Story to Success with Joanne Thrift, Group CMO of Pepper Financial Services
Last Wednesday the Parity team set up the office ready for the very first Story to Success event in Sydney. We had locked in the amazing Joanne Thrift, Group Chief Marketing Officer of Pepper Financial Services to speak. With a compelling line-up of questions for Joanne, a response rate to the event one of the best we have had – with most seats filling up within the first few days of the event being announced – we were very excited to hear Joanne’s story to success!
Jo joined Pepper in November 2014 in the role of Chief Marketing Officer. As a senior marketing professional with over 20 years’ experience in Financial Services, Jo has held other senior roles before joining Pepper, including Head of Marketing for the Business Banking division at Macquarie, the Institute of Chartered Accountants, Lloyds Insurance Corporation in the UK and as a marketing consultant for Endgame Communications in Australia.
Jo had suggested the amazing concept of an “interview style” format to the event which we loved and adopted for the evening. As everyone began to take their seats, Jo and Victoria, Managing Director of Parity Consulting took their seats and Victoria shared a few things about Jo that the audience would not have known. One that may come as no surprise for such a determined, passionate and hardworking individual, was that Jo has managed and owned two small business in her career. Other facts that came as a surprise included that Jo is not active on any social media, and that she has managed to book three overseas holidays within a 12-month period and combined with travelling for work, is travelling to 7 different countries over this period!
Speaking with Jo, you only need a few minutes to realise she is not your typical C suite professional. Jo sits not only on the Australian Executive Board but also the Global Executive Board, and is into her 4th year as Group Chief Marketing Officer at Pepper Financial Services. She smiles as she says her role at Pepper has been her most enjoyable yet, and it’s easy to see how much she genuinely cares for her team and organisation.
First and foremost, with it being 20 years since starting her career in financial services, what were the key steps Jo took to reach her goal of being a CMO?
Jo is a firm believer of doing the hard yards in order to get where you need to, or want to be. She remembers her time at Macquarie where she worked alongside a handful of people to build a Marketing function from scratch, learning very quickly that it is essential to have the influence of everyone on board in order to see success.
She then spoke about the 4 years she spent working for herself, saying that she had never worked harder than those 4 years. She states it was essentially marketing in concentration.
Touching on her current role at Pepper, she has not only remediated a team, but assisted in repositioning the company for listing on the Australian Stock Exchange while also making a significant change to the whole group’s brand and value statement, leaving something of a legacy on the organisation.
What Jo takes away from her years of various experience is that every step she took in her career gave her an added confidence in her abilities, which in turn assisted her in getting to where she is now at Pepper.
So, what does a typical day as a Group CMO look like?
Jo has a very diversified set of responsibilities, so in addition to being in and out of meetings, she sits on the board for both the Australian and Global Executive teams and looks after 4 Marketing teams. She admits the majority of her time is spent in meetings where she not only guides them, but asks questions and does a lot of listening. At the end of the day when she leaves the office, she says she barely has room in her head for anything else – so she holds close to her the importance of being in the moment and mindful, because if not, she risks moments of disengagement and not being able to add value.
Victoria then went off script to look at Jo incredulously and ask “I just need to know…. just how do you do that?”
Jo simply said that it is important to have a clear focus and keep in font of mind what needs to be done. She went on to tell the group of a past experience where she introduced and made significant changes to Pepper Group’s global brand strategy. Jo admitted that some members of the Global Executive team probably wondered to themselves: “who is this person from Australia saying we have to reset our value statement!”. Whatever project or brief you have, it needs to be water-tight. Having a clear path to execution and always keeping in mind how something will create value for the organisation is key.
Jo went on to successfully reset and roll out the new values mission statements across the Pepper group: “Can Do”, “Balanced” and “Keep It Real” – these are essentially qualities which are at the heart of the Pepper brand. Never one to accept sole recognition, Jo was quick to point out the assistance she received from her team on this overall branding project.
Jo follows the rock, pebbles and sand analogy – where when presented with a large empty glass jar, if you don’t put the big rocks in first before the pebbles and sand, you’ll never be able to fit them into your jar. The meaning behind the big rocks will be different for each person, but for most, they stand for things like family, friends and health; followed by the pebbles which may represent the things in your life that matter, but you could live without; and finally, the sand, which represents the material possessions in your life which are nice to have. Being able to identify the important things in your life and letting go of the things that are not on that list, is critical to ensure a healthy work-life balance and getting to most out of yourself.
What is the best piece of career advice that Jo has been given?
Jo shared that she has been very lucky to have had the opportunity to attend numerous leadership training courses, and be surrounded by a lot of great mentors. She truly believes in the saying that you have to go slow in order to go fast – the planning, strategising and thinking behind a project or idea is the most important part in the process. Essentially, you need to spend 80% of your time planning and 20% on executing the plan.
Jo also touches on her tips for how to influence someone who is difficult, for example a CEO. She states it is not as consequential as you think and the key is to plan before the meeting. Think about how they think and remove yourself from any prejudgements. By managing your mindset, you will be able to view a new interaction with someone as a new opportunity.
Jo also spoke about the difficulties of say, a woman, breaking into the boys’ club. She admitted that it can be hard to break into such a clique, but found that building individual relationships and working your way in by default has worked in her favour. It is all about relationships and networks and the ability to manage up instead of across.
What is something in Marketing that didn’t exist 5 years ago that is now a non-negotiable? In Jo’s opinion, what does she foresee coming up in the next 5 years?
Trying to steer clear of the obvious answers of experience across digital and data being non-negotiables when hiring for many roles today, Jo explained that 5 years ago, organisations were not buying up various fintech’s or building innovation centres. With the paradigms shift with the Royal Commission at the moment, Jo states this may be a step forward within organisations – with a focus on the customers’ best interest.
Going back to the obvious need for digital moving forward, Jo is aware that there has been and will be an enormous shift in customers taking to social media. Following on from this, the importance of being able to reach and connect with audiences via all channels.
How did Jo set herself apart from others who wanted the same role?
Jo admits that she has never operated in that sort of way and doesn’t believe it is possible to compare a CMO role in one company to a CMO role in another. She states that her genuine feeling of always having the best interest of the company at heart has always been at the forefront of how she works. Jo referred to the All Blacks mantra of “in the belly, not the back” which stresses the importance of genuine and regular feedback to (and within) team; being truthful to your team and working collaboratively and genuinely within that team. From the way Jo speaks of her team, it’s easy to see that she cares very deeply for all of them and is proud of what her team have achieved and continue to achieve. For Jo, it is very much a team effort.
What does success look like for Jo and her broader team?
Jo states that they recently set a group strategy to ensure everyone was on the same page and had clear pillars to work towards, while setting objectives around them.
With marketing, Jo believes it is often the case where some people still struggle to see the value of a group strategy or do not fully understand what it is. So, for Jo and her team, achieving what they set out to achieve and making sure everybody is happy and included, is the most important way to measure and achieve success.
How does Jo motivate her team?
Pepper is a great organisation where the culture is something to be proud of. Peoples’ success is not only acknowledged, but rewarded. Even with an eclectic mix of people within a team, they maintain the ethos that it is important to have fun. Jo confidently states that all individuals within those teams have developed trust and faith in each other, motivating one another to succeed and in turn, seeing the team succeed as a whole.
Jo shared a challenge she has and still faces is the ability to maintain a “poker face”. Her best interests lie with both the organisation she works for, and also the team who look to her for guidance. She admits there are times where she has had to ask and answer difficult questions within numerous boardroom meetings, at times trying to get the best result for challenges her team may be experiencing, and then having to walk out with her poker face on, assuring her team that it is business as usual without disappointing them if the result comes out as unfavourable.
Has Jo had any epic fails in her career?
The audience laughed as Jo tried to re-call an ‘epic fail’ she may have experienced. Jo then answers, saying that something she relies on in times of difficulty (or failure), is her ability to constantly adjust and improve. No matter how small an improvement is, it is still an improvement and it is this that has continued to give her the momentum to keep moving forward. Jo admits that we can never always get it right – there is an element of being able to keep learning in everything we do. Keeping this is mind and not allowing yourself to be discouraged at these times is key. Another piece of advice she shared was: “don’t open your mouth unless it’s worthwhile”.
With other obstacles, Jo says that 15 years ago, nobody knew what marketing was. She remembers feeling lonely, while struggling to present an idea or to contribute, all whilst reporting into a CFO who didn’t necessarily see her marketing priorities at the same level that she may have. She learnt from this experience however, to spin an idea in a completely different way so that people who weren’t necessarily in marketing, understood her pitch and were able to get on board. This is also when she understood the need to have the influence of everyone, to have them all on board of an idea.
A big thank you to the delightful Joanne Thrift for taking the time to join us in sharing her personal story and insights.
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