Powered by Women: Lesieli Taviri

Powered by: Lesieli Taviri

The Powered by Women interviews, bring together successful women from across PNG to share their insights and experiences into what has helped them create successful careers.

In this episode we interview Lesieli Taviri. 
 
Lesieli Taviri studied at Papua New Guinea University of Technology. In 2008 she joined Origin Energy PNG as corporate services manager and later moved into sales, marketing and business development positions before being appointed chief executive of the Papua New Guinea operation in September 2012. She was the first woman to lead the organisation. Recently Taviri has taken on the position of Executive General Manager, Banking; at Kina Bank. Lesilei also holds the position of chair of the Papua New Guinea Business Coalition for Women, an organisation which provides businesses with programs to develop the capacity of their female employees. 
 

 

Q: Looking at your career path today. Can you maybe give us an overview of how you got to where you are today? What was your journey like?

I think I was actually quite fortunate because I picked the right employer to start my career with. Obviously you can have the passion and the desire to grow but also what is important is whether you have an employer who’s got an environment that’ll actually allow you to flourish and grow so I was quite fortunate because I joined the Australian High Commission and that was a good environment to work with. I was in that exploratory phase and then decided that I needed to move on from that kind of development space and move to a commercial area. So I joined PNG Power which wasn’t the right environment for me, and then Origin came on board, a multinational, and they had strong ethics and values around equity – those things that help support a woman to grow in the job. As a result of that, I’ve been able to grow and be given the kind of opportunities that I have had today.

So at what point in your career do you think you worked out your ‘WHY’?

So when I started my career working with the High Commission I thought it was a good job and then I discovered very quickly that I had other passions. As you become exposed to more and more things and you have a liking towards more things, you just start to find your natural strengths and what you’re good at what you’re comfortable doing, and what you’re not so good at. That exploration has happened all throughout my career. I started to develop a real keen commercial interest and that’s the reason why I ventured into the business space and then while I was in the business space I was working on things like process reengineering and then naturally I started falling into an understanding of how a business operates, what cost is and what revenue is and what contributes towards revenue and costs and what margin is and then naturally I just had the liking for it. As a result, I wanted to pursue, a career that allowed me to actually be the front line of business to be able to talk to customers and generate revenue so I just naturally found that as I went along and I just continued to follow what I felt was within my strengths. That journey just keeps moving, I’ve been CEO for eight years and I’m at a point where I am asking what do I do next. I’ve decided to move to another industry, I was quite strategic about the industry because digital was something that really interests me, in particular, the financial services industry and what digital means in terms of supply chain effectiveness, supply chain efficiencies in terms of supply chain governance and I just had a natural pull towards the banking space. All of that has just happened along the way and it’s a continuous process, I’m learning more and more about myself all the time. Another part of it is trying to move out of your comfort zone and continuously challenge yourself.

Would you say, there have been large obstacles and challenges that you’ve had to face through your career being a woman in what’s especially in PNG a very male-dominated industry?

I have, but I’ve never seen the challenges as challenges. I’ve always just seen it as an opportunity. An example, I was actually working in the branch, and I had my regional manager working side by side with me and the inclination of people to think I was a junior officer doing all the processes, and this person who was sitting next to me was actually my boss. Even when I’m at a negotiating table and when I have meetings with customers or stakeholders quite often people would ignore me. So I’ve had to learn along the way specific tactics to position myself like when I walk into a room perhaps I should be the first one walking in or perhaps I should sit towards the end of the table to try and get the attention. I’ve never seen those as challenges I’ve always just seen them as opportunities.

Are there any other sort of strategies that you could suggest in terms of how women can handle themselves in that sort of environment? 

You have to strike a really really good balance, you need to know when to kind of position yourself though, in terms of physical positioning like how you carry yourself and how you speak. Then there are times depending on the circumstance where you probably have to play a more humble role as well. I think the most important thing is you’ve got to have that emotional intelligence to kind of understand what the environment and setting are like and what the game is like. For example, who you are, who you’re with, and what the environment is like and then be able to actually decide whether it’s a place where you need to step up or whether it’s time for you to kind of step back. So, it’s really situational awareness, isn’t it (?), and it’s also just reading people you know. You can easily maneuver, change your tactics with the way you communicate, or simply talking to someone for the very first time or observing people. I see a lot of women in actual fact go about it the wrong way like they try and be somebody different, and not just natural and comfortable in their own skin and sometimes it rubs off negatively and it’s quite obvious at times.

In terms of your background, you obviously have that computer science background and had great opportunities in terms of doing your MBA. What’s your headspace in terms of a learning mindset?

I left the IT world and said it was a waste of time doing that IT degree. But now I’m in the banking industry, it’s probably going to end up being my strength and what’s actually going to help me learn and adapt really quickly. I think that’s kind of helped me throughout, my career, as I do have a really really good conceptual knowledge and I’m able to actually grasp things very very quickly. I think that learning mindset has helped me. Otherwise how else do you grow and realize your full potential? So, yes one hundred percent (it has helped).

From a cultural perspective are there any sort of suggestions or tips that you can give companies, how they can maybe work with females and empower them better and have some strategy around it. I think the first thing a company needs to do is recognize the fact that women have equal ability and make sure that you’re able to actually create equal opportunity. The second thing is because we’re actually in PNG and because of the cultural sensitivities around the role women play. I suppose businesses need to do a little bit more to spot talent and mentor and coach that talent. I’ve come across a lot of really really good talented women, but what weighs them down is in actual fact what happens at home.

What does mentoring look like in a company?

It depends, so where you’ve got women in technical areas who are competent technically, you may not have a structured way you’re trying to train or mentor the person into a leadership role but maybe it’s more of an informal leadership coaching process where you’re available to the person. In particular, if the person seems like a self-starter and they’re very proactive about their learning. However when you’re in a situation where you’ve actually got to kind of kick start that spark in people you might need a structured mentoring framework to actually mentor that person. So, I think it just varies depending on the person.

And have you had a formal mentor in your life?

I have, a lot of the mentoring was actually just on the job. I was quite fortunate because my Chairman at Origin energy and my immediate supervisor just threw me into the deep end – all the time. I had to teach myself to swim but he was always there with a hand out saying, Listen, I’m here if there’s anything that you don’t understand just say it and we can work through it together. He did quite a bit of traditional coaching like for instance when I was presenting to the board the first couple of times, he actually made me do presentations and he would set up a mock boardroom to who I’d be presenting to. He’d be there raising questions and telling me “this type of director will ask this type of question”. Even reading the financial statements, for instance, I had to go line by line and I had to repeat what each line meant on the financial state and then on the balance sheet, and I had to interpret that back to him and I had to do it over and over again. It took me two years before I could actually perfect it, so my development in the CEO role was actually for the first five years of him teaching me every step of the way. That’s the kind of mentoring and coaching I don’t see. People are saying oh I’m a mentor and if there’s anything you don’t understand, approach me, but the problem is people are afraid to ask. He knew in fact that was probably the best way in terms of teaching me and he set the rules up front, like he said to me, okay, this is what we’re going to do to get you to learn these things. At first, it was really confronting but once I got the hang of it was the best thing.

So I started to do that to other people as well and sometimes it works, but sometimes it just doesn’t. I tried to do it to one particular person and you know they didn’t like being told what to present and just avoided it. I was lucky because he would use certain lines repeatedly like he would say “just to reassure you, there’s no such thing as a dumb question”. He’d say things like remember. “feedback is good for your improvement”. So that was very reassuring. I like to add tolerance, my mentor had a lot of tolerance and patience. You must have a lot of patience, which is my weakness as a mentor. I keep forgetting that somebody was patient with me and that’s how I improved. One of the things that he kept saying to me was every time we’d present I talked quickly, he’d say “Lt slow down because you want people to actually hear you. You want people to actually understand you.”

What, do you hope to leave when you finish your career, and does legacy matter to you?

It used to matter to me before but not anymore.

Why do you say that?

Success is actually is something that I take very personally and from a spiritual perspective. Somebody was asking me the other day, “What does leadership mean to you”? I’ve been asked this question so many times, and I’m convinced that leadership is actually about doing the right thing when nobody’s watching, and I just added a piece to it and said, not expecting a reward for it.

As a woman in PNG, you automatically will have a legacy and people look up to you as an inspiration. You’ve been recognized in your industry with awards and when people speak of you they speak highly of you. You automatically already have a legacy and now you are moving to a different industry and will be part of a transformation happening within the banking industry in PNG which will leave a legacy.

For me is I just want my name to be remembered for generations and for people to say, Oh, this person made a difference here and made a difference there.

You look at someone like your mum (Mary), when you speak of your mum’s name people recognize her as a highly energized and highly motivated entrepreneur and woman. I’m sure people will think of you fondly like that as well?

We actually never talked a lot about what we do, we always just talk about family stuff and all the time I come across people who say oh Your mum is Mary? We just focus on being the best person we can ever be and helping others and making a difference in the lives of others as much as possible. 

We are very appreciative of your time so thank you very much. 

 

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