I finished school not knowing what I wanted to do workwise. When I went to visit my School’s career counsellor for advice, I saw a brochure in her office with a tall office building on the front of it and thought, ‘That looks interesting!’ I applied and was accepted into RMIT. At that stage, RMIT was the only University in Melbourne who was offering the Property degree but I found it to be a great degree that provided a lot of practical training.
I worked at several smaller boutique property companies, before I was offered a role at Colliers International. That really kick-started my career. I was there for fifteen years and I was fortunate to be offered a number of amazing opportunities along the way. I started in Property Management as most people do. Then moved into a corporate role managing a major account. I moved to Sydney to work in-house for my client and shortIy thereafter I was asked to return to Melbourne to head up the Real Estate Management division.
I was quite young, not yet thirty, when I became a Director at Colliers. At the time, only one of a handful of women were in a senior leadership role. Leading a large team of property and facility managers, I managed about thirty staff, a number of whom were men that were older and more experienced than me. It was a steep learning curve but a role I really enjoyed.
I went on maternity leave with my first child. My mum was terminally ill at the same time. Where I was in my life, I decided to go back to Colliers on a part time basis, but this time in a corporate role again. Cummins Inc was one of my Clients at the time and I was looking after their properties at a South Pacific level. Cummins is, essentially, an engineering and engine technology company. So that’s how my shift happened. I went on maternity leave again and they offered me a job when I returned to the work force.
The role I do now covers Asia Pacific which means a lot of travel. It was attractive, as previously I had always dealt in the Australian market. It gave me the opportunity to work with the leaders of the business in Asia Pacific; understanding their business and what their strategic direction is going to be. I support the business in terms of their current real estate needs and their long term strategic requirements.
I travel once a month or so. Although the longest stint I’ve done, I was away for two weeks. I went to Singapore, Japan and China. The culture within the Asia Pacific region is varied and can be challenging. In China if you say, ‘In my professional opinion we should proceed with this,’ they would have to meet the person, look them in the eye and feel trust. In Australia, they take your word for it. I have found that every country has its own business customs that you need to be aware and respectful of in order to be embraced.
Reading people differently is hard. When I started, I didn’t know the Singapore market and how regulated it is. In parts of Asia, you really have to have some good relationships with government and the different official parties. Australians are so laid back. We definitely have a different approach to doing business compared to Asia and the US, where I report into. We do have that tall poppy syndrome in Australia. People don’t like to see you better than they are. In an American company, they are always trying to improve, develop you and push you to succeed. That’s what I’ve found really quite refreshing. There’s a lot of very senior women in the US, which you can see as mentors. That’s been a nice change.
Australia’s a very mature market. When you look at it, Australia is small in the context, but the region can learn a lot from the way that we do things. Many of the region’s best practices come from Australia and we see at Cummins, that some of our best talent has come from Australia. In my role, I’ve been able to work with China and other part of Asia, to adopt best practises for each country’s success.
Corporate social responsibility, environmental sustainability and diversity are very important where I work and that drew me to the business. Cummins has a policy where every person, every year, has to give at least four hours of community service. Last year when I was in Columbus in the US, we did a programme where we packaged food for the hungry and recently I was folding pamphlets for foster care in Victoria. There’s a lot of fundraising and working with underprivileged. Anything that we do from a property perspective, we’re always making sure we are energy efficient, have the right building materials and manage everything the most efficiently that we can. They walk the talk. It’s ingrained in the business.
Seeking new challenges and always wanting to improve, drives me. I also love doing deals. Never settling for what we’ve done, but always improving. I also like imparting my knowledge as well. I like trying to mentor others. That’s the great thing about working in a company where property is not their core business, because I can pass on that knowledge.
I’d tell graduate Me that you can essentially achieve whatever you want. The sky’s the limit. You will continue to improve. Where you are at now, is not where you’ll end up. At Colliers I had a great mentor, who was the Managing Director of the Melbourne business and he would always push me and say ‘You can do that…’ He forced me out of my comfort zone.
Believe in yourself, never give up and put yourself out there. You never know what may come your way. I have a three year old daughter and a seven year old son. He loves me travelling, because he gets to play more Xbox with his Dad. So from his perspective it’s great! My daughter is a little more clingy, but getting used to it. She’s fairly independent. Already more independent than my son.
We met up with Gabbie in the foyer of the Royce Hotel, having snuck our wines over from The Amberoom, which seemed to be rather rowdy for a Thursday night. It is of course our constant battle to interview in quiet surrounds! We seem to always sit next to the one cackling woman in whichever place we go, or right next to a hidden speaker that will start blaring music once we sit down. Gabrielle is one of those people who are decidedly not self-important despite being very successful. She described her progression rather matter-of-factly, with a hint perhaps of her own surprise at what she has achieved. She has this complete self-assuredness that envelops her manner, born of hard work. It was also so exciting to hear her talk about why she has made her career moves. She is goal and challenge driven, in a stage when many people either just want to feel comfortable whilst raising a young family, or are too scared to leave their secure jobs. We wish her all the best in her adventures both at home and overseas. And thank her for being a part of the GAZELLA project.