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Tanya Cox is a world class property expert. She was the chief operating officer of $17 billion Dexus Property Group for more than a decade, including throughout the Global Financial Crisis. She represents Australia as treasurer of the World Green Building Council, and is a non-executive director of the Australian Green Building Council. Her passion for sustainability also finds expression in her membership of the NSW Climate Change Council and she has leveraged her deep experience for the benefit of innovative property technology companies Equiem and BuildingIQ.
Tanya has more than 15 years’ experience on not for profit boards as diverse as the Australian Paralympic Committee, Cricket NSW Advisory Board and Music & Opera Singers Trust.
In this week’s Success Story with Catherine Robson, Tanya talks about the resilience required to ride out multiple financial crises, the challenges of balancing a portfolio of non-executive roles and her 2 best investments.
Property is the theme running through Tanya’s career but it’s not actually where she began.
“It’s so not where I started!” she says. “I had a finance career and I think that’s what I’d intended to do.”
“Bank of New Zealand was probably my first serious finance job, I ended up growing really quickly in that role. It was relatively early for me but I found that I managed to progress quite rapidly.”
She went on to work for Rothschild and Deutsche Bank. When Deutsche Bank established the Australian real estate investment trust, Dexus Property Group, Tanya transitioned to the group and went on to spend a decade as chief operating officer (COO).
“That was absolutely the job I was always born to do.” says Tanya
“By the time I got to Dexus, I knew a lot about how to set up a company, how to build it with all the pieces that it needed.”
When the financial crisis hit property companies around the globe, Dexus share prices plummeted by 70%. Navigating the challenges one step at a time and maintaining frequent communication with the board saw Dexus emerge intact.
“I think we just hunkered down and did it, which was the way I got through everything that was challenging or stressful. You just grit your teeth and find the next step. The board were brilliant through that period, we had some really wise heads on our board so we spent a lot of time talking to them about the steps that we were going to take” she recalls.
Leaving Dexus in 2014, Tanya shifted gears, setting her sights on a new career path as a director and is currently involved with 7 boards.
“I think the biggest challenge for me is that they’re not orderly. You’d absolutely love to be able to pack up a portfolio of boards and make them all fit neatly, so one of them works on a Monday and one of them works on a Tuesday etc” says Tanya.
But she knows having to juggle multiple board commitments, often late night and early morning meetings, is just par for the course.
“On the other hand, it’s so personally satisfying, probably more satisfying than a traditional executive role in some ways” she says.
A key insight from her board roles is the busyness trap so many executives find themselves stuck in.
“One of the things I really notice on these small company boards is there’s so much to be done that the executives are just flat out and exhausted all the time” she says.
“They really, really need to recognise that activity isn’t achievement. Being busy is actually not good enough, you have to be really selective about what you prioritise and what you invest your time in” she says.
“Prioritise the needle mover and put the other things down”.
Tanya has seen age diversity on boards become increasingly important too; with many startups realising the value in having a spectrum of ages contribute to decision making.
“I’m working with really young, enthusiastic people in early stage business that are going to take over the world, so they need, youngish people on their board that actually understand the space that they’re trying to fill or the product that they’re trying to sell. They also need people who have been through the cycle and seen it before. I think that diversity, in these earlier stage companies is being much more seriously pursued” says Tanya.
Investing in her education and getting into the property market early were two of Tanya’s biggest wins when it came to her career and personal finances.
“I think the single most significant thing I did for myself and my career was undertaking my MBA” she says.
“It made a huge difference for me. It changed my knowledge base and it changed my awareness, it was a great experience and it changed my confidence too”.