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Jo Mikleus - Courage to step outside your comfort zone

April 26, 2017
Jo Mikleus
Jo Mikleus
Exec and Non-Exec Director
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Jo Mikleus has more than 25 years’ experience in banking and business. She was most recently the Head of Global Subsidiaries at ANZ and was responsible for the bank’s largest multi-national clients doing business in Australia. In addition to her executive role, she has been a director on the Board of ANZ Bank (Vietnam) Ltd since 2014.

Prior to her last role, Jo was the Chief of Staff to the CEO Mike Smith, overseeing Mike’s involvement in external activities such as the B20, FSI, IIF and Male Champions of Change. Internally, she drove the CEO’s strategic priorities, development of the bank’s social media strategy and oversaw the development of ANZ’s market leading flexibility, diversity and inclusion policies. She travelled to Silicon Valley on two occasions with the Board and Management Board to keep abreast of innovation and inform the Bank’s response to digital disruption.

Jo is on the Melbourne 4.0 Taskforce, helping Greater Melbourne prepare, act and embrace the accelerating speed of innovation and disruption.

Jo has a Bachelor of Social Science (Economics) from UNSW and is a Graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors.

"Nothing of consequence gets accomplished without courage."
~ Malcolm Gladwell

Show Notes

My Story

To date my career has spanned over 26 years, ranging in experience and seniority within the financial services industry with the ANZ. Despite having been in the industry for such a significant period of time, to this day I do not consider myself or limit myself to being labelled a banker. The breadth of businesses I have run, the skills I have developed through my unique roles and the disruptive innovation exposure I have had, particularly over the last 7 years, has meant that I have been more than a typical banker. Instead I would describe myself as an all-round business leader with the bulk of my experience focused around the building, reshaping and leading of high performing teams as large as 350 people or earning as much as $300m in profit. The leadership roles that I have had have been within all different areas of the industry from the banking for mums and dads business through to institutional banking, from the marketing team through to a contact centre. It is this experience that has expanded my knowledge and skills from beyond those of business and banking alone, enabling me to operate more so as a ‘generalist’ business leader which is unusual in the industry.

During my career I have also held roles that have not been your traditional banking or financial institution positions, expanding my skill sets and knowledge. The first more unique role I have held was the Chief of Staff to Mike Smith, the global CEO of ANZ and the second role being serving on the board of ANZ’s wholly owned subsidiary in Vietnam. These roles enabled me to develop strong skill sets revolved around the navigating, influencing and collaborating required within complex stakeholder situations. They equipped me with the skills to build professional relationships at the most senior levels of business including top tier CEOS, directors and high net worth individuals, many relationships which I have been able to maintain to this day.

These roles have required me to be across anything and everything happening within the bank, I was at board meetings, involved in investor discussions, part of the strategy teams, preparing for mergers and acquisitions. Through my direct dealings with the boards and being on a board myself, I came to learn and understand the differences in the mindsets that you need to have as a top level executive as opposed to that of a top level non-executive member. The roles also exposed me to the concerns beyond our national market, giving me a global perspective of our business and how we operate across the 34 different countries in which we do business. This taught me how to interact with all types of stakeholders from clients, to regulators, to government across a multitude of countries, having travelled to 28 of the countries in which we operated over a two and a half year period. Travelling constantly was part of the role and knowing that from the start, it had to be a family decision for me to take the role, given how much time it required me to be apart from my husband and children. When I was away, other people in my family had to step up and perform the jobs and tasks that ordinarily I would have been doing. You quickly adjust to the fact that being required to travel across countries regularly becomes your routine, that you may not be able to maintain the strict predictable routine that you may have when you are based in one location. There is usually still some level of predictability, particularly around the cycle of the business year.

My approach to building or reshaping high performing teams centres around bringing the staff’s focus back to the customer experience, increasing staff engagement, setting high performance bars and ensuring that I continually scan and respond to the external environment whether it be a change in economic conditions, market trends or disruptive innovation. I have had direct exposure to disruptive innovation leading my own teams through the cultural journey required to embrace change in innovation, furthered by my involvement in multiple trips to the Silicon Valley, the very source of it all. These trips were fact-finding missions of the board, learning first-hand what disruptions were coming to Australia, how other large companies had or were intending on responding to them as a basis of how the ANZ should then go about planning its own strategic response to them.

After dedicating 26 years to the one employer, who has given me so much and who I have been able to offer much to, it was finally time for a change at the end of 2016. My life with the ANZ had not been continuous in the sense that I did take a break when I had my 3 children, however was asked to come back when I was 7 months pregnant with my third child. My boss at the time was very forward thinking, we had come to the agreement that I would come to work with my son 2 days a week and work from home 2 days a week. Even my child had spent two days a week of the first 5 months of his life at the ANZ, that’s how little time I spent away from them. I had gathered so many skillsets throughout so many roles; however they were restricted by the fact that they had all been developed within the culture and operation of one organisation. After deep reflection and consideration of the needs of my family, I realised that it was time for me to challenge myself and to utilise all the skills I had developed, stepping outside of my comfort zone of banking. This has not only allowed me but has forced me to learn how to be agile and adaptive in new situations, in an arena outside of the financial services industry.

I am now what they refer to as being in transition, which has given me the opportunities to have open and frank discussions with CEOS and top tier professionals about the opportunities for the next phase of my career. I am now reaching out to the network that I have built over my career and through this am generating job leads for myself, CEO and directorship roles. This has been an unexpected and enjoyable experience particularly given the risk that I took in deciding to leave the employer that I had always been with and that often the opportunities arise where you are not expecting them to. Often when you meet with someone for one thing, they end up assisting you with something entirely different or connect you with someone else. When you are clear in articulating what it is that you want to do, people are happy to help. It requires that you are clear within your own mind what that looks like, for a while I was sitting on the fence as to whether I stay within the financial services industry or not, particularly when offered opportunities from other banks. It has allowed me to start thinking about and focusing on what it is that I want to achieve over the next 26 years of my career. Since leaving the ANZ I have been involved in Melbourne’s 4.0 Taskforce, assisting them in strategically planning for how to prepare Greater Melbourne for the accelerating speed of innovation disruption in a city context, as opposed to in a corporate or banking environment. This has given me a side-project to focus on and keep me stimulated during my networking and job-hunting activities.

Advice To Self and Others

Something I learned during the break that I took to have my children which I have applied as a leader is recognising the need to seek support and to then accept that support when it is offered to you. I realised the mistakes that I had made when I was trying to juggle looking after 3 young children with part-time work by rejecting the offers of help that I did receive. Overplaying my personal strengths of independence and my hard work ethic had meant that they had become my weaknesses; I was tired and had worn myself down. I am grateful that I learnt this lesson when I did as it has allowed me to apply it as I have been involved in larger and larger leadership roles.

Successful Habits

Throughout your career, you are naturally faced with roadblocks. I take the view that if you are confident about your capabilities and experiences, and then surround yourself with those who support this confidence, just like a water course there will be other ways around the roadblock. For example with one of the marketing roles, which I acquired through being knocked back for a promotion in a different area, I first felt like I was being punished or that it was a negative as they were telling me I lacked the experience. However, I am now grateful that I had that role as it was my first leadership type of role and was the start of my passion for leading others. Although at the time it was a roadblock, I was able to find another way around it. Another important factor or asset for overcoming roadblocks is having a supportive and effective boss; however this is not always possible. Where I have been put into positions that were quite senior or unusual, it has been because I have had the backing of my boss who in effect becomes your sponsor who coaches and guides you.

One of my other strategies has been remembering the importance of my networks and making the efforts required to nurture and develop them. The value of doing so has become apparent recently during my transitional period where I have begun to heavily rely on my network in the search for my next career move. Even if you have not seen someone for a year or two, people will still be happy to help if you have made an effort to remain in touch; everyone understands that we are all busy.

Inspiration quotes

I came across this quote not long after I had made the decision to leave the ANZ and have it on a sticky-note stuck to my computer screen. It is by the author Malcolm Gladwell who said ‘Nothing of consequence gets accomplished without courage’. I like this quote because of the many things I have done which have required me to have courage such as bringing my son to work and relocating all of my family to regional Australia. It’s quite reflective of the things I have done in the past but even more so it inspires me as to what the future is going to look like.

Recommended Reading

I am not a big novel reader, I am much better at consuming information from sources such as social media and podcasts, like the Mentorlist of course. When I leftthe ANZ, a former Executive Assistant of mine took me out for coffee and gave me a book as a gift, Daring and Disruptive by Lisa Messenger, and I have loved reading it. It’s the story of an inspirational Australian entrepreneur, and the rollercoaster ride she went through in creating a sustainable business. She tells of her story honestly and from the heart, clearly conveying her desire to success and making the seemingly impossible possible.


The easiest way to get in contact is through LinkedIn at Jo Mikelus, I do accept the invitations that come my way. I am also active on Twitter, tweeting most days.




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