By Courtney Mathew
04 Jun 2020
The life and career stylings of Bonnie Boezeman AO can be defined by purpose and passion. In our latest Leadership Series, she shared with us her lessons in leading with purpose and passion, and how to weave your way from opportunity to opportunity without hesitation.
Over the last forty-five years, she has served on seventeen philanthropy boards, and scores of public, private and government boards across the globe. At present, she is the Managing Director of Business Benefits International, a consultancy specialising in strategy and marketing across various markets and industries.
Bonnie began her conversation with our CEO Jen Dalitz by highlighting the defining moments that have structured her success. She initially worked in the United States with emotionally vulnerable children. However, Bonnie has always been in tune to her intuition. She was drawn towards Europe and decided that following the call would help expand her worldview tremendously. In the end, she sold her belongings and took a one-way flight to London. Though she lived in 5 euros a day, she found that being an active part of the London scene helped expand her worldview tremendously. She stressed the importance of learning from others, both from those in passing and those in your community of peers.
After a while living the backpack lifestyle, she settled down in Holland and decided she wanted a more permanent career. Time Warner answered the call and hired her to be a temporary assistant to business manager. However, her ability to interact with others shone through, and within six months she was running the Accounts department with three employees under her belt. Bonnie said that although some people might see three employees as irrelevant, she believes that even if you had only one employee, you still have to be the person to inspire and motivate your employee to do their best. She said:
‘Good management leads to good leadership which is in how you treat people and how you bring people along for the ride. In companies, you get ahead by being able to motivate and inspire people. It’s all about your team, your people, how you deal with them and help them to get through things. That’s how you build loyalty, motivation and a strong team.’
By the end of the 70s, Bonnie was promoted to manage the whole French language division of marketing for Time Warner in Paris. Around this time, a friend of Bonnie’s gave some sage advice that she shared with us: consider what you really want in life. Look 15-20 years down the line, visualize what clothes are you wearing, what does your life look like, what role or position do you want to be in? These questions should drive the decisions behind the opportunities you take, and this vision is what pushed Bonnie to take roles with more responsibility.
On the flip side, how can we vet potential bosses and management to see if they are going to be a good fit when interviewing for a new role? She recommended taking the time to do your research thoroughly, look for examples of the workplace culture during the recruitment process, ask questions about issues that matter to you in a role: if you find the culture that aligns with your mindset then work becomes much more enjoyable.
Bonnie reflected on the nature of Boards back when she first moved to Australia in 1983. She observed that there was a lack of female voices being heard at the top, and that women needed to be part of these conversations. She was able to follow through with these observations on her first, non-executive board appointment in 1985 for a University body. At that time, nearly two-fifths of all students were female, yet this Board did not have a single female executive. It was the perfect opportunity for Bonnie to begin her journey into further Board appointments and to lead on a project with passion and purpose.
Over coming decades, Bonnie expanded her non-executive directorships into areas including government, housing, fintech, cultural and disability endeavours. With experiences like this, Bonnie shared her advice for those looking to take on a directorship role: sit on a board of any kind. This will give you the experience that can lead to a c-suite level appointment, because you will have the knowledge of protocol and experience in participating at the board level. Additionally, sitting on a Board can give you the opportunity to give back on an issue you are passionate about. It is a great exercise in practising your leadership skills and can allow you to change policies and procedures that may impact your organisations’ goals.
In the current climate of rapid change, adaptability is crucial to good organisational management. Bonnie highlighted a time of resistance to change when she was approached by eBay, in 2005, to implement PayPal in Australia. She was advised by eBay that the task might not even be possible, as the banks and regulators together would present significant hurdles to change. However, Bonnie believes that change is inevitable; change should be embraced, and that change is exciting.
Both then and now, technology has changed the paradigm of our everyday lives from transactions to remote work. She considers this time of lockdown to be one of opportunity as we can innovate our work to see better returns. For instance, in 2005 PayPal grossed $100 million in transactions. Six years later, this jumped to six billion Australian dollars. Bonnie encourages us to continue to observe global trends and bring it to your own space. Use the best practice as a guide and build on top of this. Good leadership shifts the paradigm which allows the business to adapt and grow.
Bonnie has been a passionate advocate for mentoring for many years and shared with us some of her thoughts about how to create a beneficial relationship. “Remember that a mentor is not a coach, they are not prescriptive. They don’t tell you what to do, how to handle it… they listen.” With her mentees, she has a 2-hour session once a month at a restaurant. With no interruptions and no distractions, they can allow themselves to dive deeply into the issues they are facing. She finds that the process of listening and engaging with someone can help solve a persons’ issues at hand. That is, mentoring is homogenous – it works both ways, both people leave the session inspired and she has learnt a lot from the people she has mentored over the years.
Bonnie commented that the women is meeting now are so dynamic and she admires their tenacity, she is looking forward to seeing what they can achieve in the future.
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