What I’ve really managed to do over my career is climb a career lattice rather than a ladder. It hasn’t been lineal. I’ve moved all over the place. Sought some time and opportunities outside of the property industry, but it’s always pulled me back in.
I fell into property at University. I studied a Bachelor of Business and was lucky enough to get into a pharmaceutical graduate programme. I lasted there about a year. It certainly wasn’t me. In those days the property degree wasn’t very popular. I found some work experience in a real estate company. I was headhunted by Lend Lease twelve months after that, to go work on the next development phase of the Penrith Plaza.
I really love creating products that people love. When you have the opportunity to work on a development or manage a property, where you’ve got the ability to make an improvement, you’re really able to draw on those great traits of consumer knowledge, retail finance and property development know-how. To put it in front of people, a real legacy for the future. I still go and visit some of the properties that I was involved in, to this day.
Property is a long term gain. There’s no winners or losers. It’s not like sport, where there has to be a loser in order for there to be a winner. There’s always collaboration. A way of being able to find a win for all. I like relationships and I like people. The property industry is somewhere that you can find a great group of people – your tribe. And that’s also kept me in – I feel like I have my tribe within the property industry.
Five years prior to coming back to work for CBRE, I took a career break to spend time with my children. I was developing Jackson’s Landing, when I found myself in the situation that my eldest was three and a half and my youngest was one and a half and I’d always been working. I went back to work within six months of the first child and six weeks of the second. My three year old son said, ‘Mummy, why were you the only one not at the bushwalk today?’ Of course I wasn’t the only one, but I was his Mum. So I went into work and said ‘I’m not coming back.’
I retrained myself as a fitness instructor and worked at a gym for five years. I was the oldest and the fattest out there. But I really understood my target market. I looked around the gym I went to and said ‘No one is twenty years old here with six pack abs. They are all mothers rehabilitating their pelvic floor.’ I really enjoyed my time there.
I ended up back in the property industry, through my network. I put my feelers out. One of the Mum’s at my school worked for CBRE. She alerted me to a job opportunity, which was a perfect twenty hours a week. I came back in as Marketing Manager, which is a job I could do very easily and it fitted in with the family plans.
Shortly after that, the National Director was made redundant and they looked around and said ‘You’re it’. I figured it was time to pull the big girl pants on and took the job. We’ve built the business by double. I’ve done that by bringing together a fantastic team and understanding the client. I’m not saying it was easy. However, taking that time off didn’t hinder how far I could go in my career! I was nervous going back. It’s like anything else -you put your mind to it, you retrain and within six months you’re ahead of the curve anyway because you’ve pushed yourself.
Never discount the value of the village. In my five years as a fitness instructor (I call them my ‘years of lycra’) I was also investing my time in the Mummy Mafia. Make sure those incredible women, are on your team. In my situation in Willoughby, most are University educated and have had very lucky lives. Some of them work, however, many chose not to work. They’re the ones you need on your team when you go back to work, so you’re not click-clacking in and click-clacking out and they’re all talking about you behind you back saying, ‘There’s that Mum, that never participates…’ I still take half an hour out of my working week, every week, to give back to that school community.
I forgave myself for ‘the guilt’ when I came back to work. I used to feel that if I wasn’t there by 7:30am and if I was leaving prior to 7:00pm, then I wasn’t doing my job properly. I guess as you climb the ladder and feel more confident with what you are delivering; you can take control of your time a bit more. If someone says ‘Can you be at this meeting at 9:00 o’clock on a Wednesday?’ I say ‘No, I’m volunteering at school and I will join you at 10:00am.’
I’m a big believer in strength based leadership. As you grow and develop through your career, you learn what you are good at. No longer do I sit myself down once a year and say ‘This is what I need to improve.’ The improvement is never about my weaknesses, it’s about making my strengths even better. I think when you’re in a role where you can deliver on your strengths, you’re going to be very successful.
It’s imperative that women hold senior leadership positions for two reasons. One, you need role models! You need to understand that someone has beaten that path before you. And two, confidence. Without these role models and senior women in positions of power, how can you as a women have the voice to speak up? To feel like you can have a say and have people absolutely understand your point of view? We do communicate differently.
I constantly do a health check of where I’m at with my career. Instinctively you feel when it’s time to move on. When you’ve set the goals and you’ve achieved them…then you know. Some of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my career, was to leave a job. You have got to back yourself. Sometimes you have to realise it’s not ‘failing’ to take a break. It is time to do something that makes you happier.
To reference Lean In, we need to support each other within the workplace. Shout out to each other. That will foster that feeling of strength from the top. Work hard on your network and work hard on your connections. Understand that those connections don’t have to be within your organisation. Reach out to other businesses and other parts of the industry.
I believe that you should have two wingmen wherever you are working. You should have one up from you, but also one down. That is; one you are also that you are bringing up and reaching out to, having a coffee with and giving advice to.
Thank goodness for digital devices! My husband and I run our lives by Microsoft Outlook. People laugh at us and think that we are over organised, but if it’s in the diary, it’s on. Balance is a lot of conversation and a lot of negotiation. Outsource your domestic infrastructure, the last thing I want to do on the weekend is fight over who’s turn it is to clean the toilet!
Try not to feel guilty about doing everything perfectly. There are some great deli’s out there that make you look like you can cook! And if it’s all going to be too hard, invite people to the local pub. You don’t have to be the perfect housewife. Exercise is imperative. I do F45 training every morning at 5:30am. I try to practice yoga a couple of times a week. Fitness is about feeling good.
I have two boys. ‘Be nice to your mother’ is what I tell them! No honestly, I try to tell them that you do have to enjoy what you do. Sometimes there are going to be times when that is hard work. Life does not come easy. I love this quote by Bill Gates, who said ‘Life’s not fair, get used to it.’ I think that’s a very apt way of looking at life. Nothing comes from nothing and it’s not fair. Yes, we can work on our social values to make it more so, but really, change comes by engaging.
Suzette Lamont is a no fuss woman. We met her on a hot Saturday in Paddington at Jackie’s Cafe. It’s immediately evident that her vast experience and resourcefulness has provided her with endless opportunities to successfully build her influence. She has fearlessly grasped every turn with optimism. Suzette’s anecdotes are carried with a wittiness and self-assuredness that is both charismatic and captivating. She is candid and frank in her manner. We could have sat there for hours listening to her philosophy’s on life and experience through her webbed lattice. Her focused drive for work life balance is evident through both her mindset and actions. She is someone we can both look up to as a role model that has conquered all without any pretence. She is one hell of a leading lady! We hope to speak again soon, Suzette.