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AAP

2013-02-27

The chief executive of embattled surfwear brand Billabong says women have to ask for leadership roles, rather than expect to be offered the top jobs.

Launa Inman, one of the few female leaders of a major listed Australian company, says talented women often wrongly believe they will be headhunted for a senior position.

"I really learnt the hard way ... that you have to ask for it," she told an Australian Institute of Company Directors luncheon on the Gold Coast.

"For whatever reason, and I hate to generalise, women have a tendency to not necessarily push themselves forward and they always believe that if they're doing a great job they'll be tapped on the shoulder and they'll be given a promotion."

Ms Inman said that in 2004, she hadn't considered applying to be managing director of office supply chain Officeworks until a female human resources manager encouraged her to give it a go.

After some role playing preparations with her colleague Ms Inman, who nine years ago was still managing Target's apparel section, called John Fletcher, the then chief executive of the former Coles Myer group.

"I went in at 8 o'clock the next morning and we chatted for a while and he said to me, 'So why are you here?," she said.

"And I said, 'John, I would like to be considered for the role of managing director for Officeworks', and he turned around and said, 'I wondered when you were going to ask me. The job is yours'." When Ms Inman took over as Billabong chief last year, women comprised just 3.8 per cent of senior executive positions in ASX500 listed companies.

The Australian Securities Exchange requires companies to report on women in leadership roles but Ms Inman has not expressed an opinion about boardroom quotas.

While the Zimbabwean-born executive declined to field questions about private equity suitors Sycamore and Altamont VF doing due diligence on Billabong, she described her role leading a troubled company as challenging.

Ms Inman said that in recent times, Billabong had been getting more publicity than mining giant BHP Billiton, until Marius Kloppers was replaced as chief executive.

"We undoubtedly, as an organisation, are over indexed in publicity," she said. "We get more publicity than even BHP. Marius kind of outdid me last week but under normal circumstances, I think we even outdo them."

Stephen Johnson