Women in Strategy - Success Series- Viv Ronnebeck, Director Group Strategy, AMP
Viv’s career has spanned over 15 years in financial services, with more than ten of these in in-house strategy roles. She is currently Director, Group Strategy at AMP. Prior to joining AMP Viv held senior strategy positions in the corporate and retail banking industries both in Australia and the UK. Viv is also a published novelist.
Taking risks: I’ve always actively sought out new experiences. Life is too short to play it safe! I reduce the downside by weighing up whether more doors are opened than closed, and also consider the opportunity cost of not taking the plunge.
Having a purpose: I think to be successful it’s important to find a purpose in what you’re doing. I get a huge amount of satisfaction from working with executive teams to answer complex, enterprise-level questions in a way that drives to better outcomes in a very practical way. Having a purpose has helped me maintain motivation and resilience when things get difficult.
Enjoying what I do and leveraging my strengths: It helps to do work that you enjoy and which plays to your natural strengths and interests. I came into strategy after completing a full-time MBA. My previous experience had been in asset and wealth management, but through the MBA I realised strategy was my real passion. For me, strategy work is a nice balance of the analytical and the creative, the right-brain and the left-brain.
People: I’ve also been lucky to have had a number of strong supporters over my career. A range of people (mostly, but not exclusively women), who offered up a listening ear, gave advice and created pathways. I also rely hugely on my team. Strategy people tend to be highly intelligent, created and motivated, and I’m regularly blown away by their talent and drive.
Have there been any career defining moments?
In 2007 I moved to London and started work at Lloyds TSB (which became Lloyds Banking Group). This was a wonderful opportunity – I received a promotion into a leadership position, and learnt a great deal from operating within a new financial and banking system, and a new culture at a country and firm level. In 2008, LBG became at the epicentre of the GFC. These were a once-in-a-lifetime set of circumstances, and this period was one of the most challenging and rewarding parts of my career. Challenging because of the level of uncertainty and ambiguity, and the complexity of the strategic challenges. And in fact, these issues also made it the most rewarding. I learnt a lot.
I returned to Sydney to lead the strategy team for the Australian division of LBG. This was a much smaller business than I had worked in before, but I was part of an executive leadership team, reporting to the CEO, which gave me a breadth of responsibilities beyond strategy. The strategic challenges were very interesting here too as the role of the Australian business was being debated given the context of the Group.
After many years of intense strategy work, I decided to take a sabbatical and pursue other interests. This included a foray into the start-up world, and the writing industry. I became a non-executive Director, then Chairman of the NSW Writers’ Centre – the peak writing body in NSW. I wrote a spy thriller, which I self-published, and I’m more recently supported by a literary agent based in New York. When I made the decision to step-off the corporate path, it felt like a large and risky decision. In hindsight it was one of the best decisions I’ve made – I was able to spend some time doing what I loved but hadn’t had the time to do while working, and the unconventional move has helped rather than hindered my career.
What advice would you give to other females looking to pursue a career in Strategy?
There are two broad career options in strategy – management consulting and in-house strategy functions – and there are differences between the two. In-house strategy functions are typically more focused on strategic planning activities, delve relatively deeper into the strategy work to enable the work to be implemented by the business, require strong levels of EQ skills at all levels to be influential and credible over the long term. In-house strategy is a good bridge to in-house P&L roles. Management consulting provides the opportunity to work on many different types of strategic problems in different industries and firms, understand and apply best practice to help companies with their strategic challenges, and each firm provides strong in-house methodology and a rich culture.
It’s worth considering where your preference lies, and there is typically quite a lot of movement between the two. I have exclusively worked in in-house strategy functions. If you’re interested in in-house strategy roles, you really need to start in quite junior roles, or enter later in your career after completing an MBA, or from management consulting.
My general advice to women, is to spend more time networking. This word can have such negative connotations, but really, it’s about building relationships with people, having conversations, learning from and helping each other – the kinds of things women do really well when it’s not called networking. Business is all about relationships, and having a broad range of contacts can help you do your current role better by providing more information, different ways of thinking, a way to test ideas, and it could also open your eyes to new opportunities.