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Top Women of Influence and business dynamo, Ann Sherry

22 February 2016

Ann Sherry May 15 Newsletter

There are some people who have that ability to know your most recent whereabouts as well as you might yourself. In the case of business woman Ann Sherry (above), it stems from her practical no-nonsense interest in and understanding of the goings on and connectivity of people – her networking skills.

So when we meet to discuss her 2015 Australian Financial Review and Westpac 100 Women of Influence award, I’m not surprised she knew I’d been at a farewell party the night before… but I am impressed she knew the party’s theme: asking me ‘what David Lynch character did I go as?’

Within minutes of us sitting down to our interview in the Westpac foyer café Ann is on her feet again greeting the lawyer and activist Noel Pearson, who’s on his way to a meeting about Jawun – Indigenous Corporate parternships. A fact she will save for later use, perhaps.

Her ‘connectedness’ could be unnerving, but actually makes you feel “safe”. Not a bad outcome if you’re the Executive Chairman of a cruise line company. (You feel you’d never be ‘lost at sea’ aboard one of Ann’s ships.)

In the nine years Ann’s been at the helm of Carnival Australia she has experienced the ups-and-downs of business. When she first began in the job there was a SARS scare and the aftermath of the Dianne Brimble case with which to deal. More recently, there’s been the controversy over emissions for the residents of Balmain in Sydney from ships berthed at the White Bay terminal, and passengers struck down by stomach bugs at sea. However, all this is put in perspective by the company’s growth of 20 percent a year for nine years. That sort of growth means bringing a lot of new people into the demand pipeline annually, and to do that you have to be offering people what they want.

Fundamentally, Ann believes, people on holidays want change. They want experiences. The work Carnival is doing in the Pacific to create such experiences is influencing outcomes for guests and the island communities alike.

“We could just sail in and drop people in port but that’s not what the communities want and nor do we. Vanuatu is an example of how we work together to create opportunities that are beneficial for everyone. Traditional crafts and lifestyle experiences are creating opportunities in places where previously no one thought jobs or tourism were possible. Once we were able to set up the retail mechanisms needed to put our customers in touch with the products and the work of women in the communities it became evident that traditions, such as basket weaving, which were dying out, had real commercial value.”

From there, it was a short jump to offer Carnival brands guests local village experiences, including a home prepared meal.

“People want to experience something real, something different to what they know, something they couldn’t access themselves but that we are able to organise for them because of our contact with local communities. Initiatives like this don’t require large amounts of capital investment. They do, however, provide a relatively significant return on investment, and that changes the possibilities around what tourism and employment can be, as well as business sustainability,” explains Ann.

Having influence, she says, is about using it and her success in the 2015 100 Women of Influence awards, she puts down to the breadth of what she has been doing in business and the community.

“You can’t underestimate the impact and power of being able to earn money and live in your community. By embedding ourselves in the community we are able to have an influence and provide people with opportunities,” says Ann.

Outside the business, community and tourism spheres Ann is also on the board of Australian Rugby Union. Her presence here, she says, changed the conversation, which was a necessity if the sport was going to meet the future. Female participation in Rugby Union is growing hand over fist; the Rugby Sevens is coming to Sydney this year, and there are upcoming Olympics to think about. For Australia was to remain a force in the game diversity of thought was needed.

With the next round of board members under consideration and two more women in the mix, Ann’s influence on the conversation appears to have been successful here too.

“The 100 Women of Influence awards are important particularly for the Australian Financial Review (AFR),” says Ann.

“When you read the papers there are not enough women in them. Awards like this publicly acknowledge 100 great women, many of whom would never have graced the pages of the AFR and are not that visible. There’s something about adding visibility to that talent pool which is very important, very positive,” she finishes.

Ann Sherry AO is speaking at Ruby’s International Women’s Day lunch on March 9 as part of a panel, including The Hon Julie Bishop MP and sportsperson Michelle Payne. For more, and to book your spot, see here.