Sally Carbon’s looking to bring the same determination that defined her sporting career to the boardroom.
WHEN Sally Carbon puts her mind to something it tends to end up working out, more often than not very successfully.
With an Olympic gold medal from her days as a hockey star, and a best-selling children’s book series, those successes are significant achievements, which, on their own, would make her stand out in the crowd.
So it should not be a surprise if Ms Carbon emerges as a board member of some major companies, having recently embarked on a journey to develop this skill set under the mentorship of Atlas Iron director Geoff Clifford.
While the mechanism for this new career direction may appear to be Ms Carbon’s involvement in the Australian Institute of Company Directors’ Women on Board mentoring scheme, which was created last year to help diversify the corporate governance talent pool, it is clear her attitude to life has a significant role in helping her achieve her goals.
She admits to a steely determination to get things done and the ability to cut out the emotional noise from her decision making as some of the reasons for her achievements.
It is an ability to focus which, she says, some people view as ‘cold’.
“One thing I really try to eliminate is waste of time, that is not physical time,” Ms Carbon says.
“I can’t afford to have any wasted emotional time.
“A lot of people trying to achieve something might throw emotional time at it.
“I try to cut that out so my entire effort is spent on performance, not on the emotional thinking to perform.
“You can’t have time for ifs and buts, you can’t worry; you can’t worry what people think of you, you can’t worry about the potential outcomes of making decisions.
“You analyse and you are diligent in using the information but you certainly can’t sway from your course of action.
“It is something that I am really stuck on: just eliminate wasted thinking. And this gives you more time to perform.”
Ms Carbon says this is an important skill because it frees up time and energy to devote to other things, allowing her to achieve balance in a life that to most people would appear too busy.
She is clearly an ‘energy sink’ as well, agreeing that she finds it hard flick the ‘off’ switch.
“I am completely wired, I have trouble sleeping,” she acknowledges.
An example of that energy is her book writing. At time when most mothers-to-be would be dialling down the workload, Ms Carbon started writing her first book, I Want to be an Olympian, five weeks before her third child was due.
That book was published and on the shelves in time for the 2004 Olympic Games. Several more in the series have followed – with the subjects being a footballer, a cricketer and another version of an Olympian.
Another strength Ms Carbon believes has helped her career, including sport, is a love of learning.
In fact, the former schoolteacher and mother of three believes that almost any skill can be learned.
She says, for instance, that she is against the increasing identification of talent in young kids in fields such as sport.
“It goes against the philosophy of being able to teach or learn skills,” Ms Carbon says.
She has taken that attitude to her business career, not only becoming an author, but developing an interactive digital product based on her books that helps children learn in the classroom. The concept was a significant investment but she and her software developer own the intellectual property to what she believes is a product with major potential.
That is not just talk. The interactive product has been taken up by the West Coast Eagles and distributed throughout Western Australian classrooms as an aid for teachers.
Ms Carbon’s successes are not limited to those mentioned above. She has an extensive background on the boards of not for profits, including a current role on the Australian Sports Commission, and a career history in marketing and communications.
Having achieved all this through simply putting her mind to it might provide hope for us all, but Ms Carbon admits she has a bit of both nature and nurture that is hard to ignore.
Her father, Barry, is chairman of Bauxite Resources and a former WA Environmental Protection Authority CEO while her mother, Del, holds a pre-metric state record for hurdles.
Ms Carbon recalls she showed a bit of talent for hurdles as a youngster, after realising her calves were too muscular for ballet.
She still uses a mental picture of the athletics track when she is trying to overcome obstacles in her adult life.
“When I am trying to achieve something and something goes wrong I see it as a hurdle on that 400-metre track,” Ms Carbon says.
“Instead of it being a hurdle that stops me it is a hurdle I get over to get to the finish line.
“I still physically see the hurdles.
“It means I am closer to the finish line rather than being further away from it.”