Flybuys’ New CEO Anna Lee On The Decision That Changed The Course of Her Career
As Anna Lee begins the next chapter of her career as the CEO of Flybuys, she talks to Susan Armstrong about collaboration, chances and, well, hermit crabs.
Anna Lee, CEO, Flybuys
When Anna Lee was eight years old, she experienced a moment in time that would become her most vivid childhood memory. “I was born in Hong Kong, so the beach and the sand were a real novelty when my family moved to Sydney,” she explains. “One day, we were at Balmoral and it was a beautifully warm, sunny day and the water was crystal clear. I remember, so vividly, seeing all these little hermit crabs washed up with the tide, scattered all over the beach. I was there with a friend and we were just amazed by how many there were. We ran around collecting them in a little bucket before releasing them back into the water.

“It was the perfect moment, full of pure joy and happiness, surprise and wonder. It felt like home, in my heart, and had such an impact on me that I now call Balmoral home. I go to the beach almost every day now, and the feelings are always the same – peace and happiness.”

Happiness – a driving force in 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,” she explains with a wide, warm smile. “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.”


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What’s important to Lee right now is starting the next chapter in her career as the new CEO of Flybuys – Australia’s most popular loyalty program. After eight hugely successful years as CFO, Acting CEO, and COO of The Iconic, Lee began her new role this time last week and she’s hit the ground running.

“Being part of the journey of building The Iconic – from being a ‘dream big’ moment to a household name – was amazing. It’s quite the success story. But I’m ready for a new challenge at Flybuys. I’m certainly expecting to work very hard, but I know I have very strong leadership qualities and one of my strengths is building relationships founded on trust. I’m confident that I can do that in my new environment, which will go a long way to setting everyone up for success.”

“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.”

Lee talks a lot about trust, and openness and autonomy – it’s what her leadership style is founded on. It’s also about not being afraid to give or receive feedback; being comfortable and humble enough to admit mistakes, to learn from them, talk about them, and share them. Mostly for Lee, it’s about leading by example. “People need to see it,” she says adamantly. “It’s not enough to say, ‘I enjoy a trusted, open relationship’ because people can see when it’s not. It’s about really walking the talk.”

And walk the talk she does. As the kind of leader who, throughout her career, has focused on “what needs to be done” as opposed to only doing what fits into her job title, Lee creates psychologically safe environments that encourage growth and expansion, giving people the power to challenge and change. “Part of the success of progression is when you’re happy to look outside of what your role is, or not have defined boundaries, and that’s how you learn and grow,” says Lee. “They’re the options that you create for yourself, and people can see that. It’s like the secret sauce of getting things done – just jumping in and doing something, even if it’s not your responsibility or part of your job description.”

Anna Lee, CEO, Flybuys


Another ingredient of Lee’s ‘secret sauce’ is collaboration – something that’s hugely important to her. “You get to a stage in your career when you realise that nothing is achieved solo, and that anything you do on your own is never going to be as good as when it’s done with a group of people,” she explains.

“I think teamwork and collaboration are often very underestimated skills. They’re words that are bandied around quite easily and freely, but both happen when there is trust. It comes from everyone understanding the role that each person in the team plays, and they’re happy to step in when you see a member perhaps needing support.”

So, who does Lee turn to when she’s the one in need of support? “I’ve got a really great network, from other leaders, peers and friends. It’s more about having the mindset to ask for advice, than who you choose to ask. Having said that, I probably turn to my husband the most. We have a really beautiful relationship and marriage that’s founded, first and foremost, on an amazing friendship – he’s my best mate. He’s the first person I tell if something bad has happened, or if something amazing has happened. We’ve been together for about 25 years – I’m very lucky.”

Lucky? Or perhaps committed to working on her marriage? One of Lee’s favourite books is Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, which asks the question: what makes high achievers different? “The key takeaway of Outliers is no one is born gifted or lucky,” explains 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.”

“I think TEAMWORK and COLLABORATION are often very underestimated skills.”

It’s clear Lee has put in her 10,000 hours, and then some, to have the career she does today… not that she always pictured it that way. The greatest chance she ever took was “without a doubt, changing careers after 23 years from finance to broader operations and enterprise leadership,” she says. “That was big. I set out thinking my career would always be in finance, and when the opportunity arose, I knew I had to take it, because it may not have come around again. I could have probably played it safe and stayed, decided that was who I was and let it define me, but I took the chance.”

And what about the best decision she ever made? “It’s a bit of a nerdy answer, but to start my career with a financial background was a pretty good call,” Lee reveals. “Ultimately, businesses fail when the numbers don’t add up. I’m really happy that I started my career in finance, and then later developed leadership capabilities, which comes with experience. Leaders these days need to have great leadership qualities but also equally balance these traits with commercial know-how. So, starting my career in finance has served me well.”

It certainly has. As Lee embarks on her exciting new role, she takes with her a wealth of experience, a strong work ethic, a sense of fun mixed with some pragmatism, and one of her favourite analogies. “I always use World Cup soccer teams as a great analogy because most people understand it, even if they’re not soccer fans,” she explains.

“The winning teams are the ones that practise together. It’s a lot of drills and everyone has to practise giving feedback, communicating and sharing – that team has worked at working together. They have an enormous amount of trust and they can almost predict what the other person will do before they do it. They don’t need to say anything, it might just be a look. These are some of the attributes of high performance that you see in business. When we have these amazing teams, there’s great momentum. But it takes time, and every team member needs to show up each day and work on it. But when you see it, it’s absolute magic.”



Last Eureka moment? I think it was when I acknowledged that I didn’t need to have all the answers. It was a bit of a moment when I thought, ‘Hang on, how could I have all the answers? It’s actually impossible’. When I came to that realisation, I felt quite liberated.

What was your dream job as a child? Strangely an architect, but I have no desire to live that dream now. (Laughs)

One recipe you make on repeat? I’m a meal prepper, so it’s salmon, rice and vegetables. I take about 45 minutes every Sunday to make all my meals for the week – I have the process down-pat – and it gives me one less thing to worry about during the week.

What’s something people don’t know about you? I auditioned for the first season of My Kitchen Rules. My friend decided he wanted to do it, so he put my name down too. I wasn’t sure because I definitely wasn’t going to give up my day job if we were successful. But we auditioned and obviously didn’t get in… probably because we didn’t bring the drama. (Laughs)

Is there a movie you can watch over and over again? Zoolander. It’s so funny – I’ve probably seen it about 20 times. I’ll be watching it and I’ll start to laugh even before the funny scenes happen.

What small business are you loving right now? I found a florist on the Northern Beaches, in Brookvale, during the pandemic. It’s called White House Flowers and they’re amazing. Their flowers last for such a long time. Plus, they deliver and they know what I like. But mostly, they have such a great work ethic and provide such a brilliant customer experience that I’m happy to support them.

Favourite mantra? ‘Look after yourself before you look after others.’ I’m a big believer of that. A lot of people – particularly women – tend to prioritise everyone around them, at the expense of themselves. But I’m a real believer that unless you are your best version, there’s no way you should be looking after others. That’s a huge thing for me, and that isn’t just a mantra, it’s how I live.


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