But O’Shannessy and her tenacity wasn’t going to let something like a global pandemic get in the way of an exciting opportunity. Later that year, she went on to not only lead the company through the process of listing on the Australian Stock Exchange, but last month, Adore celebrated record revenue, customer numbers and multiple trading days for FY22.
Throughout our Zoom conversation, O’Shannessy is open and honest. She exudes empathy and a warmth for others. And that’s part of her magic – the way she champions the people around her. This, dear friends, is what a great leader looks like.
WHAT MAKES A GOOD LEADER?
“I think first and foremost it’s authenticity – being truly yourself. What I like to focus on in my role is building the vision – where to take the team and the business – and then leading with integrity. Say what you mean and do what you say. Having empathy for those around you and creating relationships that are built on trust – they’re the foundations of leadership. And it’s always good to have a healthy dose of resilience. Things go wrong all the time. Roadblocks appear constantly. But I think the best leaders are those who are resilient and just find a path through the various hurdles that we all face in our lives.”
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO SOMEONE GOING INTO LEADERSHIP FOR THE FIRST TIME?
“First, I would say, ‘Understand your strengths, what you’re good at and what you bring to the table.’ Also, it’s really important to understand your blind spots. Then look to build a team around you that complements you. So, it’s not about the skills of any one individual, but about the team as a collective and if you have the right capabilities to solve problems.
“The last thing I would say is, ‘In the early days, don’t be afraid to ask for help and support.’ I think people really enjoy being mentors and advisers; to be supporting the next generation of leaders. As a new leader, you should take advantage of those opportunities. You’re not expected to have all the answers – asking for help is actually a sign of strength.”
IS THERE A PARTICULAR QUOTE OR MOTTO YOU LIVE/WORK BY?
“It’s probably ‘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. Showing up each day, doing your best. This has really helped me in both business and my personal life.
“An example of this would be after my third baby. I was feeling a little bit comfortable in my career and when I feel that my antidote is to deliberately seek out something that makes me feel a little bit scared. So, I decided to do something I’ve never done before and frankly wasn’t very good at either – a half Ironman event.
“Now, let me be clear: I’m not an athlete – not a runner, swimmer or bike rider – so the decision to do this was, granted, quite strange. But, it was a big, hairy, audacious goal that I needed to get myself motivated. So, I just committed to training every day. I ended up successfully completing the half Ironman when my son was six months old. I didn’t break any records, but that was never my intention. I simply wanted to finish something that I had zero experience in.”
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WHAT’S ONE THING ABOUT YOU THAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE?
“My very first job, while I was at university, was actually as a stevedore – someone who works on a dock. I had my straddle carrier licence, crane licence and forklift licence, and I loaded and unloaded ships with all the wharfies. Who would have thought, 20 years later, I’d be running a beauty company! It taught me so much about people and working in teams. And as one of only a couple of women who worked there, it definitely taught me about the importance of inclusivity in the workplace.”
WHAT ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT DECISIONS YOU MAKE AS A LEADER IN YOUR ORGANISATION?
“The most important decisions that I make on a day-to-day basis are always about our people. I think the most essential role of any leader in the business is to attract and hire the very best people that you can into your team, so I always view this as my first priority. Secondly, it’s about the culture. Bringing those people in and making sure they’re able to perform at their absolute best. Do they enjoy being at work? Is it a place that they want to stay for a long time because they can see their career progressing? And then lastly, it would be about setting the strategy and vision.”
HOW DO YOU ENCOURAGE CREATIVE THINKING?
“It certainly starts with clarity on the vision and the strategy but, beyond that, it’s about creating a space for the teams to find their own path to get there. The way we do it at Adore is we strongly encourage what we call the ‘test and learn’ approach. Our teams are strongly encouraged to come up with new ideas – they’re closest to our customers, after all. We want them to test and try new things. They’re encouraged to fail and make mistakes along the way. As long as we learn from them, and those learnings form the basis of our next efforts, that’s absolutely fine. That’s how you create creativity. You set a vision, you give people accountability for delivering that vision, and then you just let them test and learn it. Leaders shouldn’t have all the answers.”
WHO DO YOU TURN TO FOR ADVICE?
“I’ve got a core group of people that I would trust and go to; that I’ve worked with for a long period of time. But my first go-to is usually my husband, Chad. He’s my sounding board, my rock. He’s very, very different to me but he knows me better than anyone. We’ve been together for 25 years and he brings a very calm, people-focused approach to any issue that I’m facing. I, on the other hand, have a lot of energy. I’ve always got lots of things going on and a very long to-do list. We really balance each other out.”
WHERE DO YOU GO FOR INSPIRATION?
“I don’t think you need to look much further than the Australian start-up entrepreneurial ecosystem. I feel incredibly privileged when I look at my career and some of the people that I have been able to work with – some of Australia’s most inspirational founders. There’s Andrew Bassat at SEEK – I worked with him for 10 years – and Kate Morris and James Height at Adore Beauty. I think it’s incredible when you see the energy these founders bring to the start-up space. When I’m in need of inspiration, I look to the really impressive individuals we have here in Australia.”
WHAT’S THE BEST DECISION YOU’VE EVER MADE?
“Each career move I’ve embarked on has led to growth and development. It felt very scary and uncertain at the time, but I wouldn’t be where I am today without each of the decisions that I’ve made. So, if I was to reflect on the last big decision I made – to join Adore Beauty – it was mid-2020, just as COVID-19 was really taking hold. I was joining a great business that was led by two inspiring founders, privately owned, of a certain size, and with a mandate to grow, so a really exciting opportunity. However, just as I was starting the pandemic hit. As an e-commerce business, customer orders increased dramatically and we pivoted to working under COVID-safe conditions. Partnering with co-founder Kate, I was asked to lead the business through the process of listing on the Australian Stock Exchange. I thought, ‘Embrace the fear – let’s do it.’ Later that year, we listed on the ASX with a woman CEO, a woman co-founder and a majority woman board and executive team. A very proud moment for sure.”
WHAT WORDS WOULD BEST DESCRIBE YOU IN HIGH SCHOOL?
“Tall, skinny nerd. I loved studying, I loved education, and I definitely wasn’t one of the cool kids growing up but, you know, that’s okay.”
WHAT DO YOU WISH YOU HAD KNOWN 20 YEARS AGO?
“I put a lot of pressure on myself back then. Like I said, I was your typical geek at school. I enjoyed learning, but placed a lot of pressure on myself to have all the answers in terms of what I wanted to be when I grew up. The truth is I had no idea. Coming straight out of uni I studied vet science but decided that wasn’t for me. Then I completed a law and commerce degree. If I could tell myself anything, it would be that it’s absolutely okay not to know what you want be when you grow up. It’s actually the journey, and all the different roles you have along the way, that’s the fun part.”
AND YOUR GREATEST STRENGTH?
“It’s probably my perseverance. I mean, maybe this is a flaw at times, but it never occurs to me that I should just give up. Instead, I keep pushing through. I’m someone who has worked through lots of challenging roles and made mistakes along the way. I simply see this as an opportunity to learn about what not to do next time. You just need to pick yourself back up and keep going.”
Like what you’ve read and want to read more? We can recommend our exclusive interview with Salesforce CEO, Pip Marlow. She shares invaluable advice on how be a great leader, why believing in yourself is key and what Salesforce is doing to adapt to the work environment of the future. You can read it HERE.