Kristen Foster eBay, Director Government Relations - Believe in What You’re doing...
To someone as vivacious and inspirational as Kristen Foster, thoughts of the cultivation of moss under her feet are anathema. She has reached for the sky and one gets the feeling that even there brooks no limitation. Kristen is currently on eBay's AUNZ Leadership team and Asia Pacific GR management team as Director, Government Relations and Corporate Affairs, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and South East Asia.
For a country town girl who “punched above my weight early”, the cliché she adopts to describe her entry into the world six weeks premature in the Central West New South Wales town of Dubbo, there is a consistency in technique. To further the pugilistic analogy, she is the consummate well rounded country girl at ease in the Heavyweight division of global and regional politics and public policy.
Kristen is the eldest daughter of two schoolteachers. She is proud of her upbringing in country New South Wales, a ‘fantastic environment’ where the values of hard work, human decency and community knitted a fabric that shaped her in the walk of life ever since.
“You can’t take the country out of the girl—ever!” she says, echoing sentiments of a bygone era, transporting one to imagine strolling around Dubbo as a complete stranger and yet being welcomed by all. The zoo is famous as much for the locals as it is for that renowned tourist facility.
Kristen’s promise bloomed at an early age. Proficient in music, she played the cornet for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth during her visit to the town in the 1990s and delivered a public speech of welcome on behalf of Australian students.As a child in the 1980s and 1990s, Kristen had a typical country childhood surrounded by two younger brothers with whom she remains close to this day.
“We hurtled around on BMX bikes, climbed trees and built cubby-houses. We spent a lot of time on sporting fields, on debating teams and playing music. We were a family of all-rounders. Mum and Dad would drive us all across the State and Australia to pursue our talents,” she offers as these positive reminiscences of her early life drift across her face.
There is emphasis on family values and their inculcation by caring, devoted parents. Both were indefatigable in pursuing better conditions for teachers and students stimulating an interest in music and sports. Her father actively trained and developed some of the most prodigious country rugby league talent in Australian schoolboys from the local level to national representation. Her mother focussed on improving literacy levels for indigenous students in infants and primary schools.
She was a brilliant student then with a 98.7% High School Certificate result at Dubbo South High School that could take her anywhere.
“Being the advocate that I am,” she chose journalism and political science winning a scholarship to undertake her degree at the top communications school at Charles Sturt University. Her leadership and mentoring skills were recognised there and she was appointed a residential adviser in her final year. This entailed her being in charge of a dormitory of up to thirty students. But early recognition extended beyond University confines.
With a BA majoring in communications and minoring in politics in hand, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) gave her a chance.
“I was plucked by the ABC and offered an internship.” Kristen did not vacillate at the opportunity and had the wonderful experience of working at one of the ABC’s flagship programs, Radio National, with people such as Peter Thompson (now ‘Talking Heads’ presenter on the ABC), Pru Goward (now the Member for Goulburn and Australia’s first Minister for the Prevention of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault) and current host Fran Kelly (one of the country’s most experienced and respected journalists).
But mixing with ABC stalwarts was just the start of indulging a passion she had for government and current affairs. She covered Canberra budget nights and federal elections, as well as global issues such as the Northern Ireland peace agreements, seeing first-hand the internecine mix of politics and implementation of public policy at domestic and global levels.
After three and a half years at the national broadcaster she took a position at the Australian Medical Association entering the world of its first powerful female President Dr Kerryn Phelps AM.
“The ABC was the perfect apprenticeship for my role at the AMA. Critically, it gave me the grounding to prepare core messages and briefing notes on complex issues. We also ran highly effective lobbying campaigns, including safe working hours for junior doctors in the public hospital system”.
Kristen loved her time in that position, marvelling at the capacity and ingenuity of her boss. At the same time she soared in her understanding of the functions of the public health system, the efficacious delivery of its services to consumers, especially at the rural level, and the prudent governance thereof.
Around this time, she completed a Master’s Degree in International Relations at the University of New South Wales on a part time basis, while working full-time, realising that she wanted to develop a broader outlook and insight into the wider global body politic.
Kristen moved on to the NSW Law Society and came to work with another capable female leader , Kim Cull (now the Federal Aged Care Pricing Commissioner) At this stage of her career, coinciding with her studies, she yearned for further feathers to her wings and undertook an internship sabbatical at the United Nations in New York. Her principal duties involved more policy summaries and collations this time at a very complex level.
“It was just after 9/11. The world was changing. It was an intensely political environment. One of the things we were doing was writing briefings to senior UN officials about what was being said in Congress on global matters. Meeting Koffi Annan was a real highlight, but to be frank, after my time there I wanted to get back to Australia and contribute to politics and policy back home”.
Another reason, it emerged, was of the heart. She was missing her future husband and resumed at the Law Society. To earn her stripes in seeing how government worked at the local level, she was convinced by her mentors that a move to Canberra would be propitious.
There, as the lead lobbyist for the Institute of Chartered Accountants, she had the pleasure of being pivotal in promoting the establishment of an Inspector-General of Taxation and in the campaign for a National Professional Indemnity Insurance scheme for the accountancy profession.
Pregnant with her first child, Kristen and her husband, Preston, returned to Sydney where she was employed by the Financial Institute of Australasia (Finsia, then the Securities Institute).
“I wanted exposure to the workings of multinational corporations and the Financial Services Institute of Australasia gave me the chance to expand the parameters of my learning across a range of corporates in the financial services sector.”
The new parents, then in their late 20’s, welcomed Hugo in December 2004. Just ten weeks later she had resumed working full time. Notwithstanding her new young family and demanding positions, Kristen managed to complete another Master’s Degree in Public Policy at the University of Sydney, graduating with Honours and completing a thesis on whether Australia could have a US style Presidential election campaign in a Westminster political system.
Their second child Jemima, followed in August 2007. She spent almost four years expanding her horizons at Finsia before working at FOXTEL leading its corporate affairs function and then becoming a senior business leader for Fortune500 multinational company, Genworth (formerly a company of General Electric) That role sent her to the US, London, Brussels, France, Spain, Italy, Ireland and Basel in Switzerland, as well as Canberra. Such duties moved her into the realm of mortgage insurance and the coinciding period, the Lehman Brothers collapse and the ensuing global financial crisis (GFC), was a testing time both intellectually and in a practical sense.
“My boss, Garry Miller was formerly a senior Executive of General Electric for 30 years. He taught me how multinationals work. We ran effective international advocacy campaigns across multi-jurisdictions on highly complex regulatory and legislative issues such as the US sub-prime crisis. These core issues were being discussed at the G20, OECD and domestic government levels. I developed an appreciation that mortgage Insurance was integral in allowing Mums and Dads access to the housing market and learnt many lessons from that period about effective lobbying campaigns.”
She was four years on the other side of the world travelling extensively before being headhunted by Visa. Kristen was on Visa's Australasian business leadership team—leading government affairs and public policy across the Australasian region. She worked closely with Visa's executives in the US and Singapore and focussed her efforts on core issues such as interchange fee regulations and credit card surcharging, “we had major wins on both those issues”, she says. Kristen represented Visa at the 2014 Australian American leadership bilateral dialogue in Washington DC and New York (attended by select leaders of US and Australian Governments and businesses).
Having managed two Master’s degrees amidst an onerous workload and family commitments, Kristen has also completed an Executive Program at Harvard University’s JFK School of Government in Boston US & another program via INSEAD.
Two years ago, she started work with eBay. A belief in the brand, ecommerce and eBay’s culture of giving back lured her to the internet trading conglomerate.
“In simple terms, through eBay, my country home town of Dubbo, and small businesses on eBay there, can do business with the world.”
Her role oversees the legislation, policies and Free Trade Agreements that allow the seamless movement of goods and services across borders. Reporting in to Brussels she leads the government relations function for Australia\, New Zealand, Japan and the South-East Asian region and in addition Kristen works closely with colleagues in US HQ in Silicon Valley as well as regional HQ in Singapore.
Kristen liaises closely with the US, EU and APAC teams. She worked across eBay Inc's major businesses (eBay & PayPal), prior to the separation and creation of two independent companies, in July 2015.
Kristen attends eBay’s global Leaders Summits as a senior leader and is part of eBay’s Womens’ Initiative Network which featured Secretary Hillary Clinton at its March 2015 Summit in California. She represented eBay at the Asia Pacific American Chambers of Commerce Congress ‘Doorknock’ in Washington DC in June 2016 and 2015 and was selected as a delegate for the US Department of State’s inaugural “Innovation Roadshow” in Jakarta in March 2016, as part of the Obama Administration’s US ASEAN Connect, under the leadership of US Secretary of State John Kerry.
The statistics on eBay’s influence in international and national transactions are enough to give anyone looking to open their business to the world cause to take notice. Small businesses exporters through the medium presently account for 88%.
“eBay is the place where the world comes to buy and sell. Nearly 90% of the goods sold are brand new. In Australia there are more than 28,000 small businesses on eBay and seventy of the top one hundred retailers are also on eBay including Myer, The Good Guys, Target,” Kristen relates.
The concept does boggle the mind when Kristen provides illustrations of the practical reach of eBay are outlined.
“A consumer in Sydney can buy a product from a ‘mumpreneur’ in mid-western America or a ‘greypreneur’ in Birmingham UK can transact with an avid collector of vinyl records in Goondiwindi or an artisan jeweller in Thailand.”
Ongoing challenges have been met with ingenuity and sensible adaptation. In the case of significant purchases, rather than raising eyebrows by shipping to a work address or encountering the disruption through an inability to deliver when consumers are not at home, an increasing trend has seen goods being collected at major retail outlets by purchasers at their convenience. This comes about through the ‘click and collect’ facility.
One of the major advantages with eBay’s platform is the gathering in one spot of numerous retailers’ wares to save the surfer from the tedium of searching hundreds of individual websites.
“We have a ‘deals page’ where the lowest prices for goods are on offer. It’s very popular with our user community.”
Not surprisingly, Kristen’s particular remit within the organisation has been inter-government relations. In that capacity she has been very supportive of the ground-breaking Trans-Pacific Partnership established under the stewardship of former trade minister Andrew Robb and the concept of free trade generally.
She is providing input into the debate about the applicability of the GST in the internet trading mix. The federal government will soon be presenting legislation on that topic to the parliament.
“Australians who buy from overseas sellers are (currently) required to pay GST and excise duties when the value of the goods exceeds $1,000. The Australian Government is proposing to lower this. This isn’t consistent with our major trading partners such as the US, which recently moved to increase theirs from $200US D to $800 USD. That said, we will have a more definitive position when the exposure draft legislation is release. We continue to work with the Treasury and policymakers on the Hill on this consumer issue”.
It seems more than a few consumers will be interested in the incidence of GST debate given that eBay’s reach is so widespread with 11 million monthly visitorsin Australia alone and an active base of 164 million users globally. The live listing market has now passed the one billion mark.
What is even more surprising is the remarkable increase in mobile phone usage to effect transactions. More than 60% of traffic to eBay is a via mobile, and this number is growing.
“People are purchasing anything from engagement rings to Range Rovers from their mobile phone.”
One other example that spikes the imagination is the example of a small business called, ‘Lucky Pets’ in Australia supplying customers as far afield as Azerbaijan with pet products.
There is a soul to the eBay operation beyond mere commerce as Kristen relates.
“Oprah Winfrey sold a large quantity of her clothing using the medium with the proceeds going to benefit girls suffering extreme poverty in South Africa. Then there’s our partnership with the federal parliamentary press gallery in Canberra which has raised many millions for charity through the annual ball.”
Taking eBay in its soul direction is something with which Kristen is very comfortable, happy to announce that support for the less well-off and the needy, as well as supporting young entrepreneurs, is consistent with her personal vision.
She is mindful of her family, extolling the encouragement she has enjoyed from her husband and the support of her children.
“My husband pushed me to do that executive program at Harvard and has been a strong supporter of my career from the get go... My corporate roles have all involved a lot of domestic and international travel to move the needle on regulatory issues for those global businesses. While I’m on the road, my husband’s back home working full time too and making sure our family runs smoothly. We’re an effective team, he’s got my back and I’ve got his. Frankly, our weekends are all about our kids”.
Motherhood has played a significant part in her raison d’etre and accomplishments. She says she wouldn’t be the person she is today without her children, “they’ve taught me what’s important in life and to not sweat the small stuff. I’m enjoying watching them grow, and first and foremost being their mum. We stay connected when I’m away from work, using nightly facetime and Skype and regular SMS when I’m away. And I’m the usual sports and taxi mum on the weekend. Our family motto is always give 100%, be happy in all you do, make the most of your opportunities and respect everyone”.
Outside of the corporate world, Kristen is a Heart Foundation Ambassador and was on its Great Wall of China half marathon team in 2015. She is is a Board member of Holy Family Catholic Primary School Lindfield helping steer with her Board colleagues the school’s new “Leader in Me” program (based on Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits). Kristen relished her position as team coach for Lindfield's junior netball association and her daughter’s netball team for 3 years.
She is ever ready to speak lovingly of her children.
“They have helped to fashion me into a well-rounded person and I couldn’t operate at this level without them.”
She has also derived inspiration from the many effective women with whom she has both worked and negotiated (including political leaders on the global stage). But her advice to others starting out in a career goes back to personal attributes and motivation rather than some esoteric pronouncement in short-story form.
“Believe in what you’re doing, work hard, give back and make a difference”.
She is living proof of this simple ethos for success.
by A. Charles Smith