Renee Garner describes herself as a “reformed Freehills lawyer who fell in love with sales and marketing, and never looked back”.
Garner manages a team of 34 as chief marketing officer at telecommunications and energy plan provider amaysim. But her journey to this point in her career has been a varied one: before joining amaysim in October last year, Garner was chief operating officer ar RevTech Media, and before that, she held several leadership positions at EnergyAustralia.
In this edited Q&A with SmartCompany, Garner reflects on the skills she picked up in each of these roles, how mentorship has been an essential ingredient to her career success, and the big marketing trend all Australian businesses should be paying attention to.
If you could describe your career journey in one sentence, what would it be?
Creating opportunities, jumping in the deep end and making waves (or at least trying to) — in the deep is where the fun, challenge and growth lives.
From law, to energy, to tech, and now telecommunications, you’ve worked in a variety of industries. What skills did each of these experiences give you, and how are you using them in your current role?
Where do I begin? In my early days as a lawyer at Freehills, I quickly learnt the power of questions in guiding critical thinking and problem solving, and the ability to navigate complex environments across any industry.
Anyone that has worked with startups knows you need to follow the money and make every dollar sweat hard as if it were your own — a valuable lesson learnt leading commercial and operations at RevTech Media. Hunting growth under constraint has definitely refined my hustle.
I’ve learnt to drive hard at performance and have an edge in decision-making, especially in ambiguous situations. One of my mantras is “run to the red and be proud of the green” — full credit for that one goes to my incredible mentor and former boss, Kim Clarke.
In leading people across multiple businesses, I’ve learnt energising my team around a winning ambition is more powerful than driving my business like a project. The best times of my career have been experiencing the blood, sweat and victory laps of going after big bold goals with my workmates and teams.
At amaysim, Peter O’Connell inspires me each day to lead with my heart. I can’t wait to look back in two years’ time and see how this experience shapes my style of leadership for the good.
There are sections of these industries that are still very much dominated by men. Has this presented challenges throughout your career? If so, how did you tackle them?
I’ve always thought of this as an opportunity as it creates the white space to make an impact.
I’m a huge believer that being a woman brings a diverse and valuable perspective to business challenges, and so in these environments, it’s been all about drawing on my courage, confidence and resilience. Courage to throw myself into the mix, confidence to make my voice heard, and to be graciously resilient in my pursuit.
I’ve been very fortunate to have been led by inspiring women such as Catherine Tanna, Kim Clarke and Clare Savage who I have a lot to thank for my development.
I have also worked with many extremely supportive, open and encouraging men during my career — the best ones have been those who have challenged me to push myself out of my comfort zone, who invested in me with their time and effort, and coached me for growth.
What excites me the most about the future of these industries is the opportunity to bring more bright women to the table, because we know with diversity, we can deliver better results. My commitment is to leverage my experience, influence and networks to support these women to grow, thrive and succeed in their ambitions, whatever they may be!
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Looking back, is there something you know now that you wished you knew when you first embarked on your career?
Don’t hold back from being ‘you’. Be confident in sharing your truth — your passion, your ideas, your quirks (and boy do I have some), your dreams and your fears.
It takes courage to show up each day and shine all of your magnificent self to the world. Where others’ ill intent tries to bring you down, use your glorious wings to rise high above it.
What does your daily work life look like?
Day-to-day I divide my time between executive strategic matters (e.g. company results and board capability investments) and leading my team of sales and marketing superstars.
I’m an early starter as I love my evenings to spend time with my family and friends.
Before 9am is my sacred numbers and thinking time — in my mind I put a big flashing ‘DO NOT DISTURB’ sign over this period of the day. It’s the difference between me feeling on my A-Game versus just in control.
After that, it’s the quintessential battle with the diary which, despite best efforts, and even post-coffee reckless culling, manages to be more jammed up than my shoe cupboard.
For our marketing team, the focus is on driving excellence in marketing strategy and planning, execution and sales performance management. I’m all about having a consistent operating rhythm in place across teams to dive absolute alignment and enable cat-like agility. So, each week it’s the same: Monday Stand Up (plan), Tuesday Hot Spots (performance) and Friday Reflections (reflection).
How would you describe your leadership style?
Three words: energetic, edge and execution… with a healthy side of fun. Fun makes hard work easy!
What’s your best piece of advice for motivating the people you manage?
Get after it. If you want to achieve something, know that when you look closely, there are often very few things truly standing in your way.
Don’t ask for permission, break free from self-doubt, dig deep and start doing.
You’ve been both a mentor and a mentee. Can you describe your experiences? How important is mentorship for women looking to take their career to the next level?
These experiences are immensely important!
I believe the key to a young women’s career success is confidence and connections. Many young women that I meet and/or mentor are often incredibly bright and competent. After exploring their aspirations a little further I’ve found that it’s often their confidence that’s holding them back — holding them back from having a tough conversation, holding them back from pitching a big idea for fear of failure, holding them back voicing their true aspiration to their boss.
My mentors have been instrumental giving me the confidence, perspective and courage in different scenarios, by sharing their experiences of courage, failures, wins and vulnerability with me. As a mentor, I feel a great sense of obligation in this respect, and as a mentee, I feel a huge sense of gratitude for the opportunity.
Whether you are the mentee or the mentor, the conversations are two-way, like a beautiful dance, and you both walk away feeling energised and better for it.
Building out a strong professional network is also critically important as a young woman starting out because, over the years, it’s your network that becomes a source of inspiration, knowledge and fruitful avenues to create the opportunities to make an impact.
If you don’t have a mentor, start by asking your managers and peers if they can introduce you to someone in their network.
Or (even better) find someone that inspires you on LinkedIn and reach out to them asking for 15 minute-speed coffee! What’s the worst that can happen? They reject you, but you still stay magnificent.
What piece of advice would you give to a young woman starting her career today?
Create opportunities to do what you love. If you don’t know what that is, start doing and you will quickly find out what sparks you.
Give your best every day, put your hand up for new opportunities so that you stay operating at your ‘edge’, keep moving forward and don’t walk past bad behaviour or let anyone try to tarnish your star.
Be courageous in your pursuits and know it’s okay to ask for help where you need it. The joy in all of this is knowing that you had a crack and left nothing on the table!
Women make up 52% of the amaysim workforce. How does the company actively support gender equality, and what does that mean for a daily basis in your role?
Having no gender pay gap and a paid parental leave program that is designed with both women and men in mind, flexible working arrangements for all employees, and diversity within the senior leadership team, all go a long way to promoting gender equality.
On a daily basis, this means we can offer the best place to work for the best talent in the market, both men and women, who bring their energy, and diverse perspectives and ideas to the table. They win, our business wins!
What do Australian companies need to get better at to ensure true diversity, and better opportunities for people of all genders, races, and social backgrounds?
Companies are becoming a lot more open to talking about inclusion for all groups and are aware of the social and commercial advantages of doing so. It all begins with recruitment.
Diversity in employees means diversity in experience and better outcomes for the company as a whole.
As a CMO, you are in a unique position to see what’s in store for the marketing sector over coming months. What’s the biggest marketing trend Australian businesses need to understand this year?
The big topic now is around the importance of brand marketing in driving long-term growth, and finding the right mix of performance versus awareness marketing to deliver short term imperatives.
Across Australia, we’re seeing more middle Australians are under financial pressure and looking to get ahead. The opportunity is to help these Australians address the cost of living pressures through great value products and services, while delivering them in a way that lets them know “we have your back”.
No surprises, no ‘got ya’ moments, just real customer care.