Human on the Inside with Future Super’s Grace Palos

Article

5 min read

We’re big believers in the power of human skills. But don’t just take our word for it – the evidence for excellence powered by human (‘soft’) skills is everywhere! In this engaging, ever-enlightening series, we speak with industry leaders, innovators and game-changers to learn a little about their personal career journeys, and how human-led strategies, philosophies and cultures are proving a force for good in their working worlds …

Welcome Grace, and thanks for stepping into the #SuccessIsHuman Spotlight! You’re the Chief Customer Officer (CCO) at Future Super – an Australian retail superannuation fund that offers products and services focusing on zero fossil fuel investment, and investments into companies that create positive, real-world change. In 1 sentence (ok, we’ll give you 3), what does your role entail?

My role at Future Super is to grow the number of people using their super for climate action. In nuts and bolts, I’m accountable for finding more customers, winning more customers and keeping more customers. I also lead our marketing and member-facing teams.

Prior to your CCO role, you were Chief Marketing Officer for nearly 3 years, and pre Future Super, held a variety of impressive roles for companies such as Stake – Shop for Shares (Head of Global Growth), Australian Ethical Investment (Marketing Manager), Bicycle Network (Marketing Executive), Yfoundations (Communications Officer) and the National Alliance to End Homelessness (Policy & Programs). You’ve also done a bunch of volunteering for the likes of Responsible Investment Association Australasia, Youth Action NSW and Young UN Women Australia. BRAVO! How does all this work speak to your personal purpose and what drives you as an individual?

I grew up with a lesbian mum in the 1980s. Growing up I was acutely aware of how norms in society drive behaviour. Even without most of us realising the norms we’re operating under. 

Fast forward a few decades and I realised that marketing is one of the industries driving those norms. Most of the time, the norms marketers have created, like junk-food habits, non-stop screen time and fast fashion, are not for the good of humanity or life on our shared planet. 

I wanted norms to stack more towards the greater good. One of the ways I’ve been able to do that recently is by making finance, a product that’s essential to living well in today’s world, more relatable, human and real. 

The short version – I want people to be able to use their money in a way that reflects their values and who they are, rather than feeling like they’re being talked down to. Let’s give this industry a makeover!

Tell us a little about your personal education pathway/s – what led you to where you are now? How closely do your formal qualifications match your current career?

My formal education path started with a love story. I have an undergrad in history from the University of Maryland where I was on a pre-law track wanting to change the direction of the world through our legal system. 

Cue a semester abroad in Australia meeting my now partner, and suddenly a doctorate in the United States legal system didn’t make much sense.

So I started looking for alternative ways that I could live between Australia and the U.S while still having a positive impact on our societal norms. I signed up for a Master’s in Marketing at RMIT. There I began a decade-long fascination with how poorly financial services are made for the people it serves.

If you could share one piece of career advice to your 21 year old self it would be …

Dear Grace,

Don’t keep a job just for appearances. Work with people you love, focus yourself on doing good work and the results will follow. Oh and chill out!

Maximising the potential of individuals, communities and businesses through the power of human skills is the reason Maxme exists. Can you tell us a little about the role and / or value of human skills in your workplace right now?

Most weeks I say the line, “I want people to do the best work of their lives at Future Super.” And I’m not kidding. 

If every single person who works at Future Super is doing the best work of their career when they’re with us, it’s a huge competitive advantage. We’ll be able to shatter industry norms, improve the lives of our members and probably have more fun doing it than most other teams. 

Most people spend the majority of their working hours at work, I want to make those some of their best hours rather than the worst. 

Which I guess it to say, as a Chief Customer Officer my #1 responsibility is to make sure every single staff member can do the best work of their life at Future Super. Everything else ladders down from that.

Self Awareness sets the critical foundation for all Maxme learning experiences. With that said … what’s your strongest trait / personal super power?

Creating psychologically safe teams for people to do their best work in. 

To me though, it’s far too common to see people with lofty titles as heroes or having done something ‘right’. The reality is that bosses and managers make just as many if not more mistakes than anyone else at work.

And on the flip side, what’s one human / ‘soft’ skill you’ve had to really work on improving over the course of your career?

Fostering curiosity of divergent views. My mom says conversation is a skill business needs to learn and in a way I think she’s right. Teams that can wrestle with multiple opinions and truths at once are far more interesting to me than those who see divergence as something that needs to be negotiated or solved. We live in a complex world and I like being the kind of person who welcomes multiple truths at once while still being decisive.  

If you could share one piece of career advice with recent secondary or tertiary graduates, or other individuals keen to work in a trade, what would it be?

Find people who will give you honest opinions about your work. Surround yourself with those people, even if that means they don’t always agree with you (that’s a good thing). If you feel dumb in a room, you’re in the right room.

You’ve been granted approval to add one University graduate to your team, but have 100 applicants, all with outstanding academic results. How do you find your perfect candidate – what are you looking for?

Looking for: curiosity.

I want to work with people who have started their own podcasts, written comic books, re-fitted a van, jumped off cliffs and started communities more than someone with straight HDs. Courage and curiosity go a long way to making a successful career.

In the words of John Dewey, “education is not preparation for life, education is life itself.”
What’s next on your #learning agenda?

Sailing myself across an ocean!