FEAL’s Jane Perry reflects on leadership

Sally Rose

By

09/01/2017

Having retired from her post as chief executive at $7 billion corporate fund Qantas Super in December 2015, Perry commenced as chair of the Fund Executives Association Ltd (FEAL) in August 2016.

She expects to draw on her early career experiences in management consulting and human resources as much as her latter decades in the wealth management sector to inform her approach to the role.

FEAL is a professional development organisation for management staff working in not-for-profit superannuation funds. The body has 32 super funds signed up as corporate members, as well as 40 individual members working in smaller funds. In total, there are roughly 650 individuals who are active members.

The organisation’s main activities are in the areas of higher education, mentoring, and running professional development and networking events.

When FEAL was established in 2001 many funds had just a couple of fulltime staff. Since then the former cottage industry has swollen into a $2 trillion-plus sector, worth more than the total market capitalisation of the local stock exchange or annual gross domestic product.

Along with the mammoth increase in scale across the industry, super funds have morphed into more diverse and complex organisations. This means the need to support the ongoing professional development of fund executives has never been greater.

Perry will work closely with FEAL chief executive Joanna Davison who is responsible for developing the organisation’s program.

Since 2008, 36 people have enrolled in the FEAL Masters in Organisational Leadership at Melbourne Business School. Davison recently accompanied a group on a trip to complete an executive education unit at the London School of Economics and is planning an upcoming trip to INSEAD Singapore.

Since 2014 FEAL has matched 48 fund executives with mentors. Before she helmed the board at FEAL, Perry was a volunteer in its mentoring program. Local Government Super head of projects and IT Kim Heng is one former mentee.

Heng told Investment Magazine that while she and Perry never discussed gender issues specifically, it was invaluable to have access to her perspective as a woman who had been successful in taking on different leadership roles.

“I was so privileged to be mentored by Jane. She is incredibly supportive but also very honest, and forced me to ask hard questions of myself,” Heng says.

“One of the things I learnt from her is the importance of listening to people but also making hard calls when you need to.”

Perry says she “just loves” being a mentor.

Chairing FEAL is a part-time gig for Perry, who also joined BT Group’s superannuation boards following her retirement from Qantas Super in December 2015. She serves on the investment committee and the board audit, risk and compliance committee for all the superannuation funds under the Westpac-owned BT banner.

Her BT directorships give Perry a birds-eye view of how the executive training and development programs at one of the country’s largest retail super managers differs from practices within the not-for-profit super sector.

“They are not better or worse, just different,” she says. “In a big vertically integrated organisation there is the capacity to do a lot more in-house”.

The ability for FEAL members to mix with their peers from other funds has its advantages also.

In other roles Perry is a director of the Sydney Financial Forum, a member of the Salvation Army advisory board, and a director of the Salvation Army operated social enterprise, Employment Plus.

First State Super chief executive Michael Dwyer, the founding chair of FEAL, first met Perry when she was head of custody for JPMorgan and he was a client.

Dwyer is still a director of FEAL and when the board found themselves hunting for a replacement for outgoing chair Neil Cochrane, Perry was high on their wish list of potential candidates.

“Jane had recently left Qantas Super and whoever we asked, her name just kept coming up,” Dwyer says.

“She has a formidable reputation for both her intellect and leadership.”

It was Cochrane, a former chief executive of REST Industry Super who now chairs First State Super, who first approached Perry to take over as his replacement.

“Once I had decided to take the role Neil involved me as a guest in board meetings over a period of about four months, which was terrific and enabled a really sensible transition,” Perry says.

She would love to see funds manage their trustee transitions in a similar manner.

“Of course, that’s not always possible, but it can be done I think there is a lot of benefit for everyone involved,” Perry says.

“And that is equally true when it comes to managing transitions in fund executive roles”.

Dwyer sees another nice continuity in the FEAL leadership transition from Cochrane to Perry, being the two individuals’ shared views on the importance of corporate social responsibility.

“An added dimension that Jane brings is that she has always been a great supporter for developing talented young women within the industry.”

In 2010, Perry was inducted into the YWCA’s Academy of Women Leaders at a ceremony in New York.

It is heartening to see a strong pipeline of women coming through the ranks in the super sector, she says.

 

Shifting gears

Perry, who is 58, says she feels “lucky” to have been in a position to shift gears into a fun and challenging non-executive career at a relatively young age. In part that luck was created by taking to heart the message the super industry is at pains to impress upon its members: start to plan and save early.

Perry and her husband, who is 10 years her senior, started working with a financial adviser to plan for their retirement in 1997.

Since Perry’s husband retired almost a decade ago he has been prompting regular discussions about when she was going do the same, so he could get serious about planning some trips. The pair spent April in Barcelona and southern Spain touring cultural and historic sites, and sampling the local cuisine.

Perry’s retirement gift to herself was a caravan because she loves the outback, “but isn’t that into sleeping on the ground”.

She is looking forward to a change of pace. Immediately prior to joining Qantas Super Perry spent four years with JPMorgan, finishing as head of the US bank’s local custody business.

Previously she had an 11-year career at AXA spanning various executive roles, before the global insurance firm’s local presence was swallowed by AMP Ltd.

These included general manager, people; and general manager, adviser and customer service; culminating with her holding the title of chief operations officer.

Perry never had a formal mentor herself, but credits two former AXA Asia group chief executives, Les Owen and now Telstra boss Andrew ‘Andy’ Penn, as having both played a pivotal role in supporting her professional development.

Before joining AXA in 1988 Perry worked as a management consultant, including stints with KPMG and the Commonwealth Public Service.

This article first appeared in the December print edition of Investment Magazine. To subscribe and have the magazine delivered CLICK HERE. To sign-up for our free regular email newsletters CLICK HERE.




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