Profile: Sarah Bunning, Capital Group Australia
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From mucking out livestock pens to global marketing strategy, Sarah Bunning has come a long way from working on cattle stud farms in Orange, NSW. These days she’s making her mark in the world of funds management as Marketing Director for US titan Capital Group. Sarah shares insights on her career journey and why she feels lucky to be in her current role.
What got you started in marketing?
My original career goal was to be a vet. I spent much of my life outside of school working with cattle and it was all I wanted to do. But when we lost three calves in one day, I knew I wasn’t emotionally cut out for a life looking after animals.
Then I started working in a local restaurant, with a girl who went to Uni in Canberra. She was doing her BA in Tourism and that’s what I applied to do, majoring in PR and Marketing. After some really exciting years in events, at home and overseas, I realised that, as a woman, my career in the sector wasn’t going to go much further.
My next move was into HR and management consulting for companies like Hay Group and Towers Perrin. We had lots of financial services clients so I got to know the industry well and built up a good network. A move into employer super marketing for one of the big banks was a natural next step. And from then on I’ve moved around a fair amount within the sector, working in funds management and financial advice as well as corporate super.
As a marketing professional, what are the most important things you’ve learned?
I’ve certainly learned how to prioritise. The marketing function encompasses so many things and people in the business expect a lot from you, particularly now we have digital content on demand. It accelerates everything, so you’re under even more pressure to deliver. What I’ve found works is to focus on getting the big rocks in first, before fitting in the pebbles and sand around them. If you don’t make the major goals a priority, you’ll quickly find yourself without the capacity to make them happen.
But the most important lesson is something that matters whatever sector or role you’re working in. No job is worth compromising your values and who you are, so always remember to be true to yourself and don’t do something if it doesn’t feel right.
What’s the best thing about the role you’re in now?
The culture at Capital Group is incredible. The number of interviews you have to do seems daunting at first but it’s clear that they want you to be 100% sure that it’s going to work out for the long term. Everyone here is extremely smart but they also have emotional intelligence. By the time I’d been here for about three months I felt like I’d won the career lotto with this role.
I also really love the combination of strategy and being hands on. In marketing, there’s this assumption that you’ll inevitably progress away from execution and towards managing a team. At Capital Group, I don’t have any direct reports but I get this amazing support from our marketing team around the world and agency partners here in Sydney. So I get to work on strategy and then team up with talented people to execute. It’s such a great balance for me and gives me the flexibility to try new things, knowing I’m supported by really capable internal and external partners.
What is it like to be working in marketing for a global company?
I’d had experience working for a global company before with headquarters in Sydney. But at Capital Group it’s quite different because we’re not the main office and I feel more connected to our global team, particularly all the other country marketing managers. Meeting up with them in London has been a great experience. I’ve heard so many amazing stories and it’s really opened up my eyes to all the different cultures that make up the Capital Group global team. My colleagues are all very passionate about their work in marketing, just as I am, so it’s been wonderful to have that chance to get to know them face to face and compare notes.
What gives your life meaning? ..apart from marketing, of course
I’m really committed to working hard at my job. But I also love to knit, do pilates, cook delicious meals and take time to enjoy my family and friends. I definitely pack a lot into my life and have to juggle the late night conference calls with being there for my kids and husband. But I just try to remember that Quentin Bryce quote, “You can have it all, but not all at the same time.” That’s an important lesson for me, and my kids, that life is all about striking a balance.