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From pharmaceuticals to finance

12:00pm October 26 2017

BT’s general manager advice and private wealth Jane Watts (left) became a mentor to Danielle McKeon, now a regional general manager with St.George Bank, through Westpac’s “Equilibrium” program. (Emma Foster)

Danielle McKeon left a life-long pharmaceutical career to join the first cohort of “Equilibrium” – a program run by Westpac to fast-track senior women into the banking industry. She formed an immediate, tight bond with her mentor, Jane Watts, who runs the group’s private wealth business.  


I vividly remember the day, in 2015, when the first six “Equilibrium” participants came in for an International Women's Day lunch, and Jane was the MC. I sat there thinking this lady is amazing.
A few weeks later I found out I’d actually been matched with Jane as my mentor as part of the program. I was blown away.
The first thing that struck me about Jane is she’s incredibly big on detail. She asked my kids’ names at our first meeting and, ever since, her first question is always: "how's Harry? How's Frankie?" She has an amazing memory for those small details that make you feel so valued. She really demonstrated to me the power that skill has in bringing out the best in people.   
It was a big change for me to come to Westpac. It was a new industry, having left behind my career and professional networks in pharmaceuticals. Jane was amazing at helping me navigate my way, to understand the different areas of the bank and introduce me to senior leaders. We'd be in our mentoring sessions and she'd just pick up the phone to someone and say: "I want you to meet Danielle.” And that was it, the meeting was in the diary!  
She provided constant support as I rotated to different areas of the bank as part of the program – commercial banking, credit risk and the transformation team. Jane encouraged me to spend my final rotation in the business she runs, the private wealth arm of BT. It was awesome to see her in action. What she has achieved is inspirational.

She said something to me early on which really resonated with me: “Be curious. Be bold”. Like many women out there, when I’m in a situation where I’m a little uncertain, I tend to hold back. But now, her words jump into my head and it has really helped me step out of my comfort zone.

At the end of the 12-month program, I had to make a decision on my first permanent role. She was fantastic at helping me look at what was available across the bank and where would be the best fit. She's really honest and direct, and also candid about her own experiences. Since then, I’ve been a regional general manager in St.George business bank, which I love.

We’ve built up a real trust, and that’s been key to our relationship working so well.

If it's 7pm or 7am and I want to run something past her, she’s always there. She brings a very different perspective to mine, which is incredibly valuable.

I feel very lucky. A lot of people don't have access to mentors. I know Jane’s been the key to my success in the bank over the past two and a half years, and she'll always be someone I can call on.

When I first met Danielle, she had a lot going on in her life. She’d just made a massive career change to move into banking from a very senior role in a pharmaceutical organisation where she was doing really well; and she’d just had her second child. It was a courageous move, and I admired her for that.  

Right from the start, it was clear Danielle was going to give it a big go and I knew, with her attitude, she was absolutely going to make it the right decision to join the bank.

We had an immediate connection. What I loved about Danielle was her very warm and engaging nature. She's delightful to deal with.  

Danielle clearly had what I'd call a “growth mindset”. She was just so interested, excited and curious, and very open to seeing how she could round out her skills. She had an authentic desire to learn, was prepared to do the hard yards and immerse herself in banking, and to be the best she can be.

Her focus on where she wanted to go in her career was really clear. This was quite helpful, because if you don't ultimately know where you want to land it's very hard for other people to help you.  Her focus made it easy for me to help her because I knew which doors to open for her.

At the end of the program, Danielle naturally knew that, given her personality, her interpersonal skills, leadership capability and her commercial nous, that she would be a good fit in a role that worked directly with customers, where she had bottom line accountability. It was an obvious career path for her, and just came down to finding the right opportunity. Fortunately that came up and Danielle got the role she wanted in business banking.

It's fantastic to see her flourish; it’s very rewarding.

You can see Danielle loves people. Her style is warm, down to earth, what you see is what you get. That's Danielle. Customers and team members trust her because of who she is.
Part of my role was to clear the way for Danielle. She had come from a much smaller organisation into one with more than 40,000 employees – a very different beast. Another part was to be a sounding board. If she’s having a crucial conversation, she often bounces it off me.

What Danielle has reminded me so clearly is that you recruit for attitude. If people have the right mindset and attitude, you can teach them the technical skills they need.

My biggest pleasure will be to see Danielle forging ahead in her career in leaps and bounds.

Westpac launched the Equilibrium Program in 2015 to encourage greater gender diversity in the company, in line with its commitment to have 50 per cent of leadership positions held by women. Participants in the 12-month program are selected from industries outside of banking and financial services, and undertake a tailored development plan, with mentoring, to support their successful transition to a career at Westpac. In parallel, program places are offered to a selection of existing female employees.

Emma Foster is a freelance writer. Previously, she led Westpac Wire and was a key contributor until December 2022. Prior to joining Westpac in 2013, she spent almost 20 years in corporate affairs and investor relations, primarily in large financial services and consultancy firms, in Australia, UK and Europe. She is also a photographer and podcaster.

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