Anna Leibel is UniSuper’s Chief Delivery and IT Officer responsible for delivering strategic projects, member administration operations, developing and implementing the IT strategy, and information security management.
Since 2017 Anna has been leading the fund through transformational change to deliver better value and experience to members through digitisation of the business. As a highly accomplished senior executive and corporate adviser, Anna is renowned for her ability to blend customer-focused strategy development and transformational change across technology, business practices and growth culture. Anna’s cross-industry career spans more than two decades in transformation programs, IT advisory and technology start-ups with organisations including PwC, Telstra, seek and NAB.
She is a board member with Ambulance Victoria and is a graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors.
Anna has participated in two senior executive programs at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT): Succeeding in a Digital Economy, and Driving Strategic Innovation. Anna is co-author of The Secure Board which will be published in early 2021.
I’m the eldest of two girls. I spent all of my childhood right through until I was 20, living in Diamond Creek, which might be seen as a suburb of Melbourne nowadays. But at the time, it was a small country town. I was a very active child. Mom and dad said that I always wanted to be involved in everything and to help them. So whether that was in the kitchen or in the garden or out with dad because they had two daughters, out with dad in the garage.
I loved reading from a very early age and I still do. My mom grew up in Melbourne. She’s the eldest of three children and trying to be a teacher. So back in 1964, teachers had one year of teacher training. My dad is from Germany, so he was born in 1947 and he’s the second youngest of nine children, so a large family, and they moved to Australia in 1956. My dad left school at the end of year 10 to undertake a five-year plumbing apprenticeship. I always thought that was worth mentioning because it's interesting that my mom had one year of training to be a teacher but my dad had five years to learn to be a plumber. my father then continued to be a plumber and joined the gas and fuel where he moved into management roles and spent all of his corporate career before leaving the gas and fuel and starting his own computer business, which we can talk about a bit later. My mom continued to be a teacher right up until her retirement.
My parents are hard workers. We didn’t grow up with a lot of money, and so everything that we did have they had to work hard for. But also, we were heavily involved as volunteers in a local fire brigade, so the CFA. My dad joined the CFA in 1969 and continued to support the local community through the CFA for about 30 years, including being the captain for five years at that time. My mom was the president of the Ladies’ Auxiliary for 12 years, and my sister and I were also involved in different running groups and things that were available through the fire brigade. So, for me, that sense of giving back to the community and supporting the community has always been there.
So from a values perspective, I’ve reflected back on the times in my career that I’ve been able to feel that again and find that again. In particular, that was during my time at PwC and I worked with Victoria Government as a client across things like the Royal Commission into Family Violence and Service Victoria but also now being on the Ambulance Victoria board. I do find that very rewarding and get that sense of satisfaction and giving back that I felt when I was part of the CFA.
So, for me, it’s being able to take a 25-year career and experience to the community. It’s through that role of playing a governance aspect across IT, so whether that’s across different areas around information and cyber security, around the governance of procurements and finances and also applying a really active role around people and culture. But it also provides the opportunity for me to learn because I haven’t had a health background.
I had two people that played a really significant role in my life. The first one is my mom, and she was an amazing role model for me. I was born in the mid-‘70s. Back then, generally moms would stay at home. So my mom actually worked from the time I went to prep and so went back to teaching. But she even worked when my sister and I are at home. She actually had family daycare, so looking after other people's children in our home. But she was always managing her own finances, so she had her own back account. She bought her own cars. She would pay for her own holidays and really played an active role around guiding my sister and I around being independent and how important that independence was.
Because she was a teacher, she loved my love over reading. When I was in prep one day, you have your reader that you bring home for homework and I asked. Well, I turned to mom and said, “Mom, I can read this faster in my head. Do I have to read it out loud?” Mom laughed at me and said, “Go ahead,” but she used to test me and made sure I had to do my reading. But the other influential person was actually my grade four teacher, and her name was – We called her Ms. K, but it was Ms. Kennedy, and she was so supportive of my love of reading. I literally had my head in a book constantly, and other people had commented on that that I was a quiet child. I didn’t have a lot of friends. I didn’t participate lot. I just loved reading. So Ms. K actually encouraged me to read but also on a number of weekends would go to the book fairs with me and different readings. I look back fondly on the influence she had on me in grade four to really just enjoy the love of books.
I actually taught myself how to code when I was eight years old, and I mentioned earlier that mom and dad had to work for everything that we had. Dad actually worked overtime a lot. For about 11 years, he did overtime and shift work and actually used some of that money to buy us a computer in the house and a book around learning how to code. Now, what's interesting is he actually bought that for himself. I mentioned really that he went from plumbing and gas fitting and to starting his own IT business. He actually is completely self-trained, and I get that from my dad. I also taught myself how to code. Today, I find learning about new and emerging technologies very, very easy and how to apply them.
So teaching myself how to code I think set the path for my career, rather than me choosing to go into IT. When I was working, I was – I had a part-time job at a local supermarket, but as well as that in year 12, I got to the middle of the year. I turned 18, and a lot of my friends and my family’s friends were actually asking me for help with their computers. This was the time that the world wide web was launched and email was new, and people couldn’t get their head around the concept of they could send an email to someone because back then we were writing letters and sending faxes.
So I actually saw an opportunity to start my own business. I’m still actually working at the supermarket but as well as doing year 12 and actually started my own IT training business with my mom’s car. So I borrowed her car and a stack of business cards. So I continued doing that business for four years. I did leave the supermarket and actually also got a full-time job. So you can see there’s a real work ethic here. Not a lot of balance but that’s okay. I basically helped businesses and families really raise their awareness and maturity around how to use those new technology tools.
I spent most of my 20s working across service desk and into project management roles. For most of my 20s, the jobs were just work. I really didn’t have a sense of a career and I wasn't overly ambitious. That was when I worked for a manager at Telstra in a role who saw potential in me and really helped me understand what that potential was. So even how to articulate it and how to progress it and actually got the opportunities to continue to grow. That’s when – His name is Jason Kelsey. He’s a partner at Deloitte now, and he and I have had a great conversation about a year ago about the significant role, but he did play around my career. It was a real turning point for me. I then moved into focusing more around leadership roles, and my 20s really were around more technology skills. I undertook my first transformational role back in 2012 at Telstra around a delivery function, which I found really rewarding and then had the opportunity to move into a sales role at Telstra, so working cross Telstra's enterprise and government client space in a sales capacity. Now, talk about taking myself out of my comfort zone. I went out of a large delivery role where I was quite comfortable. I moved into a sales role but used a lot of lingo that I was not familiar with. But I also didn’t have a team, so I went in there as an interim job contributor, and that was a really great experience for me around expanding on my learning.
Thanks to that role that really did come by in the sales and the IT background, I was approached by PwC to join their IT consulting practice, which I did do and had a very rewarding time there working across their client base but predominantly in Victorian Government. Then I left PwC and joined UniSuper. I did join as the CIO, so accountable for technology. Last May, I had an expanded role announced, and that really brings together project delivery and member administration which we call operations and continue to take the technology space as well.
So that pulls together half of the business. It’s about 500 people, including the partners and then the partners that we have working with us. It really helps deliver all of the strategic change for the business, as well as manage all of their member processes and how we actually support our members through their onboarding and all the other different types of requests they have around the super annulation in their pensions and also the operational side of IT, so more around the information and cyber security and all of it. Sort of management's problem, management and change management. So that’s a really broad role, a very rewarding role, and a great, great group of people to work with.
At 20, I’d already built a house and I had a mortgage. So if I can go back and talk to that 21-year-old girl, I would say to her, “Please remember to enjoy yourself and lighten up a little bit.” By having a mortgage at such a young age, I mentioned before I worked two jobs. So I had my own business and had a full-time job. I’ve always been a really hard worker, but I have found that hard to have balance. I think I started that off at a really young age by having such a significant commitment.
So I’ve got stories. I could keep you entertained for hours around people talking out of the top of me, turning their back to me in meetings, commenting on how long my arms and legs are. For those – I know it’s a podcast. I am six-foot tall, so I am quite lanky. But, for me, I always look at what I can actually influence. For me, I had a very pivotal moment about five years ago where I actually decided to undertake my yoga teacher training, so it’s a bit random. Because I love to learn and I do love yoga and I just wanted to get better at it.
So I turned up on the first day and looked around, and nearly everyone else in my class was 20. I was already 40, in my 40s, and they all looked like super models. I told myself in my mind, “You’re too old. You’re not fit enough. You’re not going to do well at this.” And within four days, I was doing head stands and hand stands, and I spent a lot of time afterwards reflecting on what else I was telling myself I couldn't do, not just in my career but also in my life. Because, for me, I think it's us thinking. At the time, I remember thinking career-wise that I was too young to have the big job. Now, I think I'm in my mid-40s and saying that we have a perception that I’m too old for a certain job or to do a certain activity. So, for me, that was so important to the decisions that I've made in particular around leaving PwC to join UniSuper for my first executive role.
The yoga and the reading. So a lot of the things I do outside work today are actually things that quiet my mind as I do find them on constantly when I’m at work.
I really like one by Ken Blanchard, and that’s, “The key to successful leadership is influence, not authority.”
I think it’s really thinking through or developing who you are as a leader, and I actually think that’s something that we always should continue to work on throughout our whole career. I think back to the role, in particular the role at Telstra in 2012 when I was undertaking my fist transformation. I wouldn't say I was authority in style but I was definitely the one making all the decisions. I now work from a philosophy that I am one person and I’m only as good as my team. So it’s really me working with them and really helping them have clarity around their role as an individual, as well as the role of their team and what they’re actually held accountable for and measured on and helping them have the confidence to continue to grow.
I first read about 15 years ago, but I still think he’s so powerful is Ken Blanchard again. But the One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey. It is a really short and easy read but is so powerful around describing how to delegate. I think as you transition from being an individual contributor to moving into being a leader, you don’t do the work anymore but you do need to delegate. It’s what makes you good at what you do, and this goes rather perfectly. So I highly recommend that.
Good to Great by Jim Collins, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek.
Anna is the co-author of The Secure Board which will be published in early 2021. The Secure Board shares the key elements of cyber security for Board Directors to gain the confidence that their organisation is cyber safe.