Trust, good faith and accountability: Q&A with Sandi Orleow May 2017
After making the move from South Africa to Australia in 2003, Sandi Orleow has carved out an impressive local career in financial services. Now, as the NSW Chair of Women In Super and an independent director on two boards, Sandi tells Industry Moves why she loves what she does, shares her thoughts on female board quotas, tells us what it was like growing up during the apartheid era, and speaks fondly of a former boss who offered her flexibility, trust and support at a time that she most needed it.
- What initially attracted you to the finance world?
I always wanted to go into business. I studied an accounting degree and decided that the best way to go into business was to be able to understand the financials. I started off doing auditing and decided that I loved funds management and investments. I joined an investment consultant to get a feel of where I wanted to work from an investing perspective and that’s where it all really started.
- At the Women, Super and Wealth Summit last week, we heard from Sam Mostyn who talked about female quotas on boards and why she thinks they are necessary. What are your thoughts on board quotas?
The whole quota discussion is very interesting. I believe in meritocracy, with the best people going forward and getting the job, but "best" can be quite subjective. Meritocracy and quotas are not mutually exclusive. I am supportive of increasing female representation and supportive of quotas to get us there, when sitting around the table it’s about adding value or else is will be short tenure!
- In your opinion, what do you think makes for an effective board member?
I think it’s a continual learning environment and different dynamics and environments require you to act in different ways. I’m across three boards at the moment and one thing that is becoming apparent is that the engagement with each of those three boards is quite different, depending on the organisation. I think you need to have a sensitivity to the issues at hand, understand what the overall objectives are, where the business wants to go and leverage the different skills of those on the board.
- What lead you to sign The Banking and Finance Oath?
I just share the values; I live by them. It wasn’t a big decision for me. I found out about the Oath at an IMCA conference a few years ago. I believe trust, good faith and accountability are fundamental attributes to a sustainable future – it’s how I choose to operate.
- You are a Director and NSW Chair of Women in Super (WIS). Can you tell us what you feel the organisation is trying to achieve?
WIS is seeking to maintain and build a supportive network, to provide opportunities for learning and development and to advocate for equal and improved outcomes for women in superannuation.
- Do you have a mentor or someone in the industry who has had an influence or positive impact on your career?
There are a number of people that have influenced my career journey. One of those being, David Neil, current MD of the Future Fund. He was my first boss as a working mum, I had just arrived in Australia. I had two young children and my husband was also working. David had similar aged kids. He was focussed on what I delivered and he wasn’t worried if I was doing it from home. He was a great person to work for. It was all based on mutual respect and trust. My clients didn’t know that I was part time because I had a great team of people and David was able to accommodate the flexibility that I needed at that time in my life. The challenge for me is to emulate that experience for others.
- When you moved to Australia from South Africa in 2003 what would you say the biggest cultural difference was that you experienced?
Having grown up in South Africa in the apartheid era, it was very common to have live-in help as you were bringing up your family, so when I came to Australia it was very much about getting to know my children a lot better and fitting in a lot more stuff. In South Africa, because it was such a volatile and extreme place, as a young person you were given many opportunities to step up a lot earlier in your career than you would here in Australia. I headed a Canadian consulting business when I was under 30. Unfortunately, because the crime rates are so high in South Africa, you never know what’s around the corner. So, you just kind of step up because what have you got to lose?
- What has been the greatest lesson that you’ve taken away from your career so far?
I’d say it would be the importance of having a solid academic foundation to build on, but not to lose site that decisions and progress involve people with biases, needs and emotions and understanding these behavioural factors are just as important to understand as the technical knowledge. The importance of relationships and trust in the decision making process can’t be underestimated.
I am a believer in the value of partnerships and mature commercial relationships, all parties in the value chain have a part to play in order to maintain a healthy financial system and you will need to learn to work together.
- Can you tell us about your very first job?
I was selling Sony cassette tapes. My father used to drop me to work on a Saturday morning because I didn’t have my licence; I must have been under 18 at the time. I used to stand there and try to convince people to buy Sony cassettes over TDK.
- How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I’m always on. I love what I do and I’m passionate about it. I love learning. I’m involved in my girl’s activities. I’m involved in their school. I read a lot and I go to bed with my I-pad every night. I follow a lot of groups on social media so I can keep up to date and I continue to meet people and talk to them. I’m not scared to ask questions. I’ve also got a great supportive and involved husband; we’re a partnership.
- Where did you grow up and what was it like?
I was born and grew up in Johannesburg South Africa. I was the eldest of three children and have two sisters that are identical twins. From a young age I was fascinated with business and money. My father bought a share in games arcade and my biggest joy was counting out the money and handing out tokens not actually in playing the games. Since there were no boys in the house, even the dogs were female, my father taught us to shoot and I garnered a passion for clay pigeon and target shooting in my youth.
I was fortunate to go to good public schools for the majority of my school years and finished my last two years of school at a private Jewish day school. I was a competitive student and sportswoman and even from a young age wasn't happy to be pigeon holed in a gender, "know your place" bucket.
We didn't grow up with money but my folks still tried to take us to the beach in the school holidays 2-3 times a year which was a 5-6 hour drive away. My first overseas experience was to the US on a a trip my father had won through work, I still remember Epcot Centre and Disneyworld and the blustery weather in San Francisco, although July and Summer.
- What’s something that most people don’t know about you?
I love science fiction and I am an avid traveller. Anyone in my friendship circle that wants to find a cheap travel deal will come to me because I am the cheap deal queen. It’s a love and a hobby