was much stronger than the private sector, but also I learned along the way that if you do that well up front, it can actually be a really enabler to getting things done quickly in government.
[00:08:22] So, yeah, overall it was okay. I don't regret a thing.
[00:08:26] Gillian: And you had of that large employee population in New South Wales government, you had 13,000 of them. So how is that? Like, what did you love about that? What was really tough about that? Because that's a big community of people to be responsible for.
[00:08:40] Emma: Yeah, so the first 18 months when I was the NSW Public Service Commissioner to give your audience a super quick rundown, NSW Government's got 430,000 people and they're split across what we call 10 different clusters and each cluster has a secretary which In the private sector world is called managing director or CEO, but those 10 secretaries make the secretaries board.
[00:09:02] So sort of the, the people that run the state, if you like in the public service, and there's two commissioners, the Public Service Commissioner and the Police Commissioner. The Public Service Commissioner’s job is to work with the secretaries across the whole of government to try and influence all things about workforce planning. So it might be talent, it might be the leadership academy, it might be the graduate program, it might be diversity and inclusion, it might be policy setting. And so when I first went in, I was CEO of that agency in my role as commissioner and then after 18 months, the then Premier Berejiklian gave me the opportunity to be the Secretary of Customer Service. And so I transitioned across.
[00:09:38] So I stayed on the Secretary's Board but moved into a secretary role. And that role had, yep, 13,000 people in it across multiple brands. So, three things. It had service delivery, so Service NSW, Revenue NSW, Births, Deaths and Marriages. It had regulatory delivery, so things like Safe Work, Fair Trading, Liquor and Gaming at the time.
[00:10:00] And then it had this third role to be a central agency, which was to influence the rest of government to uplift customer and digital thinking. So that was around data insights, customer insights, cyber, the telco authority, a whole bunch of things. So, it was an interesting role because it was really, really diverse.
[00:10:19] Each of those areas had their own lead, if you like. So you very quickly learn that you can't be a specialist in any of those things. Your job has to be to set the vision, communicate the vision, be the chief communicator, if you like, chief storyteller, but set the parameters and then hold the team to account.
[00:10:36] You can't actually get down the hole on too much because it's too big and too diverse and you could be dealing with a Service NSW matter one minute and then a Telco Authority the next and then a Fair Trading inspection the next. And you know, you can't possibly, no human can absorb all of that.
[00:10:54] So you have to have a great team. And as I mentioned earlier, the talent in NSW is just extraordinary. And the whole time I was in government, I had a terrific team working with me to lead those functions. So, I think one of the challenges of being the CEO or the leader, if you like, is working out what it is that only you can do. And the thing that only I could do was be the chief champion of the vision and the strategy that connected us all, which was to be the world’s most customer-centric government and keep communicating to our staff throughout. Of course, you know, like all good CEOs, I had a 90-day plan, but very early on the state caught on fire in the 2019-20 bushfires and we spent the following 3 years trying to create the world's most customer centric government whilst also leading through multiple crises.
[00:11:47] During that time we had bushfires, floods, COVID, mice plagues, cyber-attacks, a whole bunch of things. And so leading 13,000 people through that was actually more challenging than leading them through the normal sort of day-to-day vision of things.
[00:12:01] Gillian: Your timing was extraordinary, Emma, to coincide with so many big events. It was, yeah.
[00:12:09] Emma: You know, people have often said, how did you cope during that time, but you just do, you just put one foot in front of the other and it's like being on a freight train. You can't stop it. So you've just got to hang on and try and make the most of it and so in some ways, whilst I've never worked harder than I did during that time, I've never felt more connected to our people either.
[00:12:31] Gillian: Now, I know this is going to be a difficult question, but why do you think you've been successful? Because you've been a lot more successful than most. And I believe you have a reputation as a leader that is very positive and can do, and even listening to you here. When I look at your LinkedIn posts that come through my feed, I think you're very good at celebrating the success of others. And you've shown, you've demonstrating a lot of resilience, but what do you think makes you successful?
[00:13:33] Emma: Everyone has their own idea of what success is, so I imagine some people judge me as successful and some don't. And I judge myself as successful on some things and probably not others. So I don't know that if I can answer what makes me successful, but I can tell you that the values I've learned to live by are that nobody ever does it alone.
[00:13:55] Whether you're the CEO or whether you're the team leader, nobody ever does it alone, you know. So I've always found taking the approach of trying to bring the best out in others and celebrating the work and celebrating the diversity of thinking and the diversity of our people seems to bring teams together and make them feel like they can do their best work in the teams I've been lucky enough to work with. So, I've never thought about it in terms of right. How will I be successful? I'm going to celebrate diversity. I think those things from a human perspective, they make sense to me, and so I've just taken an approach that has felt right to me.
[00:14:39] And when it's worked, I've kept going with it, and when I've spotted things that haven't worked, I've you know, pivoted or changed or asked for feedback and, you know, sometimes we get those things right and sometimes we get them wrong and your style doesn't last forever either. Like everybody's evolving all of the time and everybody's emerging, all of the time.
[00:15:00] And so, I try to read the room and try to adjust accordingly. And I, you know, I've been working full time since I was 16 years old, I'm 50 next year. And so I think I've tried to have a learning mindset, particularly the last 20 years. You know, when you work in HR you do a lot of 360-degree feedback testing.
[00:15:23] So I've, I do try to take a learning mindset and keep improving, and also, I'm not afraid to say you know what, I, I got that wrong. And I think that's important too. A couple of times when I've said to people, I really misread that and I, you know, I took path A when I should have taken path B, that encourages people to also speak up about when they think they've maybe done something that hasn’t gone the way they wanted. So, I've just tried to be authentic and true and read the room and bring out the best in others and facilitate a space where people can do their best work.
[00:16:00] And I think the higher up the sort of traditional work hierarchy you go, the more important it becomes to be the chief storyteller. Talking about the vision, the people that have contributed to the vision. You know, we used to have a town hall every month at DCS where we would showcase different pieces of work from the department and how they were contributing to the vision.
[00:16:20] We always made it about customers. So yeah, I think the storytelling bit is, has been important as well.
[00:16:27] Gillian: Yeah, I can see that. And calling things out and even identifying if you made a mistake yourself takes confidence. Are you naturally confident or is it something you've had to work on?
[00:16:37] Emma: Oh, no, definitely something I've had to learn. I had a life changing circumstance in my mid to late thirties, I went to Stanford in America and I did the seven week live in exec ed program.
[00:16:54] And that was a game changer for me because up until then, I'd worked in HR, which I'd loved, but I wanted to do other things.
[00:17:01] I felt like I'd explored that as much as I could, and I wanted to do other things. But, you know, I had this view that everybody had me in the HR box, and it was going to be impossible to change. And when you go to a program like that, there's 180 leaders in jeans and a t-shirt. You know, you've got no idea what skills they bring, what they do.
[00:17:19] You get put into groups, you're asked to contribute in every aspect and no one cares where you came from or what you did. So it was a really safe space to explore where I had other views and where I had other ideas and turns out I had a lot. But what I realised while I was over there was that I was the one putting myself in the box. It probably wasn't anyone else and that I had to take responsibility.
[00:17:41] If I wanted things to change, I had to drive them. I couldn't expect others to do that for me. And so that really changed the way I saw myself and the way I saw things. I think also when you're kind of up and coming, and I don't mean that in an age capacity, I just mean, you know, your career trajectory, lots of people start their careers at different times.
[00:18:05] There's a period where you should take every opportunity that's given to you to, to learn your skills and grow. But there's also a tipping point that comes where you can become the person that, oh, if you point her at this thing, she'll get it done. And at some point you have to flip from taking every opportunity to actually much more thinking about actually, yes, I might be good at that.
[00:18:26] But do I actually want to do that? Do I want to do something else? Do I want to explore something else and really leading people to where you want to go as opposed to being led by where people think you have potential. And it's tricky because confidence comes from having all of those experiences, but around that] time I realised, Oh, I keep getting given all of these opportunities because I'm good at this particular thing, but I don't want to do this particular thing anymore. And no one's going to do it for me if I want to change because everyone quite likes me and this thing, I'm going to have to make some noise about changing direction myself and bringing people with me and asking the people I trust to bank on me, which is what I did. So I do think that's important in anyone's career is to recognise the moment when you should be taking opportunities given, versus when you should be really considering and thoughtful about whether those opportunities are ones you want to take and starting to be a bit more fine-tuned and know yourself more and take yourself in the path you want to go.
[00:19:27] Gillian: You are a phenomenal example of that because I talk about this Emma and it's kind of like what got you here won't get you there. You know, different phases of your career require different things, and you can have that “can do” attitude and say yes to everything and it enables your success to a certain point.
[00:19:43] But then you get to the next point where the stakeholders are more complex. And there are so many new and different challenges and you have to stop being the people pleaser. You have to be more strategic around the decisions that you make to support your career. And you really need to own those decisions and evaluate it for yourself.
[00:20:00] Because if you're talented, of course, they're going to be presented with opportunities, but are they aligned with what you want?
[00:20:07] Emma: that’s right. And also you have to take into account that your life changes as well. When I worked at Foxtel, I was fine to work around the clock. I wasn't in a relationship. I wasn't a parent. And I got a lot of enjoyment out of that work.
[00:20:21] And because I was working in the, you know, Foxtel was in the entertainment business, there was always something going on. And, you know, it was a fun time of my life. It was a really great time of my life. There's no way I could do that now. I've got two children. I prioritise different things.
[00:20:35] And so. Looking at your life holistically and how, you know, we all only get 24 hours in a day. I always talk about this, the pie, you know, we all only have the same amount of pie, which is 100% and you can only dedicate X amount of percentage to all the different things in life. And those percentages might change, you know, when you're younger, your percentage of time at work and brain space at work might be 70%.
[00:21:00] At other times of your life, it might be 40. And that might be okay. Like, that's okay. You don't have to value your career as the number one thing all the time. But I think women in particular need to find a way to be confident in their own skin on this, because I do think there is huge pressure on women to have it all.
[00:21:21] And I think it's very hard to have it all at once and it's hard to do everything really well at once. So I often say, you know, my number one question the entire time I was in government, because I was the only secretary for a long time with young children… how do you do it all? And I would say, well, I don't do it all well.
[00:21:39] Like, on the days that I drove out of the building and thought, I think I did alright today. They were never the days that I'd been a great wife or mum. And then on the weekend when I've left the phone at home and taken my daughter to the zoo, they're the days that I've been a great mum, but I have missed three calls from someone at work or the minister or whatever.
[00:22:02] And, women, I think, still facing this challenge of feeling the need to have the amazing career and be the amazing parent and, you know, do yoga at six in the morning and jog around the block every night. Like, it's a lot. And you still only have the same amount of pie.
[00:22:19] So you just have to alter the wedges and, and prioritise. And that's hard.
[00:22:24] Gillian: And you're so right for different phases of your life. Like I think of my life when I worked in media life is so busy, you know, having a big job and a little person, but now he's 21, like my 24 hours is so different now, like unbelievably different because he's so much more independent and my whole life is quite different.
[00:22:44] The proportions of those pie and where I can spend my time. I have a lot more flexibility and options to be quite honest with you.
[00:22:51] Emma: yeah. And you've built that, right? Yeah. But you've got to be deliberate and own what it is that you want. Like if you want to take a step back or stay stable in your career for a period because parenting feels like it needs to be a bigger piece of your pie, then own that and be okay with that. Don't beat yourself up about not having, being able to make your pie 130%. And it's tough for men too, but it's tougher for women is my observation.
[00:23:20] Gillian: I agree. Self-imposed pressure. Yeah. Very high standards. But look, I've thoroughly enjoyed our chat today. I feel like you've shared lots of great tips as well, what you've learned throughout your career. And we're all excited to see what you're going to do next, because I'm sure, I mean, you've still got a big chunk of your career, so you're kind of at this beautiful point where so much more opportunity sits in front of you.
[00:23:46] And we'll be, we'll be watching that space closely, but it's been such a pleasure and I really appreciate you coming on to the podcast.
[00:23:52] Emma: No worries. Thanks very much for having me.