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Gabrielle mcdonald careers profile

Seizing the opportunity

Quitting school with no career plans may not sound like a strategy for success, but Gabriele McDonald, Executive Director of Protecsure, is a shining example of how an unconventional start can lead to an outstanding career. The daughter of German immigrants who arrived in Australia with nothing – they didn’t even speak the language – Gabriele admits their divorce when she was nine led to a turbulent early life.

“As a young kid without a family network and changing schools a few times, it became about surviving,” she recalls. “You gain an attitude of self-preservation and don’t tend to care for many people because you’re not experiencing a nurturing environment.”

Disliking school, Gabriele left after finishing Year 10, a fortuitous move thanks to a careers adviser who encouraged her to approach the top three companies in Australia. This led to a clerical traineeship at AMP, a position that not only afforded Gabriele a broad knowledge base, but also taught her valuable life lessons. “I befriended people 10 years older than me and they quickly taught me the values of friendship and contributing, and that you don’t always do something just to get something out of it,” she says.

Gabriele’s next transformative experience was meeting her husband at the age of 23. Marrying two years later, the couple – now parents to Jackson, 21, and Tayla, 19 – have just celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary.“

My husband is completely selfless and I saw early on how rewarding that could be,” says Gabriele, adding that “having awesome parents-in-law showed me the value of family ... I cherished and brought that more into my own life and it’s of paramount importance today. My children and family always take priority.”


The support of her extended family would also be instrumental in helping Gabriele forge a “completely unplanned” career path while raising children. She launched her own consulting practice during her first pregnancy. Over the next 20 years, Gabriele’s career encompassed both contract and permanent roles, including National Relationship Manager at Allianz Australia and Executive Manager at Suncorp Commercial Insurance.

“I enjoyed swapping in and out of consulting to those [permanent] career positions because when you go into a large business it tops up your knowledge, and when you go back into consulting your skill set is enhanced,” she explains.


As a distribution specialist dealing with customer-focused initiatives, Gabriele says whether working as a consultant or for a company, the name of the game is the same – value proposition.“The Australian market is mature and saturated so the most important thing is articulating why clients should be buying or recommending your products and services, and getting it away from the price,” she says.Now Executive Director and Equity Partner at Protecsure, Gabriele says value proposition and creating differentiation remains a focus, as does ensuring products continue to evolve in line with clients’ needs. This is something Gabriele sees as a challenge facing the industry in general.

“I see a lot of greenfield opportunities like drones and online peer-to-peer communities or disruptors like Uber,” she says. “They’re well entrenched in society, but our industry is very slow to respond in covering these risks, usually because of constrained thinking. We need to be more nimble in seeing the emerging risks and finding solutions. The industries around us are not waiting for us.”


Gabriele also has to juggle the competing roles of motherhood and career. “Juggling is the perfect word. You’ve got all the balls in the air and you’re just hoping none of them get dropped,” she says.

Pragmatic about the fact that senior roles require time away from home, Gabriele says what’s vital is “deciding what’s important to you, and then backing yourself ”. She admits this is not always easy as “everyone has an opinion on full-time working mothers”, including her own family.“

When my daughter was seven, she told me she hated my job and that made me second guess everything,” she recalls. “I was the primary income earner. I knew working wasn’t just about self-fulfilment, it was also about giving the family a quality life. But I thought, if this is what my child thinks of it all, what am I really doing? “

Now I look back and my kids are extremely well adjusted. They know having a good work ethic brings a reward that enables you to have choices. That, for me, is far more important than appeasing a seven year old who wanted me to do canteen duty.”