Mary-Beth Hosking always wanted to perform. In fact, she chose to be a singer – over a doctor – and was an avid singer performer for many years – one of her highlights was singing in the SA state youth opera.
Today, as the global CIO of PointsBet – and having led major change across countless organisations and writing her first book about it – she’s now on a mission to help others survive this disruptive change and transformation, and to help inspire and build better leaders in the process.
Perhaps one of her best pieces of advice? ‘Be curious, be inquisitive and never be afraid to ask questions when you don’t know. Be a lifelong learner and keep your mind elastic. Just like muscles atrophy without use, so does the mind.’
Stories Ink sat down with Hosking to discuss her love for performing; her three main pieces of advice for any tech leader; her upcoming book; her passions in life (including her latest philanthropic activity); and why ‘you must be yourself, warts and all.’
Quick time frame of where you were born, raised, schooled. Tell us a bit about your:
I was born in New Jersey in the U.S. and migrated to Australia when I was six months old with my family. I come from a large Roman Catholic family of five girls. Both parents were professionals: father was an engineer and a musician; mother was an accountant.
I grew up in Adelaide in a loving family with strong family bonds and eventually moved to Melbourne to start my professional life. My parents worked incredibly hard, and this is where I learned my work ethic. My mother was a very strong woman and taught me how you can ‘have it all’.
I have three very close friends who’ve stuck with me all of life, and I realised early on the importance of close friendships. The people around me, including family, close friends, and colleagues have added to the richness of my life.
I lived in the southern region of South Australia and went to public school there.
Growing up, what did you want to be?
When I was a child, I had two aspirations diametrically opposite. One was to be a doctor and the other a singer. The singing won and I decided to pursue that. Highlights from my youth: Sang in the SA state youth opera; and was an avid singer performer for many years. I moved to Melbourne to pursue a career in singing.
What were some of your first and most memorable jobs?
When I began looking at a change in career direction, I tried many different things – this was my love of learning kicking in.
– Croupier at the casino – I think I liked this because it was a way of performing.
– Personal trainer/aerobics instructor – Again I was in front of people, leading from the front.
– IT trainer and assessor – Standing in front of people teaching technology.
There is a theme here!
You’ve held a number of tech, project management and change delivery roles. What are some of your main lessons learned in your career?
- Be authentic in what you do. People don’t follow a fraud; they may for a short while, but people are smart, and they see through that. You must be yourself, warts, and all.
- Bad news never gets better with age. When something is going pear shaped, you need to let stakeholders know, but always have a mitigation plan for it. Never present a problem without having thought of the possible solution(s).
- Technology is always changing, and you need to keep up. Be curious, be inquisitive and never be afraid to ask questions when you don’t know. Be a lifelong learner and keep your mind elastic. Just like muscles atrophy without use, so does the mind.
How did your journey lead you to your current role: Global CIO of PointsBet?
Once I had worked in each area of IT, I decided it was time to make a push for the c-suite.
I worked with an executive coach to assist me in polishing my experience and to understand where I could add the most value. We spent considerable time working on the best organisations that would benefit from my experience and passion for transformation – and then the PointsBet opportunity arose.
Can you tell us about the organisation – and your vision for the role?
You’ve been quoted as saying: ‘Leading is a state of mind, not a job you do.’ How did you come to this realisation?
I believe that everyone has the potential to lead no matter what role they may hold in an organisation. A leader is someone that has a vision for improvement and a path to get there. In my view, there’s a big difference between a manager and a leader. A leader understands how to take people on a journey, they know the power of ‘why’ and they know how to express their vision in a way that anyone can understand. Leadership can be learned, but you need to be open to it and you need to realise that you’re not going to have all the answers. You also need to realise that not having all the answers is okay – it’s about the discovery of these where the journey to leadership begins.
What inspired you to write your book, In one piece – a step by step guide to surviving change?
With my passion for writing, I’m very excited to now be working on my second book ‘From Singer to CEO – Lessons from centre stage’. I’ll be drawing from my performing career and showing how you can mix multiple passions into the career you aspire to have.
What do you tell other leaders?
– Take people on the journey and be passionate about your role in it – and theirs. Be clear about the ‘why.’
– Always be open to learning.
Can you highlight some of your main achievements/milestones in your career?
I’ve helped team members rebuild their resiliency after being impacted by poor managers. One person comes to mind, who, when I first met them, broke down emotionally. The previous manager had impacted them negatively and their resilience was very low. I spent 18 months working as a mentor and a coach with this person. I helped them rebuild their perception of self and their personal value proposition. Then I watched as they went on to bigger and better things.
I’ve implemented full training and career plans for team members and watched as their careers have excelled within the organisations I’ve worked in and then in new endeavours. These people have ceased to become my colleagues and have become my friends. This is the highlight of my career. For me, the testament of a great leader is someone who can help others achieve greatness in their careers.
You’re a speaker on ‘change and transformation.’ What are the biggest hurdles today’s business leaders face?
Change is so rapid and trying to keep up is nearly impossible. What I can offer is to remain open to the art of the possible. There will always be an answer to the issues; generally there will be multiple options to the myriad of scenarios you’re facing. The adage: ‘How do you eat a chocolate elephant’ is true. You can only do it one small piece at a time. Try not to become overwhelmed by the size of the changes you’re facing. Break them down into small pieces. Talk to your team and use their expertise and their ideas. Many ideas are better than one, and you can build greater trust through the transformation this way. It’s about taking the team on the journey with you. All will learn together and resolve the challenges as a team.
What’s a fun fact or something people don’t know about you?
I’m an avid Star Trek fan. In fact, I love sci-fi in general. I love the idea that science fiction is slowly becoming science fact. This is probably why I love technology so much. Star Trek’s ethos is in celebrating the diversity of people and in using the differences between them to help build a better tomorrow. This truly resonates for me, which is why I love the ST Universe.
Do you get nervous before public speaking?
You’re passionate about mentoring and giving back to the community – you’ve been involved with meetmagic and Vic ICT for Women, among others. What do you find most rewarding about this?
Here’s a trio of causes:
I was the vice-president of the Armed Merchant Cruiser and Landing Ship Infantry association of Victoria. This Naval association supports veterans of conflict, specifically WW2. For me, it was important to support the veterans and their families, but more importantly to not forget this. We have such short memories and being involved in this association helped me to bring that sacrifice back to the forefront of people’s thinking.
VIC ICT for Women mentoring program is a wonderful program and my involvement was to work with a mentee and assist them with challenges they may be facing. The Mentor/Mentee relationship is quite powerful. The things I learned I feel were incredibly valuable, and I look forward to following my mentee’s career as it unfolds.
meetmagic just seemed like a wonderful idea. Giving a couple of hours of my time to either listen to a vendor with a new idea or to help an organisation with my experience, seemed like a no brainer. In turn, the meetmagic organisation donates funds to the charity of my choice. For me, that’s The Starlight Foundation, which is such a wonderful foundation. How could you not get behind that?
What are some of your passions in life?
I’m also passionate about writing. As mentioned, I’m writing my second book, which is exciting. The first foray into this went reasonably well considering my planned book launch was impacted by the pandemic. I now know what to do to better market my books and am incredibly excited by the premise of the new book. Watch this space for launch details and upcoming speaking engagements.
And finally, what do you wish to achieve moving forward?
I’m always looking for the next step and for me it will be moving up the corporate ladder. That for me will be the pinnacle of my career aspirations. From there, I want to do a lot more public speaking as this will give me the opportunity to perform even more!