Power Women: Deborah Thomas

Power Women: Deborah Thomas

Bauer's director of media, public affairs and brand devlepoment, Deborah Thomas, is a one woman media powerhouse. Here she talks career, child-care and Kerry Packer, as the sixth distinguished female in our Power Women series.

B&T Magazine
Posted by B&T Magazine

The Deborah Thomas brand is one which boldly bridges disparate sectors of publishing, politics, broadcasting, reality TV, and motherhood. She's the gatekeeper of Bauer's massive Australian magazine stable, the glam, if not formidable, front-woman of Celebrity Apprentice, local councillor on Sydney's Woollahra council, former model, wife, and mother to a young son. 'All-rounder' is an understatement.  

In forging their paths to the top, many powerful people extol the virtues of single-mindedness and determination to reach specific goals. But Thomas' path was paved with creative experimentation. After school she studied fine art, moved to Europe and became a model to support herself and her travels. 

On her return, a course at NIDA in theatre design led her to a role as head of graphics and design at production company Crawford Productions, and then a stint in computer graphics at Channel Nine. After some freelance jobs for street press and a role in an advertising agency, the game suddenly changed. 

"A call from Lisa Wilkinson, then editor of Cleo, changed my life and I started at the magazine as beauty and lifestyle editor in 1987," she says. She soon found herself as editor of Elle Australia, then editor of the iconic Australian Women's Weekly, steering it away from tabloid fluff back to its roots of real women with real stories. 

Magazines are her bread and butter. It's a sector driven by females and one in which "women support women". "I believe the boys' club mentality is more of an issue across TV and newspapers," she observes. 

That's not to say she hasn't experienced her fair share of alpha males. For years, Thomas worked directly with Kerry Packer. "Working with someone like Kerry Packer, you need to be direct and state your case with confidence, and the facts at hand," she explains. "He did not suffer fools and admired people who spoke their mind, whether he agreed with you or not. He had a nose for BS like no other." 

Thomas spent her childhood in colonial Pakistan, her father stationed there for his work. The cultural exoticism of the Middle East was a far cry from a parochial and isolated Australia, and to this day Thomas singles out her five years there as her most formative.

Returning to Australia in the '60s, it was unusual to have a mother who worked full time, but Thomas' did. "She taught my sister (now a barrister) and me that in order to be free to do whatever we wanted we needed financial independence – that education and hard work are the keys to a successful career," Thomas explains. 

To encourage diversity at senior level in media, Thomas believes companies need to "make more of an effort to make sure women are given the tools and training they need to achieve their full potential". 

But hurdles can be closer to home. "Sometimes the roadblocks can be other women, who, feeling insecure, pull up the trap door behind them. We need to support each other," she insists. 

When it comes to the challenges of childcare, Thomas gets around this by having a husband who works from home and is a primary carer for their son.  

As for the future of the industry she helps drive, she believes print and digital will continue to work alongside each other. The medium will never be the message. "Content is, and will always be, king, and magazines will continue to provide credible, well-curated content that is relevant to readers across a variety of platforms."

She also singles out the NBN as key in enabling the development of new ways for people to interact with magazine brands. 

As mentor to dozens of females, and males, in the magazine world, Thomas knows a thing or three about being a good boss. Critical is "being open, fair and willing to listen as well as having the ability to spot good talent attract it and nurture it," she says. 

But the commandment she lives by is simple and universal: "Treat others as you would expect them to treat you."