New Governor ready for business

When Kerry Sanderson moves her family into Government House tomorrow night, it is not her two adult sons she is worried about, but a mischievous puppy named Kiki.

Mrs Sanderson, who will be sworn in on Monday as WA's first female Governor, was initially a reluctant recruit. Key to her taking on the role was Jarrad and Jason agreeing to move, with the dog, to the historic residence on St Georges Terrace.

The boys are well behaved and a "social asset", she says, albeit as daunted as their mother by the prospect of her new appointment. Kiki, not so much.

A rampaging ball of energy in the form of a seven-month-old kelpie cross, prone to exuberant greetings, Kiki will probably find herself confined to an upstairs balcony when tour groups and dignitaries visit.

"It's not that she's bad but they have children's tours coming into the house," Mrs Sanderson said. "She loves kids and would go rushing up and jump all over them.

"Three days a week, the gardens are open to the public and people sit on the lawn and eat their lunch - she would love that, too. In any event, I haven't quite worked out what to do!"

Mrs Sanderson had been relishing time with family and friends and working with a "really interesting portfolio" of companies and charities when Colin Barnett asked her to come in for a meeting.

He didn't say what it was for, but in the end it turned out to be an offer she couldn't refuse.

"The Premier asked me and I was hesitant. I explained to him the reasons why, that I was really enjoying what I was doing," she said.

Kerry Sanderson, WA Governor-designate in the Government House reception room. Picture: Mogens Johansen/The West Australian


"He said, 'Think about it for a week'. In that week, I came around. I admit, I did make time to see (former governor) Ken Michael, to ask him about it, because he has been a friend for many years.

"I really thought a lot about it and I hadn't before said no to something like this. I would have really wanted it in about five years time, if I had my druthers . . . but it is a wonderful opportunity.

"At the end of the week, I rang (Mr Barnett) up and said yes. Now I feel very excited about it."

Mrs Sanderson has always been close to her sons but became even more so after the loss in 2007 of her husband and their father, Lancelot "Lance" Sanderson.

Mr Sanderson, an accomplished telecommunications engineer and his wife's childhood sweetheart, battled cancer for a year and his death was the most difficult time in her life.

She and her sons have almost always lived together, even when she moved to London the following year to be WA's first female Agent-General.

These days, their relationship is not so much parent-child - "we're more friends who share the cooking" - but it remains the most important thing to her. Jarrad, 30, is studying veterinary science and Jason, 24, is an engineer working fly-in, fly-out to Pannawonica with Rio Tinto.

"I was most concerned that I didn't want it (the Governor's job) to drive us apart, so I said to my sons, 'Look, would you come with me? With your support, I can do lots of things but if we are not together, it is very difficult'," she said.

A schoolgirl in Perth


"They are scared as well but they will give it a go . . . my sons have been pretty wonderful, really."

A highly respected public servant and businesswoman, Mrs Sanderson has been involved in a dizzying array of companies, committees and charities, covering everything from mining to health and science, disability to shipping and trade, transport to Rottnest Island.

Her philosophy - to take opportunities when they are offered - goes back to her days as a university graduate. Despite a double major in mathematics, she was told, wrongly, that she wouldn't get a computing job because she was a woman.

Discouraged, she applied for a role with the State government and was asked if she would consider working for the Department of Treasury.

"I thought no, I didn't want to, but I didn't say that," she said. "I said, 'Of course, I would love to'. He then said, 'Would you like to study economics part time' and, again, I said, 'Yes, of course'.

"What that taught me was that this was a job that I initially thought no, I don't want to do it, yet I really enjoyed," she said. "My philosophy has been, how can you know you won't like something until you try it?"

Kerry Sanderson with her late husband, Lance, and sons, Jarrad and Jason.


She worked there for 17 years, rising to be director of the economic and financial policy division. She married Lance at 21 but didn't have Jarrad until she was 34 and Jason at 40.

Kerry Sanderson at the port of Fremantle with her mother and grandmother.


"I guess we both chose to defer motherhood," she said. "It probably helped because I had developed a career.

"Balancing being a mother with a career is always hard. I don't like it when people ask me how I have done it because I would just say that I haven't been perfect at it but I have tried hard."

In 1991, Mrs Sanderson took on another intimidating job: chief executive of Fremantle Ports, at a time when it was $30 million in the red.

Over the next 17 years, she implemented reforms to return it to profitability and restore its reputation, using an approach that prioritised strategic planning, teamwork and communication. In 2007, it won the Australian Business Excellence Medal. It was both her most challenging and rewarding job to date.

She also saw the port through the infamous waterfront dispute, when workers locked in an industrial battle with Patrick Stevedores blockaded the terminal.

"You see the effect it has on people who are dependent on trade, who may have lobster exports or cauliflower that could go off. I was constantly trying to negotiate urgent cargo and get it through," she said.

"It was a really bad time."

She left in 2008 to take on the Agent-General's role in London, encouraging investment and trade in her beloved home State.

"I never anticipated living anywhere else because I loved it so much here but I thought, 'What a wonderful opportunity to promote WA'," she said.

One of the projects she was involved in was the Square Kilometre Array radio telescope in the Mid West, a scientific coup for WA. In her new role, Mrs Sanderson wants to continue encouraging scientific research and study, saying it "has the potential to be the second plank to our economy".

"Our challenges are also opportunities," she said. "The challenge of jobs for our kids is an opportunity for us to be more outward looking, to focus on the competitiveness of our industries.

"I worry about poverty, I worry about homelessness, I worry about inequality.

"My learning will be how I can best help, by either offering support for the people working on that issue or bringing people together. It is the concept of synergising - if you can bring the right people together, you can make inroads."

If you can bring the right people together, you can make inroads." Kerry Sanderson