Leonie Wilkinson Regional Director Client Capital Asia Pacific Lasalle Investment Management  / 
A glass elevator ride

story / Sydney Series / April 4, 2016

Out of university I started at the Reserve Bank of Australia. It was a great introduction into the financial services industry generally, but it was very supervisory. I was itching to get in there and write my own financial models and get my hands dirty working on actual transactions rather than sitting back and watching the rest of the industry do it.

I moved into investment banking after a couple of years and fell into property because we’d work on transactions by industry group. All of my work was heavily transaction-based; writing financial models and completing documentation. It was excellent. I loved it. As I progressed, I started to work closely with the clients and really enjoyed that. The role that I’ve taken this last twelve months is purely client-focused.

I have spent the vast majority of my time this last twelve months out talking to clients trying to understand what they want to achieve and what their real estate investment objectives are. I also spend a lot of time with our LaSalle team globally, understanding what we’re doing and what our best ideas are. It’s really a cross-pollination of ideas. We can create a bespoke investment opportunity based on what people are telling us they want to achieve or we can put together our best ideas based on the LaSalle know-how.

I do quite a bit of traveling for work. I really think it is essential for this role because I have to understand our clients and what they want. To do that, you have to go and sit with them. Equally, being able to talk credibly about what LaSalle’s doing overseas, I need to spend time in the LaSalle offices globally and understand how each business works. There’s lots of similarities to the way we do business in Australia, but there’s also lots of differences. I get out a lot and talk to people from a lot of different backgrounds.

There’s twenty-three people that work in our research team globally and they cover thirty countries.  It’s really collaborative and they’ll work with each other to understand the different global trends. They also work with the investment management and capital teams to understand what’s happening on the ground.

This week we’re having our Asia Pacific house view. Everyone’s getting together to discuss what we’re seeing in the market, what we like and don’t like. That will get consolidated into our ‘house view’ and then feeds back down into the investments that we make. Every year, we produce our Investment Strategy Annual. There’s three kinds of organising ideas and the team are looking at secular trends; demographics, technology and urbanisation. These are the three global, secular trends that are applied almost everywhere.

When I was starting University, I got a scholarship to do Engineering and I thought, ‘I don’t want to do Engineering, you’ve got to wear a hard hat, I want to work in an office and wear nice clothes!’… and now my favourite part of the job is to put a hard hat on and go out on site. It’s ironic but it’s so much fun. I studied Mathematics and Finance at the University of Wollongong.

It seems so obvious to me that diversity is really so important. I spend so much time trying to understand what clients want, or setting up strategic objectives to try and understand stakeholders’ perspective. Surely if you really understand your stakeholders, you need to have some resonance with your stakeholders. The stakeholders are going to be diverse, so I don’t think that you can sit there with a homogeneous group of people and claim to have the very best understanding of your stakeholder group.

It’s about tapping the best that’s available. How can you possibly claim the best when you’ve only got half or just one type of background? It’s not intuitive. My clients are often super funds. They make a big effort to make sure their boards reflect representatives of the member base. It’s really important to them. You want to have a skill set that helps you do what you want to achieve, but you also need to understand who you’re trying to serve. If you really want to understand them, then you need to have proper reflection of that stakeholder’s views.

As a graduate, I just talked myself into everything. Looking back, I think being a bit more objective and strategic about my career would have helped me. It’s important to reflect, ‘Okay that first thing that you’re throwing yourself into, what does that help you achieve down the track?’.

Seek out really good managers. Just go and find them, attach yourself to them. They are out there! I’ve had some wonderful male managers. I used to do work for anybody that asked me to do work, but the best thing I’ve recognised is to take a bad manager for what they are. You can learn a lot from the bad managers because you realise; actually that they aren’t very good at their job and that’s their problem not yours. I was very sensitive. If people were critical, I used to kill myself trying to do a good job for them but I realise now, that it was actually poor management.

I love mentoring. I mentor three women and I feel that I get as much out of the sessions, if not more, than they do. It’s within a group called The Glass Elevator. We go for walks around the Botanic Gardens once a month and they’re just beautiful. The conversation flows, but you always get the benefits of a good walk as well. We had a session last week and it was pouring rain so we went for a coffee instead!

My husband works part time but that was our choice. We wanted him to be around the kids a bit more because I travel so much and it wasn’t really possible for me to do the afternoon activities. I think the difference with me coming into this role is I have a lot more autonomy and control around my hours. When I was in transaction-based roles, you have to be responsive and you have to be there so it was a lot harder. As you become more senior, you get more control over your day. These school holidays for example, I worked from home for six days over the two weeks, which was brilliant. For us it’s a combination of part time work for one person, bit of outside help, hopefully team up with the kids and flexible working conditions. The kids don’t complain. They’ve never been kids that say, ‘Why do you work, I wish you were at home,’ they’re really, really good about it.

People say, ‘Women are better, they are more nurturing in the home and they’re better at housework,’ but my husband’s great at that stuff, because he had to do it. It’s not rocket science to clean a house, it’s not rocket science to cook. I do think we can make it easier for women in the workplace. Once you’ve had a baby, after you finish breastfeeding, I don’t see why you can’t negotiate and start at 50/50 child-care with your partner. I think that would make things so much easier for women. There’s women that have to do everything. They work so hard.

I tell my children to be kind and I try and teach them to be resilient so that they can bounce back. I think being kind to people is important, without being a doormat. That’s what I tell my daughter.


Our initial meeting with Leonie was at Lily Blacks in Melbourne. We were introduced to her through Nerida Conisbee (we love it when women are recommended to us!). We were both completely awe-struck when we met. Leonie was completely stunning, incredibly warm and sat attentively listening, with perfect poise to boot. Next we met for lunch right in the heart of Sydney, at a little coffee spot called Pablo & Rusty’s (one word: yum), along with her son Jack. It is hard to describe how in control and calm Leonie seems. So grounded. She speaks with such consideration, which must flow through everything she does. Leonie is a leader in every sense and we are all lucky to have women like her at the top! We cannot thank her enough for her constant, gracious support. And we wish her and her family the best in 2016!

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