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Career Skills & Transitions with Anna Mackenzie, Startup Consultant

career skills & transitions
Headshot of Anna Mackenzie, Startup Consultant for an interview with Fuzzy

 

 

What’s your career story so far?

 

In my last year of uni while my fellow Commerce grads were applying for jobs at the Big 4, I’d secretly applied to one of Australia’s top intelligence outfits hoping to fulfil my lifelong dream to become a spy. I spent ten months going through an intense recruitment process - the wildest experience of my life - before bombing out at the final round. It was devastating.

 

I slowly and painfully picked myself up off the ground and landed a job with Japanese fashion retailer UNIQLO as part of the founding team to help launch the brand in Australia. I moved to Singapore and Tokyo to learn the ins and outs of the business before coming back to open the first three mega stores. This role was my first look into how a global business operates across markets, and how processes, procedures and structures can be built to create efficiency and make teams more effective.

 

In 2014 I took a random detour into agency recruitment, which to my surprise was less about HR and more about cold hard sales. I spent a year having phones slammed down in my ear, but I learned how to sell and take relentless rejection in my stride.

 

In 2015 I landed a dream role at beauty retailer Mecca, and after a few quick promotions was leading the Concept Development and Retail Innovation team. I worked directly with Founder Jo Horgan, bouncing from city to city scouting the coolest retail experiences in the world; I sleuthed my way through Saks Fifth Avenue in NYC, undertook espionage at Ulta in LA and plonked myself on a plush velvet couch at Le Bon Marché in Paris meticulously observing lines of traffic throughout the space. I took all of this inspiration and learnings back to HQ, and funnelled them into the ‘beauty store of the future’.

 

During my time at Mecca my friends and I started a passion project - the lady-brains supper club - a dinner series for entrepreneurial women to connect and share ideas over great food and wine. This quickly spun out into a podcast interviewing female founders, and after landing a big network contract we decided to take the leap into the business full-time. Over five years we grew the podcast to hundreds of thousands of listeners, landed a partnership with Australian Fashion Week, won Best Commercial Campaign at the Australian Podcast Awards, launched educational programs and invested in our first female-led business from our community. It was a wild ride!

 

Last year I decided it was time for something new, and made the decision to wrap up my time at lady-brains and move on. These days, I’m working with US and Aussie brands as a Strategy & Ops Consultant, and I write a weekly newsletter called Anna Mack’s Stack sharing business, career and life lessons from many years of trying hard, taking risks, failing often, and improving until I succeed.

 

 

 

What ingredients were most important early on in your career?

 

At the beginning of my career, I was curious and put my hand up for literally anything and everything. When I was at Mecca my goal was to get as much experience and exposure as possible across the entire business; I assisted the Creative team on photoshoots, took minutes in meetings with store architects and builders, helped the merchandise team develop forecasts and volunteered to learn SQL.

 

Nothing was beneath me. This attitude worked in my favour as I was recognised for my enthusiasm and potential and quickly got promoted.

 

It also helped having relationships across the entire business when I was later leading big strategic initiatives.

Risk taking is another important one and something I’ve done many times over the years. I applied to become a spy even when all my university peers opted for a more traditional career path. When that didn’t pay off, I took a job in Tokyo even though I didn’t speak Japanese. I later quit my dream job (and full time salary) at Mecca to go all in on a business idea, and recently I decided to leave that business to pursue something else.

 

Not all of these risks paid off but I wouldn’t change any of them for the world because the failures not only led me here, they made me more resilient than I ever would have been otherwise.

 

 

 

What is the biggest career transition you’ve made? What helped you to take this step?

 

I’ve made two big transitions: quitting my job at Mecca to go all in on a business idea, and years later making the decision to leave that business and go out on my own. Neither of these transitions were easy but the biggest lesson I learned through both is that

 

I have to follow my intuition even when it’s hard, because my gut always knows what’s right.

 

 

 

How have you built your own professional toolkit over time?

 

I’m a constant work in progress and have intentionally developed my professional toolkit over the last decade. I’ve always been an active networker and have spent lots of time building deep, personal relationships with people across the Aussie startup ecosystem. These connections have not only brought a lot of joy to my life, they’ve paid off in terms of generating work for my consulting business.

 

Another habit that’s served me well over the years is to take notes and document constantly.

 

Whenever I meet someone, I take notes about who they are, what they need help with, and who else I can connect them with. When I consult for brands, I document my process and what I could improve for the next client. I’m constantly writing down ideas for my newsletter. I have a huge database of ideas, templates, processes, ways of working and learnings that I draw from every single day.

I’ve also invested a lot in myself; I’ve taken courses, had mentors and coaches, paid to be part of communities, and have a great psychologist (an absolute must for the self employed among us!).

 

 

 

How do you approach learning new skills?

 

I dive right in. It’s as simple as that.

 

Over the years I’ve learned that you don’t learn the skills and then start doing the thing, you learn the skills during the very act of doing. The doing is what’s important. The action is where the magic lies. Author of Atomic Habits, James Clear, explains this best through the framework of Motion vs. Action. He writes:

 

Motion:

  • Talk to a personal trainer
  • Research your book idea
  • Explore different types of meditation

 

Action:

  • Do 10 squats
  • Write 1 sentence
  • Meditate for 1 minute

 

Motion feels like progress. Action is progress.

 

Imperfect action > waiting until you think you’ve learnt the ropes before you make your move.

 

 

 

What’s the best career advice you’ve received?

 

It was from Jo Horgan, the founder of Mecca. She told me to always

 

“go one cm wide, one mile deep”.

 

In other words, never split your focus, choose one thing and pursue it obsessively until you’re the best in the world, or at the very least, the best you can possibly be.

Focus, focus, focus.

 

 

 

What’s one thing you wish you knew when you first started your career?

 

That my career wouldn’t be linear and that’s ok. I wish I knew that I was always moving forwards, even during the times that I felt like I was going backwards. It’s all part of the process.

 

 

 

What’s one resource (book, podcast, article, etc.) that’s helped you in your journey?

 

Atomic Habits by James Clear has had a profound impact on my life. This book made me realise that I didn’t need to make drastic changes in my life in order for it to drastically change.

 

I’ll share an example:

For years my New Year’s resolution was to pen a best seller and thus become a Great Writer. I’d wistfully dream about flicking through the freshly printed pages of my hard cover book, but for whatever reason I’d take precisely no action towards making that vision come true.

Surprise surprise, over those years I didn’t become a Great Writer. I didn’t even become an average one. All I became was fed up with my inability to follow through on the one thing that truly mattered to me.

But at the start of 2023 after re-reading Atomic Habits, I ditched the goals and decided to switch up my strategy. I knew that in order to realise the person I knew I could be, I had to do things differently than I had done before. I shelved my dreams and instead, promised myself I’d write for thirty minutes a day with no outcome in mind. This one single habit - writing for 30 minutes per day - has completely changed my life. It paved the way for my weekly newsletter, which has led to countless opportunities.

 

 

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