Leadership WA Spotlight Series
Katie Valentine is a Partner at KPMG Australia and leads the Operations Advisory practice in WA and the mining consulting team nationally. Katie has advised clients in Australia, Europe, Africa and the Middle East on strategy, performance improvement, organisational effectiveness, operational readiness and innovation. Increasingly, Katie works with her clients to understand the opportunities that advances in technology and analytics offer for understanding and unlocking value and better ways of managing work. She is fascinated by the challenges and opportunities the future holds and what this will mean in terms of technology, building trust, collaboration, people and leadership. Katie has bachelor degrees from UWA in engineering and commerce, and is a Fellow of Leadership Western Australia.
The first question we asked Katie was to describe her leadership style.
“It was during my time in the Leadership WA Signature Leadership Program that I learnt the term ‘authentic leadership’.”
“You've got to have trust with your external clients, as well as within your teams.”
“You can't just say, ‘You should all trust me.’ You’ve got to ask yourself what you need to do to build that trust over time.”
Katie remembers hearing from Greg Lilleyman during the Signature Leadership Program. At the time, Greg was at Rio Tinto Iron Ore (and is now the Chief Operating Officer of Fortescue Metals Group). Greg talked about the importance of being involved in all levels of your organisation.
“He spoke about how he walked the shop floor. It’s very important to make sure that you're having conversations with people at all levels of the organisation and understanding what's really going on on the ground. You need to be open and honest, and I certainly try to be that.”
“A good leader knows their strengths and what they need to learn from others. There's no point in pretending to be the expert on everything.”
“As a leader, you need to leave the organisation in a better place than you found it. You can't do that by saying, ‘Well, I'm going to solve all the problems myself and it's all going to be about me.’ It's got to be about building the competence and capability and profile of your team. That way, when I leave my team, they're in a really good position and the organisation's in a better place.”
For Katie, being authentic isn’t a stretch.
“I think it's almost easier to be authentic than not be authentic. I haven't got the time to try and figure out some other version of myself that I should really be.”
Knowing what you know and respecting other people’s skill sets is important for Katie. While she has a qualification in both commerce and engineering – a great combination for her role – her team comes from a diverse range of backgrounds.
“In my team I have a medical doctor and someone who's got a PhD in neuroscience. The skillset we are really after is problem solving, being able to work with people, empathy and emotional intelligence.”
Strong emotional intelligence and the ability to connect with people is key, and something that has served Katie well in her various roles working around the world, from Europe to the Middle East. This combination of soft skills and breadth of cultural experience is a valuable strength and is important to her clients, whose operations often span multiple geographies.
“You actually need to go out and spend time with your teams in different locations. Yes, it helps to have email exchanges or video conferences, but it’s very important to actually be there on the ground, understanding the local differences and building those personal connections.”
Katie says that WA has huge potential to continue being a leader in resources into the future.
“Companies in the Pilbara like Rio Tinto, BHP, FMG and Roy Hill are global leaders in implementing autonomous technology both in the resources sector and across other sectors as well. Woodside and NASA are working together to explore how robotic technology can be used to improve safety, reliability and efficiency in high-risk and remote environments. Companies in WA are doing some really interesting things – we need to celebrate that!”
“There's a team from NASA here in WA looking at how resource companies manage remote operations work with the view of applying that to space exploration. That's testament to the fact that WA has something really special.”
Prior to joining KPMG, Katie was a partner at Momentum Partners, a boutique consultancy firm. In 2015, Momentum was acquired by KPMG.
“Momentum had about 40 people in five offices across Australia. It was great being really nimble. We’d say, "I think we need to change our performance management system. It could be better.’ I could put a bit of thought into it, talk to a few other people, and say, ‘Hey, I think this version will work better,’ and we'd implement it.”
“You can't do that in a larger organisation like KPMG. But on the flipside, I can now bring the enormous depth and capability of a large global firm to my clients, which can help them solve their increasingly complex challenges.”
Katie is a graduate of Leadership WA’s Signature Leadership Program. She completed the Program in 2011.
“It was a fantastic experience. I learned a lot from the speakers, but also the participants. There was always the opportunity to say, ‘I really like that part of that person’s leadership style or that technique they’ve used. Maybe I can incorporate that into my own leadership style going forward.’”
“It also gave me quite a lot of confidence in that I heard Richard Goyder (then CEO of Wesfarmers) speak to our group about a challenge that he'd gone through and how he dealt with it. And I thought, "Yeah, I think I probably would've done the same thing.” Experiences like that are quite empowering.”
“The Signature Leadership Program really opened my mind to the perspectives of people working in the public and not-for-profit sector, which has given me a well-rounded point of view that I can take to my clients.”
“I also developed a really great network across the Western Australian community, and I have a much better understanding of the challenges and opportunities for Western Australia in a regional context as well.”
Since going through the Signature Leadership Program, Katie has joined the Board of Technology Assisting Disability and Ageing (TADWA). TADWA delivers innovative solutions to help people live safer, better quality independent lives.
“I love that we develop engineered solutions that are tailored specifically to our clients’ needs – often we’re the only provider in the market who can help them. The team go above and beyond to make our clients happy.”
As a final question, we asked Katie what should change about leadership in WA if she could wave a magic wand.
“It’s difficult to say, because all leaders are different. But I would say ‘think big’ and I mean that in three ways.”
“Firstly: look for other examples of success. For example, if you're a government agency in Western Australia and you're facing a challenge, think about how the other states across Australia or overseas tackled that same challenge. Similarly many of my clients are looking to other industry sectors for solutions to their problems. Yes there are local / sector specific differences but at the end of the day we can learn a lot from what’s happening elsewhere.”
“Second point: we have some organisations in WA doing some fantastic things. We should hold our heads high and really think about how we can play more on the global stage and take more of leadership role in our industries nationally. I’m not talking just about the resources sector here.”
“Third point: we need to have a vision for the future for our team / business / State because the future is certainly going to be different. We need to spend some of our time thinking about what the future holds so that we can plan effectively and as a result are able to maximise our opportunities in the future.”