Among the many facets of her global career, it was the possibilities, opportunities and independence that came with living an international life that Jan McGrath reflects on most fondly of her 18 years living in the US, UK and Hong Kong.
It all started with an opportunity that came in the form of a work offer at HSBC in Hong Kong in 1997 to manage the first public blue-chip card with electronic cash on it in the world. The allure of the landmark gig drew her instantly, which saw her project manage the development and implementation of the new product with a team of 127 staff across two banks – a stellar start to what came to be an incredibly successful career abroad.
“Opening my eyes and my mind to what was out there, and what was possible was very liberating,” says Jan. “I had always been someone’s daughter, sister, aunt, wife, partner or girlfriend. I got to leave this all behind and find out that I could stand on my own two feet.”
To distill 18 years abroad into a short paragraph does not do justice to Jan’s global experience. However, the growth that came with this journey propelled her forward both personally and professionally; she met her husband while living in the US, made lifelong friendships along the way, and has earned an international reputation as a senior leader of global strategic business transformation and change initiatives within the financial services industry.
What prompted Jan to return to Australia was simply that she felt it was time. While living overseas, there was a sense of missing having a close friend or family drop over for a cup of tea, or the familiarity of having loved ones close by. “I had missed so many things and events at home,” says Jan. “I wanted to come back to be a part of the family, friends and Australia again, and regain my identity. Also work provided me the option to choose where I next wanted to go – so I chose home.”
The return journey in 2015 was somewhat tempered by the move to Sydney rather than Jan’s hometown of Melbourne – giving a sense of a continued journey, and not quite being ‘home’ yet.
She describes her return journey is exciting yet overwhelming, exciting and happy all at once. “What has been most challenging is getting employers and colleagues here to understand the value of your experience overseas. No one – and I mean no one – here wants to hear about it. The tall poppy syndrome is alive and well,” says Jan. “I found myself down playing my experience and knowledge, almost dumbing it down for acceptance.”
Meanwhile, returning home also meant Jan saw her home country through a renewed lens, and enjoyed being reminded of the great people and culture that Australia has to offer. Certainly, she had changed – even though it wasn’t as obvious at first. “I didn’t think I had changed but it is ridiculous to think that you haven’t,” she says. “When I got back professional changes were the most obvious. On a personal note, the change is not so obvious because in a lot of ways you are put back into place by family and friends whether you want to be or not. However, personally I continue to crave new experiences and people with broad global views – hence seek out this community. Like-minded people with like experiences.”