Back to Listing

Leigh Sales

07 March 2011

Name: Leigh Sales
Position: Anchor 7.30 ABC1

Are there still barriers to women achieving executive level positions and have you experienced them?

\"I think there are. So often I go to political or international events and I'm the only woman at the table. I am particularly annoyed at the lack of equal pay for women for equal work.\"

When \"The Australian\" broke the news online in early December 2010 about a change of name, format and presenters to The ABC's \"7.30 Report\", the flurry of interest inside the media and with the TV-news watching public was not unexpected.

After all, there was to be someone new in our lounge rooms sharing our dinnertime. Kerry O'Brien's 15-year reign was at an end, replaced with two new anchors: Leigh Sales, based in Sydney, and Chris Uhlmann, in Canberra. A new modern name - \"7.30\" - would accompany the new look, and the ABC's Online Chief Political writer, Annabel Crabb, would also contribute.

Thoroughly modern, Leigh confirmed her \"7.30\" appointment via Twitter and, even got in some practice over the recent summer ratings break anchoring the 7.30 news-special Queensland flood disaster coverage. (Leigh grew up on the northern outskirts of Brisbane, where, no doubt, family and friends felt the affects of the weather.)

A past connection with Leigh through the Sydney Writer's Festival afforded Ruby the perfect opportunity to line-up a meeting in her busy schedule. As the day for the interview rolled around in early February, Leigh came down with laryngitis forcing us to conduct the interview via pen and paper, which is a whole lot better than 140-character Twitter posts.

Who am I

Tall, rangy, with a runners' look to her, Leigh Sales tells a good story. Certainly, the competitive edge she openly admits having drives her to produce the best she can.

\"My brother and I loved the Atari, especially pitfall, frogger and space invaders. I was competitive then and I still am now.

\"I've tried to be true to who I am and to conduct my work with integrity and kindness so that people know that what they see is what they get. I think what goes around comes around so the best self-marketing you can do is to be a decent human being,\" says Leigh.

\"Living in the moment. Working hard. Going the extra mile. Treating others as you'd wish to be treated.\" These are her dictums and they're not bad tacks by which to sail a career - a career long on highlights, touched by many human beings and open to fierce public scrutiny.

Educated at a state school with a Bachelor of Business-Communication (Journalism) at the Queensland University of Technology and a Masters of Arts (International Relations) at Deakin University, Leigh worked at the Nine Network in Brisbane before joining the ABC. A self-confessed US politics junkie, her years as a foreign correspondent were a match made in heaven and provided fuel for her 2009 essay \"On Doubt\" published by Melbourne University Publishing in its 'Little book on big Themes' series.


Not that Leigh suffers doubt when it comes to assessing whether she would do anything differently if starting from scratch.

\"I believe in the Butterfly Effect - the tiniest change early on could cause major effects later... and I've enjoyed the adventure I've been on. If someone had told me 15 years ago, when Kerry O'Brien started anchoring 'The 7.30 Report', that his successor would be me, I would never have thought it possible.\"

Disarmingly self-effacing, Leigh also admits her biggest failure is her inability to create a proper work-life balance, but that thankfully, her husband, who makes her laugh every day and with whom she has built a marriage that has lasted 15 years so far, \"is a saint\".

Human revelations, such as these, might appear at odds with the type of hard-hitting questions and astute analyses needed for a 7.30 anchor. However, according to colleagues and friends, Leigh's inquiring mind, 'seriously' honest interest in the world around her, warmth and empathy make her a standout choice for the \"7.30\" role. (It has also been reported that the ABC's focus group research found Leigh to be very popular.)

Pam Williams, National Correspondent and Associate Editor of the \"Australian Financial Review\", met Leigh in America in around 2002. \"We clicked immediately and I've always felt she is going places. Leigh's great journalistic gift is that she has such an inquiring mind and is open to hearing many points of view. She is not someone who will fall into a track and stay there... an assiduously detailed journalist, with a great intellectual scope and huge curiosity in whatever she does,

Leigh crunches detail... she's never happy until she's worked something over and over and over. I am sure it's one reason she's landed the job at 7.30.\"

Leigh is also, according to Pam, a natural entertainer. At a recent birthday party for a friend, Leigh wrote and performed a song that had the huge gathering in the palm of her hand: \"She was incredibly funny, has this lovely singing voice and plays the piano. Her talents are broad and deep and she is going to grow and grow.\"

\"I'm so lucky to be able to pick their brains,\" says Leigh of Pam, and another friend and mentor Marian Wilkinson from \"Four Corners\". \"They are thoroughly generous people.\"

Not So Secret Service

Leigh's most recent gig has been sharing the ABC's \"Lateline\" anchor role with Tony Jones. She rates the program as \"one of the nation's most respected news programs\".

A former Washington Correspondent, she has covered major stories including the aftermath of September 11 and Hurricane Katrina. Her four years in Washington DC are a personal career highlight, as was writing her first book, \"Detainee 002: the Case of David Hicks\", for which she won the George Munster Award for Independent Journalism. She has also won a Walkley Award for radio reporting on Guantanamo Bay.

Recently, Leigh hosted a 'town hall' forum for the ABC with Hillary Clinton. Writing about the experience for \"The Spectator Australia\", she provided a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the broadcast. One gets the impression Leigh has a knack for uncovering the value many of us often miss in the detail.

\"Hillary Clinton will be the third current or former US Secretary of State I've interviewed. The others are Condoleezza Rice and Henry Kissinger...

\"As I'm heading downstairs to begin the Clinton event, I walk past a Secret Service agent stationed near a lift. 'Ms Sales,' he acknowledges me solemnly. I'm stunned that he's been briefed to recognise me by sight. Sitting nearby are Hamish and Andy, the hilarious and talented commercial radio duo. They have a brief interview with Hillary after the ABC event. I ask if they're nervous and they say they're not. Later, Andy tells me one of their questions to the Secretary of State was: 'Have you ever used the phrase \"You've just made a powerful enemy\"?' Hillary told them she'd certainly thought it. It makes me laugh. I have a lot of fun at work, but I suspect Hamish and Andy have more.\"

Top 3 achievementsMy marriageMy friends of more than 20 yearsA career that stimulates and engages me3 greatest passionsMy jobPlaying the pianoReading