Vittoria Shortt says doing what she loves, being curious and saying yes to every good opportunity offered to her have been key in getting to the top of the corporate ladder.
The 46-year-old is just two months into the job as the new chief executive of ASB Bank and is brimming with enthusiasm for both the bank and the return to her home country.
"I think ASB is a terrific business. I love NZ Inc — not that New Zealand is perfect — but it has a lot going for it."
Originally from Auckland, Shortt has been out of New Zealand for the last 15 years working in Australia for ASB's parent company Commonwealth Bank of Australia.
She was tipped as a likely successor for the ASB job by Australian media last year after having a stellar run at CBA.
Starting in corporate finance in 2002 she has worked in just about every division of the bank including IT, marketing, retail and her last role as executive head of marketing and strategy. But she never set out to have a career in banking.
"When I was at school economics and accounting were my favourite subjects — I know that is a little on the nerdy side," she admits.
But despite her love of those subjects she didn't know what she wanted to be when she left school.
She decided on a bachelor of commerce but says she chose to go to University of Waikato over Auckland because it offered a year of practical experience.
"Why did I go to Waikato? — I didn't want to go and do the same thing everyone else was doing."
At first she started off on the accountancy track and then added finance and strategy, ending up with a triple major.
Ironically, she says her career has also mirrored those majors.
She began her working life at accounting firm Deloitte on the audit team before moving into corporate finance, which involved evaluating companies as well as mergers and acquisition work.
She enjoyed the M&A work and decided to do it from an in-house perspective. At the time there were only three companies doing that — Air New Zealand, Fonterra and Carter Holt Harvey. When a job came up at Carter Holt she jumped at the opportunity.
Well-known Kiwi Chris Liddell was chief executive at the time while the company was going through major changes selling out of its Chile business and buying into pulp.
"It really was a case of awesome timing."
Shortt says working under Liddell was a great learning experience.
"Chris Liddell was an ex-investment banker — they know their stuff — which is terrific because the bar is really high."
Shortt says as a young accountant she was all over the detail while Liddell had a knack for sitting back and looking at the bigger picture.
"Chris had a really good way of sitting back and cutting to the heart of issues."
Shortt says she has followed Liddell's career path including his most recent step up as an adviser to US President Donald Trump.
"He has never shied away from the big challenges," she says of the move.
In 2002 Shortt and husband Tony decided to go to Australia to further their work experience.
"We went to Sydney for two years and ended up staying 15."
She had no idea the move to Australia would launch her into a banking career.
"I basically turned up in Australia looking for work and had no connections."
She started in the commercial side of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia. "From there I went into 'you name it, I did it'."
She lists a raft of areas she has worked in at the bank — product, digital, IT, retail, marketing.
"When someone said 'could you do this?" I said 'yes'."
Shortt says curiosity is her big driver.
"I am curious. I ask a lot of questions. I just like to learn and understand."
She says it's all about having the confidence to put your hand up and do that and puts it down to her early career in audit.
"It was a terrific background — taking a skill and applying it in different backgrounds."
And Shortt says she is happy to learn on the job.
"You may not be the expert so you have got to start learning really fast."
So what attracted her back to head up the ASB?
"Genuinely the role."
Shortt says it's not the first time she had been approached for a role back in New Zealand or in other countries.
She has noted a big change in the country since she worked here 15 years ago.
Shortt says culture and diversity has been embraced so much more and innovation has really taken off — pointing to the new innovation precinct on the bank's doorstep at Wynyard Quarter.
"That is terrific.
"It just feels like more of an edge. It is vibrant. When you travel around the world like I have you find it is a very positive, vibrant country."
But she says some things have surprised on the downside on her return to New Zealand.
"Like why was child poverty so high on the government's agenda?"
And she points to the home ownership challenges.
"It's a complex issue that can't be solved by any one party."
As the head of one of the country's largest banks Shortt says her big priorities are continuing the momentum set by her predecessor Barbara Chapman.
Shortt says the bank has strong customer satisfaction levels and is known for its innovation.
"The big focus for our teams is how we move from being fit for today to being fit for the future."
And there is a lot to do, she says.
The traditional banks are facing big challenges from new technology as well as ongoing regulatory change.
"There is a lot of changing customer expectation."
Front of mind for Shortt is the bank's digital development — not just how customers interact with it through digital channels but the digitisation of processes to help speed up and simplify everything.
She says ASB has invested heavily in improving its digital experiences and that is going to continue.
However, she is quick to remind that people will remain at the heart of everything it does.
"This is not about building a digital bank."
Shortt has moved on from parent company Commonwealth Bank of Australia at a time when the Australian banking sector is coming under fierce pressure from the government and regulators.
CBA, which is Australia's biggest bank, has been caught up in an anti-money laundering scandal and has faced a grilling, alongside other banks, in an inquiry into the banks which is due to be wrapped up by February next year.
Shortt doesn't shy away from the topic and says so far she has two important take-outs from it.
Firstly she says the relationships with all stakeholders are vital.
"How are you hearing concerns being raised by customers, through media, and regulators."
"I would want to do everything I can to make sure the relationships are strong and functional."
She says the inquiry has come despite record levels of customer satisfaction for the banks.
"How do you make sure you are learning what is happening for all customers?"
That's a big challenge for banks which have millions of customers.
"It is really doubling down the efforts to find out what is happening."
She says one of the things that can be helpful is using data, insights and technology to help understand the sentiment of customers through monitoring its call centre.
But she says banks still have to have the right culture to use the information correctly.
"You have to have a culture of doing the right thing."
She segways that into saying she thinks ASB "has got a great culture".
Locally the inquiry has raised questions about whether the same practices happening in Australia are also happening here — given our four major banks are Australian owned.
Shortt says that is a fair question to ask but says there are fundamental differences between New Zealand and Australia's banking industries.
"New Zealand has different regulators, it's a different business with a different culture."
She also points to the different political environment and media in New Zealand.
While she has moved countries global politics is still front of mind with Shortt saying the bank will be keeping a close eye on it and its impact on the economy.
On a personal front Shortt says some of her biggest challenges in getting to the top have been reflecting on herself as a leader and getting the right balance between work and family life.
"When you have to hold the mirror up and work out what you need to change about yourself. I think that is a really big one."
"I like asking the question why am I worth following? I think it is a really important question for leaders to be asking themselves and know what the answer is.
"And then as a mum, a wife, just making sure I have got balance right for the family."
Shortt wants others to know that balance is "totally possible".
"You can carve out the life you want to have — be a great mum and leader. It's not about being a super mum either."
Shortt says she is a big believer in the need for support teams and is confident more women will get to the top of the corporate ladder.
"But only through determination and perseverance."
• Age: 46
• Married with two teenage sons who are 13 and 14.
• Grew up in Auckland and went to University of Waikato where she got a bachelor of management studies majoring in accounting and finance. She is also a chartered accountant with the Institute of Chartered Accountants.
• Last book read: The Luminaries
• Last movie watched: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri
• Last overseas holiday: Skiing in Canada