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Women in Family Business Leadership Roles

Some of the largest and longest-lasting family businesses in the country are recognising the talent and unique skillset that women bring to the table. As a result, more women are being promoted into leadership roles. Why is this important?

In this episode, Cecily McGuckin of Queensland Steel and Sheet shares her insights on how she has grown herself as a leader and a business woman. Leading a business in a male-dominated industry presents a number of unique challenges and opportunities. Cecily shares how she overcame her biggest challenge in the family business, and gives away her top three tips for women in leadership roles.

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In this episode we cover:

  • The importance of personal development to business leaders
  • What do women leaders bring that is unique
  • The biggest challenge leading a family business and how to address them
  • 3 tips for women in leadership roles

Cecily’s contact details are



Full Interview Script

Joshna: Welcome and thank you everyone for taking a few moments out with us to watch Momentum Talks. I'm Joshna Daya, Co-founder and Director at Your Business Momentum. Today we have Cecily McGuckin from Queensland Steel and Sheet. Welcome, Cecily.

Cecily: Thank you very much, Joshna.

Joshna: It's lovely to have you with me today for this interview. Before we get started, I'd love to give you a quick introduction to Cecily. Cecily is the first and only female CEO in Australia's steel distribution industry. Cecily began her career in finance, but quickly stumbled upon an area she enjoys so much more, which was construction development management. And it's these experiences that's helped shape the leader Cecily is today, a problem solver and an out of the box thinker.

As a woman in a man's world, she has needed to prove herself time and time again, not just to her peers and staff, but her father who started the business from nothing. As a mother to three beautiful boys, she's passionate about driving change in her industry, and her family owned business, Queensland Sheet and Steel as it enters 34 years in business, which is really impressive. So welcome again, Cecily.

Cecily: Thank you.

Joshna: So today we're going to talk about women in leadership roles, particularly in the family business. And I'm really keen to get some of Cecily's insights. Interestingly, I first met Cecily at the Women and Family Business Conference and Cecily was on a panel with other family business owners and it was really interesting to get her insight, so I invited her all along for an interview.

So Cecily, let's kick off, as a mum and a businesswoman and a woman in a male dominated industry, how have you grown yourself as a leader in terms of your own personal development?

Cecily: I think personal development is really important, no matter what level you are in business. For me, I haven't gone down a road show podcasts or anything like that, or even books to be honest, I don't have probably the inclination to that more. I'm more probably I really like to be able to develop myself as I go along.

So, for me, I've spent a lot of time on looking at what I've done well in the past, or what I haven't done well in the past and ensuring that I kind of keep on tweaking with that, and working with that as much as I possibly can going to future. And leadership for me was one of those areas that have really kind of molded and changed over the years. One part of that too, was also looking at my previous latest that I've had, and kind of going I'm going to kind of grab bits and pieces so the stuff that I've gone that so fantastic and really got a lot out of it for myself. I've taken those on board and use that as a leader and other areas that I've kind of gone I just don't want to be like that and really made a concerted effort, kind of to keep those out of my leadership kind of direction really.

So to me, it's really a matter of looking at the past and learning from them, particularly bad experiences, I think, sometimes I think they're the ones as much as they that they're worse than others. It teaches you so much more, it really gives you an understanding of when things really do fall apart, how you kind of cope with that, and what you can do to ensure things are fixed in the future. So I suppose personal development for me, and for my team is really, really important. That's something that I focus a lot on.

Joshna: It's so true, what you're saying there, Cecily, I think and I find this in my own experience as well. We tend to learn more from the more challenging experiences and sometimes what we might term as the negative experiences. But that's in fact, what helps us grow because as they say, just being in our comfort zone, we tend to learn very little from that.

Cecily: Very much, yes, I agree. And so with the perspective of looking at business and wanting to make sure we keep on pushing ourselves to make sure we look in the future as well, which is really important.

Joshna: Yes, totally agree. So, Cecily, I'm interested, as a leader, woman leader in a family business, I'm keen to hear your perspective on what you think women leaders bring that is unique.

Cecily: Look, I think women do bring a very different leadership style to men. And I really think that because has attributes that I believe so many businesses can really flourish from, if I just give a woman a chance to lead and see what that looks like. I think one thing for me and after speaking to the female ladies, I do believe we have a tendency of looking into the future, not just of the right now, and always kind of preparing of what that looks like to make sure that we're kind of future proofing our businesses and evolving as it needs to so it's really kind of, I think women have a tendency to really look at that. I think something that women really have a great ability to do is take on their guts really listen to that. I think personally for me, my natural gut instincts paired with having all the facts really guides me in to be able to actually make decisions for the business. And women, I think, have a really great ability to hone in on that, and really kind of focus on that to make decisions.

Another part of that I think women have a great ability to do is really look at their emotional intelligence when they're dealing with staff, or even contractors or actually their customers. You have to make sure that when you look at a situation that you are looking from the perspective not only yourself, but also from your customers, or your staff.

And so I think women really do have that ability to be able to kind of look at that from a lot of different perspectives, not only emotionally but what's happening with those people in the background and all those things. So, women do have that. I'm not saying that men don't have it. I'm sure what men do think women just have a heightened ability to be able to look at that and really be able to work out what the decisions you can make based on keeping your emotions in check and also keeping egos at the door, which I think is really important.

Joshna: Sure. You've talked about quite a few different things there, Cecily. You've talked, what I've heard you say is this tendency to be quite future thinking, a tendency to really follow your gut instinct, and also being in tune with emotion around the emotional intelligence around making decisions.

And I guess, when I reflect on that, one of the things that comes up for me, is how often we're told to take the emotion out of business. And, I remember years ago hearing that and it goes against everything that we were taught in the past and I absolutely believe it's having that emotion that drives the passion and you know that our guess leads us to sort of making those real decisions and really connecting with people as well.

Cecily: Yeah, and I think with that, you've got to be able to really keep your emotions in check as well. So it's a matter of being able to address situation, and really kind of take everyone's perspective into it, to be able to make the right decisions going forward.

So, you know, I think there's a lot of this about women are very emotional. But from my perspective, I really kind of feel that, it's not that at all, I think women really have an ability to look at things quite vast, and look at a lot of different areas to be able to make a decision for business.

So for me, I really think that's something that women can really bring to the table. Because again, when you look at it, a man's perspective is very different for a woman's and to be able to have those two working together is something that a business should definitely look at. There's no right or wrong. I'm not saying that women should be chosen over men. I just think that we should be given the opportunity and been changed to be able to have a say at that table, because it's allowing a business to have a different perspective I haven't had before. And that can open their eyes in doing things that can really enhance their businesses.

Joshna: Totally. And I think just to further what you said there, it's just having those different lenses, because both men and women bring different perspectives to the table and are able to view things through a different lens.

Cecily: Yes, without a doubt. And neither's wrong, neither's right, but being able to work as a team. Collaboration for me is really, really important. So to be able to have a group of people that have different perspectives, is really important for the growth of any business into personal development too. If you're getting a perspective from someone else that you're used to hearing the same thing and someone else gives you that different kind of perspective. It's a great thing for you to be able to evolve your own personal development as well and your business.

Joshna: Thank you, Cecily, that's a great insight there for all of us. I'm keen to understand, from your perspective being involved in leading a family business now, what has been your biggest challenge leading a family business? And how have you addressed this challenge, Cecily?

Cecily: Look, I think there is a really huge difference between a family business and a corporate business. You've basically got an added complexity when you bring “a family” into that equation. And that's certainly not a complex layer for the family but that's also for the people who work for you as well. There's an extra dynamic that's thrown into the mix that you really have to be conscious of as a leader, and also within the people that work for you.

And I really think one of the main parts also being in a family business is you really have to look at it and have to work a lot harder, because you basically have a business that is, whether it's second, third or fourth generation that you've seen your family members create this business, sometimes from nothing. And so there's an extra layer to that you really need to make sure that you can succeed it and take it to the next generation. So there's an extra level of pressure that's on there as well. And then you put in me, the fact that you've got to prove yourself that you weren't just given this role, because you're a family member, you were given this role, because you're the right fit. So again, it's proving yourself to not only your team, to the industry, but also to your family who's put you in that position in first place, that you are the right fit, and can take that to the next generation, because it's all about building the business to be able to ensure that it keeps on growing and goes to that next generation. And so for me, that's such an added kind of extra layer to a business that really does make it complex.

But you know what we are saying that family businesses have such a different outlook. So I think because so many Australian businesses a family business and I know from my perspective, when I want to hire, when I want to have a business and I look at a corporate family, I would tend to go for the family business because I understand what that looks like. And we can kind of have a relationship there that's different from a corporate entity because you kind of had that same kind of journey. So there's benefits on being family. But there's also the added kind of complexity with that when you have a family business in check as well.

Joshna: And from what I'm hearing you say that it sounds like you know, it comes with many challenges it presents there's also the upside as well and it's just about how we manage that.

Cecily: Exactly. And I think communication is a major part to that. It’s communication within your family, it's communication within your staff as well for them all to be able to understand whether the transition going on from one generation to the next or bringing someone new into the business for them to understand how the businesses run. So that's all really important that really when it comes down to it, communication is at the crux of any business but family business, you need to make sure that everyone's really on board and communication is the basis for that.

Joshna: Okay, beautiful. Thank you. What are your top three tips for women in leadership roles, Cecily?

Cecily: My top three is, my first thing is basically making sure that you are able to back yourself now sometimes that's really difficult, you know, you can have times where you don't think you've got the skill base. So, for me by backing myself, I've now got people behind me that are backing me.

So again, for me, the most important thing is having the right tribe of people behind you, so they can give you the strength and give you a perspective to be able to keep on pushing yourself in whatever industry you're in. You don't have to be out later to be able to have that you can be in any kind of level. And it's so important, I believe, for people, women to really have someone want to whether it be many people that you can talk to, because from my perspective, growing up, I saw my dad growing his business and he didn't have that support network and for me I took a really long time to make sure I had that and didn't feel alone.

Because sometimes you do running a business, you are doing this by yourself. And so to be able to have people that, you know, I've got your back, that's one thing that I believe women can really, really get strength from, and kind of really push themselves further than I think maybe that can. The other two I've mentioned before is really listening to your guts, and also that emotional intelligence piece that for me is really important when dealing with any business. Those are three areas that I believe that women can really can of focus on to be able to make and succeed in any level of business.

Joshna: You said a lot of key things there Cecily and I’ll just summarize that. So what I heard you say was, number one, it's really important for you to back yourself, and in turn have the tribe that you create that backs you. I also heard you say, follow your gut instinct and what you talked a little bit about earlier how important it is to, for us to trust our gut instinct. And the third one was really around the emotional intelligence piece as well in terms of using that different lens, which can certainly help us in our decision making and the way we look at things forward.

Cecily: Exactly, cause cultures become such a loud kind of piece of media now this days. And for me, that's something that I've always kind of focused on quite naturally. And every business needs to be able to do that for you to be able to build a culture, you need to be able to be able to be confident in that position, be able to kind of back your staff and that creates loyalty in itself by doing that. So by backing yourself and having that confidence, you can back that to the people who work for you, and be able to give them that confidence that they're working in a business that gives them support and that all comes down to the culture of the business and people feeling valued.

Joshna: And that's how I suppose part of the attributes of strong leadership, isn't it? Having that confidence, having the vision and then backing yourself,  backing your team as well.

Cecily: Very much, totally agree.

Joshna: So, Cecily, with everything you've achieved, obviously, the business in its 34th year, what would you like to achieve next?

Cecily: Well, I think USS is still going to be my main focus for a very long time to come. I do feel the last 10 years, I've now created a really great structure for the business, and we have really an amazing team that I just can't fold so I'm very lucky in that regard. So, the focus really will always be on QSS for the time being.

What I also like to do is push myself out of my comfort zone, and to be able to help others as much as I can. So I'm working on a fundraiser early next year to build a domestic violence shelter. I don't do event planning, but I'm doing this to be able to create awareness for this amazing cause. And that's not something that I'm normally in. But again, it's just pushing myself outside and an area that I'm not used to doing.

I also really like to take the time to kind of give people the perspective that I've had what I've experienced the last 10 years, particularly in my business, working in a family business being in a very male dominated environment, and been able to give people a bit of insight on that because there is light at the end of the tunnel and some people are in the middle of that and can't see it. So things like this interview is really important for me to be able to be a mentor for some people and also doing other panel members, like we talked about earlier in that conference, so maybe able to give back is really, really important for me babble to kind of be the backup for other people like I was talking about before.

So not only taking but making sure I'm giving back is really, really where I'm at because I've got three young boys I want to be able to show them that giving is just as important as running a business. There's all these other things that you can still do to be able to support whether it's in your business or outside it.

Joshna: Beautiful, certainly very inspirational Cecily and look forward to following your journey along the way.

So thank you for that very short interview, really appreciate it having you with me today. Now for anyone watching Momentum Talks if you would like to reach out to Cecily. She can be found on You're welcome to have a look at their website which is Thank you and we look forward to seeing you on the next Momentum Talks. Thank you, Cecily.

Cecily: Thank you.

  • Cecily McGuckin

    Cecily McGuckin

    Cecily McGuckin, the first and only female CEO in Australia’s steel distribution industry, she is passionate about driving change in her industry and her family owned business, Queensland Sheet and Steel (QSS) as it enters 34 years in business. Cecily began her career in finance but quickly stumbled upon an area she enjoyed so much more.

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