Why the Lord Mayor has embraced being a “career chameleon”

By Sophie Thomas

Melbourne Lord Mayor, Sally Capp (BCom, LLB (Hons) 1991), has had a myriad of career changes. Here she shares how her love of transformation and commitment to learning has shaped her own version of success.

Sally Capp says some have been stumped upon reading her resume.

Her career has zigged and zagged over the years. After graduating from the University of Melbourne with Law and Commerce degrees, she began her working life as a Solicitor.

She stayed in law for a decade before joining the business world. She held senior roles at KPMG and ANZ, and listed the small business she founded on the ASX.

In 2004, she made history as the first female board member of Collingwood Football Club.

“There have been moves that I've made in my career where other people have said, ‘Why did you go backwards? Why have you made that decision? You're worse off than you were,”’ Capp says.

“But in my mind, for my own reasons, I was always better off. I think it's really important to be able to, even in the face of other people's opinions, make career moves that might otherwise be seen as sideways or backwards, but you know that you're making them for reasons that are great for you.”

Sally Capp

Capp was sworn in as Lord Mayor of Melbourne in May 2018, the first woman to be directly elected to the position.

She entered local government driven by her commitment to drive positive change through her career.

“For many years now, I've worked in roles where there's a commercial element, because I absolutely love the hardness and edginess of the commercial, but there always has to be an agenda or an outcome that delivers value to society and the broader community,” she says.

Capp has embraced her role as Mayor with gusto.

“I am relatively new to politics and I've come to it late in my career. But I absolutely love working in local government. I live and breathe this job.”

She says she couldn’t have considered running until the time was right.

“My youngest son had just finished his final year at school when this opportunity came up - serendipity in life is just wonderful sometimes,” she said.

“My husband thinks it's the most extreme form of managing empty-nester syndrome, in his view, to become Lord Mayor. It's an incredibly busy but fulfilling role, but very full on, because we live in the city as well, I rarely leave the demands of the job.”

While close to 50 per cent of the City Councillors are women, Capp has realised that there aren’t enough women involved in politics more broadly.

Sally Capp

“It’s difficult because the number of women you can turn to as role models is quite low. But there are some stellar examples out there, and when I was considering coming into politics, I rang a whole lot of women I really didn't know that well, some I did, and the great news is, they were willing to share lots of stories and advice and guidance with me,” she says.

Capp acknowledges that there are still different expectations for men and women when it comes to their careers.

“It is changing and evolving, thankfully. On the positive side, I do think women tend to be less constrained by stereotypes, because we haven't necessarily been in certain roles for a long time, so we haven't been squished into those pigeonholes in the same way. And I think that sense of being unconstrained by a stereotype is powerful, and I've used it more than once in my career as an element of surprise and it's worked very well.”

Listen to the Women are the Business podcast for more insights on women's working lives - linking cutting edge research and real life experience to explain the hurdles they face. Available on Spotify and Apple Podcasts now.