Stephanie Buckland enjoys the challenges of change, and has brought a wide range of professional experience to her current role as Amana Living CEO.
Pennsylvania is not exactly the opposite side of the world to Perth, but it comes close.
Stephanie Buckland is a native of that US state, and spent much of her early life on America’s eastern seaboard, including in Georgia and Maryland.
Ms Buckland studied business administration at the University of Pennsylvania and landed a job in sales at a big paper-manufacturing firm to kick-start her career.
However, she soon decided that sales was not for her and returned to study, completing an MBA at the University of Virginia before re-entering the workforce as a product manager role with pharmaceutical giant Pfizer.
“It (the MBA) was a big investment in time and money to stop work and go back to school again for a further two years, but it was definitely worth it because I then secured the type of role that I was interested in,” Ms Buckland told Business News.
Ms Buckland’s life underwent a major change when she moved to Australia (for the first time) with Pfizer – a career move that ultimately altered everything as she met her husband during that time working in Sydney.
At that time, Australia was a place where Pfizer experimented with products and marketing, with managers having a lot more responsibility and accountability and encouraged to take risks, something Ms Buckland enjoyed.
She and her partner moved back to the US, with Pfizer, ending up with a senior product management role, which, while exciting, couldn’t compete with the desire to return to Australia.
Pfizer pragmatically found a new role based in Perth, from where she launched Purell, a hand-sanitising product she had led the purchase of, into new markets in the region.
“I was based here in Perth, but I spent a lot of time working in Japan, with a team in New Zealand, the Pfizer team in Sydney, and a couple other places in the world too, (including) South America, working with them to build their business case to launch the product in those markets,” Ms Buckland said.
“That was a great job.”
But the excitement of new cultures and exotic travel came at a price.
“From a family perspective, at that time we had two young children, and it just was very difficult to be spending so much time away from them,” Ms Buckland said.
“I decided to start looking for something here in Perth. I drank a lot of coffee with people, because I had no network here really, because all my business network was elsewhere in the world.”
Ms Buckland credits such a coffee meeting with then Market Equity executive Julie Beeck for her subsequent role at Bankwest, albeit an undefined position when it took her on, on the basis of her skills rather than its needs.
She worked in the retail division initially, then moved into a product management role with the personal loans portfolio (a position that included balance sheet responsibility), and ultimately to head up retail marketing at a time when Bankwest was expanding into the east coast
“In that role, I was responsible for all of the marketing, as well as the online banking system,” she said.
“We did a rebuild of the online banking platform at Bankwest, which in those days got it to be something pretty special.
“I’m sure it’s way beyond me now.”
In that role, Ms Buckland found herself back travelling and living in hotels, as she spent 50 per cent of time on the other side of the country. It was a catalyst to another career switch.
“I was just flicking through the paper one Saturday morning and I saw an ad for the executive director of marketing at Tourism WA,” she said.
“I thought ‘wow, this would be the dream role for me’, because I had really fallen in love with Australia and what it has to offer from a travel perspective.
“Particularly, Western Australia, and particularly regional WA.
“I could definitely see that what we have here would have an appeal elsewhere.”
Ms Buckland joined Tourism WA in 2008 as a marketing executive, working for long-running chief executive Richard Muirhead. He left the agency less than two years later, leaving Ms Buckland as acting chief until she was appointed permanently.
“The board and the minister at the time had an idea that they really wanted the organisation to be much more marketing focused, I suppose, than it had been in the past,” Ms Buckland said.
“There was a lot of restructuring that they wanted done, but they asked me to firstly act in the CEO role, which I did for an extraordinary long period of time, about a year and a half.
“It was a point of contention with the industry, but my view at the time was always that I’d been put in this role and I’m going to do the role until somebody tells me that it’s not my role any more.”
She said the shift into the bureaucracy, even a commercially oriented one such as tourism marketing, was a big learning curve and included a number of firsts for her.
“First time ever having worked in a government agency, in the public sector; first time having worked with that huge array of stakeholders,” Ms Buckland said.
“Certainly when I was at Bankwest, of course, we had all of our branches and all of the sales people at Bankwest were stakeholders, but as an organisation and having worked in the private sector, your objectives in terms of what you’re trying to achieve in terms of shareholder value, it’s all very clear.
“When you go to work in a public sector, it becomes a little muddy.”
Ms Buckland’s tenure was not a rosy period for tourism. The resources boom put other industries in its shade, driving up the Australian dollar, filling the hotel rooms with corporate travellers, and attracting the skilled and unskilled workers on whom sectors such as hospitality relied.
She said it was a challenging time, but the agency sought to find long-term benefits for the sector.
“I certainly think what I brought to it was the marketing focus, and really I suppose working with all the people in the agency to transform it into a marketing agency,” Ms Buckland said.
“That really was my focus; marketing is more than just advertising, it is the product and promotion, and pricing, and distribution, so all of those things.”
After seven years at the top, Ms Buckland decided it was time to seek another role, looking at the industries and the sectors where there was going to be growth and change.
“I love change,” she said.
“Aged care was one of the ones that was on the top of my list.
“It just so happens that, at that time, there was a lot of turnover in the CEO ranks in some of the major aged care providers in WA.
“It was serendipity,” she said, of the opportunity in 2016 to become CEO of Amana Living, the sixth biggest aged care provider in WA, according to the BNiQ Search Engine.
Ms Buckland said she has been impressed by the dedication and commitment of the staff to their work.
She has also been pleasantly surprised by the systems put in place by the previous chief executive, Ray Glickman.
“My predecessor and his management team had really done a great job of getting a lot of that analysis in house.”