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Farewell - Reading the Zeitgeist

27 July 2015

I am setting off as my great friend Renata Singer – the author as well as co-founder of the social enterprise Fitted For Work – would say, to discover and live the last third of my life as vigorously and audaciously as I have the previous two.

Renata is our Ruby of the Month and we are celebrating the launch in August of her new book Older and Bolder: Life after 60 (MUP rrp $34.99), which charts the fact that women can expect to live well from their 60s for another three decades and it’s time to embrace that.

No drab existence of retirement, disease and disconnection for me. The research reveals - and the stories of the women in the book show - that what’s in front of me is more like the doors teenagers face entering the world than the tunnels of care we have come to believe surround us as we get older.

This blog is also - as many of our Women’s Market and Ruby members know - my time to say farewell to Westpac and Ruby. My retirement in September is fast approaching and Ainslie Van Onselen our new Director Women’s Markets, Inclusion & Diversity, has, as of July, now taken up the final part of her role with Women’s Markets.

Her appointment at the beginning of 2015 by our new CEO Brian Hartzer is an indication not just of the high regard in which women are held in Westpac and in business in his eyes, but also - going forward and toward 2017 and our 200th anniversary - the place inclusion and diversity holds as a lynchpin for the organisation’s sustainability and the health and well-being of Australian business and corporate culture.

For 31 years - perhaps a little more – I’ve worked for Westpac in various capacities but always with an eye to our customers and especially our female customers. My focus has been to build and put in place strategies to ensure their financial independence, security and knowledge.

When I was appointed to head up Women’s Markets and restructure the business, I set about developing and implementing a strategy that would grow our women customers and ensure they had the relationships they needed to conduct and run their lives, careers and businesses securely and successfully.

I have to say that this was not about having or producing what have been termed ‘pink’ products. We knew from research and from our relationships with our female customers, women didn’t want to be treated differently to men and offered different products. Women in business and business life wanted to be educated without being patronised. They wanted to learn and be able to research their options and be taken seriously financially, and they wanted to network with like-minded people, especially when it came to their careers and their businesses and their lives.

And so Ruby was born, which included our world leading community networking site for anyone to join and use.

As Women’s Market grew and women in business – whether in their own or working for others - became the force we know it is today, it became very apparent that the strategy needed a much broader uptake. We needed to bring the focus on women into - and onto - every section in the bank, so that our customers and our staff knew and understood their options and what we offered.

Women’s Markets has indeed been embedded into the organisation’s whole approach, not just because Inclusion is a humanitarian issue but because it makes business and corporate sense. My belief is that what we do will become as genderless as going to get a loan or open an account. Inclusion, after all, is about focussing on the customers’ needs and not on social constructs like chronological age, gender, race, etc.

I know many of our Ruby members are acquainted with my story. It’s something I speak openly about and it has made for some good times and great memories.

I was 17 when I married and 18 when I had my first child.

That’s young.

I was 28 when I had my second child and 32 when I decided it was time to leave my husband.

I’d been Mrs Riemer for long enough, but who was Larke? Working in the hospitality industry managing hotels with two young children had left me in the background.

It’s not somewhere I do well and I decided it was time to take my girls and be the person I knew I could be and their mother. That was when my career in financial services began. Firstly, I worked with AGC a wholly owned part of the Westpac group, moving into Westpac in banking and eventually Women’s Markets.

More recently, and as part of Westpac’s ongoing commitment to the ensuring of women’s financial security and independence globally, I have been involved with the GBA (Global Banking Alliance) for women.

For more than five years and as a GBA founding member, Westpac has taken the lead in this important strategy. We are recognised as world best practice in the area of women’s finances and for four years I have chaired the organisation.

Again, it was important to develop and implement a strategy that would ensure the GBA could grow and remain a sustainable entity. We now have an amazing CEO Inez Murray and a board that is doing great work and I will be handing over the chair position in September when the annual summit takes place, this year in Brazil.

As for Women’s Markets at home, we have always had top people in place working on and supporting what we do in the area and within the organisation. It’s important to thank the staff both past and present who have been involved with me in carrying through our strategy and in particular Rachael McKenzie our National Manager Distribution and Georgia Stryker – my GenY moment – our Marketing and Operations Manager, as well as Ruby Connection editor Louise Upton. Speaking for myself, I believe all our careers have been enhanced and furthered by our involvement in Ruby.

Now, it’s time for me to move on and find my own personal brand. I love the big red W but I do feel it’s time to showcase me. Of course, I will remember that my days in Westpac, along with my days as a young mother and wife, have all been a part of fashioning who I am and what I will become.

I now sit on the board of CARE Australia, which is giving me a fantastic opportunity to work with CARE’s very dynamic CEO, Julia Newton Howes, as well as its Ambassador, and our former CEO, Gail Kelly.

I have my gorgeous dog Solly, who has actually done more than his fair share of protecting me from harm. I was recently broken into while asleep and it was Solly’s barking that frightened the intruders off before anything else could happen. (I’m glad it was dark because Solly is a puppy and a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel puppy at that.)

I am also looking forward to spending time with my daughters as grown-ups. It’s always wonderful talking and sharing meals and my life with them. I will also be spending time on myself.  Something I must admit I have neglected and which I realise is very important. In fact, that is one piece of advice I do have: in all that you do - and we do sometimes find ourselves lost in our various roles as carers, mothers, workers, career gals, business people - remember to look after yourselves. Your health is your ticket to long life and it certainly helps with happiness.

Never one to miss the opportunity, I am leaving you - our Ruby members – to think about Superannuation. What are you doing in relation to it, remembering that a man is not a financial plan and how important it is that everyone has enough for retirement?

If you’re looking forward to being older and bolder it would be nice to know you can afford it.

Finally, I want to remember our Australian Financial Review and Westpac 100 Women of Influence awards. They are one of our great contributions to the diversity and inclusion piece and have catapulted gender equality and what leadership can and does look like in Australia into the spotlight. Without a doubt they are growing our knowledge of Australia’s female leaders and what influence can look like. I am involved in them again this year and I do urge you to nominate before August 9.

A fond farewell to all and may you all be older and bolder like me.

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5 comments

  • Julie Weeks

    Julie Weeks 4 years ago

    Larke, Westpac will have big shoes to fill after your departure, but we all look forward to the impact you will make in CARE and elsewhere. As to getting older - we all do - but I can't imagine you getting bolder. Look out, world!

  • Glenda May

    Glenda May 4 years ago

    I wish you well Larke. You were a huge presence on the women's professional stage; I would not be surprised to see an 'older bolder' Larke still very influential.

  • Virginia Graham

    Virginia Graham 4 years ago

    Hi Larke Thank you for all your kindness and support. You have been a huge inspiration to me and I am sure to others. I am also excited for you about your next stage. Best wishes Virginia xx

  • Grace Thomas

    Grace Thomas 4 years ago

    Thank you for you always insightful blogs. More than that, thank you for your leadership of the Ruby Connection. While I have only been able to join a few events, you and your team do a fantastic job connecting women in a positive, fun and impactful ways. All the best in your active retirement. While we will all feel the hole you leave, I am sure you're legacy will live well into the future. Cheers ... Grace

  • Karina Hilterman

    Karina Hilterman 4 years ago

    Hi Larke, Thanks for great commitments to women in business, I wish you a wonderful, rewarding, happy & healthy next stage of your 'older & bolder' life... Wellness wishes, Karina