Maile Carnegie on managing people and coping with email

Speaker Key:

AL              Andrew Leigh

MC             Maile Carnegie


MC             If you just go back and say, how do most humans, when is the time that they are the most productive in terms of their learning new things? It’s when they’re playing.

AL               My name’s Andrew Leigh and welcome to The Good Life, a podcast about living a happy, healthy and ethical life. While I’m a politician and an economist, this isn’t a podcast about politics or economics. It’s about living a good life which is an idea that goes back to the Greek philosopher, Aristotle.

                   What Aristotle meant by good life was the life that one would like to live. A life with pleasure, meaning and richness of spirit. A life that most of us were trying to live until everything else got in the way.

                   In this podcast I’ll seek out guests not because they’re smart but because they’re wise. I’ll speak with writers, athletes and social justice campaigners, with people who’ve been lucky and those who’ve experienced hard times. I’ve found their stories fascinating and I hope you do too.

                   Maile Carnegie was born in Hawaii to American parents and moved to Australia at the age of four. Over an extraordinary corporate career, she’s worked at Procter & Gamble in marketing design for two decades, as the CEO of Google Australia from 2013 to 2016. And is now the group executive of digital banking at the ANZ where she gets to deal with challenges such as FinTech and an increasing political conversation about banking.

                   We won’t touch on the politics or policy issues today though. The reason I’m interested in talking with Maile is because she’s one of the most interesting corporate executives in Australia. Somebody who seems, at least from the outside, to have nailed the work life balance thing. Who seems to constantly have a smile on her face and who was recently named one of the coolest people in Australian tech.

                   Maile, thanks for taking the time to join me on The Good Life podcast today.

MC             Very happy to be here.

AL               You’ve had an interesting career, going from pharmaceuticals to technology to banking. What drives you?

MC             Well, I think more than anything it’s curiosity and I love learning new things and so that’s one, and the other one is innovation. And I love change, I think that probably comes with curiosity. And so, I was really blessed, over 22 years at Procter & Gamble to help lead a lot of their innovation. And I hit a point where I’m like, okay it’s time to learn something new and the coolest innovation happening in the world probably isn’t in consumer goods anymore. So that’s how I found my way to Google and have been drifting along ever since.


AL               How far ahead do you plan in terms of your career? Because a lot of people have this notion that ought to plan your career moves as you go. Is that what happened to you or did you feel opportunities came up more serendipitously?

MC             I vaguely have a sense that I want to get access to more and more interesting and difficult problems to solve. And the other thing is it’s important to me that I land in, what I think is, fertile soil. Meaning that there’ll be a lot of different problems to solve and if I do those well there’s a runway or a path for me to continue progressing.

                   But I pretty much stay focussed, when I’m in a role, on doing the best job I can. I was hired to do something and maybe it’s just through blind, I don’t know, just being ridiculous but I’m like, if I do a great job, I will get rewarded for it. So I’m focussed on the environment and wanting to think that there’s opportunities but I don’t typically have a, okay in five years, ten years, that’s kind of not my thing.

AL               And management must be a huge part of what you’re doing now.

MC             Yes.

AL               How many people report to you at ANZ?

MC             That is a growing number. I basically came into a role that didn’t exist and I’m kind of collecting people as I go. My guess is that when it’s all settled down it’ll be in the thousands but I’m still sorting it as I go.

AL               Do you have a philosophy of management that drives you?

MC             A couple of things, I try very hard to work on problems that I think are important and that I think are meaningful. And I understand that what I find important and what I find meaningful isn’t going to be important and meaningful for everybody. But I do try very much to anchor, again, what I’m attracted to and what I do in those two things. I think the other one is where I can also grow, which is part of it.

                   But it’s important to me that I allow other people to find what they’re doing is important and meaningful. And I understand that my definition and their definition will be important. But I try and role model that that’s how I live my day and so I would hope that they have the same opportunity. And so if they’re not working on something that they think is important and meaningful and going to let them grow then we should have that conversation. Because that’s a really, that’s not a happy place.

                   So that’s probably where I start from. But, again, the other side of that though is I was born into family that I think has a pretty strong work ethic. And my assumption is that I’m here to do a good job so I do expect probably quite a lot from myself and put a lot into what I do. And so I probably, not probably, I do expect that from the people I work with.

AL               Do you have systematic ways of touching base with the people who directly report to you? Do you try and schedule fortnightly catch-ups with people?

                   I’m asking because I find this one of the toughest things in my job. I manage an order of magnitude fewer people than you, two orders of magnitude fewer people than you. But I still find it difficult to be on top of what everyone’s working on, to think about where their careers are going and to understand what they’re loving and what they’re hating about the job. How do you keep on top of all of that with the people you need to manage?

MC             I literally am pulling this together and so, again, I didn’t go into an established, okay someone was doing this job before me. So I’m having to create the team and then create those systems and habits.

                   And I think the first thing is that I try and be very disciplined about it. So I will, and I literally came out of a meeting with my direct team probably an hour ago where we talked about, okay so how frequently are we going to have one on ones, individually? How frequently is this team going to get together? How frequently and in what format will the broader, or their direct reports…? So it’s just creating that habit or that discipline in terms of defining it. And so that’s one thing is doing that.

                   But specifically for my direct reports I schedule them every two weeks with the assumption that probably one in, I don’t know, one in two, one in three will get cancelled. So, at a minimum it’ll a monthly one on one catch-up. So that’s one and the other one…

AL               For how long?

MC             It’s usually an hour.

AL               Okay.

MC             The other thing is I am very transparent with any feedback I get. I just got 360-degree feedback from my team and I will literally, I just sent them the link to the soft copy of the report. I don’t fluff around and say, okay this is what I think you were telling me, I literally send the entire report. Everyone can see it and we have a conversation around, okay this is what I’ve heard from you guys okay so…

                   So then in terms of what they need from me, there is a hygiene for me in terms of making sure you have those meetings clear, they’re scheduled, everyone knows what that rhythm’s going to be.

                   But then there’s the quality of those interactions. And I try and just be a transparent as possible. Just, as I said, just send them all the, this is what I’ve said what do you…? Yes, just transparency in the meetings and just consistency and a very clearly thought-out plan.

AL               And how do you do negative feedback? Do you do that standard kind of sandwich thing, here’s a bit of good, something I like about you, here’s the problem, here’s something else I like about you?

MC             I will be very transparent, again, with people and say, okay there is a very clear code for when I’m giving feedback. If I give you two pieces of positive feedback and one piece of, first of all, I will always give you constructive feedback. I don’t care if you’re the best performing person in the world, you will always get constructive feedback. Because if I’m not giving it to you then you’re not going to get better and I’m not doing my job.

                   But here’s the code, if you get two pieces of positive feedback and one piece of negative feedback that means you’re doing really well. If you get one piece of positive feedback and two pieces of negative feedback then we’ve got a bigger thing to talk about. And if you only get, really, three pieces of negative feedback then that’s…

                   I will always try and be balanced, there’s very rarely times when I give people just all negative. But again, even that, I sound quite rigid and I don’t think I’m, but I do tend to have habits. And I think that actually came out of P&G. P&G was a very, very disciplined organisation.

AL               This is Procter & Gamble? Rather than the company [overtalking].

MC             Yes, Procter & Gamble, yes. So, you just got taught those habits.

AL               And what else do you think about as your style? If someone from the outside was describing your management style what would they, how would they encapsulate it?

MC             Well, they would say that I am very authentic, very transparent, quite informal but actually somewhat, quite informal but I can…The thing that people struggle a little bit with me is when I am concerned about something I will then get deeply analytical. I go from being, most of the time, very, quite informal to then, if I’m like, okay that doesn’t make any sense, I will get into deeply analytical mode. But broadly speaking, I think the transparent and the authentic are the things that come up consistently.

AL               Do you have a view on what makes a good work place? I mean I was struck walking in here today we’re looking out over beautiful views of Sydney and I’m sure we could see the harbour if we move to the right corner of your office. We’ve walked past a set of conference rooms which are named after various woods, teak, mahogany and the like. And I think about when I caught up with you at Google which has an LED disco floor.

MC             Yes.

AL               So what do you think makes a good physical work place for people to be productive?

MC             Well I have not had an office, before I came to ANZ, I had not had an office for 15 years. The people who are listening to this won’t be able to see my office but let’s just say, I’m a long way from Kansas. A long way from my open-plan Google and even at Procter & Gamble I was open-plan. And actually, for me that is my preferred style. I think for me just having a physical environment that enables people to have unplanned, spontaneous interactions is, I think, really important.

                   You need to get obviously get the balance right between having enough spaces where people who do need silence and quiet to get work done, that they have that. But my preference very much would be to enable some more spontaneous interactions which I think is more of an open-plan, less formal environment.

AL               But my recollection of the literature around open-plan offices is that they tend to be disastrous for productivity.

                   The New Yorker had a lovely little summary of the literature on this last year. Which essentially says that every serious study that’s been done suggests that we underestimate the potential to be distracted and overestimate the potential of positive serendipitous engagement. Their take away was that companies have open-plan as a way of signalling to the rest of the world that, we’re a very open company, but that that comes at a productivity cost. But you’ve worked in both so what do you think?

MC             I actually think, potentially, it depends on what work you’re trying to get done. Work that is highly routine, work where basically you have an existing formula like an existing heuristic. And your job is to basically process through that existing heuristic and so therefore very little invention is required, I think offices probably are better. But being in an environment where you’re expected to challenge and change and you need to constantly move and adapt, I think that isolation means that you have less creativity. I actually think it’s horses for courses.

                   And absolutely in a Google environment where that business model is just changing and shifting constantly, I think you get enormous benefit from open-plan. But, again, I’m sure there are work places, maybe if you’re accounting or law or something where you are applying an existing framework which is unlikely to change. Then being in an office where you’re not being distracted is probably better. That would be my hypothesis.

AL               What about the role of play in workplaces? Google’s famous for having pods, Japanese firms have their nap rooms for serious down time. I was at Atlassian the other day and they have their Fridays in which are encouraged to bring their dogs to work. Do you think we ought to be bringing play more into our workplaces?

MC             So again, that works for me. And, again, it’s probably challenge or environment specific. But if you just go back and say, how do most humans, when is the time that they are the most productive in terms of their learning new things? It’s when they’re playing. And you think about kids, that’s how they learn, they learn through play.

                   And if you look at the emergence of human-centred design or design thinking. Anyone who’s gone through one of those intense workshops and they’re like ten or 12 weeks long. Where you cloister away a group and you’re asking them to fundamentally create something new. A lot of what it looks like, if you were just an alien observing them, is they look like they’re playing. And you have play breaks because, again, it is a much more natural way for humans to learn.

                   So, again, if you aren’t trying to create something new then bringing all of that in probably is a distraction. Similar to, it goes back to the open-plan versus offices. But if you do need to create something new then I think play is important.

AL               So does that hold for say a business like banking where the traditional model is increasingly being challenged by the growth of FinTech firms?

MC             If you say, traditionally, it probably didn’t need it because there was an existing business model, people knew what they were doing and it was, who is going to do a better job of executing that very well-understood banking business model? But now, absolutely, we’re going to have to figure out how we create and we adapt and we’re agile and all those wonderful new words. And so we are going to have to bring more play in.

AL               And how do you manage the press of meetings? In all of these senior roles there must be more people who want to meet with you than you have time available. Do you schedule very short meetings? Are you ruthless about when to meet?

                   I remember Barack Obama was quoted once as saying that no White House meeting should take place unless there was a possibility that someone’s mind might change as a result of the meeting. Do you have some rule about when to have meetings and when not to? In order just to stop them taking over your diary.

MC             I basically will keep meetings to pretty much within, it’s probably 8:30 to maximum five. And before and after that is off limits because that’s, the morning for me, I’m a morning person and that’s when I think. That’s when I get myself organised, when I think. And then after hours I’ll do some reading and do some other stuff. But for me, when I’m here, mostly I will be more productive through others so it makes sense to me that I’m going to spending a lot of my time in meetings.

                   But the way that I try and make those productive is, my team is now learning, we’ll have an hour meeting but I will try and get through the agenda as quickly as possible. So if we can get it done in 20 minutes it’s the gift of time back to people.

                   I think one of the things I find is very few people are disciplined to only have a meeting for as long as the agenda requires versus, I think, what you find most people doing is filling the time. If they’ve got an hour on their calendar magically it takes an hour. But having the disciple to say, no, no, no we’re actually just take as…So that’s how I sneak little bits of pieces, and that happens quite frequently, I’d say at least once a day there’ll be a meeting which is shorter than is scheduled.

                   But the other way I try and make my time productive is I try, other than my one on ones and regular team meetings, I try and have as few every week standing meetings as possible. And then I will flex my time to focus on something I’m trying to learn or something I’m trying to do.

                   And then my external meetings, pretty much my whole orientation, my whole filter will be, okay I’m trying to solve this problem and the next six weeks is about solving this problem. So who has been trying to meet with me that I’ve been saying, no, no later, later, okay now you’re relevant, now I will meet with you because I’m trying to solve a particular problem. So that’s one.

                   The other though habit I try and get into is, particularly for some of the new capabilities like data, like design and particular areas in software, hiring or recruiting is the entire game, that’s what it is. So I try to have two meetings a week that are potential recruiting/hiring meetings. Where I will meet with someone who’s resume looks interesting who’s randomly reached out to me or I’ll meet with someone who might be able to connect me to a community. But I try and have at least two of those a week, so that’s other habit I have.

AL               And how do you manage email which seems to be the bane of so many of our existences?

MC             I joke and say, badly. But I do a reasonably good job of scanning my emails to know broadly what’s in there and picking out and doing the stuff that’s critical and then I will let it run.

                   And I will then get on a flight and my team will know, oh no Maile’s on a long flight and maybe that happens once every two weeks. Worst, it can blow up to once a month. And I’ll literally sit there and I will spend six hours and I will just churn through it. And you know what I will, in those six hours, find one or two things where I’m like, oh probably should’ve got to that earlier. But in 99% of cases if I’ve missed something people will find a way of getting to me. So I’m not slavish to it at all.

                   Before Christmas I actually booked off two days because I probably had a thousand unread emails. And I’m just really comfortable, I refuse to be a slave to it.

AL               So how many hours a day would you spend on email?

MC             On email? As I said it’s lumpy, so I would probably spend an hour, an hour and a half maybe on email. But then once every two weeks I’ll spend a chunk of time, as I said, maybe it’s five hours and just crush it. But yes, I try not to let it consume me.

AL               Do you have rules about smartphone use before bed? Do try and stop the device use an hour or two before your head hits the pillow?

MC             I typically don’t take, so I’ll answer that question, but thing is that I don’t take smartphones, my phone with me typically to meetings. I find that it’s just a distraction for me. And if I’m going to go to a meeting I’m there for a reason or else I shouldn’t turn up. So I try not to have it glued to my hip at all times because, again, I’m just not disciplined enough to not look at it and start messing around with it. So that’s one thing.

                   The second thing is I charge my phone in the kitchen downstairs and my bedroom is upstairs. And I will typically read or sometimes watch TV before I go to bed. And I need my phone charged. So I just have that compensating mechanism that I have to leave it on charge downstairs and it just doesn’t get into the bedroom.

AL               And how do you manage travel? When do you agree to go? Do you feel you’ve gotten the balance right of being on the road? You would’ve been on the road a lot at Procter & Gamble I imagine.

MC             So yes, I was a lot at Procter & Gamble and I was also a lot at Google because I was in probably San Francisco, I was in the Valley probably every six to eight weeks. And then I had other international, particularly trips in Asia, on top of that. And then a lot of corporate entertaining as well.

                   I usually, so what I do after my first six months in any new job, I’ve just hit that point here at ANZ, is I’ll sit down with my admin and I set a really clear KPI for them. Which is, their job is to help me only be away from my family no more than two nights a week. And if I make choices where I knowingly am going to do more than that, then that’s my fault.

                   But if I’m making choices and agreeing to do things and then at the end, and it’s every quarter, I look at it every quarter, and at the end of the quarter I’m like, oh my how did that happen? You didn’t tell me. So it’s a partnership but their job is to help me have discipline over what I say no to and what I say yes to.

                   And inevitably, the game I play with myself is I say no more than two nights a week. And what that means is it ends up being 2.49 times a week so I can look myself in mirror because I’ve rounded down to two. But I just set that as an objective.

AL               And your boys, Nicholas and Matthew are now teenagers. Do you find it difficult sometimes to switch off work in the evenings and switch on to them and their needs?

MC             Nicholas is 17 and six foot five so is not a little boy anymore. And Matthew is 14 and he’s just starting his growth spurt so we’ll see how tall he ends up. And I think for me I’ve had to learn new disciplines or new habits since they became teenagers. Because it was actually easier for me to switch off when they were little little because they were so obviously demanding. And you would get into the house and they’d be like, mummy mummy mummy, and there was just such an obvious want to spend time with you that I actually found that easier than now.

                   Because I convince myself that they desperately want to spend time with me they’re just hiding it really well. But I’m not sure that my sons know whether I’m there half the time. They’re off, you know, anyway, they’re like all teenagers, you know, self-sufficient. And so it’s actually been harder because I need to force myself. It’s like, okay they don’t necessarily, they’re not desperate to try and spend time with me.

                   So that’s one thing that I probably found there was a period of time where because they weren’t wanting to spend time with me I was on my phone and I was, and then you start missing out. So I've had to learn to be more disciplined and so therefore to be available even if they don’t need me or want me there all the time. So that’s one.

                   And I think the second thing, and my husband is much better than this than I am, is coming to terms with the fact that when they were little you could meld what they wanted to do to what you wanted to do.

                   I love reading books and I love doing puzzles with them or going for walks with them. And when they were little, they would love to do all that stuff too. And so we would have a habit of every night we’d all get into my bed and we’d read books together and it was this lovely quality time. And at some point, they transition where they’re not willing to come to you anymore, they want to, understandably, curl up into bed with you and read …

AL               Six foot five 17 year old doesn’t want to get in bed and read books with you, it’s kind of strange.

MC             Strange I know right? They don’t want to go for a walk, they want to do what they want to do and I’m not necessarily interested in what they want to do. Like I’m not interested in video games, I’m not interested in, you know. So that’s probably been a harder transition for me which is how do you, how am I going to find the bridge to them versus expecting that they will bridge back to me?

                   And as I say, my husband’s doing a better job of it because he actually likes, no he loves comic books, he loves X-Men and so he can talk about who’s your favourite X-Men character where I’m like, I’ve got no idea. He plays the video games with them. And so anyway, that’s probably the bigger challenge for me rather than being able to switch off or on.

AL               And how do you manage their technology? I mean this is a challenge for me, but I know for just about every other parent I talk to that question of, what rules you set around device use? Particularly tough I guess for a 17 year old, but for me with three under ten. What rules do you think or have you set with your kids around smartphones, games, those sorts of things?

MC             Yes, it’s painful, because it’s, my husband and I laugh about it, it’s almost like the tide. It’s we will steal ourselves, have a massive throw down war with them where you re-establish the rules and for a period of time everything’s going the way it should. And then all of sudden you turn your back and tide starts to kind of like…And then you wake up one day and you’re like, what the, wait hang on, so it’s just this vigilance and anyways.

                   But some of the rules we have with the kids is that realistically they’re going to be on social media but it can’t be self-identifiable. We don’t let them use their name, they don’t take photos of themselves. We’re happy for them to post things so Matthew, my youngest, has a YouTube channel but it’s not his name and it’s not pictures or photos of himself, he casts other stuff. I think that’s, and particularly with a lot of the bullying and cyberbullying that goes on so that’s a big one.

                   We, obviously, we limit how much time they can spend. And we’re screen agnostics so I don’t care which screen it is, other than their Kindle, their Kindle they can pretty much read as much as they want.

                   But the other screens, there’s a list of things they need to do every day and then after dinner if they’ve done those they get to be on their screens until they go to bed. And that’s probably an hour, maybe an hour and a half every day. But for my 17 year old it’s getting less and less because he’s got so much homework. Like one of the things is, get through your homework, and he’s got quite a full load. So we set that.

                   But I think one of the important ones is we don’t let them take any screens, other than their Kindle, when we go on holidays because that is such precious time. And we let them take it once and we just ended up, we were just fighting about it all the time, one. And two we didn’t have as much quality time as we would like.

                   So now it’s like, we just fight the battle once. So we have a massive tantrum, as only a 14 or 17 year old can tantrum, for probably a day and a half leading up to the holiday. And then they sulk for probably the first day of the holiday but then it’s done. And it’s just not a drama. So they’re some of the things we do.

AL               And in terms of your own healthy wellbeing, you’re one of those people that doesn’t eat breakfast.

MC             I do not.

AL               How long have you not been eating breakfast?

MC             I haven’t really, first of all I love breakfast food, like if they said you could only eat breakfast, lunch or dinner food…

AL               Me too, best meal of the day.

MC             I love eggs, I love cereal, so I love the food. But I’ve decided that, and the research would support, that being lighter is better than being heavier. And so, if I had a choice between being slightly overweight or slightly underweight, I would choose to be slightly under weight. And I’m not saying that I get there but that’s what I would err towards.

                   And it’s just like, where is the easiest time for me to save calories and it’s really practical. And I’m not hungry in the morning like I’m just not, I don’t wake up hungry. So if I’m not hungry in the morning, it’s the easiest time for me to not consume calories. It’s simple as that.

AL               And what exercise do you do?

MC             I’m transitioning at the moment. I used to always do, I just used to run, and sorry run is a very aggressive description, I used to shuffle. I’d be middle-aged woman, shuffling along. So I used to shuffle but I need to do more resistance work now so I’m trying to figure that out. And I think the reason I used to run is because it was really, I mean you could just take a pair of running shoes and as were and off, you could be anywhere in the world and off you go.

                   But the other thing for me is that it is relatively mindless. Meaning that I get into a rhythm and, so the mental health aspects of it were really important. Because I would start my run with massive problems and end my run with all those problems resolved and at peace.

                   And the problem for me going, I know I need to do more resistance work that’s going to be better for me but you have to concentrate when you do it. And so, I’m just like, how do I get the mental health aspect of the, I don’t know so I’ve got to figure that out. But I’m in that transition and I’m quite grumpy about it because I…

AL               And what about mentally, do you have meditation practices? Or are there other ways in which you deal with what must be an incredibly stressful environment. But giving, at least the appearance, of being open and present and available to people who want to talk with you.

MC             So for me, I don’t have any meditation, the closest I get to meditation is running so I don’t. But the times when I feel, when I am in a mentally unhealthy state it is a combination of some version of not spending as much time with my husband or my kids as I would like.

                   I’m very blessed that I have married well and I still adore my husband and we have wonderful conversations. And I miss those conversations when we don’t spend enough time together. So that’s part of my mental health as is spending time with my kids and feeling like I’m being the mother that I want to be. So that’s a huge part of it.

                   But then the other one is, the other route of all evil for me in terms of bad mental health is what I put in my mouth. Because there is so much corporate entertaining and as I’ve gotten more senior, it’s much easier to be self-disciplined over things like how much you drink, whether you eat chocolate and all that rubbish that’s put in front of you, it’s easier because it’s not in front of you as much.

                   Whereas, as you would know, as you get more senior, even like you get on a plane and they’re offering you glasses of wine and offering, the snacks are not good. And if I allow myself to start drinking many nights during the week that’s when I stop exercising, that’s when my sleep goes bad.

                   So the route pretty much of all evil is either not enough time with my family or my husband or what I put in my mouth. That’s it. And if I get those two things right then my ability to or the resilience I have around making sure I’m exercising and, particularly for me, getting enough sleep and quality sleep that’s where it all stems from.

AL               And one of the things about being in that calm state, presumably, is that you can better deal with the invariable failures that happen in your team. Remember when we had Google X here the Astro Teller down to Cambrai he told this lovely story about one his teams at Google X that had started a project which had turned out, through no fault of theirs to fail. And he brought them all in, they were celebrated, they were applauded in front of everyone else and they were given bonuses. How do you create environments in which it’s okay for people to fail?

MC             Yes, so I’ve got to build that. I was very, very lucky in, I went to Google for several reasons and one of them was I wanted to learn this new culture and what are the new methods of innovating. Because I think a lot of the older companies haven’t adopted them or they’ve grown up in a very different environment.

                   And so it was fabulous to go to Google and see some of that in practice, see okay everyone says, oh you’ve got to learn how to fail fast, you’ve got to learn how to celebrate…But to actually sit there and actually live through it was an incredible gift for me and one that I am needing to figure out how I actually make that appropriate within a banking environment. Because just saying, okay I’m going to pick up everything that worked at Google and bring it to ANZ will fail. It’s got to be appropriate and I’m trying to figure that out.

                   But for me, I’m relatively self-controlled in terms of my reactions in general particularly to failure. But I have learned though my career what my trigger points are. I know what are the situations when I’m going to be, not at my best, shall we say. And I just try and proactively manage those.

                   For example, if I’m in a large meeting, this used to happen in a previous role. Where I’d be in a large meeting and the person who used to provide all the information to get me ready for that would provide me all the information, then would shuffle in late to the meeting and with inevitably with some bad, a bomb.

                   So just figuring out okay in that situation, first of all I started the meetings, I didn’t tell them this I just started the meetings ten minutes later. And they knew that they needed to share with me whatever the bomb was outside of the meeting room so I could compose myself so that when I came in I could be measured. And I think you just have to learn that. What are you trigger points? And then figure out how to manage them.

                   But my kids are learning new trigger points every day.

AL               They’re very good at that aren’t they.

MC             They are very good at that.

AL               Well let me wrap up with a couple of questions I ask all of my interviewees. What advice would you give to your teenage self?

MC             I would encourage me to have the courage to learn and be open to learning probably earlier than I came to on my own. Meaning that I think it took me longer than it should have to actually have the self-confidence to open myself up to say, I don’t know, I don’t understand. And actually demonstrate my lack of knowledge or being willing to expose my lack of knowledge.

                   And when I got to that point in my life, and in particularly my career, the acceleration point from there, it was just much steeper. And so I just think if I could’ve encouraged my teenage self to actually adopt that earlier then I think that would’ve been better.

AL               Yes, I was so struck in the early days of studying at Harvard to see senior professors often being the ones that would ask the most stupid questions. And I realised that, for junior faculty and PhD students, we wanted to ask a really smart question. But often it was just a, that term doesn’t make sense to me, clarify things for everybody. But only the people with the greatest self-confidence in the room were willing to ask that.

                   What’s something you used to believe but no longer do?

MC             I used to believe that I could compartmentalise my work and my life. I actually never really believed or worried about, not work life balance, but I was always happy to do work at home and happy when I needed to do home stuff at work. But I have come to terms that, both for me as an individual leader but also I think just very pragmatically now. Your ability to try and say that my work and my personal life are completely separate I just don’t believe that you can be effective anymore.

                   The fact that so much of us, particularly as you get more senior, is public. Unless there’s a high degree of congruency between what you say you believe in at work and what you actually do outside of work, I think people can smell whether you’re authentic or not. And so I think that compartmentalising I just don’t believe is, well for me at least, is not effective.

AL               Interesting. When are you most happy?

MC             I’m most emotionally happy when I think, like most people, I’m probably surrounded by my family. I’m still very blessed that my parents are still alive. I’ve got a fantastic sister with a wonderful husband and two sons. And I’ve obviously got my wonderful family. And at least once a month we all get together on a Sunday and have dinner. And so time with my husband and my family but then time with that extended family is obviously when I am, well not obviously, but I think for a lot of people that’s when I’m really emotionally happy.

                   I think intellectually, I’m most happy when I’ve found a really really difficult puzzle, like a problem that I don’t know how to solve. And you know when you hit that point where all of a sudden, you’ve slaved away and you’ve been slogging through something and you’re like, okay I just I still don’t know how to solve this and it’s bothering me. And then all of a sudden you see this glimmer and the clouds start parting and you don’t know the answer but you know you’re going to be able to solve it. That it when I’m at my most intellectually happy.

AL               That’s a great description. What is the most important thing you do to stay mentally and physically healthy?

MC             Stay off the refined sugars and alcohol as much as I can.

AL               Are you a no sugar person?

MC             No.

AL               But you’re cutting sugar out of your diet?

MC             I actively am trying to just reduce it. Even at corporate things and stuff just not drinking, trying to, I’m now struck saying to, I’m vegan, I don’t have any food intolerances, but I’m just like, do not give me dessert, just give me fruit or nothing. But just I need to stay off that stuff.

AL               Do you have any guilty pleasures?

MC             I have way too many guilty pleasures. I lovely glass of Pinot or Chardonnay would be one. I know it’s not cool because everyone’s a foodie but I love white chocolate. I know it’s not even chocolate but I love white chocolate. I love travel, I enjoy that. But yes, no, I’ve got way too many.

AL               What’s your favourite country to travel to?

MC             Oh my goodness that is a hard question. My favourite city, and it’s before a lot of the stuff that’s happened more recently, is I love Istanbul. I love history, I studied a lot of history at school and so I love it. And just the history and the food and everything, I love Istanbul. But probably our favourite, best family holiday we had was probably to South America so yes, but I love travelling.

AL               I’ve always wanted follow Byron in swimming the Hellespont but for the fact that it is now a fairly filthy river. But I love the Hero and Leander story and then Byron doing it in homage. And it seems it’s a goodly swim, three to five kilometres I think if you do it right. Always wanted to do it but can’t figure out a way of doing it without getting hideously sick.

MC             Well my eldest loves biology and genetics and evolution and all that stuff. And so one of the best places we went to was the Galapagos and it was just extraordinary.

AL               And finally, what experience or person has most shaped your view of living an ethical life?

MC             It would undoubtedly be my husband. He is a ferociously intelligent man and thinks very deeply on subjects. And those subjects include a lot of ethical areas and so we have fabulous conversations.

                   And he is one of these people who has such an incredibly strong north, in terms of his own sense of morality and living ethically. And I think, like everything, having someone by your side through life who is like that is just a wonderful constant, either reminder or just example to have. So, it would definitely be my husband. And including having wonderful conversations about how ethics is evolving, so it’d definitely be him.

AL               Wow, well Maile Carnegie thank you very much for taking the time to speak about ethics and management and life and just having fun on The Good Life podcast today.

MC             Well lovely to be here.

AL               Thanks for listening to this week’s episode of The Good Life. We’re always trying to grow the audience for the podcast so if you enjoyed it can you do me a favour and let a friend know? Next week, I’ll be back with Justin Wolfers and the economics of love, family and work.


Be the first to comment

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.

Stay in touch

Subscribe to our monthly newsletter


Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | [email protected] | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.