10 Essential Lessons I Learned From The Women I Interviewed In 2022
Susan Armstrong knows just how lucky she is... She takes a look back at some of the extraordinary women she interviewed in 2022, and the lessons she learned from each of them.
Female leaders on their best business lessons
I founded The Suite Collective to, quite simply, share the stories of the women leaders who are making decisions today and influencing change tomorrow. So, as 2022 (and our first full year in business, I might add) comes to a close, I wanted to take this opportunity to look back at some of the extraordinary interviews I conducted with some of the world’s most interesting, successful, powerful, empathic leaders. Women who make your eyes shine bright and your heart feel full; straight shooters who refuse to sleepwalk into the abyss; leaders, entrepreneurs, activists and creators, each with their own purpose and story to tell.

To choose my favourite would be nigh on impossible, so here’s the next best thing: the 10 essential lessons I learned from the many incredible women I spoke with.


From L-R (clockwise): Tennealle O’Shannessy, Kemi Nekvapil, Deborah Hutton, Pip Marlow, Friska Wirya and Kara Goldin.



Women at the top aren’t fearless, much as it might seem that way. Instead, they stride towards their fear to continually challenge themselves and grow as leaders. The CEO of Adore Beauty, Tennealle O’Shannessy loves a big, hairy, audacious goal, revealing that the motto she works and lives by is, ‘Embrace the uncomfortable.’ “It’s not about waiting until you feel no fear, or until conditions are perfect. It’s about pushing on despite the fear,” she shared. “It’s showing up each day and doing your best. This has really helped me both professionally and personally.”


Kara Goldin, Founder and CEO of Hint Water, also has a motto that she turns to, particularly when it comes to making those tough decisions, and that’s: ‘What’s the worst that can happen?’ “It’s something I’m known for saying,” she revealed. “Whenever I’m a little fearful, whether I’m weighing up a risk, trying something new or doing something I’m uncomfortable with, I think about the worst-case scenario. And when you think about what the very worst thing could be, the reality is very rarely that bad.”


And Friska Wirya, a change management expert with the most extraordinary story, learned early on in life that you can’t let fear get in the way of reaching your goals. “Never give up,” she said. “Perseverance is key to building a business. It is a long journey, but a journey you can call your own.”


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To know Kemi Nekvapil is to love and admire her honesty, determination and passion for everything she does. When she admitted she struggled with owning her worth in the past, it was not only surprising, it struck a chord. “The biggest challenge of my career to date is owning my worth. In business, as a woman, that can be challenging, particularly as a woman who stands on global stages, where the highest-paid speakers are generally white men. Up until now – even though it is slowly changing – the people who come from diverse backgrounds have been told the story that they should just be grateful that they’ve been asked to speak. That it’s ‘good exposure’, so don’t expect to be paid as well. It’s about having those conversations around owning my worth, charging my fee and having really strong boundaries around that.”



Over and over again, women leaders said their best strategy for success is to hire people who are curious, diverse and, most importantly, smarter than themselves. Pip Marlow, CEO of Salesforce’s Australia-New Zealand and ASEAN operations , is one such leader whose hope is to one day work for someone she’s hired. “I want to work with people who make me sit up a little straighter because they’re so good at what they do. In fact, my dream is to hire someone who I will work for one day. Wouldn’t that be cool? That you could identify and develop talent that you end up working for? That would be such an incredible story of success.”


Kara Goldin would agree, saying “You can’t create a great company without a great team. However, as a leader, you have to be inspiring enough to bring people into a company, and also be willing to teach them. When recruiting for new talent, she refers to the best piece of business advice she’s ever received: “Hire for a curiosity, not for experience.”


And entrepreneur, media personality and brand ambassador Deborah Hutton has surrounded herself with people she trusts. “I’ve been self-employed all my life, but I love working within a team. In television you work with the team, in creating a home line you work with the team – everything I’ve done, I’ve worked with somebody. It’s about choosing those people, and I’ve chosen well. I’ve made those relationships work and that’s given me longevity. The critical thing in business is the human relationships you have around you – choosing well will always help pave the way for a positive future.”


From L-R (clockwise): Jane McNally, Eva Malmström Shivdasani, Anna Lee, Sarah Willingham, Coco Brown and Kate Quirke.



It may come as a surprise that many of the hugely successful women I interviewed touched on imposter syndrome and how it had impacted their career at one point or another. But rather than let it consume you, use it to your advantage.


Coco Brown, Founder and CEO of Athena Alliance, keeps telling people to embrace impostor syndrome “because it’s really ‘Impostor Reality’ until it’s not. David Bowie had this very famous quote; ‘Always go a little further into the water than you feel you’re capable of being in. Go a little bit out of your depth. And when you don’t feel that your feet are quite touching the bottom, you’re just about in the right place to do something exciting.’”


Dragon’s Den investor Sarah Willingham is of the mindset that, “People don’t see you coming, and they normally underestimate you. I always use the analogy; ‘no one sees the rhino coming.’ You’ve got this huge rhino with tiny, little legs, and people think, ‘what’s he going to do?’. Well, he’s the biggest killer in the savanna. If people underestimate you, let them. You now have the advantage.”


And Pip Marlow admitted that; “As extroverted as I am, and as confident as I appear, I still have the little imposter in my ear. The little voice that says, ‘When are they going to figure out I’m not worthy?’ But while it’s important to listen to that voice, you must remember your fears or insecurities are feelings, not facts,” she continued. “When you allow those feelings to become facts, they create negative beliefs that take you on a downward spiral. So acknowledge the feeling – I’m nervous about this, but also excited about taking this opportunity and learning from it – and then keep going.”



According to Harvard Business Review, businesses that put empathy and emotional intelligence ahead of everything else out-perform their competitors by 20%. Kate Quirke, CEO of Alcidion, is passionate about creating an environment that prioritises empathy. “The future autocratic decision-maker at the top of the tree will not be able to survive in the world that is continuing to emerge,” she explained. “The world is changing, and the people who are working for us are changing. We’re no longer a patriarchal society. The people we are hiring now have not been raised by fathers and mothers in traditional roles, so they actually expect their family life to be reflected in their working life. If you can’t put yourself in other people’s shoes, you cannot see where they’re coming from, and then you cannot create an environment in which they will want to work.”



Just because you weren’t born confident, doesn’t mean you can’t change the way you feel or behave. Friska Wirya revealed she spent decades making her life look ‘effortless’. “A lot of people say that I make everything look so easy, and it’s always high quality, but I certainly wasn’t born confident,” revealed Wirya. “I was socially awkward as a child because I didn’t have any siblings or friends. I grew up with books and dolls, so all these social skills – this ‘charisma’ (she says with air quotes) that everybody says they’re drawn to – I worked on that.”


Anna Lee, CEO of Flybuys, is of the same mindset, citing one of her favourite books Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. “The key takeaway of Outliers is no one is born gifted or lucky,” explained Lee. “If you practise enough, and you subject yourself to the right training in the right conditions, you will excel. I love this because people often think that success or an exceptional career is not in your hands – like it’s someone else’s job, some sort of external force, or you were ‘born lucky’. But this book proves the opposite: if you just put your mind to it and apply yourself, then you’ll have success. It also shows that these supposedly gifted people, that are famous and hugely successful, aren’t ‘gifted’, they just put the 10,000 hours of practice in to be that way.”



The most successful women have learned that it’s imperative to enjoy what you do – otherwise, what’s the point? Jane McNally, CEO of CAMILLA, loves her work and has created an environment where her team does too. “Too many people take themselves and their work far too seriously,” she explained. “That can lead to fearful thinking and unnecessary stress. I like to remind the team that we’re not saving lives, we’re making frocks and, whilst great fashion certainly makes people’s lives happier and more colourful, no one’s life is on the line. It’s okay to make the odd mistake and learn from it. I love what I do and I want to create an environment where people feel natural, friendly and easy with one another. It’s so important to have fun at work; most people would say there’s a lot of laughter around the CAMILLA office.”



While none of the women had any major regrets, some admitted to wishing they had looked after their health a little more, including Soneva Group’s co-founder and creative director, Eva Malmström Shivdasani. “I was very careless when I was young. I didn’t drink enough water, lived on chocolate, and I really did not take good care of myself. I regret that now. Now I am much more careful and try to eat more healthily, avoiding sugar and dairy. At our Soneva resorts, we use alternative sugars and serve mostly plant-based food. It’s impossible to taste the difference between dairy-based blue cheese and our plant-based one. We buy a lot of produce from Australia, as it is the only country where one can trust that the product isn’t genetically modified or, at the very least, told when it is, so one can avoid it. Now I only eat organic food, use only organic beauty products and I don’t even have a mobile phone. I never had one, so I don’t miss it.”



Happiness is a driving force in Anna Lee’s life and also the barometer by which she measures her success. “I believe you need to be happy in every aspect of your life. I don’t think you can be successful if you, hand on your heart, feel that you’re trading one aspect of your life for something else. It shouldn’t be that you’re doing a really great job at work, but your friends and family aren’t getting the best version of you. Or vice versa. It’s knowing what your priorities are, and then making sure that they’re weighted in the way that is important to you.”



Here at The Suite Collective, storytelling is our purpose, our business, our passion. Showing you the power of your story is why we exist. And there’s never been a better time to share it with the world, says Kemi Nekvapil.


“As women we’re realising we don’t have to know how to do everything and we don’t have to be connected to the right people. But if we are willing to share our stories, whatever they are – success, failure, abuse, misogyny, patriarchy, whatever it is – there are other people willing to say, ‘I stand with you, I believe you, and I’m happy to walk alongside you.’ The more women do that, we give each other permission to do it too. It’s a very exciting time.”


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