Difficult economic times in her homeland of Ireland shaped CEDA state director Paula Rogers’ view of work and the world.
Paula Rogers grew up in Dublin in an economic environment firmly in the grip of a deep recession, leading to a brain drain of which she became a part.
Now the state director of the Committee for Economic Development of Australia, Ms Rogers is a long way from those bleak days in Ireland, where she says growing up facing a lifetime of unemployment had a profound effect on her and many in her generation.
“I think, when I look back, where I’ve come from and what has driven me, I think graduation and leaving school and going to university and graduating in a very severe depression, or recession, it was a big driver going forward,” Ms Rogers told Business News.
“It’s always that fear of, where’s your next job, will you have a job?”
In turn, however, Ms Rogers said getting work was life changing.
“You’re so grateful for getting work and you never take anything for granted,” she said.
“And I think that has driven me forward for most of my career, about working really hard and taking nothing for granted and being your best and delivering your best.”
Apart from economic conditions, Ireland was then very much ruled by a conservative version of the Catholic Church.
Many of her compatriots headed overseas, including Europe and America, the latter a destination where generations of Irish immigrants had already smoothed the path.
Ms Rogers studied at University College Dublin and then headed for London, another lure for young Irish people.
She arrived there in the late 1980s around the time of the stock market crash that, despite its size, hardly quelled the excesses of London’s conspicuous consumers.
Not long after she set up in London, two publishers offered her positions in advertising sales. After a discussion with her family, Ms Rogers decided to opt for Haymarket because it was well known due to its famous owner, Michael Heseltine. The rival publication’s managing director got wind of her decision, and called her up and fought to change her mind.
After coming from Ireland where jobs were so scarce, she found it remarkable to be chased by employers.
She started selling advertising at a magazine called Corporate Money, published by Centaur Communications. Her first day on the job was the infamous Black Monday, the day of the global stock market crash in October 1987 – although London remained upbeat for years to come.
It was the beginning of a long and interesting career in the media through various trade publications that reflected London’s role as a global financial services hub.
“It was a fantastic opportunity. In that era, in London, it was a very different place,” Ms Rogers said.
“It was the ‘loads-of-money’ era when it was all about big money and it was just this crazy, hedonistic time.”
Ms Rogers later joined Euromoney, which she promoted to investment bankers, governments, advertising agencies, corporate communications and corporates around the world.
She attended International Monetary Fund meetings regularly and developed business by networking at those events.
“Because I worked on a magazine called Emerging Markets Investor, I got to meet some of these really brave, courageous individuals that made a fortune, and many lost fortunes on the emerging markets,” Ms Rogers said.
“But watching the growth in the BRIC economies (Brazil, Russia, India and China), as they became to be known, initially starting off as the emerging markets, and, just going to Wall Street and having meetings … it was amazing.”
It was a relationship that drew her to Australia in the early 1990s, spending two years in Perth with the man who became her husband. During her first time here she worked for The West Australian selling advertising and getting to know many of the publisher’s strongest characters, including journalists and editors well known to older generations of the state’s current business leadership.
“I went back to live in London in 1994 and then came back (to WA) permanently in 2002 with my family, my five year old and one year old, two boys,” she said.
“And they’re now 20 and 15.”
When the family returned to Perth, Ms Rogers attempted to settle into domestic life as a stay-at-home mother, but said a lack of a social network left her isolated.
“I have to admit that being a working mum (in London) I was constantly trying to be all things to all people, and plagued a bit with that guilt,” she said.
“And when I arrived in Perth I decided I was going to be a stay-at-home mum. And I really struggled with that; it was very hard and I really enjoy working.
“And so I was fortunate enough to get a call about a role, which was kind of a startup role really, into publishing books.”
She had returned to working full time with The West and then held a series of roles at publishers, events managers and as a consultant until she took the business development role at Minter Ellison, a national law firm whose Perth office largely split off to become Squire Sanders (now Squire Patton Boggs). Her final role before CEDA was at not-for-profit operator Baptistcare.
“A year and a half ago I got my dream job, which is CEDA, and I’ve joined CEDA at a time I think when the diversity of my career is a real assistance, because CEDA is very broad; we look at all aspects of the economy,” Ms Rogers said.
“We cover so many different topics. I believe my kind of broad breadth of experience is a real advantage to that and hopefully will continue to be.”
Ms Rogers is clearly comfortable on stage and in front of a microphone, but said that was simply part of the job, and it was fortunate she enjoyed it, rather than sought it out.
“It’s something that comes with the territory, but you have to like it or else you wouldn’t be able to do it,” she said.
“I think where my role is stepping out of the way and letting people talk; people don’t pay to hear me.
“My role is working with my team and basically placing a narrative that will interest people … my role isn’t to stand in the way of that and stand up and talk.
“You know, I’m kind of the bookends; I’m making sure we run on time, but it’s first and foremost making sure that we provide a platform of discussion.”
She said CEDA’s independence provided for diverse opinions and allowed people to ask questions.
Ms Rogers said she enjoyed exploring new areas that she felt were important as WA transitioned out of the resources boom to be more diversified.
She sees discussions around agribusiness, the future of work, cyber security and even opportunities around space such as the Square Kilometre Array as important to capture the imagination of Western Australians.
“One of the things that I feel passionately about is I just think WA is an amazing place to live and work, and I just wish sometimes it was a bit closer to Ireland, but that’s part of the character,” she said.
“When space takes over I’ll be able to go into the stratosphere and get to Ireland in three hours.”