Once upon a time, Tracy Nichols was content with being a hard-working individual contributor. She now oversees a team of 48 people as Woolworths Group’s State Facilities Management (FM) Manager for NSW, and gets a “great buzz” from leading people and helping them further their careers.
She shares what triggered her aspiration to embark on a people management career, how to tell if leadership is the right path for you and why it’s so important to work for a company that you believe in.
Leadership wasn’t always the plan
For as long as she can remember, Tracy has been fascinated by the property market, and its influence on our economy and society. “Some people are into trainspotting, I’ve just always been into bricks and mortar,” she laughs. This interest led her to study a Bachelor of Business Property at RMIT in Melbourne.
After working in asset management for a number of years, Tracy decided to complete an MBA to broaden her learning, skill set and networks. It ultimately reshaped her career’s direction.
“The postgraduate study changed the way I saw the world. I went from being an aspirational worker bee with no desire to lead a large team to wanting to do exactly that,” she explains.
“After learning about things like change management, people development and how to put different pieces together in a strategic way, it really helped me identify what I wanted from my career. I wanted to be responsible for managing a group of people and creating functional change within organizations.”
How to decide if being a people leader is for you
If you’re weighing up whether a leadership career is the right path, Tracy’s advice is to think about your end goal and what brings you enjoyment. “Do you want to be a leader of people? Is that something you enjoy doing? Or do you wish to remain a specialist? Both are admirable but quite separate,” she says.
“Sometimes people go into management roles because they think that’s the natural next step, or they do it for the money or the title, and they’re the wrong reasons.”
Likewise, being a great specialist isn’t a precursor to being a great leader.
“You shouldn’t promote a great salesperson to the role of sales leader just because they’re great at selling. You should be promoting somebody who is great at working behind the scenes and managing people, and let the great salesperson bring in the business and be rewarded for doing so.”
To be a great leader, you need to genuinely enjoy looking after people and helping them further their careers, says Tracy, something she gets a great buzz from. “For me, helping create career pathways is a really rewarding aspect of being a people manager.”
When Tracy first started out in property 20 years ago, there weren’t many women in the industry. Her advice for those in similar male-dominated environments is to back yourself, show your commitment and find a supportive employer.
“By demonstrating a willingness and desire to do something, the businesses I’ve worked for over the years have been genuinely supportive of me and my career. But I’ve also been fortunate to work for forward-thinking companies that wanted to increase their female representation.”
And if there’s one thing Tracy has learnt throughout her career, it’s the importance of working for a company that you’re proud of and want to be a part of their journey. This was her motivation for joining Woolworths Group in 2017.
An opportunity for change
After spending some time working in government on asset strategy for public housing, Tracy wanted to get back into the corporate sector. “I missed getting my hands dirty and being involved in the decision-making process.”
It was around this time that Woolworths approached Tracy – they were looking for a State FM Manager for Victoria/Tasmania, a role responsible for all the facilities within Woolworths Supermarkets, Metros, Dan Murphy’s and BWS stores across the state. This includes everything that makes up the stores, from the doors, air conditioning, backdock and refrigeration working correctly, to overseeing the stores’ cleaning, trolleys and security, as well as making sure all health and safety requirements are met – not to mention emergency management too.
“I did some research into Woolies and what it was like to work there, and I was really impressed by the cultural change the business was going through. They were making a real effort to build a strong business and I thought: ‘What a great opportunity to be a part of’.”
Nine months later, Tracy relocated from Melbourne to Sydney with her husband and took on the bigger portfolio of State FM Manager for NSW/ACT. “It’s been a great opportunity and I really appreciate the leap of faith the business took in me.”
Managing cultural change
Tracy is proud to have played a role in Woolworths’ cultural transformation by turning around her own team and making it function much more cohesively.
“One of my biggest achievements in this role is bringing a group of disparate people into a single unit, and aligning them through common goals and objectives”.
“As a business, we’re still on a journey, but by and large we know our purpose and our values, and bring that to everything we do. We genuinely do bring a little good to everyone, every day. And everyone in a leadership position is engaged in who we are and where we are going.”