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The Podcast By Mums & Co

Episode 82: Empowering Business Leaders with Research, Networking, and Empathy: Insights from Michelle Klein, a journey from Silicon Valley to Australia

Michelle Klein

Chief Customer and Marketing Officer at IAG

October 24, 2023
In this episode, our guest has ambition in spades after a decade at Meta in Silicon Valley, Michelle Klein has very recently returned home with her young family to Australia. Now chief customer and marketing officer at IAG Michelle is on a mission to pay it forward to Australian tech communities via her skills, expertise and connections. We are absolutely delighted to welcome Michelle to Mumbition the podcast but also as a speaker at this week's Be MPowered conference. Michelle Klein will be joining Mums & Co as a keynote speaker at our upcoming Be MPowered Conference on Thursday, 26th of October. Join this free, online conference for business owning women to hear more from Michelle Klein!

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Be MPowered 2023 Conference

Michelle will be joining Mums & Co as a keynote speaker at our upcoming Be MPowered Conference on Thursday, 26th of October. Join this free, online conference for business owning women to hear more from today’s guest!

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Michelle Klein (LinkedIn)

Be MPowered Conference


Produced by - Lucy Kippist

Edited by - Morgan Sebastian-Brown
‍Interviewers - Carrie Kwan and Lucy Kippist
‍Guest - Michelle Klein

More from today's guest!

Loved this episode of Mumbition The Podcast? Find out more from our special guest.

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    • Read the blog article
    • Unlocking Social Media Success for Women-Owned Businesses

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    • Be MPowered 2023

      October 26, 2023
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Pull Quote - Michelle Klein:

I’ll share a quote from Margaret Mead and I use this all the time, because I literally believe in it and I've seen it in action, which is, "Never doubt that as a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world, because it's the only thing that ever has."

Today's guest has ambition in spades after a decade at Meta in Silicon Valley, Michelle Klein has very recently returned home with her young family to Australia. Now chief customer and marketing officer at IAG Michelle is on a mission to pay it forward to Australian tech communities via her skills, expertise and connections. We are absolutely delighted to welcome Michelle to Mum Ish the podcast but also as a speaker at this week's Be Empowered conference. 

Carrie Kwan (00:00):

So, Michelle, we love educating women on how to pitch with confidence. Would love to hear a little bit about yourself and your amazing journey across the globe so far. Could you please give us your best elevator pitch, a little bit about yourself?

Michelle Klein (00:13):

Of course. Sure. Well, it's lovely to be here. Thank you for having me. The elevator pitch is actually behind me on my little sign here, which is what if, why not. And that's all about seeking out what's possible and making the impossible possible. This was my sign on my door at Meta, where I was for the last 10 years in Silicon Valley and also in New York. I ran business and product marketing across the globe for Meta for about 10 years. And prior to that, I was at Diageo, where I ran Smirnoff Vodka for about 10 years. And prior to that, I lived in the UK, really cutting my teeth in the agency world and helping British Airways transition from tickets, traditional sales to online services.


But I actually started my career here in Sydney. It brings me full circle. I grew up here, I went to university here, but I went travelling 25 years ago with a dream, a notebook and a pen. And I wrote for The Sydney Morning Herald all about our trip. It was called The Big Trip, and it featured in the travel column every Saturday and online. And it was probably the best part of my career, and I guess explains the whole journey of what if and why not and how to make the impossible possible.

Carrie Kwan (01:27):

And now you've literally come full circle. We're going to get into a little bit more about that amazing experience, because I know a lot of our listeners would be so keen to hear about what it was like to be in those first days at Facebook and Meta. But you've recently relocated back from the states to Australia with quite a young family to take up your current role as chief customer and marketing officer at IAG. And that's a pretty big role, leading large teams who are custodians of major brands, really well-known brands like NRMA Insurance and CGU and Roland. And I'm just keen, because you've had this amazing professional trajectory, you're starting this young family, what have you found to be the most transferable skills between motherhood and business leadership?

Michelle Klein (02:18):

Yeah, that's such a good question. And what I would say is that there are a couple of things. The first is around really knowing your values, your personal values, and your professional values. And hopefully, you can draw a Venn diagram and they match in the middle somewhere. But in terms of bringing up a young family and leading really big teams, like at Meadow, it was over 1,000 people. And here it's close to 200 at IAG. I would say that leading with empathy, with your children, with your partner, with your family, with your work, your colleagues, people you manage, when you look up and you look down and across, empathetic leadership is what really stands out as the key for me. And something that I've practised, some people call it servant leadership, for a really long time. And I try to bring that home and integrate my life very much into my work in a way that makes a lot of sense for my family, but also that my team understand those values and those things that are really critical for me to be a great leader.

Carrie Kwan (03:21):

And I know I've had the pleasure to work with you in that capacity. And sometimes I'm almost thinking it's that ability to set boundaries, and what is a non-negotiable and what you can flex a little bit on.

Michelle Klein (03:36):

So, when it comes to boundaries, actually I've been leading this circles conversation, I'm calling it internally. And it's been focused on ruthless prioritisation. Because actually, all you have in the world is 4,000 weeks roughly to live. It's quite disarming to think about, but that's roughly the age of 80. There's this great book called Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman. And when you think about that, the question you have to keep asking yourself is, am I spending my time in the right places and is it making a difference? And there's another book that I love that I talk about, which is called Essentialism, the life of an essentialist. It means that you reduce all the things that don't matter and you focus on what's important. And so, I try to balance those two things all the time. So, how much time have I got? Is it being spent in the right place and how can I reduce the noise? And it's really, really hard to do.


But what I would say is that the best tool that I could come up with for myself and for my team at work was to create this lean in and lean out framework. So, the lean in is here are the things that I'm going to spend my time on by rough allocation of percentage, by theme or principle. And here are the things that I'm going to lean out, which means that you're empowered as a peer or partner or direct report of mine to actually drive that forward. And I'm here for air cover protection, removing roadblocks. But you've got this, and I think it does a couple of things. One, it empowers your people to be terrific leaders, and to own and drive something forward. And two, it frees up your time to focus on the things that are actually most important.


And the thing that it says in the book, Essentialism by Greg McKeown, is when it comes to decision making, don't half make the decision or say, yeah, I should be, I might come, I'm not sure, optional attendee. Things should be a hell or an F no. One or the other, or an F yeah or a hell no, however you want to use the F word there. But it's actually a very fantastic practise to think about. If you're not 100% on something, then don't do it. If it's important for other people, find other ways for it to be achieved. And also, there's huge amounts of care in the way that you can say no to something. It doesn't have to be hard. And I think as human beings we struggle with no, and that causes all of that chaos in our lives and our inability to focus.

Carrie Kwan (06:01):

Such good tips there. Now, Michelle, you did a really fascinating piece of research whilst you're at Meta. It was called the Global State of Small Business Report. And you know that Mums & Co is passionate about helping and supporting Australian business owning women. So, this initiative was charting the experiences, and challenges and expectations of small to medium businesses globally. How are Australian's small businesses fairing against other countries? And what have you noticed about women owned businesses?

Michelle Klein (06:31):

My passion is small business. I worked in a really big business, but there were roughly 300 million businesses that used Meta's platforms every day to build their businesses, whether that was through WhatsApp or Instagram, Messenger and Facebook. The best part of my time there was figuring out how we could best support at such scale. It's everything from the coffee shop on your corner block to your accountant who might want to find ways in which they can use digital tools to actually enable their business to grow. And the underlying principle was, when you have technology, it becomes an enabler for everybody and really levels the playing fields that small businesses can compete on the major stage with big. And that's disruptive. And that was why I loved it so much to see these businesses go from nothing.


My favourite story is a couple, Monique Wilsondebriano and her husband, who make a hamburger sauce. And they were getting it into the supermarkets. It was really hard. It was an idea they had, because they held a neighbourhood barbecue and they made this delicious hamburger sauce. Well, now that's everywhere across America, but their online sales vehicle is their predominant channel for revenue. And so, in answer to your question, we decided that we would run this state of small business report every year, to have an index to be able to see what the major trends were and where there were opportunities for us as a big global company to further invest and support and for others.


So, we did a lot of partnerships with different... Whether it was the Small Business Association in America or some of the community groups supporting small businesses across the world. I mean, the trends during COVID, really, COVID was a great moment to tell us how best to support small businesses, because they were the ones that were being hit the hardest. And it was women owned or diverse owned small businesses that were being... You've got four weeks of cash supply or cashflow, and liquidity became the number one issue. So, what we did was we initiated a grants programme in 30 countries around the world where Meta operated. And we gave out 30,000 grants of $4,000, a combination of cash and some ad credits so that some of those businesses could keep the lights on. And it's probably one of the hardest things I've ever done in my career, because I am not a financial services person from my background.


And how to distribute money in an environment when the whole world has locked down was really, really, really challenging. But what we saw was that that $4,000 would enable a daycare centre to be able to pay for their Zoom accounts, have a few members come in and a few kids, and be able to create support for parents who had to go to work, first responders and frontline and so on. And then what we also saw in the last report that I did was that it was women owned businesses that were the ones that were actually adopting digital skills faster than men, and growing their businesses as a result at a faster rate. So, there's a lot in there.


And I'm so glad with you, Carrie, that we did our report together on the micro business economy in Australia, because the definition of small is really broad across the world. And it could just be when we handed out those grants, in some cases it was for one person, a single owner, all the way through to up to 100. And just depending on the rules of that country or the index of that country, there are different parameters. So, there's just a lot to learn and I'm so glad that you are continuing to pioneer in this space and drive the agenda forward.

Carrie Kwan (10:32):

And I vividly remember that time when those grants were released, and just thinking it was just a lifeline in so many ways during such a tumultuous change. So, thank you for that. And yes, we are absolutely excited to continue putting the spotlight on micro businesses in Australia. This was a recent report commissioned by NRMA Insurance. And it's fascinating in terms of the economic contribution that micro businesses make in Australia. But we employ 2.9 million Australians. We've actually increased in size by 14% over the last four years to 2.28 million businesses. But there's so much that spectrum of micro business still has some challenges. And we all start with being passionate about it. But there's so much support that we need, because we don't have big teams, we don't have big budgets. We've got lots of nuances in terms of how we work. So, really excited to continue to put the spotlight on the needs of micro business owners.

Lucy Kippist (11:38):

Michelle, it was fascinating to hear you raise the stats around the access to social media in that small business space. I think you said 300 million people accessing all various forms of social media. And the question I have for you about that then is, what would your tip be to someone here in Australia, a business owning woman, utilising any form of social media? And we know from the feedback that they give us all the time that, that element of business and marketing is actually quite challenging for them. It's overwhelming. It's like, which platform do I use? How much time do I spend on it? We hear that a lot from our community. So, what would be a tip that you could share that might help them to prioritise or focus, basically, in order to build a community around their product or service?

Michelle Klein (12:29):

It's 300 million businesses and there are something like three and a half billion people on those platforms. So, the size is significant. A lot, yeah, everyone almost, and which has its own challenges and opportunities. But it is overwhelming. It's the right question, because it's where do I start? So, we had a programme that was called the Boost Leaders Network or Boost with Facebook at the time, Meta Boost now. And we would go around the world, we did it here in Australia in quite a few places, and we would actually did it in Byron and all sorts of communities and brought people together and offered free training and advice. And it wasn't just Facebook and Meta, it was Amazon Web Services, and it was advice on how to run a payroll or what to look for as an employee, or if you need legal advice. So, we'd bring in quite a lot of people and make it as rounded as possible so that you could...


It wasn't a one-stop shop, but at least you could get some advice generally, and then narrow in a little bit more on the social and digital side. And I would say, so first of all, these platforms, whether it's Google, whether it's Facebook, whether it's Instagram, they have very rich reporting tools. The best way to build a community quickly and to get attention for your product is through advertising and search engine marketing. It's a quick way to do it. Be as fastidious, because you will be, because it's your money on the results. And you have the ability in the system to actually adjust the tools and make sure that you're optimising for those results. And so, start small. Do a few tests, play around with the different technology, and then see what's working best and then pivot the money in that direction or pivot the effort in that direction.


The other thing is, certainly on Facebook groups, there are tonnes of small business communities. And small businesses love peer to peer networking, because you don't have the ability to just bounce an idea off someone in a different part of department, for example. So, really sign up for those. And I can find some links and make sure that they get shared with this podcast. But that's a great way to ask questions. So, in our Boost Leaders Network, we would see the amount of amazing... I learned in there years ago that Canva was this incredible platform to make your content look great. And so, we did a partnership with Canva. They came on some of the training with us. And so, there's just lots of sharing that goes on. So, I would look at my month and decide how many hours a month am I going to spend educating myself on what's out there and then running a couple of tests, but making sure that I've got enough space to then measure the effectiveness and then make adjustments from there.

Lucy Kippist (15:35):

Carrying on from that point, obviously, we are a community of business owning women, but a really large number of those women are running businesses for women. Either they've found a problem that they experienced that they want to help someone else with or they've invented a solution to something in another way. So, for you personally, just in terms of being marketed to as a woman in the commercial space, do you find it easy to separate your business identity from your personal identity online? How do you feel about doing business on social media? Do you have two distinct personalities? Are you Michelle work and Michelle at home? And how can we leverage your experience for our community in terms of giving them some advice?

Michelle Klein (16:27):

So, if you're the founder of a company, you're going to have a company profile, you're going to have if you want your profile to be public. And then you might have, then you think about your channel mix. So, for example, a lot of owners who are founder led, so their name is attached to the company itself, tend to have... Instagram is the open channel for everybody to follow, Twitter or X might've been the other one. So, everyone can follow there. And that's very much a content strategy with a business angle to it, nothing personal. And you can also set up a business account obviously on these channels. And then you have your personal account. I tend to use Facebook as personal only, although I have a public profile, because that's where when I lived in America was my channel for connecting with my family and keeping it more personal.


Now, you can set up a business account. And then in your dashboard on all of these social media or digital channels, you can actually see all the different things that you're doing and you can toggle between your profiles. So, I tend to keep them separate, because if on one hand you're posting pictures of your children, you might not want that to be broadcast to the community. It might be part of your strategy, but if so, then it's got to be really thoughtful and part of your content calendar. So, having a content calendar ultimately is what I'm saying, and then overlaying the channel strategy on top of that is a second piece.

Carrie Kwan (17:55):

And it's fascinating too, because I mean, I think I had my first account in 2007. And I've had two businesses since then, Michelle. And you're right, the service offerings have also evolved as more feature comes on board. As a working mum, I think often now lives get... There's this wall, it blends a little bit. So, I like to keep that separation where business is your business account, and maybe you leave some accounts to just your personal life and keep them separate.

Michelle Klein (18:33):

On meta, they have a unified inbox as well. So, you can also have all the messages in one place, but they're tagged differently. So, you know what's business, what's personal. And so, I think understanding the outbound and then how you're managing the inbound is as equal of importance.

Carrie Kwan (18:52):

Yes. And also for our women who actually are... Because they are the sole employee or they're the sole trader, they don't necessarily have other staff members to share that account with even though they're actually trying to represent a business. And I think from a longer term point of view, you want to actually create assets as a business owner, even from day one. So, at some point, if you do get to a point where you're growing so much that you can actually pass on the baton, you want to actually protect that asset and not just potentially tie it directly to yourself. So many things, we'd love to spend a little bit more time there.


But now you've had a few months to firmly embed into the world of IAG and insurance. Let's jump into the concept of risk. And we're all familiar with how risk-taking and mitigating is part of business life. And we're always fascinated when we ask our ambition guests about their relationship and the types of processes they put in place to de-risk their work and their lives to feel more secure. So, how would you describe your relationship to risk taking?

Michelle Klein (19:56):

Yeah. It's such a good question, because I like to think big and have big ideas. If you think of John F. Kennedy saying, "We're going to put a man on the moon in this decade, not because it's easy, but because it's hard." I like to live in a world of possibility. But I'm actually quite risk averse, so I also like to make sure that I know my risk. So, big idea over here, then what are the risks? So, I've always, and I have the luxury in a company, having worked in large companies, of always having a bit of legal support. So, before an idea, so say, let's put a man on the moon, or a big idea like giving out $200 million of grants around the world, I always have a lawyer who can say, high, medium, low. If you want to go big, are you prepared for these potential outcomes?


And that's been extremely beneficial to me in my career. Now, not everyone has that luxury. So, I go back to the point about the peer-to-peer networking and finding in the group of small businesses that you might network with through social media, finding the right people that you could actually bounce some ideas off and get a real sense of knowing what your risks might be. And once you know what your risks might be, then you can ask yourself, well, what is my tolerance for risk and how far will I push? And then I'd always say a few tests here and there, when you know your risk and seeing how far you can go. Not to break the rules, but to see if I wanted to do it this way, how would that look? But always having the mindset of and if it went the other way, what are my mitigation strategies?


So, my few months at IAG have been fantastic for me in this space, in particular because I really want to up level overall our proactive response around risk, and risk mitigation and being the best in the business, but still creating really great ideas that resonate with people. And so, it is a true balancing act. And I often say, let's do the two by two. You can do it yourself, like high risk, low risk and level of opportunity to grow the business, or isn't that necessarily going to change the needle that much? I think it's helpful to plot things out in that way too.

Carrie Kwan (22:24):

Great approach. And even though we say that we have a low tolerance to risk, I think that when you're venturing, you're creating some really exciting things, you are stepping into the unknown, and that eventually does pay off because you have actually thought through all the different factors. And I love that tip too, at least nicely in terms of our next question about finding the people around you to help bounce some ideas off. Because supporting women to make meaningful connections is core for us here at Mums & Co. I know it's something that you believe passionately about as well. So, can we invite you to share an insight into the way that you network? Is there a certain etiquette that you might follow? It might be to do with in real life or in digital?

Michelle Klein (23:09):

Yeah. Well, first of all, Mums & Co is one of the best places to start, because there's an inbuilt network of people willing to and wanting to connect, and share and support one another. And my approach to this is to ensure that everyone... Certainly in my journey back to Australia, because I'm new again, so I've had to build a network again. It has been to say as much as possible, say yes to all the invitations. I came to one of your recent events, Carrie. And just to be in the room and get to know the vibe and understand, get to make a few introductions. And you never know, in six months, five years from now, that could really pay off. And so, I do invest a lot of time in, I wouldn't call it networking, I would call it getting to meet and know people and then really making sure that I do my follow-up. It might be that the follow-up's in six months or a year, but I've invested in that time and keeping a good Rolodex is a good idea.

Lucy Kippist (24:15):

Follow-up is a fantastic tip. Thank you for sharing that. And speaking of events, we are delighted to be having you as one of our keynote speakers at our Be Empowered Conference, our fifth Be Empowered that's happening on Thursday, the 26th of October. So, you'll be talking with us about the topic of prioritisation, which we know is a huge one for our community. And so, without giving everything away, what are a couple of things you could share with us now that people can expect to take away from what you'll be sharing on the day?

Michelle Klein (24:50):

Yeah. So, I've said a little bit at the beginning of the podcast around some tools. And I'll also be doing some fun interactive things with the audience. So, come prepared. Sometimes it's harder to think about how to prioritise yourself, so let's practise on somebody else that we all know. And then it forces some really tough decisions. And what's been so good about doing these conversations is I've learned so much.

Lucy Kippist (25:14):

Yes, 100%. We look forward to that.

Carrie Kwan (25:17):

At Mums & Co, we love talking about this daily striving that we have, blending our ambition, and our livelihood and our wellbeing as this triangle and this pursuit of harmony between those three. Could you describe the shape of a good life for you?

Michelle Klein (25:34):

This is such an interesting question, because in America, there's this whole thing about work-life integration, and that didn't land because that's not great. But in some cases, it can work for people. So, my lean in, lean out framework has 10% of my time set aside for me time. And that's during the day. It's not at 8:00 at night. So, me time, an example, would be between 7:30 and 9:30, I have things that I have to do that are important to me to feel set up, to have a really good day. And I love your language around unapologetic, because once you can step into that mindset, it's not going to work every single day. And yes, things are going to come up. And yes, they're going to be more important than potentially what I thought I was going to do, but then pivot it to another time.


So, that might be, all right, then Thursday afternoon, I'm going to fit that in. Someone in our circle talked about the fact that in her calendar every day or every second day, she said, I'm going to go for a run at lunchtime. Has she done it? What do you think? No. So, we said, let's hold each other accountable. And even if you do it once a week, don't over commit, because you're not going to achieve that. You break it down into small achievable tasks and then put it in your calendar. It's blocked. And even if you don't do it, even if you just go and walk around the block, take a phone call walking. Do something that's good for you and good for your health, because in the end, remember the 4,000 weeks, all we have. We have our time on this earth, spend it wisely.

Carrie Kwan (27:28):

So true. Prioritise, block, and treat it as sacred and be flexible. I love that element where you're right, you have all these good intentions, life happens, odd sick child, team issue arises. You just have to keep being flexible in adapting. And in the spirit of women supporting women, who are those mumbitious, those that are unapologetically blending motherhood and ambition that you'd like to say hello to?

Michelle Klein (28:00):

Oh, wow. Well, I mean I would say Sheryl Sandberg has been a big influence on me and how I've thought about my leadership journey. So, I'd like to say hello to her. I'd like to say hello to all the mothers out there who are managing to find balance every single day and not making trade-offs that they feel like they're sacrificing, so that when you look back and you say, did I spend enough time with my child, other half and so on, you don't have regret. And that's the thing I think about a lot. And someone once said to me about something like, this language about zero regrets. Have zero regrets. So, how can you list out those things that are zero regrets?


I'm not going to this meeting because I'm going to pick my son up from school today, or I'll dial in from the car, so that you can really figure out what works for you. And I learned some of those things through... Honestly, I've mainly worked for women. And the men that I worked for have been amazing allies. They've been allies in every single way. So, I would say always be the ally, always make sure you're understanding, using empathy to understand where somebody might be coming from. COVID taught us that there was a lot going on behind the camera that we could not see, and it also gave us a really good look into each other's lives. And so, how can you continue to be that kind of leader that's always looking behind the camera for somebody, and being super present and seeing what's going on?

Carrie Kwan (29:47):

Beautiful call out and absolutely support that, in terms of just questioning ideas on how we should work. The future of work is changing and it's changing at a beautiful place. And one of the good things that came out of COVID was that we're not going to settle for the stuff that didn't work, the stuff that didn't give us the flexibility to be ambitious, but also care for the people that matter. So, amazing. Thank you, Michelle.

Michelle Klein (30:15):

Oh, thank you so much. It's an honour to be here. In the short time we've got to know each other, Carrie, I've been so inspired by you and everything that you are doing. And we just need more Carries in the world to just stand up there and fly the flag, because we all need each other. In the end, it's all about those connections, sharing, listening to each other, helping. And I know you're doing all of that and more. So, thank you.

Carrie Kwan (30:44):

Thanks, Michelle. And it's a true team effort. There's going to be Lucys.

Michelle Klein (30:48):

Thank you, Lucy.

Lucy (30:51):

You're welcome. You're welcome. But very true what you say. 

We hope you enjoyed today's episode of Mum Ish, the podcast by Mums and co. You can hear more from Michelle Klein at our fifth Be Empowered conference. This Thursday the 26th of October. The conference is 100% digital tickets are 100% free and absolutely, everyone is welcome. Head over to MumsandCo.com.au to get your ticket today. We can't wait to see you there.

Co Question (31:05):

What are your favourite time saving apps?

Michelle Klein (31:05):

Google Maps, that would be one of them. We have a shared calendar. I don't know if you can see it, but there's a shared physical and digital calendar that keeps our family running, which is a Google Calendar. But Google Maps for sure, because I have a real tendency to run late.