BLOG IMAGE Cecily McGuckin

Female Leader, Cecily McGuckin, CEO Queensland Steel & Sheet

Cecily McGuckin CEO Queensland Steel and Sheet (QSS) climbed the corporate career ladder, working first in health, then in retail construction development for Mirvac before starting her own successful construction project development business. When her father asked her to join the family business Queensland Steel and Sheet in 2009, she took on the challenge in addition to running her own business CM Retail. In 2014, she closed CM Retail to focus on QSS and in 2017 when she was offered the opportunity to succeed her father as CEO at Queensland Steel and Sheet, she became the only female CEO in the wholesale sheet metal distribution business in Australia.

Using her corporate nous, she has approached the role with strategic intent and reviewed all aspects of the business’s operations including business processes, HR, finance, logistics, safety and company culture, driving unprecedented growth. Cecily’s focus is on respecting and continuing to build the business her father founded, to preserve a legacy for future generations.

Last year you took over as CEO of Queensland Steel and Sheet, which was your father’s business, and previously on joining the business you made the decision to close down your own successful business. Tell us about this and how you approached handing over 30 plus years of corporate memory.

I am a person who commits 100% and having both roles going at the beginning of this journey was manageable. However, once my role at Queensland Steel & Sheet needed more attention and commitment, I made the decision to close my business quickly so QSS could be my sole focus. Growing up with my father, I saw firsthand the toll it can take running a business and therefore I went into this with my eyes open, knowing it would not be easy.

However you can never fully prepare yourself for how hard it really is. To assist with building my knowledge of the business, I set 12 month goals on what I wanted to achieve for the business and my personal development. This is something I still do. I have never been afraid to ask questions of anyone and continue to use my father as a source of knowledge.

I say yes to most opportunities as you never know what you could learn or who you could meet that can give you further guidance. It is still a learning curve and always will be, but it is such a great challenge and has pushed me more than I ever thought possible. I believe continually investing in yourself is important, not only for me personally, but also for my contribution to the business.

How has your background in finance, health and project construction management impacted your leadership approach?

 Having worked in a number of large corporate businesses, it gave me insight into certain ideals, structure and procedures, many of which I’ve introduced to Queensland Steel & Sheet. This has provided a corporate element to our business but not at the expense of growing our culture which is based on more traditional business and family values. As my father so crassly puts it – “it’s the important corporate stuff but without the BS”.

Not being involved in the family business straight out of university has been an advantage. I have been able to learn from so many different people. If I had come directly into Queensland Steel & Sheet, I would only have the same knowledge and ideas as my father. Having a different perspective to him has allowed us to develop the business in ways not possible if I didn’t have these opportunities.

I’ve had a number of different leaders throughout my working career and have certainly seen what works and what doesn’t. I believe being honest, open and respectful to all our team members works for me. They know exactly what I expect from them in regards to their work, their attitude towards the business and their colleagues and clients.

Queensland Steel & Sheet has a fantastic team, and some members have been there longer than me. Although I have a different leadership style to my father, I believe I’ve been able to help them reach their potential. This has allowed us to take the business to the next level. We are certainly far from the small family business we were when we started 32 years ago.

Working in a traditionally male dominated industry, how have you approached building your reputation as the incoming CEO of an established business?

Being female, I felt I  needed to prove myself in this industry. I’ve made decisions based on all the facts and go with my gut. Women have such good instincts and we need to use these. I also expect respect from our team members and it’s the first thing I mention in an interview, but it is also something I give back in return. I feel like good leadership is what makes a successful business and by giving your team the respect they deserve, the accolades when warranted and the support for them to succeed, will only give value to the business.

Being female in this industry has certainly had its moments, but in any leadership role you have to be strong. I have let my actions and results build my reputation. I’ve made a point of getting to know our clients and suppliers and continue to build on this. I feel this has shown them that I’m not just the boss’s daughter but someone they can depend on, who will continue the original family service values we’ve become well known for in the market. I have certainly had my doubters along the way. My job is to prove them wrong, by supporting our team and clients, and showing them that Queensland Steel & Sheet can well and truly compete with our corporate competitors.

What strategic advice would you give to other family businesses who are preparing for intergenerational transition?

 You have to remember a family business has been built on blood, sweat and tears and is the founder’s baby. They want the business to succeed and have selected certain family members that they believe have the ability to carry it on. Both sides need to remember two basic viewpoints during the transition period. Firstly, the founder established the business and endured the hardship and battle of its development.

The next generation has the burden of ensuring it continues to succeed whilst also proving their individual worth and placing their own mark on the business. Both sides need to understand each other’s viewpoints for the transition to work, particularly when there are conflicting ideas for the business that need to be resolved between the founder and successor.

A plan and timeline is also imperative and needs to be established, and one that all relevant family members agree on. This helps give guidance and a set of rules before the hard work begins. Everyone needs to lay their cards on the table at the beginning, and have a frank conversations on what they all expect throughout this journey.

This really is a hard process to undertake and does test one’s personal family relationships. But from my perspective, the struggle of transition to the next generation for a family business is well worth the fight. I feel I owe it to my father to keep the family business going for the sacrifices and risks he has taken, but it’s also my personal drive to grow an amazing business I have come to love. Also, going forward it may provide opportunities for my three boys.

What has been your greatest challenge?

This journey has been difficult for me as I have faced challenges on all fronts. My father, our team, our clients and suppliers have all had to adjust to a female leader in a man’s world. I have had to prove myself and it has been a steep learning curve, all whilst making a number of major changes to the business. I can’t provide just one challenge as the whole journey in itself has felt like my greatest challenge.

It has been the hardest thing I have ever gone through in my professional life, and pushed me more than I could have ever thought possible. But it has also shown me what I am capable of, and that excites me as to what is to come next for Queensland Steel & Sheet and myself. I have achieved great things for the business and have dragged it kicking and screaming into the corporate world. But I have also had to work on my confidence to get it there which in itself is its own internal challenge – imposter syndrome anyone? 

What are you most proud of?

Becoming CEO of Queensland Steel & Sheet has been my biggest professional achievement. I’m the only female CEO in the wholesale sheet metal distribution business in Australia and that is a very humbling accomplishment. But it has also given me the drive to help other women strive to achieve more, not only in my industry but across other businesses in Australia. Women tend to have a different leadership style to men and I believe so many businesses can flourish by giving women a chance to lead.

What’s one piece of advice for future female leaders?

The most important thing to succeed in business is that you need to believe in yourself, acknowledge every achievement big or small and really trust in what you can bring to the table as a business woman. You also don’t have to do it alone. Find likeminded business women and surround yourself with positive people that will back you and provide honest guidance. They can give you the courage that you might not initially have in yourself.

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Posted by Jade Collins - Femeconomy Director

Jade Collins has 20 years’ global experience in corporate executive Human Resources and management consulting roles in the Mining, Energy and Aerospace industries, leading large scale, complex multi-million-dollar change management programs. Jade finds the combination of her HR, Psychology and MBA qualifications and her leadership experience is invaluable for increasing gender equality in leadership across industries. Jade was a member of the Queensland Government's Strategic Advisory Group for the Toward Gender Parity: Women on Boards Initiative and the 2019 CQU Alumni of the Year for Social Impact for her work with Femeconomy.