Katrina Johnson, Group General Counsel, joined WiseTech in March 2020, and has been a lawyer for over 22 years, with almost 19 years of dedicated in-house legal experience in high-growth technology companies.
We caught up with Katrina to find out why she’s passionate about the technology industry, how resilience helps us through challenging times, and why working at WiseTech is a career highlight for her.
Can you share a bit about your career journey?
I’ve worked in the tech industry for almost 20 years now, and I’m very passionate about the power of technology to improve outcomes for societies in general. My very first tech role was as an in-house lawyer in 2003 at eBay, and I spent about eight years there as their Legal and Government Relations Director for Australia and New Zealand, and that was a lot of fun. It was a foundational role to come in and be the first lawyer there, to help build out the legal team and function and do the lobbying work and build out a public policy program for the company and then help establish some of its new businesses as well.
One of those new businesses was PayPal, and that was an interesting challenge because back then there was no existing framework for a company like PayPal to exist, so working to get them regulated with a brand new type of license was really exciting. After about eight years, I relocated to San Francisco, so I worked in the heart of technology and during a time where there was a real explosion of new tech companies.
While I was in San Francisco, I was approached about a role with Uber, which at that time was still a reasonably early-stage local start-up in San Francisco . They asked me to be the first lawyer for Australia and New Zealand, so I relocated back to Australia with that role. With Uber I got to do some really interesting things, and getting sensible regulations put in place was one of them. To actually enable this new ride sharing service to become established with proper consumer-focused regulations, and help it to become very mainstream, was a fantastic career highlight.
Why did you decide to join WiseTech?
I joined WiseTech in March 2020, about a week before we moved to full-time remote working. My role here is as the Group General Counsel, which involves leading the global legal and corporate governance teams in building out our global legal and corporate governance functions, programs and frameworks, and really helping us to scale our support of the business.
I joined WiseTech because I was really drawn to the power of technology and how it can have a real impact on a global scale. That's really exciting to me. I had the opportunity to meet Richard (White) several years ago and learn more about the business, and I was very inspired by his vision and really fascinated by the growth journey, and the way he described what WiseTech was doing seemed really exciting to me. So I was really thrilled to be able to have the opportunity to join WiseTech when I did.
What's your experience been like joining WiseTech in the pandemic with remote working the hybrid model?
While it may not have been ideal timing to join an organization or to start building out a team, as someone who likes a challenge, it's been another type of challenge that I feel my team has adapted to quite well. It was a really good example of how everyone in the company really had to step up to that challenge, adapt to the new environment and get creative about how we can forge those relationships and build those networks and good operating rhythms with each other in this virtual environment.
The resilience at WiseTech is something that I've just been so just impressed with, and I've been so proud to see how everyone has stepped up to the challenge. My team members have been checking in and supporting each other, sharing workloads around, and helping each other to try to find a balance between their work and home lives, which has been wonderful to see.
From a business-perspective, it’s been fantastic to see how WiseTech has pivoted and adapted during the pandemic, too. Technology companies had a bit of an advantage when the pandemic hit, because the types of people drawn to tech are probably comfortable with a level of ambiguity, uncertainty and change. That was certainly the experience here at WiseTech. We’ve managed to achieve great things in terms of business growth and that’s really been a testament to the resilience of the people at WiseTech and the commitment to our global vision.
What’s your experience been working in the tech industry in a non-technical role?
I'm obviously a little biased after almost 20 years in tech companies, but I think it’s a fabulous industry to work in. I don't have a coding background, I'm not a software engineer, but there's still a role that non-technologists like me get to play in this industry, and our contributions can be really impactful.
The type of people that are attracted to tech companies tend to be people who enjoy thinking creatively and seeking alternative thoughts and testing ideas, and that really translates well for people who come from a different educational background.
I think tech companies are really great at embracing creative thinking and seeking diversity of opinion and thought too. It's part of what makes great software development, that creative abrasion process that we talk about at WiseTech. So I think bringing that different perspective and bringing your own unique contribution to the business is absolutely embraced and encouraged in technology companies.
Last year you won the Association of Corporate Counsel Australia’s 2021 General Counsel of the Year award. What did winning this award mean to you?
To me, these types of awards are always a reflection of the team, rather than the individual. So it was nice to see our team receive that recognition from peers in the industry as to the value that we try to bring to our organization. What we’ve achieved wouldn’t be possible without the team doing all the amazing things they do each day, so I really give credit to the team rather than myself. It’s really a testament to their dedication and hard work.
What’s a piece of advice that you've received that has helped you in your career?
Very early on in my career I had a boss whose mantra was that feedback is a gift, and that concept has really stuck with me. It sounds kind of corny, but at the heart of it, it’s really about being willing to seek and embrace feedback. It can feel uncomfortable, but if you can see it as a learning and growing experience it can be so valuable.
The other piece of advice that has been really helpful throughout my career is to surround yourself with people who will support you, and who can help create networks for you. So for people who are early in their career journey, I’d suggest seeking out the support of people who may be able to help in terms of forging those connections or giving you that good steer or advice.
What's an achievement (either at work or outside of work) that you are proud of?
I've been fortunate to have a lot of really memorable moments throughout my career, that I’m also really proud to have been part of. For example, getting PayPal licensed and setting up that framework to enable them to launch, or being part of the small team at Uber that helped get the regulations formed in APAC to enable ride sharing to be a distinct regulated category. I feel really proud to have been part of a team that achieved those results.
But a real highlight has to be where I am here at WiseTech Global. Every day I get to work with super talented, passionate people, on very complex problems at scale, which I really enjoy. I’ve had the opportunity to play a role in building out our legal and governance functions and frameworks to help support the fast-growing global business. That’s been awesome, especially being able to do that in Australia while working with people from all around the world. I think that’s a huge highlight for me from a career achievement perspective.
Finally, I’d have to say my greatest achievement is my family. I'm a proud mum to two awesome kids, and I learn from them every day. They’re a real inspiration for me.
What does diversity and inclusion mean to you?
To me, it's just so fundamental to being able to conduct business. Without diversity of thought or experience, you absolutely do yourself a disservice. Thinking about a problem from the most creative angles and having different views will always get you to a better outcome.
I think inclusion is really the key piece as well though. It's great to have diversity and that's super important, but you need to make sure that you give people real opportunity to bring their authentic selves to work and actually contribute and have an active voice. So those two things really go hand in hand.
I think there's a lot of ways in which diversity and inclusion can be represented or encouraged in our organization. I love what WiseTech has been doing in the diversity and inclusion space, particularly with neurodiversity. I'm the mother of an autistic son, so that really resonates with me. I'm very fortunate to be one of the co-executive sponsors on our diversity and inclusion programs globally, so we are looking forward to doing some really exciting things in this space in the future.
Would you encourage your children to pursue a career in technology?
Yes, absolutely. My son is nine and my daughter is seven and they’ve both already done code camps at their school. My son is phenomenal; he's actually been teaching some of his fellow classmates how to code in Scratch, which is a program that a number of young kids learn.
My daughter is also learning to code in Scratch as well. I think it's fantastic to see some of these young kids really get excited by the power of technology and realize that it can also be a lot fun and very engaging. I'm thrilled to see them happy and interested in what they’re learning, that’s what’s most important.