Industry Influencers: Maile Carnegie Managing Director, Google Australia and New Zealand

Why she is on our 2014 Influencers list: The woman is a powerhouse: outside of the fact she has one of the most coveted jobs in the country, she volunteers for charities, sits on numerous boards and is outspoken about her motivations to keep her family (she is the mum of two boys) as a priority. With that type of overachievement we were ready to detest her, but instead found her warm, engaging, super smart and funny (she even disses on Miley Cyrus). It was instant girl crush.

Did you know what you wanted to do when you left school?
No, I could pretend I was one of those people who had this great vision, but I didn’t. While I was very blessed to have an extraordinary loving family, they were all teachers and nurses, so I had no sense of what else I could do. My parents met in the Peace Corps – they are American – and moved here in the 1970s because Australia had a teacher shortage. I was actually born in Hawaii, which is where my name comes from. Maile is a small, white delicate flower – which is hysterical when you meet me as I’m a bit of a giant – that’s only found on the hills of Maui and it means peace and happiness. I always loved the name – as it was so original. Then, of course, Miley Cyrus stole it, and spelt it phonetically and completely slummed it down and trashed it!

I was going through a rebellious stage and just didn't want to do what my parents did. I started out doing a marketing degree at UTS in Sydney, but I quickly decided that I wanted to do more work in finance and accounting or economics. At that stage you were only allowed to do one major, so my girlfriend and I petitioned the dean of the business school and we were the first graduates at UTS to be able to do a double major. What a rebel, huh? I’ve been obnoxious from way back!

When I came back to Australia from Asia in 2010 I started to get incredibly nervous about the state of innovation within the Australian landscape. I was fortunate enough to get some insights into what was going on in this field in Asia and I knew we were behind. I’ve always tried to put some muscle behind a not-for-profit or education programs, so I started talking to people at places like the CSIRO and UTS and got on their boards because they are also doing interesting stuff on innovation.

It became clear to me that more and more of my passion was on this stuff I was doing outside of P&G. It was a no-brainer. If you are passionate about innovation and you look at where the real disruptive innovation is happening, it’s either in the technology industry or it is fundamentally been driven by the technology. So it makes sense to want to get in amongst the thick of it.

My husband asked me back in 2012 what my dream job would be? I said I would love to run Google, but said it assuming there was no chance the role was ever going to come up. Fast forward to the middle of last year and I read in the newspaper that Google was looking for a new boss. I cold called them straightaway and it just went on from there.

At one stage I was based in Singapore while the family stayed in Sydney. It was crazy I had this ridiculous spreadsheet of every day of the year and I said I can only make this work if I can see the kids at least two-thirds of the year. I was getting really worried that it wasn’t going to work and my husband said to me “What would it take for this to be a wonderful year for the family?” By just asking that question and re-framing my work situation completely turned it around. So in that period, every single school holidays, school would finish on a Friday and the kids would get on a plane with their dad or a nanny, and fly to be with me wherever I was in the world. My kids became these insane world travellers.

My youngest son still looked like a little boy and he had white blonde hair and as a lot of the travel was still in Asia, he was like a rock star. We would go into rural China and places off the map and we had to start building in extra time for all the people that wanted to take photos of him.

One of the games I play with the boys when putting them to sleep is I ask them “Who loves you?” And we’d go through the list “mummy, daddy, …” all these different people and at the time one night he turned to me and said, “Mum you forgot someone! There are thousands of women in Asia who love me!’’

I make a conscious choice to have work-life integration, as opposed to separation because that’s what enables me to see my family. I am basically willing to do stuff in odd hours and odd times and places. As I am a morning person, sometimes that means waking up at 4.30am and working before getting the kids off to school, or maybe logging in to work after dinner. People look at the negatives about that, saying “That means that you’re doing work at home.” For me, I look at the positives, as it means if I have to go out for two hours in the middle of the day to see my son win an award at his school, then I do it.

The hardest time in my careers was definitely those first four years of having children. Neither of my boys slept through the night until they were probably six to seven months old, so in both cases for four or five months I just didn’t sleep. I remember being so exhausted that I would be in the middle of doing something at work and realise I was crying. I can look back and laugh now, but at the time you don’t think it’s ever going to end.

I don't know any mother – at home or at work – who doesn't have a degree of maternal angst. But working women have a tendency to assume the angst is there only because they are working. Don't assume giving up work is the answer. The angst doesn’t go away.

Dealing with information overload is a skill. You have to start getting good filters around what is considered urgent and what is considered important and be able to really filter through the information into those two categories. If you can’t do that you will suffocate

On a personal level I had to go out and buy a whole new wardrobe. All my corporate jackets and suits just don’t cut it at Google. I don’t think I even knew what smart casual was, but now I love it.

One of things I’m blown away with is the degree of trust that Google actually places in its employees. It is unbelievable. Every week the founders of the company still get up and give a televised address to the entire company. They talk about everything that is going on - this transparency of information is amazing. It gives everyone a really clear sense of what is going on in the company and enables you to make smarter decisions.

Where do you think Australia ranks in terms of innovation?
There are some areas where I think Australia is wonderful: for example we are particularly good at invention, we have great ideas. Where I think where we really fall behind is the commercialisation of that. When you look at what countries like Singapore are doing in that innovation space is mindblowing.

I am committed to getting more women into technology. The thing I get frustrated about is the fact that women’s participation in the feeder into this industry, which is the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects, is going backwards. Google is working with high schools and universities through sponsorships and other things to encourage the STEM take up. We are making efforts to try and groom women into not only the STEM subjects, but also reach out quite early so that they don’t drop out. I’m interested in looking at some of the initiatives that other countries are doing. For example, in Japan they have gone and found women who have taken a long maternity leave break and who maybe don’t have the self-confidence or whatever it is to feel like they can come back. Female participation is a critical issue for the industry and we are trying to do something about it. For if you are a woman with STEM credentials, then the world is your oyster.

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