Digging deep with Sharon Deano

By Melissa Coade

Friday June 11, 2021

ACCC Mergers Investigation Director Sharon Deano

On the Way Up

How an eager university graduate stepped into her own, honed her skills and embraced community at the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

Everything came together for Sharon Deano when she took a competition law elective subject two years into her Arts/Law degree at the Australian National University. For months she was filled with doubt and was wrestling over whether she had the analytical skills required to succeed as a solicitor – turns out the key was to find a topic that interested her and join the public service. 

“I went on to do the competition law elective and for the first time understood what I really wanted to do with my law degree,” Deano says.

With a plan to enrol in the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s (ACCC) graduate program after her studies, Deano says she landed an APS4 position at the commission before the graduate recruitment had even commenced. She spent three years doing mergers analysis and then moved into the ACCC’s enforcement division, where she worked on a series of high profile investigations and contested court cases.

Deano, now 38, has clocked 15 years as a public servant working for the ACCC. She has always been driven. As a precocious 10-year-old student she recalls making a request for the school librarian to lend her some legal tomes. Much later in her career, while on maternity leave, she completed an Executive Masters in Public Administration and was offered a promotion upon her return to work as the executive director of the ACCC’s mergers investigation branch. 

“The ACCC has also always encouraged a great working culture which allows for diverse views around the decision making table, whether you are a senior manager or the graduate, there are opportunities to lead at every level,” Deano says.

“A large number of people who work at the ACCC genuinely care about consumer outcomes and the impact of our work on competition and the broader Australian economy. The organisation hums with positive energy and you can sense it in the way people deliver their work and the quality of the work that is produced.”

On any given day Deano will be dealing with paperwork – document review and drafting relevant to the investigation and decision-making process – and meetings with internal investigation teams, the board, lawyers and economists. She also regularly updates senior management and commissioners, and will meet with external parties who are preparing to merge their businesses or those who may be impacted by a proposed merger.

“The work that I am most proud of is when I was seconded to the Philippines as part of the ACCC’s Competition Law Implementation Program (CLIP),” Deano says.

“CLIP is an economic cooperation program that supports ASEAN countries to meet their commitments in the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand FTA, including on competition, to help build stronger and fairer economies.”

“My role was to assist the newly established Philippine Competition Commission (PCC) obtain the requisite skills and expertise in competition law enforcement.”

Deano’s work on CLIP was a full-circle moment for her. As the child of a migrant family from the Philippines, she found the opportunity to apply her expert skills to help lift the capabilities of her motherland incredibly rewarding. She helped draft implementing rules and regulations for enforcement legislation that was yet to come into force, and provided training and coaching to investigation teams commencing the first enforcement cases on behalf of the PCC.

“The importance of the PCC’s mission brought home to me the way competition regulation can have a significant impact on the lives of everyday people,” Deano says.

“In the Philippine context, effective regulation could result in lifting millions out of abject poverty by influencing the price of staple consumables and the price of basic essential services.”

Despite working on a number of significant competition cases (including a successful High Court appeal that established legal precedent), with wins against large corporations that have attracted multimillion dollar penalties and good consumer outcomes, Deano confesses that her early career was beleaguered with feelings of self doubt.

Imposter syndrome can sound trite but Deano recalls being worried about never having the capacity to be a leader because she felt she did not look or sound the part.

“As a young female migrant, I grew up in a single parent household. As a university student, I juggled part time jobs with full time study and before I was on the ACCC payroll, I was technically living below the poverty line,” Deano says.

“The professional office environment felt very foreign to me and I felt pressure to blend in and to dampen parts of my identity which did not align with what I saw around me.”

Deano says instincts got her through the early years. As she gained experience and confidence, the career wins followed. But she attributes much of this success to ‘wonderful mentors and supportive supervisors’ that guided her along the way.

Deano says the realisation that learning how to be more comfortable in uncomfortable situations also helped her break past her imposter syndrome insecurities.

“I did a lot of work understanding my own insecurities and fears. I learnt the difference between listening to constructive criticism to improve versus self-sabotage caused by fear of failing.”

“It’s important to do the work to become an expert in your field, there are no shortcuts to this, doing the work gives people a reason to trust and respect you. Always put things into perspective, no matter what the crisis is,” she adds.

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