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Travels From Victoria

Colleen Callander

Colleen Callander – Former Sportsgirl CEO and Founder of Mentor Me Women and Author of ‘LEADER BY DESIGN’

Colleen was brought up in a hard-working business focused family, where there was always a job to do. Colleen loved to work from an early age, going to work with her father on building sites at any chance she got, working at her parents’ pool canteen all day at the age of 8, and then counting up buckets of coins of an evening, with the 1, 2 and 5 cent coins being her pay for the day. 

After working in family businesses from as young as she could remember, Colleen had her first taste of retail at the age of 16. Unbeknownst to her at the time, this summer job would be the start of a retail career spanning over 30 years, which ultimately propelled Colleen to become part of the 20% club – as fewer than 20% of Australian CEOs are women.

Colleen believes her upbringing and the influence of both of her parents have played a significant role in the women and leader that she is today. 

Her father Frank, an Italian immigrant, landed in Australia at the age of four with his parents, brother, and just the clothes they wore, a few of suitcases and a small amount of savings. Finishing school at the age of 14, he became a concreter by day and worked at the abattoirs at night. Today, Frank is a successful entrepreneur and property developer. 

Her mother was one of 12 children; her father was an alcoholic, and she lost her own mother when she was just 20 years of age. Not only did she have the job of looking after her own two babies aged one and two-and-a-half years of age, but she also took on the motherly role of her younger siblings.

Colleen believes she got the best of both parents: her business acumen from her father and her caring, nurturing ways from her mother. Her parents instilled in her and her siblings the value of self-worth, a drive to be passionate in everything that you do and a strong work ethic that remains to this day.

As a teenager, her career aspirations changed regularly. One day she was sharing with her parent she wanted to be a vet, the next week a hairdresser, the next a lawyer. As it turned out, none of these were going to be Colleen’s career path. At the end of year 11, Colleen started a casual summer job at her local Just Jeans store and this was the start of a fashion retail career that would span over 30 years.

With no formal schooling qualification, Colleen decided to enter the world of fashion, starting as a sales assistant. She was very quickly was promoted to store manager as her she was passionate and worked hard – and it paid off. At the age of 20, she was promoted as one of the youngest area managers in the group, overseeing 16 stores, and at the age of 24 she was appointed to the role of Victorian sale manager, with three reporting area managers and 54 stores in her remit. This is where she spent the next four four years of her career.

Her passion for fashion, business and people was a winning combination. Colleen’s nurturing approach went hand-in-hand with her love for people and her passion for creating winning teams. It has been this people-first approach that has allowed her to successfully foster and grow unique cultures throughout her entire career. 

Colleen is extremely passionate about creating a world of where people get up every day, love what they do, live with purpose, feel fulfilled and imagines the world with more female leaders of the future. She believes when we put people first – profits follow. 

Colleen had always dreamt of working at Sportsgirl, a brand she loved and had grown up with, so in June 1999 when she was approached to join the brand it was an opportunity she couldn’t refuse. This is where Colleen has spent the past 20 years of her retail career. 

However, the path wasn’t always smooth sailing. Juggling three small children and a high-profile career, Colleen suffered from burnout in 2007. She decided to throw it away – the job, the career, the leadership – before chance stepped in, and she continued on her road towards retail leadership.  After implementing self-care into her life and putting herself first, she discovered the power of these simple yet effective ways to staff on top of your health and your life – and she wants to encourage all women to take care of themselves. 

Colleen is an award- winning CEO, has a wealth of knowledge and a proven track record in building brands, creating a winning culture, building an environment that allows people to be inspired and empowered. Colleen is now sharing not only the past 13 years’ experience as a CEO, but the past 30 years of her retail career.

Beyond her amazing career, the most important thing to Colleen is family. 

Colleen’s sees her most important and influential role in life as wife to Nick, mother of three beautiful humans: Jake, Trent and Macey. 

Colleen is an inspiration to women of all generations and wants to encourage women globally to believe in themselves, their ability, embrace their superpower, share their voice, step up and take action. She wants women to believe in the power within and that it is possible to become the leader they always wanted to be in business and in life and together create a new era of leadership and our generation and future generations. 

Colleen is a Leader By Design (the title of her upcoming book). In the early years of her career, she looked up to and admired people with titles, level of authority and positions of power, labelling them leaders. What she learnt over time is that it is not someone’s title, level of authority or position of power that automatically qualifies them for leadership. In fact, Colleen shares that you don’t even need a title to be a leader. We have the ability to lead every day, with every action, every reaction, every interaction and every decision. 

“As a CEO, my mission was to engage, empower, inspire, lead with kindness and allow people to bring their best selves to work each day. Now in this next chapter of my life, my mission is the same!” – Colleen Callander

Kindness is the new currency for leaders. 

For many leader’s kindness isn’t the first word that comes to mind when you think about great leadership, right? 

Well, I’m here to challenge that thought. 

Kindness is the NEW SUPERPOWER FOR LEADERS…in fact I believe kindness is a new form of currency, one you can trade for loyalty, commitment and  high performance.

I strongly believe that leading with kindness is what will separate good and great leaders of the future.

Kind leaders - are very capable of making good and strong business decisions, even tough decisions with kindness.

When I talk about kindness I’m not just talking about leadership – I’m talking about leading with kindness in all areas of our lives. Kindness is not a weakness…kindness is courageous. 


People before profit 

We live in a profit driven world - sales, margins, market share, shareholder return and revenue which are all performance and profit, and is essential for organisations to reinvest, innovate and grow. However, an area that is often over-looked…..is not one you’re going to find on a spread sheet…it’s ‘people’!!

Leaders need to create environments where people feel connected, where their work matters, where they can contribute and feel part of something greater. In my experience when people feel valued, trusted and empowered, they will also feel engaged and motivated. 

I believe if you have a 'people first' philosophy the profits will follow. 

People with purpose and passion = profit

Leader By Design

Leadership is something that I am extremely passionate about…not only my leadership but the leadership of those around me. And when I talk about leadership, I’m talking about leading not only in business, but also leading in our own lives whether that be in your community, school, workplace or even your home.  Leadership starts with self…..We need to be leading in our own lives before we can lead anyone else. 

When I get asked about leadership I always start with what leadership is not – title, power, level of authority, size of your office, carpark, the number of direct reports you have or the size of your salary.

 We often look up to…. and admired people with titles, rank and positions of power, labelling them leaders. What I learnt over time in both life and business is that these trappings do not automatically qualify a person for leadership. 

 And in fact….you don’t even need a title to be a leader. Every day we have the ability to lead through every action, interaction, reaction and decision we make in business and in life. We all have the ability to become a ‘Leader By Design’, we all have the ability to become the leader we always wanted to be, and the leader we always wanted to follow. 

My definition of leadership is:

“One life impacting another in a positive way” 

Great leadership is where a person has a passion for a cause that is larger than themselves. 

Great leadership is inspiring and empowering people to accomplish their goals and dreams. 

Great Leadership It is about showing empathy, kindness, compassion and courage in the way you lead.

And….Great leadership is perhaps the most important competitive advantage an organisation can have. 

The foundations of great leadership

Great leadership is about leading people, but great leadership start with self – you have to be leading in your own life before you can lead anyone else. 

The three foundations of great leadership are: self-awareness, values and purpose, no matter where you are on your leadership journey.

Self-awareness and truly knowing yourself is when you are ready to lead others. 

Values give us clarity with our decision making and are not only an important part of who we are – they also shape who we want to be.

When we know our purpose, we move from: What we do, to why we do it, and why does it matter!

When we’re  clear on our purpose, we can create a vision for what the future looks like, set the right goals and plans, and take the right steps to create that life that you want and the one you deserve. 

Change your story - change your life. 

One of the biggest challenges women face today is a lack of confidence.  Lack of confidence is the reason we stay in a jobs we don’t like, or stay in toxic relationships or the reason we don’t ask for that promotion or pay rise. 

We need to start building real confidence, so that we put our hands up for promotions, walk into a board room and kill it with confidence and have a voice. 

There are so many things we can do to build real confidence – one of them is to change that negative self talk. 

When you….Change your story - change your life!

We have this inner voice inside our head- that is highly judgmental and says things to us like: I'm not good enough,  I'm going to fail, I'm under prepared, I don’t fit in, I’m too young, I’m too old. 

These stories can leave us feeling stuck, deflated and sometimes even sabotage our success. 

We need to interrupt this story from self sabotage and start taking control and create a more empowering story that helps you feel confident to take action.

Culture starts at the top

I describe culture as what people do when no-one is watching! 

Many leaders will talk about their competitive advantage as being their strategy, their product offering, their processes, innovation or even their HR policies. 

This can be true to some extent, but I believe an organisation’s biggest competitive advantage is its PEOPLE and the culture and environment they create.

As leaders, it is our jobs to create cultures and environments that allows people to shine. 

It’s our job to create a culture of inspiration, empowerment, collaboration, and trust….And I promise you when you do the organisation thrives.

We have been talking about culture and engagement for years….yet less than 15% of employees worldwide are engaged with their job.

We often mistaken culture for things like free lunches, free parking, or a free pass to the gym, don’t get me wrong….these things are great if you can offer them to your team…. Culture is not something you can buy off the shelf, nor will a few affirmations or posters around the office. There is no quick fix or magic pill to creating a great culture.  

Culture is an always on proposition….

Culture something I have dedicated every day of my working life to because….a positive, productive and empowering culture pays off in so many ways not just on the bottom line. 

Culture starts at the top.

Other speaking topics:

How to build and live with real confidence 

The Power of Self 

Confidence, Connection, Control, Calm 

Leadership is a lifestyle choice

Get off the train to burnout town!

45 to thrive - it will change your life! 

Find your Superpower

The Power of People

Enquire about Colleen Callander to speak at your next event