Getting to know Julie Riggs – My Journey to Spirit CEO
A business is only as good as its people. Here at Spirit, we have some exceptional team members and leaders within our company. We caught up with Julie Riggs, Spirit’s newly appointed Chief Executive Officer, to get to know her better, read about her career journey, and understand her values and vision for the organisation.
Q: Let’s start with the basics. Tell us a bit about yourself.
Going back to my childhood, I grew up as the only daughter with six brothers and learned to negotiate from a very early age. Negotiating became a crucial skill for daily survival. Being raised within a rowdy household environment, I also acquired the ability to block out noise, distractions and the capacity to remain unaffected. There could be chaos raging throughout the house, and I would be completing the day’s homework in my own little bubble of relative calm.
My career started with a strong finance focus. I studied a Bachelor of Business (Accounting) at Victoria University and then completed my CPA. I found that dealing almost exclusively with numbers grew steadily more tedious during my time in the workforce. I tended to thrive in high-level negotiation settings, brokering and driving complex deals, and actively sought roles where I would be employed for these skills.
Q: How do you manage to juggle between career and family commitments?
Throughout my career, I am blessed to have an extremely supportive husband. We met while still young and have been partners for 34 years. Our two daughters have been raised largely by their father, stretching back to a time when stay-at-home dads were a rarity, a novelty, and even a bit frowned upon.
Q: Let’s dive into your professional life. Tell us about your career journey.
Like most careers, mine has involved plenty of small and sideways steps, but there have been rare occasions when a big opportunity came along. When it does, you must be prepared to leave your comfort zone, take that big leap and back yourself to put your name forward for positions that might appear out of reach.
I may be generalising here, but there is a wealth of material to support my observation that men are much more likely to apply for positions that they might only be 60% or 70% qualified for than women. From my experience, women tend to put their hand up for roles they’re already 100% qualified for, which can hold females back.
Securing the position as IBM New Zealand, Chief Financial Officer, was a large step in my career. The new role required me to jump well beyond my comfort zone. The back story here was that I overhead senior managers say they were struggling to fill the role. They assumed that I wouldn’t be interested in moving countries as the position required. As a young mother of two children, my name wasn’t in the mix. I went home that evening and spoke to my husband about the opportunity. We decided the family was ready for an overseas adventure. Long story short, I applied for the position, and was successful! We took the plunge and moved the family to NZ in what was a break-out advancement for my career. Without a very settled and supportive family unit, this promotion would not have been possible.
Q: What advice can you give to future leaders, particularly women in Technology?
My advice for women in male-dominated fields such as technology (or STEM) would be to carefully map out your desired career path. The next step is to fearlessly communicate these plans and aspirations with those that can help, direct managers, HR departments and so on. Many employees are satisfied to reach a certain corporate level, which is perfectly fine. But if you have a strong drive to progress in your career, you must let your ambitions be heard.
This is another area where women can improve their approach to the game. We tackle it differently from our male counterparts, who can feel more comfortable being open about their plans and expectations.
Q: So, what’s next for you and Spirit?
The next phase of my career will see Spirit become the leading Australian provider of secure, modern digital workplaces. We are in the midst of an exciting company transformation, and I relish the opportunity to lead the group through this process. Being named CEO was a huge career highlight, and now it’s time to bring our vision to reality. I’m confident in the team’s ability to execute our ambitious objectives and look forward to helping author the next chapter.
Q: What’s your promise to our customers?
As we are going through a transformational period ourselves, my team is committed to being your partner across all aspects of technology. This means becoming a trusted technology partner when it comes to providing you with the tools to build a modern workplace, being innovative in our approach to project delivery, customer service, and everything else needed to ensure success, now and in the future.
Lastly, to finish this interview, I would like to add that I am where I am because of my team and the wider Spirit group. It takes a focused collective effort to make this company a success, so thank you to the board, the leadership team and everyone in the business for their support, loyalty and for entrusting me to steer the ship.
We are extremely proud of the diversity within the Spirit workforce and will continue to shine a light on the hard-working people that power our success.