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Episode 005

Episode 5: One nostril above water

by Gillian Fox

Listen To The Full Episode:

If you have one nostril above water, you’re still breathing, right? If you’ve got a full head above water, then you know what? Life is too easy.

Gillian Fox:

Have you ever reflected how some people thrive under pressure? One nostril above water for many people is considered terrifying, but today’s podcast might change your view and get you excited about the idea of stretching yourself and exploring new career routes and possibilities.

You are listening to Your Brilliant Career. I’m your host, Gillian Fox – executive coach, women’s career expert, and entrepreneur. The podcast that teaches you how to get the most out of your career. We talk tactics, tools, and stories that all help incredible women like you achieve the success you deserve.

If you’re a woman who values her career and wants 2022 to be great – a very different kind of year to the last two – then boy do I have the masterclass is for you.

If you want an injection of energy and some practical insights to get you moving, join me for my FREE Live masterclass: How to re-energise your career and shift from flat to inspired.

I’ll be sharing:

  • The most simple and effective strategy to amplify your accomplishments 
  • The major mindset shift that you need to adopt if you want to attract the right opportunities in 2022.
  • The biggest energy zapper you want to avoid – yet you’ve probably been doing this for years.
  • and you’ll love this …. The MOST effective way to discover your special strengths And make your value more visible at work.

Join me in this exclusive free webinar by registering on our website –www.yourbrilliantcareer.com.au/free-webinar and make 2022 a great year for you and your career! I hope to see you there.

Gillian Fox:

Hi, everyone. I’m so excited to be here with you today. You may know by now, you may have worked this out that sometimes I deliver this podcast by myself, and I do a deep dive into a subject that is relevant to navigating a career in today’s business environment. Other times, I invite people to join me on the podcast, and today, I have a great guest. She’s not only someone who is widely respected, but she’s also someone I worked with during my media career. My guest today is Nicole Sheffield, Managing Director, Data and Digital at Wesfarmers.

Gillian Fox:

Now, Nic is an accomplished senior exec, as you will discover. She’s got extensive experience in the media, marketing, digital industries, and I’m going to leave it to her to take you through her career journey. I met Nic probably 20 years ago now in an exec meeting that we both attended. I’d heard about her, but nothing prepared me for that initial meeting. This woman had presence. She was smart, surprisingly relatable, and funny. I liked her immediately. When it came to business, I always trusted and respected her and thought she had tremendous grit. Watching Nic’s career unfold since then, so it’s almost been two decades now, it’s been pure joy. She has gone from strength to strength. She’s also brought up four fantastic kids. I want you to meet her today because I think she’ll challenge your thinking around what’s possible in your career, give you some excellent career tips, and really inspire you to think more broadly.

Gillian Fox:

So, Nic, welcome to the podcast. It is wonderful to have you here.

Nicole Sheffield:

Oh, thank you, Gill. I’m delighted to be here.

Gillian Fox:

I’ve been looking forward to introducing you and sharing you with everyone for weeks now. Not only because you do have such an interesting career, but because, well, you’re very passionate about supporting women in business, and my experience has always been you bring a lot of honesty to these types of conversations. So I’m delighted to have you here. Can we kick off talking about your career journey because I know everyone will be interested to understand what that looks like and how you arrived at this new role that you’ve got at Wesfarmers?

Nicole Sheffield:

Well, look, the role at Wesfarmers is quite a unique role because it started up in such an iconic old Australian company, and so it is the emerging of many disparate roles that I’ve done in my career. So as you know, Gill, and your listeners may not or may, but I started my career off as a failed lawyer. At the time, I had a wonderful general counsel that called me in and said, “You are a terrible lawyer. You need to go, but you would be fantastic in the commercial world because you’re decisive and you have got a really strong feeling on how to make business opportunities happen”. I’m forever grateful to that person because I probably would’ve just stayed in law, and really, advising and legal stuff wasn’t my strength.

So then, I went to Telstra back in the day when there was no Bigpond, no internet, and fortunately, after a fabulous graduate program, ended up in a job with Telstra Multimedia, which was the internet division, and that division went on to launch Bigpond. So, I started the internet journey back when we had modems, and I was the product manager of Bigpond broadband back in the day when one of our challenges was content. So we went and did deals with people like Foxtel that was just launching, and so I fell in love with content, and then ended up at Pacific, and had a very interesting journey for a decade there.

Pacific was then owned by Seven, and started off as GM Online, and then reversed, went into magazines because the digital properties were doing well, and so they said, “Can you have a go at magazines?” Even though I actually had a good career, I took that opportunity to make another big step, what would be perceived as backwards, to join Foxtel as the general manager of Lifestyle channels. But then, we went on to launch Lifestyle Food, Lifestyle You, Lifestyle Home, and of course, lifestyle.com.au, and had a great time there. Also, met one of my great mentors and supporters, Kim Williams, who went on to become the CEO of News Corp. So he took me with him, and then I had the interesting role of joining two cultures, News Magazines with News Digital Media and creating this new entity called News Life Media. We had the free digital assets, so news.com.au, Taste, and we also then had the digital assets and the magazines: Vogue, Delicious, etc. I learned a lot in that role.

Gillian Fox:

Nic, you mentioned earlier the major transition from law to media. But after a number of years in that industry, you did it again, moving to Australia Post. Tell us about that.

Nicole Sheffield:

I wanted to see if I could lead in a completely different environment. I never expected that environment to be Australia Post, but actually, as it turned out, it was three and a half fabulous years where I learned retail and I ran the Post Office Network. But those digital and data skills served me really well because when we were able to get the app working, get tracking working, and during COVID, we saw volumes like never before, and being able to connect that to the retail outlet, and really look at our environments differently was a fantastic opportunity.

So when Wes was looking at, “We really need to rethink our digital ecosystem, but we need someone who understands retail, but also understands digital, and also looks at what else we can do to build out that ecosystem”, we started a conversation and had lots of conversations, all via Zoom. I haven’t met my boss in person yet. I haven’t really met a lot of the team, but I’ve loved it, and it’s seven weeks in. I have a mentor, Judy Slatyer, who’s amazing. She once said to me back in the days at Telstra, “If you have one nostril above water, you’re still breathing, right? If you’ve got a full head above water, then you know what? Life is too easy.” So you’ve always got to give yourself these opportunities to just have a nostril out of water, and I certainly feel like I’ve just got a nostril out of water so far.

Gillian Fox:

Wow, seven weeks in.

Nicole Sheffield:

Yeah, exactly, with these amazing iconic brands, but it’s a privilege.

Gillian Fox:

Yeah, yeah. It’s an amazing organization, but Nic, you’ve really demonstrated that you can work across different industries. But for you to have been able to attract those senior roles in your career, you’ve had to stay relevant and contemporary. How do you think you’ve done that? Maybe it hasn’t been a conscious thing, but just reflecting about it, how have you stayed relevant and contemporary?

Nicole Sheffield:

It’s being conscious in the sense not about my career. It’s being conscious in the sense that I’m obsessed by customer and customer experience. So, in every role, I don’t sit there. Even when I went from digital where you talk about users and user journeys, and then all of a sudden, I went into magazines. I was thinking about the reader, and what’s the reader experience, and how do we enhance? Then, when I went into television, we talked about the viewer, and then you go into retail, and you talk about the customer or the consumer.

So, for me, having a really good sense of who your customer is and being almost customer obsessed, using data to understand trends, start to predict, “Actually, I think they’re going to like this now. So whether you’re creating Grand Designs Australia or you’re re-platforming Taste and saying, “What’s the next features that are going to make her spend more time with us?” because that’s the currency you deal in a lot of that, it’s time on site, then you have to be thinking about the customer. I think no matter what role I’m in, even in this role at Wes, I’m asking the questions all the time with the team, “Yeah, but what is the customer journey? How are we going to take out friction? How are we going to become a customer habit? How do we take out the pains in her life or his life, and how do we actually make that something that they want to spend more time with us?”

Gillian Fox:

Yeah, it gets you out of your head and internal, doesn’t it, as well. So, Nic, a lot of people would look at you, and I’ve known you for many years, and they would say that you’re very confident in business and the way you present yourself.

Nicole Sheffield:

Yeah.

Gillian Fox:

I’m sure you’re challenged sometimes, but generally speaking, is that something you’ve had to work on, or does it come naturally to you?

Nicole Sheffield:

The confidence?

Gillian Fox:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Nicole Sheffield:

It probably comes more naturally to me than a lot of people, especially women. Okay? I didn’t realise that actually until Sheryl Sandberg’s book came out, Lean In. She said that women don’t lean in, and I thought about it. I thought, “I always lean in. Why do I always lean in?” I actually think it’s for this reason, Gill. I’m the eldest child of first generation Australian. Oh, sorry, new Australians. So my mother was Polish. My father was Yugoslavian. They met in the small arms factory in Lithgow on the production line.

Nicole Sheffield:

English was not even really their second language, and so from the age of eight or nine, I had my parents. They couldn’t read or write very well, but I had them saying, “You’re in that telecom. That’s bullshit. I did not make that phone call”. So while on the phone, I’m explaining the council or I was this mouthpiece for the family from a young age. Right? I was writing letters, and I was communicating. Without realising it, I just had to lean in. So, I think it was something that I just happened to have to do, and it’s made me confident.

Gillian Fox:

So, Nic, What about motivation? Imagine in your role sometimes, and I know you’re only seven weeks in, but you’re confronted with lots of obstacles, and they might be challenges that really test you in some ways. How do you stay motivated?

Nicole Sheffield:

Yeah, that is a good question, and different times in my career, I’ve been motivated by different things. So I am ambitious not just in terms of career, but I’m ambitious that I want to win in what I’m doing, right? So if it’s the number one rating show or get Lifestyle to beat Fox Sports at last. We love our lifestyle in this country. Why do we love our sport more? Or ambition for this particular project to really add a lot of value to those in incredible brands of Bunnings, and Kmart, and Target, those icons that we’ve known. Building something new for them is really important.

So I think that’s my motivation is to understand what customer problem I’m solving for and really winning and nailing it, and I love the challenge. Now, we won’t always do that, but actually, that’s okay too. I think I’ve always taken roles where I’ve had a level of knowing what the job is, and then there’s a level of the unknown. That unknown is a bit scary, but actually, that’s really exciting.

Gillian Fox:

If you’re happy to share this with us, what’s been one of the toughest parts of your career? One of your most challenging moments?

Nicole Sheffield:

Oh, look, I’ve had many hurdles, but if I think about… Well, the obvious one that comes to mind was obviously at Australia Post, sitting next to Christine when that Cartier was said and the onslaught of that was really tough. It was tough because… It was tough on Christine. It was tough on all of us that had been on a journey of transformation, and it was tough to see it play out in the media. So it was really hard as a leader, and I had… My workforce was 22,000 people, trying to keep them focused because it happened in October, and we were going to go into our biggest Christmas ever. I don’t know how we got through that, but we did, and actually, also, we had COVID. So we weren’t on the road as much as we needed to be to get out and just make sure everyone understood that we absolutely fully supported Christine, but we really needed to get the job done for the country and deliver for Australia.

So sometimes the tough things are actually the cultural changes and the things that are out of your control, the environments that happen around you, and how you respond, and step up, and lead. Leadership takes many forms. Sometimes it’s helping to solve a problem. Sometimes it’s uniting a team, and other times it’s actually just being open and honest, and saying, “You know what? I don’t know what’s going on, but right now, we can’t change what’s going on. That’s between the CEO, and a board, and the government. What we have to do is deliver for the country because we’re an institution that’s been around for 212 years, and we’re going to be around for the next 212 years. We’ve just got to get through that”. So, for me, I really learned a lot about how to pull those different levers of leadership and when to really take people on the journey.

If I look back at News Corp, one of the toughest times for me was… Ego got in the way. I got a big ego. I got arrogant, and I didn’t like the leader I was becoming because it’s a culture which really celebrates results, and so we were getting those results. I look back now, and there’s many things I would’ve done differently having had the leadership skills I have now. But that’s one of the things is you age and you lead different teams. You lead different people. You just get better, and you learn from those mistakes, but what’s really important is that you don’t rewrite history. I don’t rewrite that time and go, “I was awesome,” because I wasn’t. I was great. I’ve got the results, and there was many highs, and there were many things. But by the end, I wasn’t the best leader I could be. I was too aggressive. I was too quick to do things that didn’t take people on the journey with me, and that’s something that I had to learn from, and get coaching and get better at.

Gillian Fox:

Oh, Nic, thank you for being so candid with us. That’s the honesty I’ve come to know from you and what makes you so special. Nic, you’ve also worked in a lot of male-dominated environments. What’s important to you when it comes to diversity?

Nicole Sheffield:

Look, it’s been varied. I’ve had many fantastic relationships with men, and I have many men that have sponsored me and mentored me, and I’ve had fantastic relationships with women. But I’ve had some challenging moments where I have felt like… I don’t play golf. I don’t put money on horses, and a lot of these social conversations around me that happen, I actually just can’t get involved in. So that makes life a bit tough, but at the same time, I’ve got some fantastic relationships with women. There have been some women that actually haven’t been particularly kind, or warm, or welcoming, and have been more aggressive than you’d necessarily think.

So, I don’t think it’s about gender as much as it is about truly reflecting our society, and that’s about diversity and inclusivity. I often say to my team, like I’m recruiting at the moment, and I’ve said many times 50-50 is important to me. It’s really important, but actually, there’s not enough multicultural diversity. When you think about so many of my engineers of Indian, Asian, different backgrounds, why are they not sitting on my leadership team?

Gillian Fox:

Nic, a final question to wrap up today. I know the women listening will be very inspired by you and everything that you’ve achieved to date. What practical advice would you give them to help them fulfill their career ambitions?

Nicole Sheffield:

I think stay true to yourself. Know your strengths and play to your strengths. In sporting matches, you often hear of…. You don’t hear, when teams are being coached, the coach saying, “Oh, he’s a good kicker, so we’re going to make him tackle now.” No. “He’s a good kicker. We’re going to make him a better kicker”. I think sometimes in business, we go, “These are our weaknesses, and we always have to work on our weaknesses”. Now, they shouldn’t be debilitating, but sometimes your strengths is what the team needs. You’re always part of a team. Work out what you bring to that team and just bring it. Every day, bring it the best you can because your team will be better for it. You’ll be better for it, and I think that actually is also a very big confidence builder.

The second thing that I think is really important when you’re going in your career is build that circle of trust. So whether it’s your sponsors, your mentors, making sure that you have those people that you can call on when you’re navigating unusual times. Sometimes those times aren’t actually about the job. It’s actually about work-life balance. I have four kids. Actually, many times I turned to my mentors were when I was like, “How do I possibly do this and get to the school? I just feel like I’m failing”. Right? They were great, women that would give me advice, “Do this. Try that. Don’t cook. Just order in”. Those simple things. So I think having your circle of trust and making sure that isn’t just about your job and your career, it’s actually about you as a human is really important.

I think the third thing I’d recommend is being clear on what you want to do and want to be because that helps yourself, and that helps everyone. Now, that doesn’t mean if you sit here now and say, “I want to be a chief digital officer”, that you… or a chief people officer or a CEO, that the journey you go on is never linear, and it may mean that in two years’ time, an opportunity comes up, and it isn’t what you thought, but it’s actually really interesting that you can’t move, but I think it’s really important.

Too many people, when you ask them what they want to do, tell you about all the things they can do. Think of what you want to do, right? What do you really, really want to do? It’s not a race. It’s a journey, right? It’s not about the end. It’s about the destination. No, and not about the destination. It’s about how you get there and how you like yourself. In the example I gave before about my time, I didn’t like myself. So I had a great job. I was earning great money. I had a trajectory that was a strong leadership trajectory, but I didn’t like who I was. You have to like yourself. You have to be your best self, and you have to take yourself on the journey.

Everyone’s journey is different and unique to them, but I always… I love what I do. I wake up in the morning, and sometimes my family gets angry at me because they think I love working more than I love hanging out with them, and I kept saying, “Well, the reason you have a good life is because I work”, and we go back and forth, but I love them all. I love them all. It’s that balance. Life is about balance, but I think… Make sure you enjoy, make sure you bring your best self, and make sure you know where you want to go and what you want to be. Just keep trying because it will happen.

Gillian Fox:

What fantastic advice. Thank you so much for sharing your tips, stories, journey with us today. It’s been so much fun, very entertaining, very informative. I know the women listening would’ve loved this time with you and probably hope to meet you one day too, Nic, or maybe even work for you. Thanks again.

Nicole Sheffield:

Right. Thanks so much, Gill. Thank you. All the best, everyone.

Gillian Fox:

That’s it for today. Thank you for joining me. Here’s to your brilliant career, and I’ll see you in a few weeks.

Thanks so much for listening to today’s podcast. If you’re enjoying what you’re learning on the podcast, sign up for our free training session on how to land your next promotion. This course is going to give you a close look at the three reasons why people don’t land their next promotion and what you can do differently to ensure you succeed. I think you’ll love it. Head over to yourbrilliantcareer.com.au/land-your-promotion/. If you want some inspiration and tips during the week, join us on Instagram, Gillian Fox Group. I look forward to seeing you there.

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