How Therese McCarthy Hockey is Always Ready in a Crisis

Therese McCarthy Hockey

The head of banking for APRA – and Macquarie University Business School graduate – thrives on challenge and spends a lot of time trying to predict the next crisis.

Be ready for the next crisis

Executive director of banking, Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA)

“The onset of COVID – and the uncertainty that came with it – was like nothing I’d experienced in my career. It’s too late when a crisis hits. I think my experience here at the agency has emphasised the importance of good planning. Early preparation is essential – you have to pave the way and do the work in advance. No crisis is the same as another but there are common elements and it’s essential to learn from the past. I spend a lot of time thinking about improbable yet plausible scenarios – thinking forward and looking at worst-case scenarios. The environment remains very uncertain, with inflationary pressures, supply chain pressures, operational disruptions and geopolitical risks. No crisis will be what you plan it to be – stress testing and scenario building is only in your imagination – but the more you imagine, the more you think and are able to evolve and adjust. That’s the root of good crisis-response readiness.”

Find the purpose in your work

Executive general manager, strategy and chief risk officer, APRA

“In my shift from private sector to public, I was taken by the gravity of what we do. In our case, it’s to protect the financial wellbeing of the Australian community. What makes it rewarding in the public sector is the ability to focus on an outcome – that community outcome – without the bottom-line pressure that’s evident in the private sector. The lesson for me has been in what value purpose brings to galvanising an organisation. The mission permeates everything we do, from the type of people we recruit to the way in which we talk to our team and the way in which we think about the value of our work. When people ask me what’s it like to work in the public sector, I tell them they would be stunned by how high the quality of workers are. There are a lot of very learned, sharp individuals. People really want to be part of the mission.”

Avoid unhelpful distractions

Deputy group treasurer and chief operating officer, treasury, Deutsche Bank, London

“This was a challenging period. There were multiple CEO changes and each CEO came with organisational changes. There were those who were more aligned – or swearing more allegiance – to certain pockets of leadership but I always stayed the course on what was right for the organisation, which allowed me to not get caught up in any politics. I tried to focus on the commercial realities and not get distracted. I often say to the team, ‘Don’t be defined by your divisional boundary, your cost centre boundary – just think about the purpose.’ There were times when it was a little unsettling but I just had to stay the course because they needed good people who got things done, who were respectful of each other and who listened to priorities. It’s not about being blinkered; it’s about understanding what’s important.”

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Don’t be afraid to ask questions

Chief operating officer, treasury and UK treasurer, Deutsche Bank, London

“By the time I got to the UK, the GFC was very extended and part of the role was taking on a board position of a regulated bank. I learnt the value of accountability – working in a huge financial centre through a time of stress was a real acceleration period in my career. I became far more thoughtful about risk. What are the downsides? And what does it mean for the longer-term strategy? They used to say I was always fearless at the board. I’m not really afraid of asking silly questions or going out on a limb to explore something I don’t fully understand. I’m not really swayed by the room going in one direction – I’m thinking, ‘I still haven’t got this bit so can you take me through it?’ It could be the core thing we need to contemplate. Fear is not one of my factors.”

Form genuine relationships

Treasurer, Australia and New Zealand, Deutsche Bank

“I’ve had very little formal mentoring. There have been programs from time to time but they haven’t been as long-lasting as the relationships I’ve forged out of genuine working experiences. I’ve had sponsors along the way – you do accumulate those people, even though they may not know they’re actually mentoring you – and it can be quite irregular. They give you fresh eyes because they’re not there for every step of the journey. I don’t think I’m a natural networker. I’ve seen others who I would call professional networkers; you hear people saying, ‘Oh, they’re an amazing networker.’ I have fewer but deeper relationships where we touch base on where we’re at and any issues or worries we have. They’re relationships that have really built over time and have been born out of genuine respect and rapport.”

Never stop learning

Debt markets, Macquarie Bank

“This was a time I really invested in myself. You should never stop learning and you shouldn’t be afraid to explore things of interest to yourself – and it can be deliberate and career oriented, from AICD courses to international conferences. Macquarie really supported that learning approach. I started to develop a better sense of my own self and I began to understand what I needed to learn and what it was that I should invest in. I began to appreciate experts in a field and to get exposure to them. I rotated through different functions and I learnt how to code and how to trade particular derivatives. I didn’t know until then that that’s how you can develop quickly. I often say to people, ‘Rotate into something. You’re great here but go and spend three or six months there and then come back.’”

Lean into tough times

Money markets, Bankers Trust

“This was my first role out of university and I joined the dealing room, which was a very demanding environment. I dealt with European and US time zones so we were quite often working through the night. At that time, Bankers Trust had significant financial and reputational setbacks, which meant I was on a huge learning curve and gained first-hand experience in what it meant to manage a distressed balance sheet and deal with pressures of liquidity. It set me up for today – tough times teach us the most valuable lessons so it was really formative. You have to be able to withstand the exhausting, demanding environment – even when things aren’t going well. It’s one foot in front of the other. Just keep moving forward; you will find a way through.”

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Image credit: Nic Walker

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