LV Council Profile: Jane Tongs (WCLP '93)
18 August 2011 By Jane Tongs
Leadership Victoria (LV) Alumni and former council member Jane Tongs (WCLP ’93) fell into the world of commerce almost by accident. Not confident that she would get the grades required to study medicine after secondary school, she was looking for another field where she could use her talents.
“An uncle said to me ‘why don’t you do business?’ And I thought that was as good as anything,” she laughs.
It turned out to be a fortuitous suggestion. Jane studied at RMIT, back when it was still very much a working man’s college. She took accounting classes in an old factory, but found the rough and ready experience a great grounding for her future. Many of her classmates were already working in the field, and she describes her lecturers, who were veterans of business, as “out of this world.” She had discovered something she really enjoyed, and began her career with gusto.
Jane rose to senior leadership positions with PricewaterhouseCoopers, and along the way completed LV’s Williamson Community Leadership Program (WCLP), in 1993. The program was an enriching and broadening experience, which encouraged her to be more receptive to a variety of ideas and perspectives.
Jane sees a lack of leadership in Australia’s political sphere and puts this down in part to parliamentarians lacking life experience. She says all too often they enter politics straight after university, without taking the time to discover different points of view. She cites Winston Churchill as an example of someone who entered politics with too few life experiences, made significant mistakes and was cast into the political wilderness for two decades. She says all he went through helped Churchill develop skills that enabled him to become British Prime Minister, and probably the greatest leader in WWII.
“The more you can do outside your comfort zone, the better,” she says.
Jane’s involvement in the WCLP kick started her contribution to not-for-profit organisations, first rescuing the finances of Riding for the Disabled, then working on the Timor Leste Project and eventually joining LV’s Council. She chairs the Board of Netwealth Holdings, a business she has been involved with since it commenced in 2002 and has helped grow from zero funds under management to in excess of three billion.
Jane also has a diverse portfolio of Directorships which include a major private health company, a large agricultural trust company, and funds and property management companies. She believes that one should give back to the community, and do so in a way that maximizes the benefits that can be offered. For Jane this is using her skills by sittings on the boards or finance committees of a number of charitable organisations.
Jane says her leadership style has evolved as her career has progressed. The moments that have shaped her as a leader have inevitably been crisis points, proving the old adage that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
On one occasion, one of the companies that Jane was a Director of found itself in significant financial difficulties. With an absence of people from within the organisation willing to take on the leadership role, she had to temporarily step in as acting CEO. Jane learned that sometimes leadership is a matter of “just getting on with it,” and accepting responsibility when others will not.
She now listens more, and is conscious of trying to help people do better.
“Like all things as you get older, you realise there are so many tones of grey,” she says.
Jane defines a good leader as an individual with strong intellectual ability in their field, a clarity of vision, with an ability to communicate their vision. Good Leaders share both the glories and disappointments of their team. She loves her work as a Director, and says that a sense of fun should be a factor driving success.
“Life is very short, so you should do something you enjoy,” Jane says.
Despite this busy work load, Jane found time to get married to Paul and together they are raising two wonderful boys.