Sally Evans, Head of Retirement at AMP, is a leader and an executive with over three decades of experience in delivering innovation in healthcare, investment management and wealth management. She has lived and worked on three continents, across both the public and private sectors.

And her background? She started out as a dietitian.

Sally joined us on Dietitian Day 2016 as part of our executive leadership panel to talk about parlaying her education in dietetics into the senior position she holds today with AMP.

We spoke with Sally in greater detail leading up to Dietitian Day about the role this training played, and the career choices she made along the way. Read on as she connects the dots for us on how being trained in dietetics and becoming an executive leader doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive.

Dietitian Connection: What motivated you to seize opportunities beyond dietetics?

Sally Evans: It was never a deliberate decision to move away from dietetics – and to a large degree, I don’t think I ever have. What attracted me to dietetics in the first instance hasn’t changed.

The thing for me about dietetics as a career is that it has so many diverse elements to it. It enables people to find the sorts of things that they’re really interested in, and passionate about. They can then specialise in those areas.

So, the opportunities that the career offers people are enormous – and my career is a testament to that. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for the fact that I started my career in dietetics.

DC: What were the biggest learnings you had throughout your career?

SE: Most of the things I’ve learned are from people who’ve gone before me. Look out for those wise, forward-thinking and experienced people, and ask them for guidance and advice.

Many of those people who have had a huge impact on my life and career were dietitians! As a profession – and at the time I was in it, a predominantly female profession – there were amazing women who gave me great advice.

Another learning: there are opportunities everywhere – but the real question is, are your eyes open to seeing them, and are you ready to take them on? Just because you see an opportunity doesn’t mean you need to take it. But once you’ve taken an opportunity, there’s never a question of whether it was right or wrong – it’s the right decision because you’ve made it.

Dietetics as a career creates many, many opportunities for people.

DC: What advice would you give to a new graduate who’s just starting out?

SE: In some ways, that’s really easy. Enjoy it!

It’s a great opportunity to work out what you like doing – and what you don’t like doing – so it helps to shape where you want to take that next stage of your career. You don’t have to think very far ahead – just what’s the next best for you. It might be, I’m going to stay doing what I’m doing for a while because I want to feel confident and build my expertise and reputation.

Think about now and the next step – don’t think too far ahead.

DC: What is the best part of your job?

SE: I really positioned my career, for the last 15 years or more, looking to be at the leading edge of industry, where the next change or innovation is going to come in. So for me, it’s about being able to influence change – I love that.

I’m never satisfied with the status quo, and we’re living in a changing world, so what works today won’t work tomorrow.

How do you choose which direction to go in – how do you place your bet – how do you think of the future? I’m really interested in industry disrupters, and how I bring those back to the corporate sector. That’s incredibly exciting, and I get to learn all these new things!

DC: Did you have a mentor? If so, how did that person help influence who you are today?

SE: There are three people, and I still have a lot to do with two of those people, and am indirectly in touch with the third.

The first is Pam Williams, who was the chief dietitian at Canterbury District Health in NZ. She took me under her wing, and was really quite direct with me about what I should be doing when I finished my internship – which wasn’t what I intended to do – and, of course, she was right.

I continued to stay in touch with her for all these years. That mentorship has guided me through all my career – and life. When you have that relationship and trust, and someone knows you that well, you can have openness. You can be very vulnerable and share your fears and aversions, and know they know how to help you.

The second is Janelle Wallace – the senior clinical dietitian at my very first dietetic job. She was a powerhouse, and taught me how to be a professional woman. I learned that in about five minutes: working for Janelle, there was no other way she was going to have people behave and work and turn up! I couldn’t have had a better person to help me as a dietitian. She’s given me some of the best life advice I’ve had.

The third is Sandra Capra, who is Chair of Nutrition in the School of Human Movement Studies at the University of Queensland, Queensland, Australia and a Director on the International Confederation of Dietetic Associations Board, and is one of our greatest Australian champions of dietetics. She is a great friend and a person I don’t ever hesitate to pick up the phone and ask for advice. She is a mentor to many people in Australia and beyond and again, really would help me think through what I was trying to achieve as a professional woman.

DC: How do you continue to grow and develop in this ever-changing innovative environment of today’s world?

SE: We are living in a world of the most rapid change I’ve ever experienced in my career. If you’re not really good at using technology to help you, then you’re just going to get left behind. You don’t have a choice.

I don’t call myself the most sophisticated techno-anything, but I absolutely make an effort. You just have to put in the time. I’m good at getting people to help me, but the reality is it’s much easier to just teach yourself.

With social media, we are moving into a whole new world – we are each a brand of one person. Social media can be a great ally in how you manage your reputation and your brand, and how you engage with the world. I don’t think that I am expert in doing that, but I’m learning and I work out what works for me.

At the moment, because I work in a corporate environment, I don’t need to do a lot of learning – but I make sure I’m skilled and expert enough to use social media to help build my brand more.

DC: How can dietitians stand out from the crowd and be leaders?

SE: Leadership isn’t about status and title; those can help, but they’re not necessary. Leadership is about two things.

One, being an expert. Be clear on what you want to be an expert in, because you can’t be an expert in everything.

How do you build that expert profile? Most of us from a science background know it’s about the evidence and the data – and I’m still heavily weighted to that – but that’s only twenty percent of it.

Eighty percent of it is, how do you get that insight, learning and “so what” out into the market, so that people recognise you’re the people who can help them and you’re the person who can create solutions?

Having expert knowledge is fabulous, but if you can’t help people with “what does it mean for me,” then the expert knowledge is pretty useless.

You can absolutely change your area of expertise, and rebrand yourself, throughout your career. I reckon I was the one of the leading paediatric hepatology dietitians, and knew more about nutrition and glycogen storage disease than anyone else in the world. Look at what I do today. I went from a highly specialised clinical area into a highly specialised business environment – and then into wealth management.

Be clear about the red thread that connects those things. Be able to articulate it to people so it makes sense. If it’s coming from you in a purposeful way, then it’s quite easy to tell your story – and it gets easier the more times you tell it.

Keep the conversation going: connect with Sally professionally via LinkedIn or learn more at her website.