S2C Storytelling with ‘clever technologist’ Jenny Levy
Jenny Levy has been at the heart of the IT action – from a group CIO and group director of digital and transformation to chief digital innovation officer – driving transformative change across multiple sectors including banking/financial services and healthcare. She’s worked for St John of God Health Care; Primary Health Care (now Healius), Sydney Ports Corporation, Westpac, and BT Financial Group.
And while she initially ditched a career in programming, her journey ultimately landed her back in IT.
S2C caught up with Levy to discuss her journey in IT, some career lessons learned, and her thoughts on the state of the industry.
What was your first job?
I first worked at MacDonald’s while at school and it gave me an excellent foundation in the principles of customer service that I’ve used throughout my career.
Did you always envision a career in IT? How did you get into the industry?
Ironically, I started out at university doing a mathematics degree with a focus on computer science, but moved to business studies after realising I was terrible at computer programming.
Then in my mid-twenties, when working in a business investment call centre, ambitious me started a company newsletter on my own time. Another employee joined me from another department and he said “there’s this thing called the Internet and we should use the same technology to build the newsletter” and that’s what we did. We ended up implementing the company’s first intranet site. Not long after that, I found myself working in IT, working as a business analyst and then soon a project manager. And yes, I ended up doing a little programming again, but found when I applied it to work, it made more sense.
What have been some of your biggest milestones and greatest accomplishments?
I was married young and had children young, so my greatest accomplishment would have to be completing my HSC in my early twenties with two babies. I completed two degrees while raising children, coaching netball teams and building my career. When I look back, I don’t know how I did it all, especially when I think about the chemistry exam I sat when I had been up through the night with my baby daughter. After this, I have never doubted inner resilience and strength.
As a Group CIO, a Group Director of Digital and Transformation, what were some of your most rewarding tech projects?
I’ve had great opportunities within my career that have seen me work across multiple sectors. I’d have to say, banking/financial services and the health industries have been the most rewarding. There was wonderful satisfaction in managing the IT integration of St George into the Westpac credit risk systems. It gained the advanced accreditation for St George and gave capital relief for the bank.
Bringing my skills from banking into the health industry has allowed me to enjoy many successes. At Primary Health Care Pty Ltd, which is now Healius, I put in the first Digital/IT strategy that lifted the maturity of the IT function, but also kicked started a transformation program of work. This involved implementing and modernising the medical centres, imaging and pathology systems. There was so much opportunity to mature processes and systems, I couldn’t help but be successful.
The most rewarding initiative I’ve worked on though was the simplest, quickest to deliver and cheapest. At John of God Healthcare, we implemented virtual reality goggles as distraction therapy for children when receiving medical procedures; I had never felt so personally rewarded.
As the MD of Collective Transformation, what are your main goals?
To help organisations successfully grow revenue, apply corporate governance, and deliver innovation.
You’re an independent non-executive director of Business Australia. What are your main priorities and vision?
My priority is to share my extensive experience through good governance, which will continue to help the organisation grow and succeed.
Looking back over your career, what challenges/hurdles have you faced?
For some reason, CFO’s normally have ambitions to have IT within their structure and they usually have shadow IT functions. Digital and IT is a strategic function, and it deserves a seat at the table with the CEO and the leadership team. In most cases, I’ve been successful in managing this conundrum, but it really is a big distraction from getting on with the good stuff at work.
What are some of your biggest lessons learned?
Nothing is impossible, and there’s no such thing as perfect.
What are your top priorities over the next 12 months?
We need more innovation and manufacturing brought back into Australia for our growth and job creation. I’d like to explore ways of influencing this outcome within our country.
In helping many organisations digitally transform, what advice can you offer others on a similar journey?
It starts with the board and the executive team; gain a common understanding on the definition of digital, create common digital goals across the organisation, and find low hanging fruit while you implement the big-ticket items. It’s a team effort – everyone is part of the digital journey.
What are your top attributes for being a successful leader?
Leadership comes from knowing who you really are and not being afraid to be vulnerable and show it. Sounds easier than it is but knowing yourself, and when you work it out, you’ll be able to find your unique leadership style.
I believe we’re all attracted to real and authentic people; it inspires us and we’ll follow a leader to the ends of the earth if they show integrity and honesty.
What are some of the key factors in your background that have influenced your approach to management/leadership today?
Cliché but true: I’ve learnt more from failures and the disappointments in life. But they also taught me to have gratitude for the goodness that comes my way.
What advice would you give other women looking to travel a similar path?
Take risks now and then; find an excellent mentor or two and be creative at work. People with ideas who aren’t afraid to give alternative solutions and are willing to go the extra mile, will always succeed.
How has the CIO role evolved over time?
They often misunderstand the role just like the definition of Digital. With the rise of Digital roles, I am seeing more CIO roles becoming operational and less strategic.
As both a CIO and CDO, what role has more clout and are they blending today?
The CDO definitely has clout. Yes, some organisations are blending them together, but they may depend on an individual’s capabilities to meet the scope of both Digital and IT deliverables.
It’s a brave and sensible organisation that puts the two together because there is a lot of overlap. My view is they should be combined; place people in the role that can drive creative revenue growth, which is different to a CIO that is focused solely on keeping the lights on. I also like the rise of the Chief Customer Experience Officer; organisations need to always be thinking about the customer experience and this will drive a lot of the digital requirements.
Do you have any mentors that helped shape your career?
Yes, I have been very fortune to have had some wonderful mentors throughout my career, both formal and informal. I had an informal mentor at Westpac many years ago who was a CFO (not my manager). One day he had a conversation with me about my suitability to move into executive position’s. His belief in me quick-started the next phase of my career into senior roles. Not long after that I was Head of Role of Westpac.
What worries you – or encourages you – about the state of the ICT industry?
I’m encouraged by the rapid innovation evolving – I find it exciting. What worries me is poor project management often gives IT a bad name and distrust of the function. I’m also concerned about security and, particularly, as a board member. The dark web is an industry and these organisations invest money, and they have their own call centres. It’s critical that both our government and our organisations invest in protecting companies and individual’s.
What’s your favourite book or author?
So many to choose from, but I’d have to say ‘Man’s Search for Meaning,’ author Viktor Frankl.
What do you do outside of work? What’s on your bucket list?
I write and there are a few books of my own that I hope will reach the book shelves one day. Along with writing, I love to travel, meditate, exercise and enjoy time with my family and friends.
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