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#LEADINGLADIES: Kylie Green

From breaking up traditional ‘boys clubs’ in the advertising industry to leaving her partner and deciding to have a baby solo, Kylie Green has always played in a league of her own. She chatted to us about overcoming sexism and implementing cultures of change at every stage in her career as well as why it’s so important to be a self aware entrepreneur and give back through mentoring female professionals.

A few years into my career I was working in an Activations agency in a senior Account Service role and had been with the agency for almost 4 years with discussions that I was on a career path to taking over the reins of one of the Directors. Soon after one of the partners was retiring and brought in some hotshot advertising guy to take his place. And the very next day, I was made redundant by the new guy with the remaining partner not even turning up for work that day to face me.  My father encouraged me to start my own agency and without his nudge and support, I probably wouldn’t have done it!  I was only 29 and started my business from my bedroom with only a mobile phone, car and a desk computer.  I had nothing to lose and decided to give it a go for at least a year. I was one of the first females to start an activations agency single-handedly with many of the women I knew in the industry were in full support. However, many of the older gentlemen in the industry were not, apparently saying I was too young, wouldn’t last a year and couldn’t possibly win any clients.

The industry body (now within the Comms Council) at the time was all men and the chairperson was the same owner of the agency where I had been made redundant. I joined and after being on the committee for two years I decided I was going to go for the presidency. That threw a huge spanner in the works. The chairperson just assumed he was going to roll over as head of the committee for another year. The secretary contacted me and asked me why I was running, I said I want to put myself forward as a candidate because I think I can introduce a lot of change and take this industry body into the future where it needs to go. He said good on you but you’re going to have a tough time with this. Then came the vote and the secretary called me up again and said OK do you want the good news or the bad news? The good news is you’re the new chairperson. The bad news is that the entire board is resigning. I said fine, can I get a handover? I contacted the old chairperson and put it all in very positive terms and asked for a P&L. I got a response back saying no you’re not getting anything and is this payback for what happened to you when you were made redundant my agency? 

I felt a little hurt and rejected when I was elected chairperson and the entire board of men resigned. But the overwhelming feeling was excitement about starting with a clean slate because it meant I could make it my own and get some fresh blood. What had come before was all old school culture. We needed new thinking.

I basically had to start from scratch. I started contacting a few people that I wanted to work for the board and they all happened to be competitors of mine, fierce competitors. It was really nice to call them and say hey, I really respect your work and what you do. I know we pitch a lot against each other  but I’d really love for you to come sit with me on the board. I created a committee board which included both women and men, as well as a lot of young blood. We would have really constructive conversations. We talked about issues going on in our agencies. We were competitors in one space and collaborators in another. We did all sorts of things to really try and say to the young people you’re the generation of the future. We started a rewards program and that really put us on the map. There were all these young people saying ‘this is fantastic, this is great! There was a real buzz and energy around it. 

Entitlement and experience means nothing to me. I will promote a 21 year old to manage 50 year old people if I think that the 21 year old is the best manager. I seek out people who are better than me to work for me because I need people like that on my team. I’m not good at everything. If they’re snapping at my heels wanting my job then that means I’m doing my job well. 

Transparency was the other key to our success. Everything was documented. Everything was above board. I took the minutes of every meeting and distributed it to all the members so they knew exactly what we were doing with the money.  We talked about all of our ideas, and then we made it happen.We put our industry on the map in terms of awards. In two of the years that I ran the industry body our Australian campaigns won best in the world. It put us on the map. 

 I was in a relationship that wasn’t going anywhere, so I ended that and decided that I was going to have a baby on my own. In September I got back from a 6 week trip overseas and said to my partner, this isn’t working. Then a month later I started looking into the donor program. I wish I’d had a baby on my own earlier. Now I tell girls ‘if you haven’t met the man by 30, freeze your eggs’. It’s your investment. It’s a backup. 

While I was going through the emotional rollercoaster of getting pregnant having a baby by myself, I was watching the company I’d sold my business to being destroyed. So I was watching my other baby being murdered. It was a bittersweet moment. Then it was bought out by someone else who took it independent and I got in touch with them. We ended up in the boardroom for 4 hours drinking a bottle of wine and chatting about everything. We are still good friends to this day. He just got me really excited and put the entrepreneurial fire back in my belly. We remain good friends to this day. 

That entrepreneurial fire is something I’ve always had but it comes and goes. I always said when I started my first business that I was going to grow and sell in 10 years. That was always on my exit strategy. By year 7 I’d sold and by year 10 I had exited so it went to plan. I’ve never wanted to run one business until I retired because I watched my dad burnout with his business he started at 19.

I think it’s really important that you understand when you find yourself going flat, when it’s going a bit dull. Then you need to pursue other things to nourish your sense of entrepreneurialism, to explore other things. I love learning and acquiring new skills and looking out for other industries where there are opportunities. I keep my professional development going. I’m now in my 50s but I want to work for the next 20 years and retire. I’ve got lots of more to give, lots of new ideas and lots of things bubbling away.

I think as an entrepreneur you’ve always got to look at reinventing yourself. I thrive on that process of reinvention. 

Sometimes as an entrepreneur, you go down a path that you think is really good, but then you might pivot. It’s all about knowing when to give up and pivot and change it again. A common mistake I see when people start a business is they thrash at it and then they think they are a failure. And it’s not that they’re a failure, it’s that they aren’t seeing it from the right angle. They’ll look at other businesses and wonder why that business is doing well in the same industry. The answer is because that business is run by a different person whose mindset is different. It’s all about mindset and being able to reset yourself from setbacks. Some people have one setback and think it’s the end of the world.

I didn’t have a lot of female mentors growing up. I had a lot of male mentors and my father was my greatest mentor and my biggest advocate. Nonetheless I think female mentors are important as they show others that there’s a pathway for women in their own careers. Female mentors are also a unique point of support and sounding board for other women when they come up against issues that they don’t feel comfortable talking about with their partners or their parents or their peers.

When I mentor someone, we have really open conversations around what they value,  what they want, where they see themselves and what their opportunities look like at this point of their career. I may not have all the answers for the situation that they’re in, but I can certainly give them some sounding board advice and help them explore their options. And then they take it and make it their own. 

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I believe mentoring should be a natural but valuable relationship. When people approach me cold on LinkedIn looking for a mentor I turn them down. You don’t cold call someone to be your mentor. It should be a natural, not a formal process. I have a mentee at the moment who has jumped in taxis with me and said ‘I know you’re going to the airport can I come for the taxi ride and get your head space for an hour. If you really want a person’s time, you’ve got to think creatively about how you can fit in with that person’s schedule. I want to grow too, I want to learn something from my mentees. I don’t want them turning up and going right, so what do you know? Mentees need to learn how to get that relationship up and running. 

I don’t just mentor people in their career, I mentor women who want to have a child on their own or want to be able to do something on their own, to be brave enough to leave their husband or another situation they are in and say to themselves ‘I can do this! I can have it all’.

I’ve heard people say you can’t have it all. I believe you can but things change. I like to say I’ve got everything I want right now, but in a year’s time, the ‘all’ that I want might be different and I might have had to let go of something to have what I want at that time. My version of having it all changes every year because I set myself different challenges and goals.