Q&A: Georgina Whalley, Interim CEO (UK) and Global CMO, Openpay


Georgina Whalley knows a thing or two about pivots. After a career in retail, including roles as group marketing director at New Look and global head of marketing at BHS, she joined the fintech sector as global chief marketing officer at Australian payments provider Openpay in 2019.

Late last year, Georgina pivoted again when she became interim CEO of Openpay’s UK operations, adding general management on top of her ongoing CMO responsibilities. She took some time out of her understandably busy schedule to talk to ORESA about leadership, careers and the state of fintech.

What does it take to be successful as a new CEO?

Georgina: It’s understanding your business and having a really clear strategy. I know it’s a cliché to talk about your North Star, but you need to know where you’re heading. Then you have to make sure the whole team understands that and the role they play in it. It’s as simple as that.

Why does leadership matter to growth?

Georgina: When a business is at the top of its field, it can get complacent, perhaps thinking that it doesn’t need to worry about leadership because it’s doing so well. But no matter where they are in the market, leaders need to be thinking constantly about the companies that are gunning for their top spot, or about reaching the top spot themselves. Complacency starts at the top.

How important is a purpose beyond profit to long-term growth?

Georgina: For businesses to be really successful they need to take a holistic view, which includes their wider purpose. That could be about becoming a B Corp, working with charities, looking at how you can become carbon neutral, or for Openpay helping people become financially literate. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a social purpose but there needs to be a mission that is simple and connected to what your business is, rather than a bolt-on. Otherwise your people won’t believe it.

We often hear that tech has a diversity and inclusion problem. Has that been your experience?

Georgina: I do think it has a problem, yes. Again, this has an impact on performance. By having a greater mix of talent from different backgrounds and perspectives, you’ll have a richer pool of people that will understand your customers, generate better ideas and create a more vibrant, less one-dimensional culture. As leaders it’s about making sure that the people who build teams are looking at more diverse sources of talent, and themselves encouraging different people into the business.

In many businesses, ‘tech people’ and ‘business people’ can seem to speak entirely different languages. How can you bridge that divide?

Georgina: Most people are uncomfortable when they don’t understand something, and if you’re not from a tech background it can be daunting. But once you take away some of the jargon, you realise that as a business person you don’t need to know how to write code, you just need to understand the product and ask the right questions. As for bridging the divide, it comes back to having that clear vision again, respecting the value that tech-focused and business-focused people each bring, and understanding that one cannot work without the other.

In a nutshell, how is technology changing your sector and what opportunities are coming down the line?

Georgina: Consumers expect things to be done easily, seamlessly and quickly, at the touch of a button. They want choice and flexibility. In our industry, buy-now-pay-later tech – plus things like social payments where friends can easily split a bill – allows that. I think we’ll see banks getting involved, and we’ll start to see fintech being used more in sectors like healthcare, home improvement and automotive. I also think we’ll see the growing influence of crypto over the next few years.

What have been the most difficult, interesting and unusual times in your career?

Georgina: The most difficult was returning to work after I had my daughter. I wanted to come back gradually and work a four-day week, but flexible working wasn’t a consideration for my employer at the time, so I ended up leaving. No one should feel like they have to make the choice between their career and being a parent, especially after working somewhere for several years and doing a great job. Fortunately the world has moved on a lot since then.

The most interesting has been the last few years in fintech – it’s completely different, completely new, a fast-growing sector where you’re constantly learning.

As for unusual, a wonderful part of my work in retail marketing was being able to travel the world for photo shoots and video productions with celebrities and influencers. Looking back at being in the middle of the desert with a celebrity on a Harley Davidson, in a suit, in 40 degree heat – it’s a little surreal but I was privileged to have those experiences.

Any career advice for ambitious young people entering your sector today?

Georgina: Believe in yourself and your abilities. You’re there for a reason. I’ve also had a lot of people over the years saying to me ‘you’re too nice, you need to be a bit tougher’. You do need to be firm and fair, but I don’t think you need to be aggressive to be successful. Treat people with respect.

Share this Article

Growth and Leadership

We demystify challenges by fresh thinking and seeking continual improvement. Browse our content here.

We demystify challenges by fresh thinking and seeking continual improvement. Browse our content here.