Westpac’s new state general manager for NSW/ACT mortgage broker distribution, Sarah Willsallen, brings a fresh perspective to the bank
1999 - STUDIES HR AND LAW
Sarah Willsallen completed her undergraduate degree in commerce at Western Sydney University before gaining a master’s in labour law at the University of Sydney. Although she started her career in HR, she was always interested in a career in business, as her studies reflect.
“I like solving problems, I like working with people, and I find the commercial side of business really fascinating too.”
2000 - STARTS HR CAREER
Willsallen started her HR career working for technology and information services companies, including Cisra, and says she was drawn to HR because it felt like the place where customer service, relationships and solving business problems came together.
“When I started, I loved the variety and the fact that no two days were the same”.
2003 - LEARNS FROM MENTORS
Willsallen feels lucky to have had many brilliant mentors in her career, particularly in her roles as HR manager at Wolters Kluwer, which she joined in 2003, and later as HR business partner at Fuji Xerox. “[Wolters Kluwer’s] regional HR manager would have to be the most strategic person I’ve ever known,” Willsallen says. And the executive GM of Fuji Xerox is a fantastic sales leader, she adds.
“He taught me about salesforce effectiveness, client management and to keep things simple.”
2006 - EXPANDING ROLE AT FUJI XEROX
At Fuji Xerox, Willsallen discovered that she enjoyed being closer to customers and embracing personal accountability for commercial outcomes. This was a turning point in her shift from HR to business leadership.
“I loved the way that role [at Fuji Xerox] expanded over time to include work with sales capability, strategy and targets, design and implementation. This area increasingly drew my interest, particularly the challenge of how to structure people, processes, cultures and market offerings to get the best outcome.”
2010 - GROWING GM EXPERIENCE
Willsallen credits her experience gained with mid-size companies as vital in helping her get to where she is today. “This gave me the opportunity to take on a broader remit as a GM managing multiple unrelated fields.” Then one day an old friend at Westpac mentioned the bank’s Equilibrium program aiming to support women in leadership to take the next big step in their careers.
“It sounded like a rare and valuable opportunity to learn and grow my career in a new sector.”
2016 - JOINS FINANCE WORLD
Upon being accepted into Westpac’s Equilibrium Leadership Development Program, Willsallen started her Westpac career as a retail manager and another opportunity soon presented itself.
“When the opportunity arose for a state general manager in broker distribution, I jumped at the chance.”
2017 - FAST ASCENT
Now Westpac’s new state general manager for NSW/ACT consumer third party distribution, Willsallen says, “If you had asked me at 15 whether I thought I’d work in HR, I would have said, ‘Probably not’; and if you’d asked me at 30 whether I thought I’d move into broker distribution, I would have been equally surprised. I’d always been a broker customer and I have two brothers who run small businesses, so I have a lot of respect for business owners.”
“Equilibrium identifies leaders from outside financial services and from within … who can bring different perspectives, innovative thinking and a customer focus”