For this edition, we caught up with one of Australia's leading company directors, Arlene Tansey. From growing up in New York as the daughter of two doctors (one of whom became an entrepreneur whose business manufactured aircraft parts), to her current role as a director of one of Australia's iconic brand manufacturers, Pacific Brands, Arlene's journey is a fascinating one.
Arlene, can you please tell us a little about your role at Pacific Brands and your career highlights so far?
At Pacific Brands, I am one of five non-executive directors and a member of the Remuneration Committee. I met the former Chair and Managing Director of the company through business when I was still working full time as a banker. The highlight of my Pacific Brands career was to be invited to join the board after working through some challenging times with the company.
What do you see as the main challenges for the fashion industry in the next five years.
The fashion industry has changed dramatically and it is the rate of change and the required speed of the response that I believe will continue to be the greatest challenge for the industry.
Customers still love quality brands that reflect their lives and aspirations like Bonds and Sheridan.
Before Pacific Brands, your experience was more in the banking and financial services sector. what has been the most important thing that you learnt from the fashion industry?
I come from institutional banking and the fashion industry has a more personal connection with the community. Like retail banking, it is more about how we live with our product. We run in our Berlei bra, we relax in our Bonds hoodie, we feel luxurious in our Sheridan sheets. It's all personal.
In your experience, what is the most significant change the fashion industry has experienced?
The most significant change the fashion industry has experienced in Australia is the ability to compare the best with the rest on a global basis and the access to purchase globally.
Where do you see the retail sector going, and how will this impact on the fashion industry?
I think there are some positive signs coming through in the economic cycle that will flow through to increased discretionary spending. Having said that, I think consumers have become more value conscious and that change is here to stay. This is great news for Pacific Brands because we deliver design, innovation and quality – the key ingredients our customers want.
How is Australia performing compared to the rest of the world in terms of the fashion industry?
Australia is a leader in innovation and design. For example, Pacific Brands, particularly in some of our fabrics for workwear and technology in bras, have delivered year on year improvements. Serena Williams – who could certainly wear any sports bra in the world, chooses our Berlei bra.
The under-representation of women in senior board roles is well documented. Do you think that quotas might be a good way of redressing the balance?
Quotas are a charged issue in Australia today. I think they are not well understood. Sheryl Sandberg in her new book quotes a US statistic of women moving from 14 percent to 17 percent of board directors in ten years. I believe the statistics in Australia are similar. I also believe quotas can be an effective means to correct persistent under-participation. The key is in the implementation. The main objection is that unqualified women will be appointed to fill quotas – if properly implemented, I don't believe that would be the case.
On growing up in New York:
New York is a city of boundless energy and optimism. I love living in Sydney but always love being in New York.
On your first trips overseas: I spent a lot of time in Paris growing up and I have family there. Another great city, particularly for fashion. I love the French sense of style.
On having children: I have two teenage daughters and they give me lots of tips on how to be a better parent! Actually, as they grow up they're becoming great friends and fashion co-conspirators. They're great fun to shop with.
First impression of Australia: I came to Australia in 1994. I was an investment banker at the time. My first impressions were how beautiful Sydney was, how much lower the density was and how few female executives I met when I went to work.
Favourite Pacific Brand: Very hard. It's Bonds...no, Sheridan...no, Berlei.... I'm afraid I can't choose!
Pacific Brands has come a long way from manufacturing Dunlop bicycle tyres in 1893. today, Pacific Brands is famous for marketing iconic everyday brands its consumers love including Berlei, Bonds, Clarks, Dunlop, Everlast, Grosby, Hard Yakka, Holeproof, Hush Puppies, King Gee, Mooks, Mossimo, Razzamatazz, Sheridan, Slazenger, tontine, and Volley.
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