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Interview Blog - Catherine Kennedy, NSW Director

Catherine KennedyPosted by Catherine
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We are very proud of our team at people2people. And we are very proud, that in an era where there is ongoing discussion about diversity of boards, we tick most of the diversity boxes. Gender is one of those boxes. Our board and management team are predominantly female. Having recently celebrated International Women’s Day, we wanted to delve deeper into what makes a great leader tick, so we have interviewed our NSW Director, Catherine Kennedy.

Catherine has worked at people2people for 14 years and held seven different positions over that time. When she’s not at work, you will find her enjoying the outdoors with her two beautiful little girls. She is lucky enough to call the Blue Mountains home and spends as much time as she can exploring her back yard! She calls herself a country girl and loves wide open spaces.


Hi Catherine! You’ve been at people2people for a very long time now. How would you describe your whole experience?

"I have had the privilege of being on the p2p journey for most of the company’s history, having joined a year or so after people2people opened in 2005. It’s been an incredible experience for me, and I am grateful every day that I have had the opportunity to work with and learn from such a professional and committed team for so long. people2people today is certainly a very different business to the one I joined all those years ago. At that point, there were seven of us in a fairly small office in Sydney. We recruited accountants and business support roles in Sydney. Now we have more than 100 staff across eight offices, and we have consultants working across 10 different specialist areas in Australia and New Zealand. Being a part of that growth has been so rewarding. Like any high growth organisation, we have had some inevitable growing pains, but I am so proud that the values and professionalism of people2people has not wavered as we’ve grown. I’m a passionately proud p2p person!"


We know that you’ve been a mentor for Christina Sclavos, Manager of our Sydney CBD office, since day one when she started as a graduate. Would you have any advice when it comes to mentorship? Did you know she was going to become a leader?

"Working with Christina and seeing her develop from a graduate to her current senior leadership position, has been a highlight of my time with people2people. Her success is 99.9% due to her aptitude and effort, but I do feel proud of the small role I’ve played in her development. Did I know she would go far when I first met her? Yes. She definitely had the makings of someone who could be very successful, but not everyone with the raw talent can harness it the way she has been able to do.

The biggest lesson I’ve learned about leadership and mentoring is that you have to trust your people enough to give them space to learn and make mistakes. Of course, on day one, a green as green rookie will need a lot of direction and guidance, but over time you need to have enough trust to let go of (some) control and give them room to learn and grow. You must accept the inevitable mistakes that form a part of that journey. I’ve been fortunate to have some great mentors in my life, and the common theme has been that they’ve instilled in me confidence that I could tackle tricky situations, mostly because they trusted me to navigate them, when I’m sure it would have been easier for them to just ‘handle it’. I was given just enough support and coaching to make sure I didn’t make a total mess, but I was empowered to control the situation, and held accountable for the consequences. That mentoring has formed the foundation of my skills and my confidence and I try to lead and mentor in the same way."


What makes you tick every day?

"I am very aware of how fortunate my life is, and I am driven to make the most of the opportunities I’ve been lucky enough to have. I’m not very good at sitting still, I always need to be doing something! The most important thing to me is being a good role model for my daughters. I want them to grow up with the example of a strong, hard-working, resilient, focused and kind Mum, and I work hard every day to make them proud. If I get to the end of my life and I’ve done that, then I’ve had a good life."


Who would be the 2019 Woman of the year for you?

"The woman of the year, every year for me would be my Mum. Mum is quite exceptional. She was an accomplished and highly regarded psychologist before retiring and can always be relied on for sage and sound advice. She is made of the strongest stuff. Mum has had to face the unbearable pain of losing one of her children, and the strength she has shown in the wake of such heartache is remarkable. I appreciate her strength all the more since becoming a parent myself. Whenever I feel a bit sorry for myself, I think of the strength and bravery of my mother and I soldier on.

There were a lot of women in the public eye in 2019 who I have admired greatly. Jacinda Ardern showed that strong leadership could go hand in hand with empathy and compassion; Rosie Batty continued to show the most extraordinary strength and grace as she relentlessly shines a light on domestic violence; and Greta Thunberg managed to mobilise people across the globe to take action on climate change, at the tender age of 16. Any of these women, and many more, are deserving of recognition for their contribution to our world."


What’s one thing that people usually underestimate in leadership?

"I’m going to say two things – humility and humanity. There can be so much pressure for leaders to get it right, to be ‘always on’, that it can breed a tendency for leaders to project an image that they always have all the answers, and that they are impervious to life’s challenges. Leaders are people too. They have families, and insecurities, and limitations just like everyone else, leaders who are brave enough to show some of these vulnerabilities can command great trust and respect from their teams. Great leaders are also humble in success, and wise enough to know when to admit they don’t know the answer!"


Recruitment can be a very time-consuming job. How do you manage your mental health?

"Exercise! I honestly don’t think I could manage the demands of my job/family/life without it. I am addicted to the gym and work-out with the same group of slightly crazy friends at 5.00 am every morning. It sets the tone for my whole day and if I have to miss my morning gym session, I feel the effects all day. I also try to make weekends all about friends and family. The weeks are hectic but come the weekend, I am focused on connecting and recharging with the people I love."


What’s one thing that you think makes the difference in your team?

"The NSW team genuinely celebrates each other successes. Of course, there is a healthy competition amongst the team, but it’s never about wanting to push each other down. We have a team that pushes each other to improve and so everyone rises together. We also have a lot of fun – there is a lot of laughter in the office every single day."


What’s the next step for p2p New South Wales?

"We are focused on continuing to take market share across our specialist areas. Western Sydney continues to be a high growth area in Sydney, and we are focusing on growing our team and our footprint in Western Sydney. We’ve got a great team of people, and we are well positioned for success in 2020 and beyond."


Read our 8 lessons from 8 women.