Influential Women: UniSuper's Anna Leibel on women in STEM and portfolio careers April 2018


A love of innovative technology has been wired into Anna Leibel's DNA, having first started coding when she was still in primary school. Now, as executive manager of technology at UniSuper - which is just one of the roles within her 'portfolio career' - Anna has been charged with forming a new IT strategy for the $65 billion fund. She tells Industry moves about the strategy's goals, and also shares her decade long dream to launch her own firm, and about her involvement with some inspiring organisations.

In your role as Executive Manager Technology at UniSuper, you have been developing a new IT strategy for the fund. Can you tell us about how that’s been going?

First of all, it’s worth talking about what the IT strategy has been put in place to achieve. One of UniSuper’s strategic goals is to differentiate on service. This is reflected through the creation of the chief customer officer role that Lee Scales recently moved into. The key reason behind developing a new IT strategy was to help us prioritise the customer experience, for both our members and employers. From a technology perspective, we’re modernising the way that we bring value to our customers, which includes introducing new technologies, the time that it takes for us to deliver new products and services and also keeping information secure and safe. The new strategy will also see us leveraging our data further to help us make effective decisions and to personalise the member experience.

This is a three-year strategy with a roadmap that supports that timeline. Our strategy won’t change over this period but the roadmap might, as it’s designed to accommodate for any new technologies that come along the way. To achieve this, we will develop detailed plans 12 months at a time.

…and what are your key goals with UniSuper over the next 12 months?

Mobilising the majority of the initiatives within the roadmap to enable the IT transformation which includes how we can simplify our existing technologies and also looking at how we can use new technologies such as AI and automation. We will do this in partnership with our business stakeholders.

What initially lead you down the technology pathway?

I started coding when I was 8 years old. I’m so grateful, and lucky, that my Dad chose to have computers in our house from a very early age. It has always been part of what I’ve done, so I find it really easy to adapt to new technologies; it comes naturally to me. My sister studied finance and still ended up working in technology – so there’s obviously something in our blood.

In your opinion, what’s one of the most interesting and innovative start-ups that you’ve come across in your time?

There are two that I‘ve come across which stand out because of the solutions they’ve developed. The first is Emvisage, which is a cloud-based program portfolio management tool. It allows you to categorise your project portfolio and align that back to your business strategy, to make sure that you’ve got a balanced portfolio. It also helps you through demand management and resource planning.

The second one is Sinefa. This is a real-time network traffic intelligence platform. As we become higher users of digital services as a business, this helps us understand where the volume of traffic is within a network, to help make sure that we’ve got the right type of network bandwidth to support a great member experience.

What led you to start up you own consultancy firm, 110 percent, and can you tell us a little about it?

Starting my own consultancy firm has been a career aspiration of mine for about a decade. It’s been a natural progression for me; having worked at PwC in a technology consulting capacity, the roles that I’ve taken on at Telstra across technology and global sales and also the work that I did at – which I still think is one of the most successful start-ups.

For me, 110 Percent is all about offering technology services around strategy development with a supporting implementation road map. Most importantly, it’s about the variety people and cultures that I experience. I love to help create a customer centric culture and help to get the buy-in so people understand why you’re making the changes that you are.

You are listed as one of the women on ‘The Click List’ – a vetted list of females in the STEM industries available to speak at events, breaking down the traditional male-only panels. How else do you think the industry can further engage women?

We all need to consider the role that we play around coaching, mentoring and sponsoring females. For me sponsorship has had the biggest impact on my career, while mentoring and coaching have been effective when I’m thinking about the next role I might be in or seek next.

Another thing to consider is the partnerships you have in place that have a female focus. That could be around communities or events. I enjoy ones that are across various industries, like Business Chicks, which means that I get to meet different types of people. More focused events include Women In Super and Wealth Management Leadership Summit and VIC ICT for Women, which is a Victorian IT focused networking group, who started The Click List.

Finally, it’s really important to seek diversity of thought within your team, in cross company interactions and choosing the vendors that you partner with. It’s important to have a representation of your customer base.

You made a decision to leave your previous corporate role in favour of what is called a ‘portfolio career’. Having done that for a while now, how have you found the shift?

I have found the transition rewarding and full of learning and self-discovery. Firstly, I had to consider the type of work environment that I wanted to achieve and think about the things that energised me and made me happy. In Australia, a portfolio career is a fairly new way to work but it’s quite common overseas. The #gigeconomy is going to become a lot more popular over the next decade as the demand for technology skills and talent increases.

I wanted to work with a variety of people across technology start-ups. I want to make sure that I’m giving back around mentoring and coaching. I really love working in a corporate capacity and feel that it keeps my skills relevant. And I also love the flexibility that I have around being able to do some yoga teaching. I like being able to do a bit of everything!

Every year I sit down and plan how I want my career to look for that particular year. Last year was all about doing the company directors course, establishing my consulting firm and participating in GirledWorld, which is a not-for-profit that came out of Melbourne University’s entrepreneurship program. GirledWorld helps teenage girls to understand what a career in STEM looks like and assists in building the talent pipeline for the next generation.

…and what advice would you offer to someone who was considering taking the same leap?

Understand yourself and consider the type of environment you thrive in and enjoy. If you enjoy having a structured role and a defined scope, then a portfolio career might not be for you. It’s also important to know what makes you unique and understand your value proposition and why it’s relevant in today’s market. Lastly, you need to be resilient whilst you build momentum. Say ‘Yes’ to opportunities that allow you to demonstrate your value. Be creative in thinking of various ways to make this portfolio career work for you.

How do you maintain a work/life balance, especially with your work hours shifting week-to-week due to your portfolio of professional commitments?

I no longer see a difference between work/life obligations. I go by the mantra that “if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.” I love what I’m doing now and even though I’m working longer hours than I ever have, I’ve never been happier. It doesn’t feel like work for me. I’m always continuing to learn and that’s what really satisfies me.

Towards the beginning of your career you worked for when it was a start-up and have attributed your time there as a pivotal aspect in shaping the leader you are today. What was one of the best lessons that you took from that experience?

I was in my mid-twenties when I worked with Seek, and I took its amazing culture for granted. It was only years later, as I became a leader of teams and cultural change, that I started to reflect on the great environment that I experienced at Seek. I joined Seek when they were into their third year and were still working towards making a profit. What I loved about my role was that we weren’t confined to a job description. Once we mastered our own role, we became more efficient and then we were given the opportunity to try out new things and co-create a job that allowed us to be at our best. Upon reflection, it’s no wonder I ended up in a portfolio career as it provides the flexibility and variety I thrived on at Seek.

The other thing I learnt from this role, which ended up having a significant impact on my corporate career at Telstra, was finding ways to get stuff done without any money. I learnt how to be resourceful and pragmatic about what needed to be done.

What’s a piece of advice that has stuck with you?

I received this advice from a trusted CIO when I was entering my first large transformational role. He said: “It’s not a race to the end, but your ability to take people along on the journey.” At that time, I was so busy trying to prove myself in the role that I was speeding past the most important part and that was the people. This advice continues to resonate with me today and I keep it front of mind as I work as a leader of large transformational change.

Who has had the biggest influence on your life/career so far?

Dr Catriona Wallace – she’s amazing. Catriona is a successful entrepreneur with five different start-ups and possesses a brilliant mind. I love the way she approaches business with honesty and authenticity. I was fortunate to partner with her during my time at Telstra and we co-created a new service. I learnt so much from her during this time and she has also introduced me to so many other amazing leaders who continue to influence and inspire me.

What are your top tips for effective networking at industry events?

Consider your elevator pitch before attending an event. Think about what it is that you do, or what you want to do, why it matters and what’s interesting about that.

Find a networking event that you feel comfortable with, that might be a casual coffee meet up or maybe you’d prefer a more traditional networking event. Networking is a hugely important part of your working life, although it’s often not prioritised. I suggest you try to attend one networking event per month and if you find these events daunting then try starting your own. I established a quarterly women’s networking dinner, which included like-minded people working in technology, so you can do something like that. I also recently heard about walking mentor sessions around Melbourne’s Botanical gardens, which is another really great idea.

View Anna Leibel's profile