Meet business powerhouse Margaret Jackson

Margaret Jackson was the first woman to become chairman of a top-50 publicly listed company in Australia. Here is her story.

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Margaret Jackson has an impressive list of firsts to her name.

The first woman to become chairman of a top-50 publicly listed company in Australia.

The first female director of BHP Billiton in 108 years of history.

The first woman to quietly challenge the skirt only dress code for women at professional services in the 1970s.

Margaret is perhaps best known for her time as Chairman of the Qantas, and the pointed, personal criticism she received for her support for the 2007 takeover bid.

The subsequent collapse of the Qantas share price have not only proved that Margaret was right, but she remains grateful for the experience, the personal growth it conferred and doors it opened.

Starting out as a graduate accountant in the early 70s Margaret had trouble finding a firm that would even let her in the door.

“You’d write in as M. A. Jackson, and turn up for the interview and they’d say oh terribly sorry we don’t employ women.”

“I eventually got a job at PwC and I thought I was very trendy in a pale blue pantsuit. Wide lapels, white stitching, bell bottoms, very groovy.

“I was called before the managing partner by about 10 o’clock in the morning. He told me, Miss Jackson you are wearing inappropriate attire you need to go home and return wearing a skirt and pantyhose”.

“And I thought, no I’m not going to do that. I think I am appropriately dressed”.

“Every day for about six months I wore pants. Until they changed the rules and said we could wear pants. And for maybe the next 25 years I wore skirts and pantyhose.”

Feeling stalled at PwC she found a much better home, and a partner track at the medium sized firm of BDO or Parker, Lithgow and Gibson as it was known then.

“I became a partner, and that got me some press coverage, and about six months after that I was approached to go on the board of Telstra, I was 30 at the time.”

Margaret talks in depth about the failed Qantas takeover bid, shedding new light on back room battles, clerical errors and a perhaps unwise interview she gave while in hospital that ultimately led to her resignation.

In retrospect she, and others, believe her position has been vindicated.

“Would I do anything differently? I think no. Maybe I might not have used those exact words. But I would have said the same thing, because it was the right thing to do at the time.”

A successful investor herself, Margaret champions Scale, an angel investor network to connect women investors with women led businesses.

“There’s a lot of women out there who come up with a lot of extraordinary business ideas and they get going and where do they get their investment once they’ve depleted their own funds?”

“I like the idea of mentoring women to grow a business that ultimately can employ other people.”

Listen to the full interview at The Constant Investor or iTunes

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