In this special edition of our Career Profile series, CEO of IP specialists Wrays, Paula Adamson, talks leadership lessons, supporting the health and medical research community, and having the courage to make mistakes.
What is your current role and how did you get to be there?
I am currently the CEO of Wrays and we specialise in supporting innovation and economic growth through the protection of intellectual property, including trademarks, patents, designs, commercial IP protection and litigation.
Prior to joining Wrays, I worked in government at IP Australia as the Commissioner of Patents and Registrar of Trade Marks, Patents and Plant Breeders Rights. I also spent time in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet working in the Critical Technology Policy Coordination Office.
I spent almost 10 years in professional services delivering organisational transformation, change management and project management for government and private sector clients. Working in professional services was exciting and every day was different. I met some amazing people during my time and worked across different companies including EY, Fujitsu, RSM and SMS Consulting.
My first job was in the Department of Defence where I joined as a 17-year-old fresh from school. I had an amazing career in Defence over almost 20 years, where I worked my way from junior administrative roles into senior management positions. I was lucky enough to be supported by exceptional leadership and amazing mentors along the way, who believed in me and gave me the confidence to gain my university qualification while working at Defence.
I have always taken opportunities when they arrive and sometimes it meant stepping sideways to move up into more senior roles. I am never the smartest person in the room and have found that if I remain open to feedback, listen to others, build great relationships and be prepared to lean into risk then I continue to enjoy my work and can support my company/organisation to achieve great things.
How does the work of Wrays contribute to the health and medical research sector and/or the overall health and wellbeing of the community?
Wrays contributes to the life science environment and I am always amazed at the significant inventions that will change the future. Many of our attorneys work closely with the research sector to ensure the commercialisation of inventions that will save lives.
At Wrays we have a collaborative and connected work environment that is committed to giving back to the community. One of our initiatives is to donate a percentage of each invoice to a charity in the community. We also connect with our local communities and take part in charity events that contribute to the awareness-raising of health and wellbeing in our community.
What are your greatest leadership lessons? Have there been any people/books/podcasts that have influenced your leadership style?
Leadership comes from all levels in an organisation and is very different to management. However, as a CEO, I need to bring both leadership and management to my role.
My greatest leadership lessons have come from some of my greatest mistakes. I learnt early on in my career that people in the workplace are volunteers. They choose to work with you and will choose to leave if the leadership and culture don’t align with their values.
I am a great believer in valuing individuals, treating people with respect and empathy, being a good communicator, and using co-design and consultation to achieve great things. The best ideas do not come from the people at the top of the organisation. Diversity of views, experience and input generates the best results.
People will always leave a leader not a job, so it is important to be open to feedback and really listen to people to ensure that the decisions you make are the best decisions for the organisation and are balanced with the needs of the people in the organisation.
As I have got older, I realise how important it is to look after myself, as great leaders come undone when they are tired and stressed, resulting in poor decision-making and forgetting about people because it can take time to build relationships. I actively look after my own health and go to the gym regularly. I also stay connected with my family as they keep me grounded and remind me where I come from and what is important in life. This approach keeps my resilience levels high and helps me be the best I can be.
Specific books that have resonated with me are Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence books, Annie McKee and Richard Boyatzis – Resonant Leadership, James Clear – Atomic Habits, Stephen R Covey – The 8th Habit, and Daniel Pink’s motivation theory.
What are your loves outside of work?
I love hanging out with my family. I have an amazing husband of 35 years, two beautiful grown-up children who make me so proud and four gorgeous grandchildren (with a fifth on the way). When I am not hanging out with my children, you will find me walking around Lake Burley Griffin in Canberra every weekend, even on cold days – it is a beautiful stroll with lots of cafes, galleries and markets to visit along the way.
I have also participated in martial arts for over 25 years and enjoy teaching small people in the discipline of martial arts. They keep me connected to my community and I love the look on their parents’ faces when I can make them stand still for more than 2 minutes while long-suffering parents struggle to get them into bed at night.
I also love my job and the people I work with. Over my working years I have found that separating work and life is challenging, and life happens 24 hours a day – it would be crazy to wish away a second of it😊
What is one piece of advice you could pass onto others following their own career journey?
My advice is to be kind to yourself, don’t be frightened to take up opportunities (even if you have no idea why they asked you), and let yourself make mistakes because that is where the best learning comes from.