AFR Fast Starters 2020

In March 2020, Centre for Leadership Advantage (CLA) were humbled to have placed 68th in The Australian Financial Review Fast Starter list for 2020, representing Australia’s fastest growing companies. CLA Client Partner Aliki Stathopoulos took the time to speak with Co-Founder and CEO Dr Marcele De Sanctis about what this award means to her, and what she believes has led to the success of CLA. 

Next week, we will follow on with an interview with CLA Co-founder Terry Coyne.


AS: Marcele, you completed your PhD in 2012, whilst working successfully in Executive Search. What inspired you to launch CLA in 2016, and what were you hoping to achieve?

MDS: I loved working in search and it was very good to me. I built incredible networks and got to spend all day listening to leaders talk about how they grew organisations, led transformations and built their careers. But I missed having more strategic talent conversations with clients about what kinds of leaders they may need to assess and develop (not just recruit) to achieve their strategic objectives and so I was keen to get back to my ‘psych roots’ so-to-speak. This coincided with meeting Terry Coyne and doing some more work in the talent management and leadership assessment/development space, which I loved. This really inspired me to move away from search after nearly 6 years and move into leadership consulting. I was also really keen to have my own business and felt like it was something I needed to do. I explored roles in other consulting firms but just felt this urge to give it a go myself and I thought, ‘I think I can be successful doing this.’ This blind optimism certainly has its strengths in that I give everything a go but can be an overused strength as well as I can be very hard on myself to succeed which can take a physical and mental toll!


AS: There are a number of leadership consulting firms in the market. What would you say is CLA’s point of difference?

MDS: It is certainly a saturated space there is no doubt about it… however CLA have managed to carve a great brand in this highly competitive market. I think that is because we talk about the psychology and science of leadership in very practical and pragmatic ways. We don’t overcomplicate solutions just because we are psychologists, but we ensure what we recommend is evidence-based and supported. Because of this, we have a confident point of view in the market and do the hard work to truly believe in what we are recommending. And those recommendations come from experience, yes, but also top quality research and evidence. We are true scientist-practitioners who build trust, credibility and deliver on what we promise. 


AS: CLA is known for its strong partnerships. Tell us about your relationship with Business Chicks, Australia’s largest and most influential community for women. 

MDS: Right from the beginning, we decided that we would always be open to working with other brands and organisations if it made sense (i.e., there was a values alignment, mutual benefit and we were collectively addressing some sort of gap in the market). And our relationship with Business Chicks very much represents this. So, we met Business Chicks two years ago now through another friend of our firm and they were really keen to develop a leadership development program for their community of female leaders (both emerging and executive leaders). We agreed to first run a research project to understand what development needs their community may have when it comes to leadership, and second, design a development experience that was grounded in contemporary leadership literature, practical and pragmatic learning objectives and wrapped up in the Business Chicks magic, as they truly run the BEST events. 

So we now are running, in its second year, a wonderful program called LEAD for Emerging and Executive leaders where we teach the practice of effective leadership across numerous topics including Leading Self, Leading in Uncertainty, Leading with Impact and more. 

At CLA, our view is that good leadership is good leadership and our research showed that whilst the experience of work can be different for women compared to men, women don’t necessarily need more or less of something when it comes to leading, compared with men. Rather, they can explore their own leadership in a safe and supportive environment and connect with other leaders in LEAD whilst learning the myriad of skills associated with effective leadership and making these things their own. And so, the content of LEAD is transferable and as such, we have delivered similar program structures for male and female leadership in other organisations. 


AS: CLA has won some long-term client contracts and is known for its strong client relationships.  Tell us about the prestigious 7-Eleven Supplier Award CLA received in 2019?

MDS: 7-Eleven was CLA’s first client and we continue to support them today. We are so grateful to partner with such a progressive and inspiring organisation whose leaders and people are committed beyond measure. We received the Supplier Award in 2019 in a category focused on vendors in organisational transformation and support. CLA designed and continue to deliver the SPARK leadership program for 7-Eleven’s mid-level leaders and the program has played a pivotal role in supporting the organisation’s people transformation. The program has accrued fabulous brand equity and taught 7-Eleven leaders a range of leadership skills including influencing, strategic networking, powerful coaching and development techniques and what it means to lead in the community. 

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