"Embracing femininity is powerful": Q&A with Madison Financial Group's new CEO Annick Donat March 2017
Annick Donat has been surrounded by strong women for much of her personal and professional life. This week, as she commences her role as CEO of Madison Financial Group, she reflects on the influence these women have had and the qualities that make for a good leader. She also shares her excitement for the new role, her work with non-profit, Weave, and her memories evoked by the smell of fresh bread.
- What are you most looking forward to in your new role as CEO of Madison Financial Group?
The ability to work alongside extraordinary advice businesses who are focused on delivering excellent client outcomes. I firmly believe that great advice changes lives. I really enjoy spending time with financial advisers that run their own businesses, they have so many stories, they are entrepreneurial and they embrace help. My favourite moments are when I am sitting across the table from a business owner who is excited or challenged about what's next for his/her business, these conversations energise me to be better, think differently and importantly, find a way to help.
- How has your previous experience prepared you for this role?
I’ve had many roles that have led to preparing me for this role. My career has been predominantly in financial services and working closely with self-employed financial planning businesses. Over the course of years, I have developed a cross section of skills and capabilities that naturally align to this new role.
- In your opinion, what makes for an effective CEO?
I subscribe to the view that great leaders are here to serve, as well as lead. Self-awareness, EQ [emotional intelligence] & empathy are the way forward for a leader in this day and age. Business acumen and professional capability are important. However, it’s also about the ability to understand the community you lead and help them make decisions, take risks, take action to remain relevant.
- This week we’re celebrating International Women’s Day. On that note, can you name a female that has had a great influence on your career/life?
There are many. I have been fortunate to be surrounded by supportive women both professionally and personally. The two significant personal influences in my life are my mother (who has since passed) and my sister, who is the most generous and grateful person I know. Her love and support of others is a joy to see. Professional influences in recent years are, Vanessa Stoykov, CEO Evolution Media and Rebecca Wallace, CEO Launch Group/Weave Chair. Vanessa and Rebecca are generous, brave and authentic. They pursue what they believe and have the courage to challenge the status quo. When I spend time with either of these wonderful women, I walk away inspired.
- Can you tell us a little more about your directorship on the board of Weave and Youth community services? What drew you to this role?
Weave Youth & Community Services is a non-profit community organisation that works with disadvantaged and vulnerable young people, women, children and families in the City of Sydney and South Sydney, many indigenous. We are about to celebrate 40 years of service to the community. I had spent time in Far North Queensland volunteering with two Indigenous organisations and it had a profound impact on me. When I came home, I wanted to do something locally. I met a couple of members of the Weave team at a fundraising function. They were so passionate about serving others and treating the people that help with care and respect. I felt compelled to help, so I offered my services for strategy, coaching and pretty much anything they wanted help with. They offered me a board position. Our board is responsible for supporting Weave with strategic decisions, good governance and leadership. Importantly, we work closely with the Weave leadership team, get involved in the community events and use our networks to help further the success of Weave.
- What has been the best advice that you have received?
When I was a teenager my mother said to me – be smart, be feminine and trust your instincts. I have carried that with me ever since and I’ve shared it with other women I coach and mentor. We work in a male dominated industry, embracing femininity is powerful.
- What was your very first job?
I worked in a bakery owned by the Aunt of a close friend in high school. She was a strong woman who was focused and committed to serving her customers well. I learned a great deal from working for her and it was a bonus to take fresh bread home to the family every weekend. To this day when I walk past a bread shop, it takes me back to the time I spent at the bakery. I still love the smell of fresh bread as it comes out of a bakers’ oven.
- How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I’m not sure you can ever maintain it. I love working, it is a privilege to do what I do and it is a significant part of my life – it always has been. That said, we are parents of two children who have an equally busy schedule, so my husband and I make sure we schedule things, decide on priorities, get help from others when we need it. Thankfully exercising keeps me sane!!
- Where did you grow up and what was it like?
I grew up in Melbourne and life had quite a few challenges. I’m very thankful that my mother had a profoundly positive influence in my life, by encouraging me to be the best person I could, before collapsing at the age of 44 from a brain aneurism, leaving her incapable of caring for herself. I spent the next 28 years (she passed in 2016) often remembering and reflecting on the lessons she taught me and who she would want me to be. But I often say every family has a story. That said, I was surrounded by lots of cousins, which meant many family events and celebrations. We all grew up together and our bonds remain strong today. When we head to Melbourne at Christmas time, one of my cousins will always make sure there is a feast ready and everyone gathered in one place!