From rural Nathalia to leading a world-class company. Our CEO, Gabrielle McMillan, shares her journey.
The following interview was originally conducted by Equiem Community Manager Andy Gott, for the @Rialto Portal.
Hello Gab! Tell us about what you do at Rialto, and how long you’ve been here.
I’m the CEO of Equiem, the company that created and operates the @Rialto Portal. I’ve been here in the building for just over five years. Equiem started on Level 37 before moving to 52, then to 38, then down to 3. We’re now on Level 6 South.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in regional Victoria in a very small town called Nathalia; a dairy farming and fruit growing district. As a child, I remember when we would come to the ‘big smoke’, seeing the blue lights of Rialto on the city skyline.
It still remains one of the most iconic buildings in Melbourne, and my own children now point it out when we drive across the Westgate or Bolte Bridge: "Mummy, that’s your building!”. It’s possible they think I own the whole building... and I don’t plan on correcting them.
How did the idea for Equiem develop?
Equiem really was born out of Rialto, starting as a conversation with the building owners – Grollo Group & St Martin’s Property – about five years ago. Lorenz Grollo outlined plans for the Rialto Regeneration, which would ultimately culminate in the redevelopment works we see today.
There was a clear and exciting strategy for a world-class update to the physical environment with more retail, more restaurants and the refurbishment of the hotel next door – and it needed a digital strategy to bring it all together.
It was very much an idea ahead of its time – to create a hyperlocal digital community that could bring occupants together and really open up the channels of communication between owners, managers, retailers and the people who work here every day.
We talked to the tenants of Rialto and refined the idea for an online platform that would connect and enhance the community. As we started to speak to other building owners and managers, we realised that this type of platform for commercial office towers didn’t exist anywhere in the world. And there it was... The opportunity to craft a successful global business.
Rialto has always had a heartbeat and strong culture, but Equiem’s model is now driving an industry-wide paradigm shift around commercial office management and tenant engagement.
There’s a growing realisation that the value of an asset goes beyond bricks, glass and office space and is actually about people, experience, lifestyle and community – something the owners of Rialto were smart enough to realise five years ago.
What has been the most rewarding aspect of creating a business from scratch?
The best businesses are those that start with a real problem and need. That’s been the success of Equiem to date. We started by solving a problem, and we continue to have that daily dialogue with our customers about how we can help solve their problems. It drives everything we do.
Personally, the aspect I find most rewarding about my role is growing and developing great people and teams. Our first employee started with us almost straight out of university and is now our national Head of Marketing.
The growth in the team overall has been enormous. We now employ close to 150 staff nationally, and they are an incredibly passionate, diverse and talented group of people.
It’s incredible to watch the business and the people evolve together. We’ve gone from baby to toddler business… I guess we’re probably a teenage business now – hoping to move out of home soon and go global!
What has been the biggest setback that you’ve had to overcome in your journey, and what did it teach you?
Wow, there have been so many failures I couldn’t begin to tell you. The learning is that you are not defined by your setbacks and failures – more so by how you react and respond to them.
All the truly successful people I know have had serious setbacks. I think those experiences actually shape you and make you a better leader – less arrogant, more accepting. I think when you start out as a manager you think you have to be good at everything, but the reality is you are better off focusing on what you are good at and hiring people that are smarter than you.
What was the best piece of advice someone gave you that you’d like to share with us?
Someone wise once said to me 'It’s a marathon, not a sprint', and that’s something I say to my team often. It’s good to go hard and fast, but the pace needs to be sustainable for you personally, and for the business. Taking that attitude also helps you deal with the inevitable small setbacks along the way.
What piece of advice would you give your 18-year-old self?
Don’t take yourself so seriously.
We get that answer a lot when we ask that question...
I’m not surprised! You realise you’re not that important. Other people are too busy worrying about themselves to think about you, so don’t be so worried about what other people think. Just accept yourself. Play to your strengths.
Why is International Women’s Day important to you?
To be completely honest, I’m looking forward to the day that we don’t need to focus so much on women in business or women in leadership roles – the day when it becomes the norm.
But right now we still have a serious lack of parity across the board – wages, leadership roles, board representation – and this is why initiatives like International Women’s Day are important. Until we find genuine balance and equality, both men and women do need to keep talking about it.
The funny thing is that I’ve got a huge number of women working for me, and a very high ratio in leadership roles, so perhaps I have the opposite problem! Are women more likely to hire women and vice versa?
What we do know is that high-performing teams typically include a diverse cross-section of people and skills – different cultures, backgrounds and genders, as well as different ways of communicating and thinking.
I would say that I think it’s important for women in business to be authentic and to play to their strengths. Women will do things differently to men and that’s great.
For women to be successful, we don’t need to do it the way men do and have done things. We have the capacity to be amazing leaders and businesspeople. Most women have fantastic business intuition.
What are you most grateful for?
I’m grateful for everything. I’ve had amazing opportunities, I work with an amazing team, I have an amazing family and, of course, I work in the coolest building in Melbourne – with coffee delivery to my desk every morning! What’s not to like?
Where is your dream travel destination that you haven’t made it to yet?
Perhaps Croatia, but there’s still a lot of places I want to visit. One day I’d like to investigate some really different cultures and less privileged places. I’d love to take my children to Africa and India.
One final question. What most excites you about the completion of the Rialto Regeneration?
Well... I happen to be in on a few secrets and can’t let the cat out of the bag, but this redevelopment will be one of the most significant of the last decade in this end of town and will ensure that the tenants of Rialto are even more spoilt than they are now. It will be great when I can find my way to the lifts in the morning, too!