Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and Partner of Maddocks Michelle Dixon is different to the leaders of most major firms in several notable ways. Despite her award-winning reputation for promoting gender equity, she was reluctant to become the “first among equals” at her firm. Dixon’s greatest passion is litigation. There is nothing in life that makes her feel as “alive, engaged and happy”. So why did she agree to become CEO and what is she enjoying about the job? JULIE MCCROSSIN finds out.
The Sydney office of Maddocks in the city centre has the sophisticated, spacious, glass and light-filled ambience of all the major firms. Yet the moment Michelle Dixon greets me and leads me to an interview room, her low-key warmth and natural, quiet confidence put me at ease.
“I’m not your typical CEO of a law firm,” she says. “I’m a woman. I’m public school educated. And I’m Tasmanian.”
Success at school came easily. She excelled at maths and science and thought about going into medicine or physiotherapy. “But I didn’t want to cut up a cadaver,” she recalls. She discovered that law had fewer face-to-face hours than engineering, so she enrolled in law at the University of Tasmania, intending ultimately to become an economist. Then she had a life-changing experience. “I started mooting at law school in the competitions and I loved it. I absolutely wanted to be a lawyer and a litigation lawyer,” she recalls with a joyous smile.
Two key factors gave her the confidence to pursue this dream: a supportive father and a role model of female leadership.