Anna Thomas: The Employed Entrepreneur At Stockdale & Leggo

Congratulations to our Chief Operating Officer, Anna Thomas, who was interviewed for leading blog 'Woman with Drive' recently. 

For more than a decade, Anna Thomas ran her own consulting, recruitment and training company for blue-chip clients that included Telstra, Australian Air Express, Origin Energy and Officeworks. Three years ago, she took a step that appeared to be in a vastly different direction. She joined real estate company, Stockdale & Leggo, as its Chief Operating Officer. When asked about the driving force behind her move from entrepreneur to employee however, Anna’s chuckle indicated that the question was off the mark.

“So this is interesting,” she began. “I do not consider myself an employee. I am an entrepreneur that just happens to be employed by an organisation. I still have the ability to be very entrepreneurial in the sense of being able to bring different business facets into the network. It is no change for me whatsoever.”

And as woman with drive soon found out, that is precisely why Anna is saluted as one of the most prominent COOs in the real estate industry.

You have launched many initiatives since taking on this role. How did you drive change without stepping on toes and raising fears?

Because I did not come from a real estate background, I had to figure out how to be innovative but also get champions and buy-ins within the group so as to alleviate the fears.

What I did was share my ideas and thoughts with a committee of people, get their feedback, trial it with them, work out the bugs and get them to help me champion the initiative.

What was your biggest hurdle?

Earning my stripes and proving myself in this role because I had stuck my hand up to do it and I created so much change in such a short period of time. It has taken me 18 to 24 months to earn that credibility. To really show people that what I say is what they will get and that I own up to my mistakes.

Your self-confidence must have been rock solid for you to step up to this role.

I must admit there have been days when I have closed my door, burst into tears and wondered what the hell I was doing. But am I confident? Yes, because I believe in my team, our vision and the organisation.

Have I had my confidence rocked along the way? Absolutely. It is rocked when I think I have let someone down or failed to deliver on something. But I get up each time I am knocked down. My resilience is very strong.

What does no one tell you about stepping into a senior management role?

I wish someone told that when you move into senior leadership role, you have to be prepared for criticism. Because some of it can actually be hurtful. You just have to be aware of that and continue on with your vision.

When I first started, I was confronted by the whole, “She is blonde and just a bimbo and should be barefoot and pregnant behind the kitchen sink.” And I came out really fighting.

The other thing I wish someone told me is that you need to be creative in your thinking and approach. As a leader, you will get knockbacks. Not everyone is going to follow you all the time but it is your job to create a united front.

Tell us about the Empowering Women In Real Estate initiative that you are leading.

What I noticed in almost every industry I worked in is the lack of women in senior positions. Our own network has 485 women and when I joined, there were only 17 female principals.

I wanted to know why so two years ago I ran the first Empowering Women In Real Estate event. About 50 women attended and one of the biggest things that came up was their lack of confidence. I was amazed. And I wondered how we could widen our reach.

This year we opened the event to the industry and had 100 women attend. We had incredible speakers who focused on issues like dealing with conflict, branding yourself and asking for a raise. Next year’s event will be even bigger and could be opened to other industries too.

You yourself take on many speaking engagements. What was the most thought-provoking question you were asked at an event?

Do you have any regrets? I thought that was a fantastic question. At the time I answered that I did not but when I was driving home, I realised that I did.

I returned to work when my daughter was two-months-old and missed out on many special moments. But I am lucky enough to have an incredible relationship with her now.

Your contact details are made public on the company website. That is unusual for senior management. Why did you choose to do that?

I do not want to sit in an ivory tower. We have a very flat structure and there is nothing I would ask my staff to do that I would not do myself. And why hide? The public has a right to be able to communicate with us.

When we received a complaint recently, I put my mobile number on our Facebook page and urged the public to contact me. My title does not matter. At the end of the day, whether I am picking up the phone or standing in front of someone, they are our customers.

What three books would you hand a woman on her up the career ladder?

The Art of War by Sun Tzu, The Leader Who Had No Title by Robin Sharma and Inside The Magic Kingdom by Tom Connellan. The third book really changed my whole thought process and I now use it as part of our induction training. It is absolutely brilliant.

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