Always moving towards the top: Kate Vale

Always moving towards the top: Kate Vale

Company: Spotify

Title: Managing director, Australia and New Zealand

Studies: Bachelor of Business, Monash University

Motivation: “The minute I got a taste for working in a business and an organisation I wanted to work my way up the ranks.”

Top tip for leadership: “Passion is the number one thing I look for. You need to be passionate about what you do, or it won’t succeed.”

Kate Vale always wanted the top job.

The responsibility of running your own business is not something many have a calling for early in life.

Even business graduates don’t all want CEO before their name – they become consultants instead. It’s safer, after all.

But after a taste of studying at Monash University, and then becoming Google’s first Australian employee, Vale said she got a taste of success. And she wanted more.

“I didn’t realise straight away, but the minute I got a taste for working in a business, I wanted to work my way up the ranks,” she says.

“There’s a real sense of achievement in being able to run a business. I’ve had the benefit of working from a start-up to a higher level of success, and it’s just completely different than when everything is set up for you.”

Vale studied a Bachelor of Business at Monash University in Melbourne, but although she enjoyed the study, it was working part-time that really helped her gain an appreciation for education.

“Being able to apply what I was learning into those businesses was great,” she says. “I was never great with numbers, so being able to study statistics, and accounting and being able to apply those at work meant a lot.”

Vale started as the human resources manager of Gadens Lawyers, where she says she developed a taste for “achievement”.

But it was after running sales for OzEmail and Looksmart International that Vale finally had the chance to move up – she was hired as Google’s first employee in Australia.

There was no fancy office in 1998, or free lunches – Vale was selling advertising from her living room. But it was at Google where Vale says she was able to hone her leadership skills.

“Google was very good at developing leaders,” she says. “They had a formal program set up, a type of leadership development program.

Once you reached directorship they did a lot of coaching and development, and much of that was one-on-one. “But perhaps one of the best things was being able to share information within the company around the globe.”

But while Vale was especially grateful of all the leadership training she gained at Google, her own approach has differed slightly – she opts for a more informal approach now she has the top job at Spotify Australia and New Zealand.

“I particularly like the unstructured format. I find so many people are good at different things, and too many mentors are not good at everything. I just call people up when I need help in that specific area.”

Even though Vale enjoyed her time at university, this informal approach has dominated her corporate style – she briefly considered studying an MBA but decided against it.

“I got all the application forms ready, and I was ready to do it, but I was learning so much on the job. “In the end, I think I effectively studied my MBA at Google.”

But despite Vale’s detour from formal education further along in her career, she says she has a soft spot for university graduates. Two of her best hires were straight out of university, she says, noting it’s often better to receive more practical education when coming straight out of a theory-heavy setting.

“I don’t place a lot of emphasis on it, but generally those who have been to university are quite smart, and these hires in particular have had experience doing something. “One has set up their own website selling yoga gear. Their cover letters showed me such great enthusiasm for joining and learning.”

While on the job, Vale practices what she preaches – the graduates have access to experiencing the types of jobs they want to fulfil. “As long as they’re constantly learning, they’re in a good position. So you need to come up with creative ways in which to keep them interested.

“I have a sales planner who wants to move into marketing. So I make sure she moves into marketing meetings as often as possible, for instance.

“As long as people have the time to do it, and they’re keen to do it, I think it’s really important to share that experience with them.” That informal experience, she says, will ultimately breed better leaders – all that people need is a little challenge.

“But above all, passion is the number one thing I look for,” she says. “You need to be passionate about what you do – always.”

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