December 1, 2021
Latin for Agile, “Agilis” defines the everyday Executive pursuing extraordinary goals. This month, we are eager to share the Extra(ordinary) journey of Annabel Berry, a former team member with Global Business Solutions at TikTok in Sydney, Australia. Annabel took risks that led her to believe in her decision-making ability...it was her courage that drove her spirit. The opportunities that supported her as she moved through her career evolved as a result of this courage when making a choice. Annabel believed in herself, and this confidence is ultimately what determined her measure of success.
“I was born in Sydney, Australia,” Annabel begins sharing. “We followed my Dad’s work to Melbourne when I was very young. I have had a very privileged upbringing, where I was born into good health and to parents who were very loving and supportive. We have always had a roof over our heads, and all of the comforts that have made decision making a lot easier for me than for others as I was growing up. Those formative years in Melbourne were great; there are really fond memories of those early years before I settled back in Sydney, which is where our family moved, and where my parents still live today. However, it still feels very much like home when I go back to Melbourne. My partner’s family is also in Melbourne, so my heart is stretched across two major cities.”
Annabel shares her educational pursuit, and the decisions that led her through two very different career paths in a short period of time. “I was never an academic! I was very much into sports and dramatic arts. I excelled at everything except for the academic part of someone’s schooling that would determine what career path they should follow. The thought of me trying to aspire to be a doctor, or a lawyer, or a marine biologist came with a lot of intimidation. It felt like I would never have the marks to access that degree, or be admitted into that education. I just aimed for a bachelor of arts, which is what I ended up going into.” She smiles and continues sharing, “I thought I wanted to chase and understand performing arts, and really gain a good understanding of theory behind film and cinematography. So, I started studying that because this was also my Dad’s background - film and television. I had completed some interning with my Dad, and I had been on film sets before, so I felt quite comfortable with what production felt like.” Annabel realized quickly that she wanted to change direction. “I began feeling unmotivated and disliked watching a movie, analyzing it, etc. All of sudden, media was becoming too difficult to understand and I was becoming too in-tune with lights, camera angles, and lenses. So, two years into that degree, I thought, ‘Maybe, I can transfer.’ This is when I started to explore media and communications, which could, arguably, be considered the same thing; but, with many more options to choose a major in. So, I switched universities and moved to one that was based off of where many of my friends were at the time. I was able to socialize with people I enjoyed spending time with, which made studying a little more of an enjoyable experience as well. It was also closer to where I was living at that time. So, I started pursuing communications in Public Relations. Having a career in communications where you are required to manage so many people performing multiple steps in a process can become complicated and bureaucratic. But, this has made a really big difference for me. It was a weird, meant-to-be scenario where changing universities did give me this particular skill set on how to weave into an entirely different industry.”
We discuss values, and how Annabel’s upbringing may have had differing values than the ones leading to her schooling. “I think my values did change in university from thinking that I had to pursue one career (or, just get through something), to then placing a stop to that career path and thinking critically about where I wanted my life to go. I have always been very fluid in how I show up for opportunities - taking a direction in which I thought achieving a bachelor of arts degree would reward me a great job; whereas, doing a circuit breaker and realizing I wasn’t very happy. My values changed to then appreciate what would make me happy in this moment. If I’m happier in this moment, I’m going to do better at whatever it is that I’m doing.” At the time, Annabel was also working at Apple’s retail space, and she realized that she valued certain company cultures over others. She continues, “I began looking at companies that were similar to Apple, or trying to understand what a company would look like if they didn’t have the same values, and if this was really something that I could show up to every day and adapt to. So, I made a very clear stance to myself that I wanted to work in a place that had a very tech-like culture, with a people-first commitment. Therefore, HR (Human Resources), was no longer just a department that existed for merely legal reasons; it was becoming a disruptor in how to get the best out of people if we invest in that space.”
Annabel continues sharing how her career evolved, “I was working at Apple in part-time sales while I was in university. I found that I really enjoyed the training and development opportunities I received there. I was a retail employee, but my onboarding was one of the most inspiring moments of my life. It was retail onboarding, but it was so incredibly well done. There was such an investment in the people and team development - I really let that dictate where I was going to go from there. I realized that I quite enjoyed the culture, and how we got to a culture where people find this heartbeat in a company. I wanted to tap into whatever that was, and I wanted to do a job that impacted that for a company. I really liked this idea of the culture and onboarding, and what it really means to give employees this cradle of values and have them believe in it. Another opportunity then came up for me to do a trainer role. So, I began doing sales training for multiple markets within South Wales. That was a short-term assignment for six months.” Annabel then takes us through what led her to join Google’s team. “When I was approached by Google to join their recruitment operation teams, the role was actually in Singapore! Again, another one of those situations where I hadn’t planned for it because I didn’t think it was possible for me to move. But I jumped on it. I knew it was a great opportunity. So, I moved to Singapore in the beginning of 2015 to join Google, where I worked in their recruitment operations team. Moving from the retail side into a corporate role was a very big change for me. I had a lot of ideas, and I thought my ideas were amazing, but that was my first glance to people saying, ‘Actually, there’s a process. You need to settle down and look at the process first. Just because you have an idea, doesn’t mean you’re going to do those things.’ So, I had to learn pretty quickly how a corporate structure functioned, and what it looked like to be in an operation where you’re in this very big company, and there are several steps involved.”
Annabel takes us through some of the incredible travel opportunities that were presented to her through this work experience, and how the decisions she made along the way helped her build courage and confidence. “I travelled to different countries and visited different regions to understand the different nuances within the market. I spent some time in India, and at this time I was really trying to expose myself to opportunities and experiences that would challenge a lot of the ways I had been thinking, and a lot of preconceived ideas I had about the world, work, people and relationships. It was an absolute cocktail of a year! But, I gained some great perspective. In 2016, there was a role presented to me that took me to the United Kingdom. That year in London, I threw myself into the job. I had always had a good work-life balance, but it was a lonely existence. I didn’t have my partner in the U.K., and I was working very strange, long hours with no social network. I found myself not being able to connect with groups because my hours were really long, and I didn’t have this space where I could go out and meet new people. So, this was an interesting struggle to weigh out - what was important to me? Is it this new job that I really loved that was giving me this lens on life; or was it missing my partner and having social interactions? At the end of the twelve month contract, I made the decision to return back home to Sydney. I needed to be near my family, friends, and reunited with my partner,” she explains. “When I moved back, I changed jobs completely - I joined Google as a recruiter. I think this came about because I had a good network of people at Google to lean into and to give me those opportunities and trust. My personal life was incredible - I was able to reconnect with friends that I hadn’t seen in many months. I found myself again amidst the rhythm of living back home in Sydney.”
Eventually, Annabel moved into a program manager role with the diversity and inclusion team. “This was fascinating because I still got to work with the engineering clients that I was recruiting for; but I was in this aspect of how to increase exposure of underrepresented groups within the industry. I was in this role for two years, and then of course COVID-19 came along and there was another circuit breaker for me. I had to stop and take a look at my end goal. I know that I am contradicting myself because I am very passionate about not planning things; but, I’m also very in tune with when I’m happy and when I’m not. Google is an incredible company to work for, but there wasn’t a lot of opportunity for me to move ahead because of the size of the Sydney team, at that time. I had been following the interesting growth with TikTok in Australia, and the journey the app had taken itself on globally. I then found myself in a role with TikTok where I was thriving in a way that I didn’t know was possible.”
Annabel shares that she feels very lucky to have been recognized for her potential, versus the experience alone on her résumé. A quick learner, she took risks and wasn’t averse to learning new things, or making decisions based on what she felt was the right thing to do. “I’m very comfortable with risk. Many times, I have been polarized by a decision and that polarization or stagnant feeling is enough for me to avoid. I would rather take the risk than be stuck in the middle of a decision and not be able to make one. For instance, it doesn’t take much for me to decide to purchase a car. This is a very big decision, but I’ll walk into a dealership; test drive a car; and won’t hesitate to buy one right there and then. I know that I won’t need to see other cars because this one happened to tick off the boxes that it needed to tick off. With decision-making, there should certainly be some level of safety planning, but I also think that discomfort is a sign that there is growth awaiting. It is not going to be obvious straight away whether or not I have made the right decisions; ten years from now, I will look back and I could realize that I indeed did make the right decisions. But, in the ten years leading up to that point, there will be a lot of highs and lows. I feel that I lost a lot of myself when I moved from Sydney to Singapore; emotionally, through my relationship, and maybe even some friendships fell apart because of the distance. But, I look back now, seven or eight years later, and I know that my decision was the absolute right thing to do at that time.”
In her role, representing a global brand, we highlight the importance of vulnerability, and why this trait is important for leaders to embrace and openly state that ‘it’s okay not to be okay’. “People can’t be something if they don’t see it. If there is not someone making an example of something, or showing people something is possible or relatable, it’s very, very hard to feel safe. Showing vulnerability, and knowing what is possible and where it is safe to share feelings or reach out when something is wrong is what all leaders need to model. The pandemic has taught me that no two days are the same for a mood. Your mood is not normal right now. You can have one day where you’re frustrated and fed up; but, there’s no pinpoint and you can’t really figure out why. If leaders reach out and acknowledge that this is not a normal time, it gives people permission to lean into that and not self-criticize. Of course, it also breeds good behaviors. It makes people more productive when taking time to be themselves, authentically; because once you focus on your emotional, mental, and physical wellbeing, you will ultimately be a better employee because you feel good. I still see a lot of resistance where companies think that if they give employees an inch, they’ll take a mile. But, I would argue that this speaks to a problem about the culture of the company. I like to see this new way of thinking about mental health and disconnection as part of an organizational strategy. You can tell when it’s not genuine, and you can tell when someone just wants to check a box; so, an understanding that if we don’t take care of this part of an employee’s contribution, what are the potential consequences? I would love to see more work being done in this space and more big companies, outside of tech, taking more of a stance. We’re very used to tech having radical days - taking days off, and having dogs in the office, etc. That’s all very regular for the sector, but it would be great for other industries to be pushing forward, creatively, as well.”
Annabel is realistic but persistent when placing value to measuring success. “Personal happiness…accolades and the people who you value that are giving you feedback or sharing pride in what you’re doing is very important to me. It’s quite traditional in the sense that I like having my parents be proud of me, and feel that their raising me has been a success. Right now, I feel successful because I feel like I have a really great balance during what is a very trying time in the world. If I feel like I still have some control over my workload where I can still give time to the people I love – for me, that’s a great balance, and a very good measure of success.”
Annabel’s belief in herself and making the decisions that feel authentic and accountable for her has guided her success. Professionally, she took risks that made her content, and reassured her that the path she chose was still in line with her values. Personally, there is a lightness that is apparent when Annabel shares her journey, and the self-awareness and growth that her decisions have offered her…
“If a decision seems too hard, just make the call. Make the call immediately. Do the uncomfortable thing quickly, and let it decide for you. It’s important to own our decisions. Knowing that I can make a tough decision means that I can make it again if things aren’t right. I know it is very cliché, but without risk, there’s no reward. I don’t believe in planning, but I do believe in changing the situation. If you’re on a track and it just isn’t right, you have the power to make it right. I’m not a particularly religious or spiritual person, but when I play it back, it does sound like I am placing a lot to chance and fate…but, whatever that is, this is certainly how I usually live life.”
How do you measure success?
-Written by Reena Khullar, Founder & CEO