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Meet 7 women thriving at Australian Unity’s Wealth & Capital Markets

Media
08 Mar 2019


From left to right Yen Wong, Geraldine Barlow, Jelena Stevanovic, Nikki Panagopoulos, Yvonne Chu, Karina Bader, Emma Sakellaris

In celebration of International Women’s Day (Friday 8 March), we are featuring seven of our female leaders across Australian Unity’s Wealth & Capital Markets platform. Each of the women are experts in their respective fields and their career trajectories demonstrate the depth and breadth of experiences they each bring to their role at Australian Unity.


 

1. Geraldine Barlow, Executive General Manager, Investments

When and why did you join Australian Unity?

After working in the US for many years, I joined Australian Unity in April 2016. It was a refreshing change to be part of an organisation who puts members and customers first and makes a true difference in the community. Australian Unity’s mutual structure enables a long-term view to be taken – which is critical in investing and creating strategic partnerships.

Gender balance is crucial for economies and communities to thrive. What’s an example where you see balance effectively at play?

A great example of diversity at play is our Executive Committee for the Wealth and Capital Markets platform within Australian Unity – which has more female leaders than male. David Bryant, our CEO has done a great job building such a diverse team. He is focused on having the best and brightest minds around him to grow the business and to tackle strategic challenges.

It’s 2019 – what advice would you give to your 19-year-old self?

Looking back, I wouldn’t change too much but I would tell myself to trust my judgement, be resolute, bold, and courageous in tackling challenges and to get the right people in place early to help with transformational initiatives. Probably most of all, if I am to be truly honest, don’t work so hard!

 

2. Jelena Stevanovic, Portfolio Manager/Senior Equities Analyst, Platypus Asset Management

When and why did you join Platypus Asset Management?

I joined Platypus Asset Management in October 2008. I had started a graduate program with Deloitte and was about three years into my professional career but was looking for a change. I was extremely happy with the technical experience that the job provided but at that point, I was looking to have more accountability for my decisions. I wanted to take my career down a path where I would be a part of investment decision making and be accountable for the outcomes, which is what led me to Platypus.

What do you think will have a significant impact on your sector in the next 5-10 years, and what opportunities do you see stemming from this?

Product innovation is enabling the rise of passive investments. Over the next 5-10 years active managers will have to demonstrate their value add to investors with no place for products that claim to be active but simply hug the index. I see this is as a huge opportunity for Platypus Asset Management, as we have always been set up to deliver alpha, to not hide behind the index and take best risk-reward.

Who do you look to as an inspiring leader and why?

People that inspire me tend to have the following characteristics – social consciousness and awareness, humility, hardworking and inquisitive. I am always inspired by people who are not afraid to accept a challenge yet have awareness of their own limitations, for people who are always willing to learn not just from their own but other people’s experiences.

 

3. Nikki Panagopoulos, Fund Manager, Property

When and why did you join Australian Unity?

I joined Australian Unity in 2004 primarily because at the time my manager (who I would classify as an inspiring leader), offered me unqualified flexibility and trust. This trust flowed to my current role where I’ve repositioned and re-invigorated the products under my jurisdiction adopting Australian Unity values and always putting investor’s/customers front of mind.  

What’s the biggest challenge in your career that you’ve overcome?

I have three children, two who are now young adults and one at high school. Something I always regret is not having been around enough for them while juggling a job that requires interstate travel, commitment, and long hours. I regret missing birthdays and other special events over their childhoods because these can never be recovered. However, I also know that my work is a fundamental part of who I am. The pride I have in my achievements and working relationships have undoubtedly made me a better mother, wife and person over the years, despite having never achieved that elusive work/life balance.

It’s 2019 – what advice would you give to your 19-year-old self?

Don’t be afraid, follow your dreams and challenge yourself as you can do anything, make more courageous decisions and trust your gut – particularly when taking financial risks.  

 

4. Emma Sakellaris, Executive General Manager, Australian Unity Trustees Limited.

When and why did you join Australian Unity Trustees?

I joined in February 2016 as I was attracted to the unique opportunity to build a trustee company within a values-driven, mutual organisational structure, which was genuinely focussed on providing care and security to vulnerable members of our communities. Opportunities such as this just do not come along very often.

Gender balance is crucial for economies and communities to thrive. What’s an example where you see balance effectively at play?

A key objective for women is not seeking balance as a standalone goal. Rather women should focus on making choices to support them living their most secure, fulfilling life possible, however long they live. The choices made that put in place plans, protections and solutions for a future time or event, are so very critical to the empowerment and dignity of women throughout their lives, but particularly as they age and become frailer and more vulnerable. The education and empowerment of people is crucial, and gender balance can then also evolve and communities, and all community members, can thrive.

Who do you look to as an inspiring leader and why?

Susan Alberti, she has achieved tremendous business success through challenging circumstances, and demonstrated such inspiring leadership and support for women in sport, particularly AFLW. As someone who loves boxing, in my mind there is again such a strong theme of choice – supporting women to make choices about their lives; their journey; and their success. Gender equality is really about empowered, educated choice for all members of our communities.

 

5. Yvonne Chu, Head of Technical Services, Advice

When and why did you join Australian Unity?

I joined Australian Unity in 2018. After spending more than 13 years in a large bank, I was looking forward to working more directly with advisers in a licensee head office environment. The broad range of strategic advice offered by our planners was also a big attraction.

What do you think will have a significant impact on your sector in the next 5-10 years, and what opportunities do you see stemming from this?

The financial planning sector is currently going through a big transformation. With mandatory education requirements, as well as increased compliance requirements, we are already seeing large numbers of people exiting the sector. However, this presents opportunities as the need for quality and affordable financial advice continues to grow with an ageing population. Financial advisers who are likely to succeed in the long-run will be those that can prove they have an ethical and client-focused operation, transparent fee structures, as well as the ability to clearly articulate the value of their service to clients.

What’s the biggest challenge in your career that you’ve overcome?

Definitely public speaking. Anyone who went to school with me would say I was quiet, shy, and nerdy. While it wasn’t an easy process, I’m happy to say I recently delivered a presentation to a couple of hundred people at a conference without too much nerve. It’s so true that you should always challenge yourself as you might be surprised to find out what you are capable of.

 

6. Yen Wong, Head of Credit Research, Altius Asset Management  

When and why did you join Altius Asset Management?
I joined Altius Asset Management in 2017. I was attracted to the role, Head of Credit Research, and the responsibility for integrating ESGs and risk into the investment process. Also, I was drawn to the opportunity to work in a team who is passionate about sustainability and to be associated with the Sustainable Bond Fund.

Who do you look to as an inspiring leader and why? 
Greta Thunberg – 16-year-old Swedish political activist and young changemaker. Greta has not just started her war on climate change with a school strike, but she has stood up to world leaders demanding they take more action to protect their futures and those of future generations.

Gender balance is crucial for economies and communities to thrive. What’s an example where you see balance effectively at play?
Tennis grand slam equal prize money! However, there is still a huge gender gap in earnings power in the sport, as there is elsewhere and highlights the need to address the gap.

7. Karina Bader, Resources and Energy Analyst, Acorn Capital

 

When and why did you join Acorn Capital?

I joined Acorn Capital in November 2009. What appealed to me was the opportunity to incorporate my technical, strategic, and financial skills into one role. I enjoy applying my skills in order to make investment decisions across a broad range of commodities and countries. To this day, I thrive on Acorn’s dynamic environment that requires me to get up to speed on copper, lithium or uranium assets from any country on the planet.

 

What’s the biggest challenge in your career that you’ve overcome?

My biggest challenge was being made redundant in my mid-twenties and looking for work in different industries compared to my prior experience. I found a job in a new industry within six months, but I was a left field candidate and had to convince recruiters of my broader skill sets and competencies.

 

It’s 2019 – what advice would you give to your 19-year-old self?

Don’t worry about what others say – they have never walked in your shoes. Trust that you deserve to be here and to be rewarded for your work and outcomes. Also, never be afraid to speak up and back yourself to deliver.