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Featured Profile: Lara Bourguignon
Finding the balance
From a starry-eyed student to managing director superannuation, retirement and platforms at AMP Australia, Lara Bourguignon explains how important it is to find balance in everything you do. Eliza Bavin writes.

From a starry-eyed student to managing director superannuation, retirement and platforms at AMP Australia, Lara Bourguignon explains how important it is to find balance in everything you do. Eliza Bavin writes.

When Lara Bourguignon speaks about her job it's always in reference to the people around her, and when she speaks about home it's always about her husband and kids.

"Diversity brings much better decisions and if you can tap into everyone's strengths and really critique a decision you will always end up with a better result."
Even when asked about her childhood, she speaks only of her sister's many talents.

It's easy to see why she entered an industry that is so people-centric.

She credits the very unlikely combination of both her mother and former Lendlease chief executive Stuart Hornery with her interest in entering finance.

"My mother was a research librarian and she had been keeping me across what had been happening in different organisations," she explains.

"I had become a little bit besotted with Stuart Hornery. He was really leading the way in Australia around creating a nexus between the employee value proposition and the client value proposition.

"He was one of the first to have employee share plans."

So, when the big firms began their scouting process for final year business students Bourguignon interviewed for Lendlease and was accepted as part of their graduate program.

"I went in as a finance graduate, but was able to work across all different parts of their business over the coming years, which is what set my path into financial services," she says.

The lessons she was taught from Hornery have stayed with her throughout her career.

"It was this concept of investing in and developing your people in order to better deliver to clients," Bourguignon says.

Ending up in superannuation from a building company was more of a happy accident for Bourguignon.

During her graduate rotation she had been through MLC, but left to pursue a different path a Merrill Lynch.

She would stay there for three years as an institutional marketer before returning to MLC just before the turn of the millennium.

She would spend the next decade there, working her way up to head of investment control.

Again though, Bourguignon says she somewhat fell into staying with MLC.

"When I got back to MLC after my stint at Merrill Lynch, I was there when NAB acquired it, so I went with the deal," she explains.

"I was on that side of the bridge when it was sold so that's how I ended up in  superannuation."

Today, her focus is on empowerment, diversity and collaboration.

She encourages everyone to be themselves at work, because she says: "You're here too much to pretend to be someone else."

"Diversity brings much better decisions and if you can tap into everyone's strengths and really critique a decision you will always end up with a better result."

Figuring out how to find balance is not without its challenges though, Bourguignon says.

"Leveraging peoples strengths and building the capabilities of those around you will deliver better outcomes to clients and shareholders," she says.

"So, I think it was that balancing act that I have been conscious of for my whole career, around employee/client/shareholders and how you drive alignment across all three."

In the changing world of how businesses are run, from offices and cubicles to hot desks and beanbags, Bourguignon still believes there is a balance to be found there as well.

"It is really important that you still have clear roles and responsibilities," she explains.

"For many years, I think I wrestled with finding the difference between collaboration and cooperation."

In big companies, the idea of collaboration can often mean sitting in meetings and including as many people as possible. A practice that Bourguignon says can stifle decision making.

"When there is too much noise, it can sometimes lead to a lack of clarity about accountability to deliver an outcome," Bourguignon says.

"On the flip side, it is important not to get locked down in a bubble of like-minded people."

The current COVID-19 pandemic has given Bourguignon time to reflect on what is best for her customers and her team.

"COVID has clearly been a challenging and highly unusual time and I'm extremely proud of how our people, particularly our client facing teams, have adapted and worked to support our clients," she says.

"It's in times of crisis when organisations like AMP can make a huge difference to the wellbeing of so many Australians, and we need to be there for our clients."

While she says face to face time in the office will always remain vitally important, Bourguignon says we cannot afford not to learn from this experience.

"Technology has allowed us to stay connected and out people are using their commute time to exercise, spend time with family or even to work, which is providing a great balance to their lives," she says.

"Personally, I've really valued the additional time I've had with family."

The balancing act for Bourguignon does not end at home. Her husband worked as a paramedic for 25 years, something which Bourguignon says has been one of the biggest influences on her career.

"Perspective is something he has brought to my life," she says.

"Whenever I get stressed he always has something that can help me remember that there are very few decisions in financial services that some very smart people can't sit down and work out."

The only downside to having a husband who saves people's lives, Bourguignon jokes, is that no one wants to hear her stories at dinner parties.

Still, while she may have been besotted with Stuart Horney back in the day, he plays second-fiddle to her husband today.

"Without a doubt there have been times where we have both been stressed, but I have always felt a great sense of comfort that he has such a unique perspective on any problem I might be facing," Bourguignon says.

It is clear that Bourguignon likes to observe those around her, and absorbs the traits that she feels are positive into her own life.

Speaking of her parents, Bourguignon says some of her fondest memories are of time spent together at the end of each day.

"We had family dinners every night and we would talk about our days, my friends actually used to love coming over because it was lively and fun," she says.

"It's probably one of the biggest things I have taken into raising my own children because it is a great way of being able to understand each other."

Having closeness, understanding and unconditional love is clearly of great importance to Bourguignon, who says her relationship with her family was transformational.

"As a leader now, I am always making sure that my team knows they have my unconditional support," she says.

"So long as we are all in the same boat, rowing in the same direction, they can try and fail and they can think of new ways of doing things and test new ideas without ever worrying they will receive judgment." fs

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