007 – Prue Mackenzie – Career Ambition

Vice President Commerce and Marketing at Aurizon

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Prue Mackenzie is quite simply one of the most impressive people I have ever met.

Beneath her easy going manner and quick wit lies formidable intelligence, a wickedly competitive streak and lofty ambition.

Prue graduated from her commerce degree with honours and at the very top of the class.

At 29 she became a vice president at the global financial giant Credit Suisse.

She’s a Harvard Business School Graduate.Prue Mackenzie
Currently she’s a vice president at Aurizon – Australia’s largest freight company.

All that is very impressive – especially when you consider that she’s only 35.

But as you know, being impressive isn’t enough to get you on the Team Guru Podcast.

The thing I most like about this chat with Prue is her keen awareness of herself as a person and as a leader.

In this episode you’ll hear her talk explicitly about career ambitions, her journey as a leader, what she’s learned from mentors, the value she places on being part of a team, her thoughts on learning about the theory of leadership, and the challenges she has faced putting it into practice.

This episode of the team guru podcast is custom built for anyone who wants to be inspired in their career, to pursue the best version of themself and to overcome the obstacles that might get in the way.


Lessons Learned

Here’s what I took from the conversation:


‘If you ever talk just ‘you’, you will not achieve anything’.

You don’t get very far talking about ’me’ or ‘I’. Not only do you need to buy in to the language of team – ‘we’ – you must embrace everything that it means – common goals and collaborative decision-making.

‘Use the power of the organisation that you work for.’

Central to the role of a leader is to provide the strategic direction

Start negotiations by searching for the areas in which you have aligned interests – you don’t need to spend much time on these once they have been identified. This allows you to spend the time focusing on the areas in which interests are not aligned – the job here is to assess which party is best to take risk

A well-defined strategy with a plan that can be measured – not an over used term but an essential element of organisational success

‘Understanding how to write a strategy that’s smart, has a very defined objective, that is measurable, over a period of time, is absolutely crucial to the success of a business.’

‘Unless you have a well defined strategy in place, and a plan to achieve it, it’s very difficult in business to achieve your goals because there are too many external forces that can push off track unless you have something you can keep coming back to; to remind yourself of what you are trying to achieve


Early Career

Resilience –in investment banking you will get knocked down and go through some very hard times, but if you can get through that and keep going the rewards are significant

Biggest lesson at Credit Suisse – being able to see through the next few days that are going to be really tough and realise there is something positive on the other side.

Credit Suisse exists in an environment that is externally competitive but manages to foster a an internal culture that is collaborative, supportive and empowering. That’s a rare commodity in investment banking and the leadership is entirely responsible for achieving that.



Characteristics Prue admired in early leader: Integrity, energy, collaboration, empowerment of his staff and his enthusiasm for what he did was contagious

‘I hope some part of his leadership style rubbed off on me and I carry some of those traits.’

A fantastic reminder that as leaders our most significant right through our career is the impact is the one we have on the next generation of leaders

The most special leaders are those that can take an environment that might otherwise be super competitive, impersonal, cut-throat – and turn it into a warm, collaborative positive working environment

Observing quality leaders in the early part of a career is great – but once you have studied the theoretical underpinnings of leadership you are better able to think critically about what you are observing and to identify which parts of your own leadership style are important and what you need to do to transform into the very best leader you can be

It’s important to be able to put names to what you are generally observing and feeling about yourself as a leader and the people you work with


Leadership Theory

Prue’s favourite leadership principles:

  • Positive Phycology – if you know what it is that you do when you’re at your best, and you’re in that place every single day, you will transform yourself as a leader by being that person. That’s where your energy is much better spent rather than if you concentrate on trying to fix the things that are not part of your best self

Doing that for yourself as a leader, and also putting your team in a place where they are given the opportunity to be at their best every day, is far more motivating for your team than if they are spending time doing things that don’t naturally fall within their strengths

  • Campbell Leadership Descriptors – you don’t need to be good at everything, but you have to make sure that the person you are delegating to is good at that particular skill. ‘The individual need not be well rounded, but the team must be’
  • Unconscious bias – especially in recruitment – not trying to hire mini-me’s. It’s an easy mistake for organisations to make – to get a cookie-cutter approach to recruitment and try and get the same kind of people into the team
  • Tight-Loose-Tight:
    • Tight – initially in defining what you are trying to achieve
    • Loose – Leadership style in terms of how your team goes about doing it
    • Tight – at the end in terms of making sure the objectives you set at the beginning are met, measured


Studying leadership at a higher level gives you the time and intellectual space to reflect deeply on who you are as a professional and leader – thinking time that you don’t normally get in the busy-ness of your day to day work

Stepping back from being a doer – relying on technical knowledge and skills – to being a true leader is a gradual process. The most significant challenge along that path is getting over the attitude that it’s just easier to get in there and do it yourself. You can get over that by understanding the reality that you can’t do it better than your team if you have the right people and you have given them the right direction.

Leaders who want to get in and do, rather than lead, are the leaders who fail to give clear and inspiring direction.

Leaders must understand the strategic direction of the business and help their team understand the contribution their work makes to the broader organisational strategy.


Balance – Life v Career

Your career is somewhat like an athlete. You can’t expect an athlete to perform at Olympic standard every day – nor should we expect that of ourselves and co-workers in a professional setting. Athletes need an off-season and so do we at work. 


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