Conversant is thrilled to announce the addition of Dr. Gretchen Gagel to their global executive team as Managing Director Asia Pacific. Gretchen brings three decades of experience working collaboratively with clients such as GM, NiSource, and P&G to achieve meaningful and measurable change. This coupled with her recent Ph.D. in leadership and organization agility brings great value to the global Conversant team and their clients.
As Gretchen says, “My passion for helping the leaders of the world transform their organizations to meet the needs of their customers, their employees and their communities is a great fit for the work of Conversant. I greatly admire Mickey Connolly and the entire global Conversant team and am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to their success”.
Gretchen’s clients are incredibly supportive of the move. Says Steve Davies, Executive Director of the Australian Pipelines and Gas Association, “Since moving to Australia in 2018 Gretchen has provided incredible value by helping her clients identify and solve strategic challenges. Gretchen approached us to initiate a women’s leadership program because she heard us discussing the need for greater diversity in our industry. The program has been a huge success because of Gretchen’s commitment to our organization and the stakeholders of the energy community”.
We asked Gretchen a few questions about her new role and what she’s excited about:
What attracted you to joining the Conversant global leadership team?
Early in my career, I found myself managing a baby food plant with several hundred employees. My engineering degree had not equipped me with the tools I needed to be an effective leader – I had to learn from others and often by the seat of my pants. I’ve learned over the years that a leader’s ability to have high-quality conversations with the members of their team is critical to team performance, and this aligns perfectly with the Conversant purpose of building human connections that unleash collective brilliance.
What was an early inspiration for your achievement as a leader?
When I was 16 years old I told my father I wanted to go to engineering school. His response – girls don’t do engineering. Obviously I didn’t listen! And he eventually came around. But I learned that you need to stick up for yourself and your passions, and not let other’s opinions shape who you become. This has been an important lesson for me throughout my life, and this lesson has given me the courage to follow my passions, even when making unconventional choices.
Your American but living in Australia – why the move?
Six years ago a met a wonderful partner, Philip, who is Australian. He spent nearly 30 years in the US away from his family, and we felt it was time to come back to spend quality time with them, especially his mother, Lenyss. I’ve always wanted to live abroad, it just wasn’t in the cards until now. But I’ve fallen in love with Australia – such a beautiful and resilient country. I’m having a blast meeting new people and helping clients here achieve meaningful change. I miss my family but I’m fortunate to be able to return to the US frequently to see them, especially my two grown children.
You’ve enjoyed many years of successfully helping your clients achieve sustained change. How will joining the Conversant team help continue that success?
My work with clients such as GM and Procter & Gamble has focused primarily upon the execution of their construction programs and how to enable team success. Here at Conversant I have the added benefit of the Conversant team’s thirty years of experience in human connection and conversation which deeply impacts the individual, team and organizational performance. When people are having high-quality conversations at the right time, efficiency gains are dramatic. My Ph.D. studies in leadership, culture, and agility really helped me understand the importance of our connectedness as individuals to drive organizational performance.
What’s one important factor for leaders of organizations to consider when thinking about a culture of connectedness?
Beyond the capacity to have the right high-quality conversations, I think that building a culture of psychological safety is critical. People need to have a voice, and they need to feel empowered to raise their hand when there is an issue. Creating an atmosphere where people believe their concerns are heard, that their points of view are valued, creates this high level of psychological safety and in turn incredibly high levels of organizational performance.
You’ve spent most of your career working in manufacturing and construction. How has that been for you as a woman executive?
I love the engineering and construction industry. We build and maintain society – the roads we drive on, the hospitals we have our children in, the schools our children attend. It is an industry of humility, and yes, I’ve had challenges at times, but they are far outweighed by the incredible people I’ve worked with and my wonderful experiences in the industry. It’s been fun here in Australia to develop and execute a women’s leadership program for the Australian Pipelines and Gas Association – this is one way I work to continue to promote the advancement of women in our industry.
Will you be expanding beyond the engineering and construction industry at Conversant?
Yes, definitely. The advantage I have is that through the engineering and construction industry I’ve worked in all industries – healthcare, education, finance, retail, sports, transportation for example. I’ve learned a great deal about the drivers of success in each of these industries. While my heart will always be in engineering and construction, I’m excited to apply three decades of learning about how organizations solve strategic issues to a multitude of industries.
What one closing thought would you like to share?
Moving to Australia was easy, being without a team to lead was not! I was glad for a bit of a break after the craziness of completing my Ph.D. while leading a company, but I am a team player at heart. I’ve found the right new team at Conversant, filled with talented, passionate people who work with joy and in collaboration with their clients to achieve dramatic results. I’m grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the success of the organization and happy to have found a new team.