Former Griffith student Rachelle St Leger knows the value of working for a company who is supportive of your education. The Bachelor of Commerce graduate says she got to where she is today through hard work, determination and the benefit of an employer who provided her with invaluable training while she was completing her degree. And now that she’s Australian CEO for EML, a company that processes billions of dollars per year, she felt the time was right to reach out to Griffith University and inspire the next generation.
“I started working with Myer from when I was about 18, and I stayed there until about 27,” she says. Beginning at the bottom, Rachelle was continually amazed and grateful at how the company valued her input and assisted her while completing her degree. “They just kept investing in me while I was studying, and then they promoted me the day I finished my studies to Account Executive, so they were just amazing,” she says.
Now that Rachelle is in a position of influence in a hugely successful company, she wants to make sure she can provide that same on-the-job training and support that she received. “I reached out to a couple of people at Griffith, and told them how I loved my time there and how Coles Myer had supported me extensively when I was studying and I wanted to try to proactively do the same thing for other students,” she explains.
And Rachelle certainly has a wealth of experience to learn from. She began working at Woolworths the moment she could, at 14 years and nine months, and has stayed involved in the retail sector ever since. “My dad worked at Woolworths for 43 years, so that probably influenced me to want to be involved in retail. I was in retail and exposed to it at a very early age and I had a real passion for it,” she says.
From there, she moved to Coles Myer, where she really started to shine. “Even though it wasn’t an internship, they really supported me with my degree and invested in me because they knew I was doing a retail major.
“One of the biggest projects I was involved in for Myer and Coles Myer was the massive change from gift vouchers to the gift card system,” she says. Rachelle was instrumental in seeing this project come to fruition, assisting with everything from partnering with card suppliers, opening the product up to over-the-counter sales, rather than just selling the cards to businesses as corporate incentives.
“We used to sell bulk merchandise and vouchers initially to companies for rewards and incentive loyalty programs,” Rachelle recounts. “But then I helped change the voucher to a card, and we launched with all the other Coles Myer brands such as Coles, Myer, Kmart, Officeworks and Target, and started selling it over the counter to consumers, and then my division sold to the corporate market to replace the vouchers we sold in bulk.”
But as soon as the gift card program had launched, the Griffith graduate began to get itchy feet. “I just kept thinking, ‘What else can I do now?’ and this idea to look overseas emerged.”
With no contacts in the overseas markets, Rachelle picked up the phone and started cold calling retailers. Eventually she got on to someone from Sainsbury’s who was very interested in what she had to say. “I told her I had worked for Coles Myer and we took our vouchers and then converted them to gift cards, and she said, ‘This is what Sainsbury’s want to do!’ And she told me I should be working for a gift card processor because I knew so much about the business.
“So I asked who I should speak to and she reached out to the CEO of a company called Prepay Technologies for me that afternoon.” And the Griffith alumnus says it all happened quite quickly from there. “He called me two hours later. The next morning I was in there interviewing with him, the CEO, the CFO, the CTO, that afternoon they offered me a job; I started the following Monday and I was there for ten years.
“By the time I left I was one of about five people that ran that company, and in about year two we won Sainsbury’s business for their gift card program, which was, at the time, one of the largest clients my company had secured.” She continues: “When I started they were tiny; 20 staff, three clients… by the time I left we had a couple of hundred staff, a couple of hundred programs, there were processing about seven billion euros of prepaid.”
After 10 years overseas she came home to work for a company in the same industry, EML, and last year she was promoted to CEO. Rachelle then turned to Griffith to source students for paid internships so she could give back in the same way that helped her when she was starting out. “I wanted to give people that opportunity to work in a relevant sector when they’re still studying, because that massively helped me.”
With the help of Griffith Business School, she found Evie and Damon, two students who have already provided EML with new ideas and perspectives since they came on board. Rachelle says she looked to GBS for her new interns because of her positive experiences while she was studying.
“The lecturers and the tutors were always brilliant,” she says. “The experience was very personalised. We has smaller classes and you learnt so much more. The degree itself was really practical, it wasn’t just theory… I loved Griffith and my time there. And since I reached back out to try and get Evie and Damon on board, the School has just been unbelievable. I was also invited to the GBS Alumni Dinner, which was amazing networking.
“I may have reached out to Griffith, but they reached out several times back so it’s just impressive how they want past students to stay involved with the university.”
She says the biggest bit of advice she would give students keen to follow in her footsteps is: “Just work hard and smart! You know, no one owes you anything. And no one is going to drive your career, that’s totally up to you to do that.”
Rachelle says if any other students are interested in similar internship opportunities with EML, they should contact GBS by emailing Lisa Cotterell at [email protected].