If you ask Kathryn Holleran what she does for a living, she will tell you that she fixes things. In her role as a Division Director within Macquarie’s alternative asset management division; Macquarie Infrastructure and Real Assets (MIRA) she supports the acquisition, management and divestment of essential infrastructure assets. With a strong commitment to workforce diversity, Macquarie offers a wealth of services for women in the workplace. As an example, Holleran is the Executive co-sponsor of the Women at Macquarie employee network group, which seeks to drive measurable change in gender equity.
Keep reading to discover just how Holleran fixes things and sets priorities, from first thing in the morning to the last thing before logging off for the day. She also stresses the importance of speaking up when something isn’t right, and of learning from past experiences. She told Fairygodboss. “I try not to let the urgent always win out over the important.”
Describe what you do in one sentence.
I fix things and make systems, processes and teams run more effectively.
I have spent a long time in financial services, and I love working with teams, driving performance to ensure they are set up for success. In my current role, I help improve the running of a shared services team who support a number of portfolio companies. They play an essential back-office role, and I was able to work with them to strengthen processes, revamp parts of the operation and improve overall transparency.
How do your various career and life experiences influence what you contribute to work each day?
I reach back into my experiences prior to joining Macquarie and learn new answers to that question every day. Having lived in a city, scared by the 9/11 terrorist attack, flooded by Hurricane Sandy, staggered by the Global Financial Crisis and now stunned by a pandemic, I’ve learned not to panic and to keep going. For example, I’ve played an intricate part in major transactions before joining Macquarie including multi-billion-dollar sales of businesses to repay funds borrowed from the Federal government during the Global Financial Crisis. One of the things that taught me is that success of even the biggest deals still depends on the smallest details and persistence. Having come from a small town you’ve never heard of, I’ve learned that you can still do some pretty exciting and successful things if you decide that nothing short of your best is good enough, even more so when you’re on unfamiliar ground.
What’s the first (and/or last) thing you do at work every day? How do you prioritize and deal with your to-do list each day?
The first thing I do each morning is see what’s happened over night and how this changes priorities for the day. The last thing I do is answer the most pressing emails and try to set priorities for the next 5–7 days, accepting the likelihood that overnight developments might reset everything all over again
Often, the current deal I’m working on arranges my to-dos for me. I need to be sensitive to the priorities which might arise – whether from the senior leadership of the portfolio companies we work with, the daily operations of the shared services, or strategic initiatives such as how we might respond to a global pandemic.
With so many moving parts, perspective is important. For example, I serve as Executive co-sponsor of Women at Macquarie, an active employee networking group that holds great promise in promoting an inclusive environment, providing a supportive network and enabling our female talent to fulfill their full potential. Despite more urgent matters, this effort needs my time, and I make sure it gets it.
How would you describe your leadership style?
My leadership style aims to uncover what people really enjoy or want to work on and develop for themselves, why they care and what they really think. Then it is a matter of helping put this to good use in whatever it is we need to get done. I’ve used the Harry Potter Dementor analogy on long, difficult assignments — asking people if there is anything the project requires, that sucks the life out of us and how we can change that. I am also a very reflective person and do step back to really listen. If I can do this well, it sets in motion an inclusive, collaborative environment and people will be willing to debate, question and it becomes constructive versus combative. I always ask what I could be doing better or differently, if we encounter hard times. One other thing: maintain a sense of humor, we all need to laugh.
What’s one thing you think job seekers should know about your company?
There is more than one. There is enormous support for ideas and the passion of employees. We are willing to back employees’ ideas. We are risk averse. There is relentless focus on what could go wrong. You need to think things through, because we ask a lot of questions and we are very focused on understanding what’s happening through numbers and data.
How have you used your role to help bring up other women behind you? How do you make this a priority?
I try to be an activist on bringing women to center stage, because I think the only way for our company to succeed is by ensuring that we have access to the talents and efforts of the best people, half of whom are women. I coach on the job, speak at forums, and accept requests to mentor. Every place I have ever worked I have challenged promotions, pay, performance reviews and leadership assignments when I thought women were being overlooked or subject to unconscious bias. People know I will speak up when language or other behaviors make me uncomfortable or is out of step. At Macquarie we promote an inclusive environment, which requires that we do speak up. Remembering times when I wished I’d spoken up more for myself always motivates me to make this a priority. And, remembering how hard it used to be to speak up, also motivates me.
What’s something you excel in at work?
Looking at chaos and seeing order. I’m fairly good at making sense of ambiguous assignments and situations and helping people move forward by breaking situations down into assignable tasks, even when the path is uncertain.
What about outside of work?
I pack a lot into a day – health, marriage, work and staying close to my far-flung family and making people know they are important to me. Maybe I’m a dinosaur, but I still send hand-written letters to friends and family.
What are you trying to improve on?
Over the next ten years, I am determined to figure out how I can do more for others drawing on my experiences and find situations where I can keep learning, even when its uncomfortable; without this I get bored. I would also like to be able to touch my forehead to the floor while doing a standing stretch.
What are the top three qualities you look for when you’re interviewing a candidate?
I look for a person who is hungry for the role. Someone in possession of important interpersonal qualities -- inquisitive, respectful of others, reflective. A direct communicator. I also ask myself what I can learn from this person.
Why do you think your company is a particularly supportive work environment for women?
I think Macquarie is a supportive work environment for everyone – including women. Macquarie believes diversity is a strength to our organization. We are on a journey to learn and view racial and ethnic diversity, equity and inclusion as a priority. At the global, regional, and business level we have action plans to build a workplace where everyone belongs and feels welcome.
Macquarie also believes flexibility is an important factor in balancing life’s many demands. Flexibility is driven not by some rigid company policy, but by individuals and their managers. Women, and men for that matter, who want to prosper find that Macquarie is driven by outcomes not facetime. There is an expectation that people at all levels will participate and question. Our organization is flat, our offices are open plan for everyone, and everyone is welcome at the table — regardless of gender.
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This article is paid for by Macquarie Group and was reviewed before publication.