AN INTROVERTED LEADER WHO OVERCAME ADVERSITY
A bright smiling face, framed by a shock of pink hair greets me on the Zoom video call. Candy Choo is a self confessed introvert, but so far I’m not seeing anything that matches that profile.
As CEO of Local Government Professionals WA (the peak representative body for local government officers), it’s a role that requires significant interaction with its 800+ members to provide support, advocacy and training on their leadership journeys.
So it’s no surprise to learn that she needs to schedule in enough rest time at the end of the day to recharge her batteries.
“People look at my pink hair and don’t think I’m an introvert. But I’ve always wanted to be in a leadership position and make positive changes to people around me, so it’s about making sure I’ve got the energy to engage with people and do my job. One thing I do every morning is exercise in the park, which helps me tackle the day. I particularly like boxing, which is great for getting all my frustrations out! Leaders really need to look after themselves so they can look after their teams.”
Candy started out her career as a psychologist working in the organisational development space, before moving to an insurance company that provides mutual insurance schemes for WA local government. It was then she had a lightbulb moment about what really matters.
“I realised my life mission has always been about making things better for other people, and that’s when I transitioned in to my current role. I haven’t worked at many different companies over my career, and I’m really proud of that, because loyalty speaks for something. To me, I need to always be authentically myself.”
As our conversation flows, she sounds like a confident, self-assured CEO, but Candy says it wasn’t always the case.
“I was born in Hong Kong, but moved to Australia on my own when I was 17 to study and to get away from my family where domestic violence was part of our life. Because of the environment I grew up in, I didn’t have any self-confidence or self esteem, and as a result I struggled with my weight pretty much for the first 20 years of my life. But when I moved here, I learned to love myself, (I discovered) that I’m worth something. I found my place in the world as a new person.”
Candy insists that her difficult upbringing helped her develop resilience, and it’s just one of the many leadership lessons she enthusiastically shares with others, particularly young professionals.
“My story is by no means unique, lots of people have gone through this. Don’t let your past define who you are. You only get to live once, and it’s important to maximise opportunities. I still have ups and downs sometimes, but I have tools that help me to think positively.”
Candy has been a member of Behind Closed Doors for three years, and credits her group peers with helping her navigate personal and professional challenges.
“A few months ago, I wasn’t in a very good place, and I shared that with my BCD group, and in doing so, it took a weight off my shoulders. I know what’s said will stay in that room, I won’t be judged, and it was a good place for me to share that. So I told my story, and there was an incredibly warm and supportive response. They weren’t just telling me what I wanted to hear, they were telling me things that I needed to hear, in a very caring way, that I don’t know that my friends or even my husband could say to me. It was honest, non judgemental caring.”
Over the course of her career, Candy says she has always been focussed on authenticity, and that leads us back to the pink hair.
“It was red… copper… burgundy, and then because I’m a Dockers fan, I dyed it purple! But none of it felt right until I got the pink colour. I look in the mirror now and feel like myself. You need to feel comfortable with yourself, and having a bit of personality helps you to stand out.”
Interview by Stacey Lymbery, Media & Marketing Manager, behind closed doors