Elissa Crowther-Pal, who since 2010 has led Westpac’s Global Investment Services for the bank’s private wealth customers, opens up about what makes her tick, for Westpac Wire’s “10Qs with…”.
What’s your morning routine?
My boys (aged 15 and 17) are swimmers which makes us a pretty early rising household.
First thing is to make sure they're up (around 5.30am), fed and out the door. They're extremely hungry teenagers, so it's all about making sure they have enough food crammed into their lunchboxes to last them the next 10 hours.
I then like to go for an ocean swim.
We live just near Balmoral Beach. I go most mornings, and if I don't swim, I’ll definitely walk along the beach. It's like a bit of meditation, time to get my thoughts really organised for the day. It’s the biggest indulgence of my day, a great way to start.
Is coffee next?
I’ll usually make myself an espresso when I get back home around 7am and then get started – breakfast, check emails, check what’s happened in the investment markets overnight, review the financial press, generally get ready to support conversations with the team and clients throughout the day.
My husband, who’s also been working from home, is the barista of the house and makes me a second coffee around 9am. My coffee benchmark is actually very low after living in the States for a long time – I'm just happy whenever someone makes me one.
Are you are working from home fan?
There are some giant positives. I feel like I'm cramming so much more into the day. I can get my swim in and not be rushed on the way to work. I also don't have to wear heels.
But there are some downsides.
I do get Zoom fatigue. I just feel sometimes at the end of the day my eyes are quite sore from Zooming all day.
And I really miss my team and the ability to have corridor conversations, check in with everybody. It feels much harder to do that on a three-minute telephone call. So, I'm really looking forward to going back to the office.
Any tips for making WFH work?
One thing has actually been to find new ways of managing our family’s personal supply chain!
I can set my watch by when the boys come home at four o'clock, they're completely ravenous, and head straight to the kitchen.
So I've taken to ordering a weekly fruit and veggie box – it comes from Good & Fugly. They pack up all the imperfect produce, so you know you’re helping to fight waste while it’s also a great way to keep the fruit bowl full, so we can all eat well.
Do you have a rigid work structure, or are you an always-on type of person?
My boundaries are more around weekends, when I really try to avoid checking work emails.
During the week, I'm much more ‘on demand’, which is really just part of being in a client business as well as having a national team, with some members based in Perth with its three-hour time difference.
I'm constantly talking to everyone across the team, so I try to stay as flexible and adaptive as possible.
When you’re super busy, how do you manage that?
The way I tend to deal with it is to break things into small, digestible and easy to conquer chunks. When I do that, I feel like I get on top of things quite easily – getting quick wins and feeling really productive.
It gives you that sense of satisfaction that you’re actually delivering, not just feeling like you're on the carousel with an overwhelming amount of work.
What would we find you doing on a typical weekend?
We are generally driving to a water polo pool somewhere in Sydney!
The boys play water polo competitively on both Saturdays and Sundays, right through summer and winter. It’s something they’ve played since they were nine and my husband plays too, so it's a big part of our life. It's a great community, and we love being there, supporting the boys.
We also have a rule that unless we've been to the beach we haven't really had a weekend! And, if we can squeeze it in, we catch up with friends.
It’s always pretty hectic, very focused on family, and all about enjoying fresh air and exercise – a great balance with work.
What's the best thing you've read, watched or listened to recently?
On the business front, I enjoy reading Harvard Business Review articles, and love listening to HBR’s weekly podcast, IdeaCast.
It’s great for getting those quick ideas, like business mistakes and how to avoid them, ideas to improve engagement, or other gems of wisdom that I can pick up from hearing different companies’ experiences.
Then, on a personal front, I just read Devotion by Australian author Hannah Kent, which was a book chosen for my book club (although I’m about six months behind – it was the book for August!). It is a remarkable book.
I'm lucky enough to be in a book club with my friends from my English class at school. They are voracious readers. I do love reading, but I’m always behind, so while I’m not a very active participant in discussions I love hearing them!
What career advice would you give your younger self?
When you're young, you face into a lot of self-doubt. You’re at the very beginning stages of building your elaborate patchwork of experiences, ideas and expertise into a bigger patchwork of who you are.
So the piece of advice I would give is to just be really curious, ask lots of questions, be an avid learner and back yourself, because that’s how you build that patchwork.
The more you can soak in, and the earlier, the faster it can all come together. The biggest challenge for us all is how we knit it all together.