Rachel Duggan / Regional General Manager / The GPT Group  / 
Walk through the Door

story / Interview / August 24, 2022

I grew up on the Gold Coast. I guess I had this life there as a child that was quite idyllic by the beach. I do miss the weather, though I have lived in Victoria for most of my life now.

I started my career in retail way back when I started my after school job and I worked on the information desk at the biggest shopping centre there in the Gold Coast – Pacific Fair with AMP. I was there for a few years, and they offered me a role working in Centre Management. I actually didn’t go to University, I went straight to work and I’ve worked my whole life pretty much ever since.

I decided I was going to move to Melbourne when I was about 19 or 20. My family did end up following me down – my parents and my brother and sister. AMP offered me a role at Knox, which was a big retail asset out in Wantirna South. I ended up working there for almost eight years and did the first major redevelopment there when they did the big cinema precinct. At that time I guess, cut my teeth learning the business. If you are going to be successful, I think it’s really important that you do know the business very well.

I was still pretty young, late 20s, and after 7 years there I got to a point where I just felt like I needed to do something different, and work in another business, and really start to hone and focus where I wanted to do. I went into agency at Jones Lang Lasalle. I realised I did want to be a Centre Manager and I really did want to go as far as I could.

It was a great time in my life. I worked here in the city. I worked on GPO when it first opened as a retail asset. I learnt so much. I started there as a Retail Manager and ended up as Centre Manager. Dealing with the retailers there – a lot of them were high-end fashion retailers – so I very quickly had to grow up. I loved that job, I loved that asset. I loved walking in and working in such a beautiful building. There I built a lot of my passion for retail and retailers and the connection to what I do is about them…if I don’t have retailers in my shops – I don’t have a Centre that customers will visit. It’s really that simple! And so for me, working in that role, connected all the dots.

I had a call from Westfield. To work for Westfield was a fantastic opportunity because they are a market leader. I’ve always been the kind of executive that doesn’t say no to an opportunity. So if you want to take anything from what I have to say, it would be, always walk through the door. Westfield  wanted me to do one of the AMP acquisitions. Knox. So full  circle in my career – I was sent back to Knox! I was shocked that I was approached for that role. Others told me they could do it better, which was intimidating But I’m really pleased the opportunity came to me. I’ve never been more challenged as a leader, but I’ve come out the other side. The first twelve months were epic.

Ultimately, I believe the business put me there because I look at things with fresh eyes. I was very open and honest in my leadership. We had to join a team of seven from AMP and seven Westfield employees …As you can appreciate, change is difficult even for the best of us and with a large-scale change like this one – we had some challenging times. But, Westfield certainly wanted someone that would get in there and be hands on, and yes, lead the team. But also work through the operational issues. It was very much about how we get back to basics? How do we transform into being a Westfield asset?

Fast forward to a few years ago and it’s there that I took a big step into the role I’m in now as Regional General Manager for GPT. It’s a really different business, but it is very successful and diversified. I am responsible for Highpoint, another beast of an asset. It’s been amazing. I have some of the best people in the industry working for me, a great team. All the right elements were there, but I had the opportunity to put my shine on it. I’m really proud of what I’ve built there – a super engaged, very high performing team.

A lot of people will tell you that I am very open and honest. I believe in feedback and I believe in trust. And that is the basis of my leadership approach. If you can’t trust your people and you can’t be trusted, it’s no basis for a good working relationship. So I build trust in my people as a leader. I don’t micro-manage them. I empower them to do their jobs and if they don’t I’ll be the first person to tell them. I’ve had some very good leaders in my time who have done that with me. And have taken the time to give me feedback. I believe in giving feedback. I believe in giving it in the moment and I believe in giving good and constructive feedback. And it needs to be regular. You can’t hear it once a year. You need to hear it regularly. It’s worked for me and it’s pretty simple.

I’ve been heavily involved with the Property Council and their diversity and inclusion committee for about six years. I also learned a lot through that time and I’ve seen immense change. When I first came onto the committee, there were some really great women and incredible executives, that set about affecting some change. It was about rolling the sleeves up. I am really passionate about women in property, and diversity, because I don’t think we are there yet. We can be really hard on ourselves and say ‘we have so much work to do’ but we do need to stop and recognise what we have achieved over the years.

As far as my personal journey with that goes – it has been very important to always have a male advocate. For me the real change has been men recognising that change needs to happen. It wasn’t until that happened for me, that I was given an opportunity in my career. I’m not saying you have to have a male advocate, but it has been a key to my success. I just want it to be a different journey for young professionals and emerging leaders.

I’d say go after it and love what you do. I firmly believe you have to love what you do to be successful at it. I would say get a coach. Get a mentor. Make sure you have advocates. If someone gives you an opportunity, make sure you grab it. You can always turn back around and change your path, but if someone gives you an opportunity, grab it, run with it. I don’t believe in forced mentoring. It’s never worked for me. I’ve had some natural mentors in the industry that I have kept to this day and have a really strong relationship with. Female and male. I think it’s very, very important. With some of the executives in my team, they may not report directly to me, but I still support them. I’m there for them to come to as a coach regardless.

And finally, I love to travel. It has been hard the last two years not being able to travel overseas. We have booked a trip to Italy in July. So I’m praying we can go! I love property from a personal point of view – buying houses, renovating them, selling them. I do that on the side as well.

My mother always told me, and I do still believe to this day, even though it’s very cliché, ‘Dress well. Dress for the occasion’. I probably got my first job because of it. Be proud of how you look. I think the point is to present yourself in the best way that you possibly can. Regardless of what you are doing – always prepare and always present yourself in the best way you can.

 

Nancy and Danielle met Rachel one evening over a wine for a discussion on career, life and all things retail. It’s so fantastic when we meet women with a non-traditional entry into the industry, who have forged their own path through perseverance, passion and determination. Rachel is passionate about strong leadership and seeking and taking opportunities whenever they are up for grabs. Her journey has been courageous and her advice was wonderfully insightful. Rachel was off on holidays when we finalised her piece – so we hope she is having a marvelous time and wish her all the best for the rest of 2022. N & D xx

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