Leader Q&A – Kate Hage

Post by: Abbey Baldacchino
Published: 13 September 2023

Tell us about your career so far.

Well I think of it in terms of three distinct parts. In the first part, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do after school, but I got a scholarship to study a law and arts double degree, and then started a career in law. Early on I realised law wasn’t for me and I transitioned into financial services journalism leveraging my arts degree. For a few years I worked as a finance journalist covering funds management, then moved into London where I fell into finance. I started working for an online trading technology company and bank called Saxo Bank. My role was in-house financial writer covering capital markets, so I sat on the trading floor and went to Denmark, where we were headquartered, for a week, every month. I was so lucky, it’s such a great organisation; full of great people and an entrepreneurial spirit. It taught me a lot about capital markets and trading technology, especially as I was there through the GFC, in London, opposite Lehmann Brothers where much of the the action all happened.


In the second part, I came back to Australia and again I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. So I worked in banks across MarComms, IR and an analyst role. After a few years I moved into a leadership role at a big fund manager to discover that it was a big change management role. While very challenging, it also taught me some valuable lessons.

At this juncture it’s really important that I mention the fundamental role of a great mentor. I had a great mentor in Ian Perry, who headed up an agricultural banking division at ANZ. Ian was a great guy and a renowned mentor of juniors in the bank and his local community. He took a chance on people he saw something in, and I was very lucky to be one of those. So when a general manager role came up at an agribusiness company called Ruralco, where he headed financial services he spoke to me about it to see if I was interested. At this point, this was the break I needed, because I wanted to change industries and move on from MarComms and investor relations and into a more commercial role. Ian together with the leadership team at Ruralco took a chance on me and it was the start of a new career. 

Part three started with my role at Ruralco. I wasn’t a banker or a credit analyst. The role was really broad, and mainly focused on operations; which meant everything from legal and compliance, people management and HR, events and marketing, new product innovation, client procurement and relationship management and importantly – technology. Operations is a great way to transition as it gives you broad exposure to everything in the business. Also, Ian saw that I had a bit of an interest in technology and tasked me with trialing different solutions. The aim was ‘find products, solutions and vendors which will make our jobs easier by enabling faster, seamless, digitised and compliant lending and make it a better experience for the customer.’ I spoke to all sorts of providers and by chance we were contacted by Syndex Exchange, a SAAS platform from New Zealand. I saw their software and I loved it from the minute I saw it because I’d done those back office, client service types of roles previously. I kept thinking ‘this platform would’ve made my life so much easier’. To cut a long story short, I wrote a business case for onboarding them and also investing in their business. Then Ruralco got a takeover offer which meant most head office roles would go, so I contacted Syndex’s CEO, Ross and co-founder, Mike and I offered to try to start the business in Australia for them. 

That was four years ago and today I’m the Country Manager of Syndex. Very tragically, during that time Ian died in an accident. About a year or so after I started, he joined Syndex as a consultant and we were teaming up again to grow the business. It was a devastating loss for his family and all who knew him. I often reflect that I am very fortunate to have had a great friend and mentor who instrumentally helped my career.

You have covered so much ground in your career – how have you observed diversity and gender equality across multiple industries and countries?

What stands out by a very long way is how gender equality is kind of ‘baked into the DNA’ in Denmark and the Scandinavian countries particularly. Observing this at Saxo Bank made me realise how gender equality could look in the workplace, and how it ought to look. I cannot lie, I found finance to be a tough industry to be in for a woman. I hope that’s changing. Tech on the other hand is much more diverse, more progressive and forward-thinking, thus holding more space for women in the workplace.

What are the top changes the tech industry could make to be more gender diverse?

I still sense that, at least in Australia, there’s an expectation that a female leader will exemplify all these typically “feminine qualities” of empathy, softness and diplomacy. To my mind that’s firstly very gendered, and also pretty old school. Women can be all sorts of different leaders, just as men can. To shift the gaze and advance I believe we need to be more focused on highlighting traits which are beneficial leadership traits, irrespective of sex, ethnicity, culture etc. 

Have you experienced Imposter Syndrome in your career when pursuing leadership roles or working in male-dominated industries?

Yes, all the time. By nature I’m a quieter person and I spent many years listening, observing, soaking it all in, not always volunteering an opinion especially in the early days. That can cause some people to assume you don’t have much to add, or your part of the furniture, so to speak. But what I go back to are three important things:

  1. It is so important to back yourself, even if it’s quietly.
  2. Know when to jump, and when you do pivot point 1 will really help.
  3. You don’t necessarily have to tell people your credentials, or display your relevant experience. Most important is to show, not tell when the time is right (see point 2).

What advice would you give other female sales professionals wanting to progress into leadership?

Most importantly, if my career could ever be instructive to others I’d say it doesn’t have to be a linear path to leadership. Mine has been anything but. 

Other tips include: 

  1. Cultivate supporters and mentors; they really help if you’re looking to change your career or step up. I still believe people believe in people first and foremost, more so than credentials. 
  2. Put your hand up for things that are out of the box if it feels right.
  3. Don’t be afraid to jump, sidestep, downstep for a bit if there’s a bigger goal in mind. 
  4. Finally, I don’t believe you always require a big, comprehensive business plan to do something new like launching a product or starting a business. Iterative steps, explorations and giving it a go are always the best teachers.