All this time I was finding myself, and I didn’t know I was lost

Belinda - Blog PhotoBy Belinda Coniglio, current student of the University of Sydney Business School MBA program

As a child, there were many things that I had considered for a career including dance school owner and dance teacher, doctor, chef and primary school teacher. When my high school Italian teacher asked me to include my future aspirations in a presentation for my tertiary entrance exam, apart from a vision of great success, I had not defined one clear path for my career and I recall telling my esteemed teacher my two passions: writing and travel. “I see you in the diplomatic corps!” The diplomatic corps? At the time I was not aware of the field of international relations, yet the idea inspired me to travel a path that shaped the next sixteen years of my life through three degrees, study abroad, and employment in politics, marketing and law, while I submitted countless applications to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

There was no doubt about my tenacity or persistence in achieving my dream: I moved to Canberra in 2010 to understand the market and government clients as a lawyer before accepting contract positions to tailor my resume to government with a focus on international relations. In 2013, I finally arrived at the RG Casey building in Barton then, relocated to Brisbane to continue the pursuit of my dream. Did my job correlate to my vision? Sure, I had exposure to international relations, but was I free flowing, fulfilled and importantly, was there scope to reach my full potential, particularly when my employer did not support my MBA studies? In that moment, I understood Avicii’s lyrics, “All this time I was finding myself, and I didn’t know I was lost!” Confronting the answer was like admitting to oneself that a lover with excellent credentials is simply not right for you. I resigned from my position to start my own business.

Excited about my new entrepreneurial pathway, I was excited when MBA students were invited to a University of Sydney Business School alumni event hosted in conjunction with Sydney Genesis, a startup program that supports young entrepreneurs, passionate about their business ideas. The event held on 17 July 2014 was the first of the young alumni “Millennial Series”, and featured a panel discussion with Brendon Burwood, Co-Founder and Managing Director of Ipac Financial Care; Charlie Caruso, Digital Media and Social Entrepreneur; Matt Symons, Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder of Society One; and Darren Williams, Chief Technology Officer,  During the Q&A style discussion, moderated by Dr Eric Knight, Senior Lecturer in Innovation and Management, the four inspiring entrepreneurs shared their success and pitfalls. The evening was also an opportunity for me to present a ninety-second entrepreneurial pitch for my new founded business: Ideas and Impact.

If you are wondering what your passion is, Brendon Burwood suggested that you ask yourself “what do I feel excited about?” Entrepreneur Phillip Di Bella believes that “passion, vision and brand are three elements critical to entrepreneurial success.” Now free to explore my passions, I am excited about the next unit of my MBA, the International Business Project – a ten day course in Shanghai working with Chinese businesses – and realising my vision.

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Leadership is ideas

By Belinda Coniglio, current student of the University of Sydney Business School MBA program

Belinda - Blog PhotoWhat is the single most important quality for a leader to have? A question recently posted in a Harvard Business Review LinkedIn group and the core of the first Sydney MBA subject, Leadership Practice and Development.

Charm, intellect, integrity and accountability are conventional leadership qualities. Qualities and expectations that society places on political, community and business leaders to model behaviour that includes the appropriate use of power, adhering to social values and striving to advance their organisation.

In his recent opinion piece on Australian politics, Troy Bramston writes “Leadership, like beauty is often in the eye of the beholder. It can always be better.” Bramston is correct in suggesting that a leader’s impact really depends on one’s vantage point – social, political, cultural, economic or otherwise, particularly when in business, “better” is likely to be driven by the bottom ine and in civil society, we hope that “better” means the desire to progress and develop a society for the common or greater good. The power to make leadership better lies within us all: the consumer.

In my view, the single most important quality of a leader is ideas and the courage and conviction to realise them. Ideas are more than having a vision, setting a goal or end state – for they mean nothing without the dynamism and drive to persist in actualising them. Creativity, the ability to evolve, adapt to feedback, transcend change and to flourish in a constant state of flux are the real components that result in “better.” Ideas influence. And as Professor Mike Jenner would say, “to be influential, one must be influenceable.” To quote Kevin Roberts, CEO of Saatchi and Saatchi in a recent interview – “in today’s world we living the age of the idea; it is ideas that change worlds, ideas that change systems; not scale, power or money anymore.”

Leadership, whether political, corporate or community is about continuous improvement and innovation. As a young entrepreneur recently described it to me, “leadership is reinventing yourself, over and over and over again.”

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My quest for a perfect job

By Seema Pun, Senior Consultant, Advisory, EY, and current student of the University of Sydney Business School MBA program

358c19cFinding your “dream” job is always difficult, all the more so when it’s a new career direction in a different and unfamiliar industry. Despite the enormity of the undertaking, I managed to get the job I really wanted and it wouldn’t have been possible without the MBA and all the people that I met who have been so generous and supportive.

Trying to stay positive was challenging at times – especially when each step forward seemed to lead to two backwards. I kept positive by taking time out to think about all the things that I’m grateful for in my life. These helped to lift my spirits, and allowed me to reinvigorate my focus when I returned to the task at hand.

Through my experience, I’ve come to realise how important networking is in the job quest, whether it leads to a connection with the right people or the right advice from someone with valuable experience. I’m so grateful for all the people who so willingly and kindly gave up their time, knowledge and resources for me.

The key to my preparation was developing a concept of my ideal job, creating a “reflected best self-portrait” as well as understanding my personal brand. This helped identify my strengths and gave me an insight into what type of role I would enjoy and excel at. Next, was listing all the roles that were the right fit for me. Then the application frenzy began and eventually led me to my new career.

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CMO – CIO Power Partnerships

By Nicholas Flood, current student of the University of Sydney Business School MBA program

Nick FloodA consistent theme is ringing true with marketers at organisations of all sizes the world over: the complexities and challenges associated with data explosion, social media, shifting customer demographics and global competitive pressures are fundamentally changing the industry and profession.

With the need to confront these challenges established, what options exist for the CMO / Head-of-Marketing to better understand the situation, prepare themselves and respond?

To a large extent, the commentary has focused on the possibilities that are opening to marketers as technology advances. Developments in Cloud, Analytics, Mobility and Social have facilitated for systems of engagement that allow organisations to engage with increasingly empowered individuals in personalised interactions.

What is perhaps more interesting, however, is that a growing cohort among the commentariat are not focusing on technological advances in isolation but are analysing these developments through the lens of boardroom relationships, particularly the strength of the working relationship between Chief Information Officers and Chief Marketing Officers. Influential industry analysts continue to conclude that the strength of this relationship leads to improved customer centricity, increased competitiveness and optimised organisational performance.

How does a leader develop their skills and competencies to forge these relationships with their boardroom peers and develop their capacity to effectively influence as they seek to build consensus and buy-in to their vision?

From my own experience, the most profound instance was having had the opportunity to be a student within Associate Professor Mike Jenner’s classroom. Under Mike’s tutelage, Leadership Practice & Development (LP&D) has fundamentally transformed my ability to be effective as an emerging business leader. Arriving at the course with a thorough understanding of pedagogy (degree qualified), I was astonished in the way the unit was structured & delivered in-line with the available research on the optimal way for students to learn and develop new competencies. The benefit of this is that it has served to dramatically increase my leadership competencies, relationship building skills and capacity to be influential, at all levels of the organisation. Most importantly of all, the experience has equipped me with the understandings and framework through which I can continue on a journey of ongoing professional and personal development.

These are precisely the skills that will facilitate for me to realise my objective of being at the forefront of the marketing transformation required for Australian & New Zealand enterprises to maintain and extend their global competitiveness within the years ahead.

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My MBA journey: reflections on a new ‘me’

By Robyn Evans, current student of the University of Sydney Business School MBA program

Robyn ClucasMy first unit is done.

They told me at the beginning of my first subject that at the end of it I would be a different person.

It is the end of the 3-months and it’s time to work out if that is true. On Day 1 of the first unit, Leadership Practice and Development (LP&D), we were told that at the end we would be better people, more effective and ultimately stronger leaders. A lot has happened during that time; many group meetings for our final assessment, lots of practice giving feedback and coaching our team members, written assignments and a number of weekend classes. In addition, life has not stopped. Work pressures, family commitments and all the joys and unexpectedness that life brings have continued.

But after 3 months I can tell you that I am a different person, for the better. The most prominent difference  is knowing and owning greater self-efficacy. I have learned and absorbed many new skills, some quite naturally and some requiring ongoing practice. There are many concepts and theories that support the applications I have learned, which were introduced during the course. All of this combined has changed me, grown me, challenged me and ultimately propelled me into a new level of being an effective person and having stronger self-efficacy.

I now have the confidence to do and try things that I would have never had tried before. Because of this course, I am much better at recognizing the efforts of individuals in my team, which has created stronger individual and team relationships. I have been able to confront issues in a more effective manner, which has led to us being able to mitigate further risk, and I have had the courage to offer my thoughts on a department restructure which has led to my inclusion on such a significant project. These things I may have tried before, but I know I would not have had the same positive outcomes.

In addition, I have looked at other longer term career options, things I never would have thought of before, because LP&D helped me to see options outside my immediate field. I am a different person, one with greater skill, more confidence and I know myself better because of how this course integrated itself in the reality of our professional lives. It transcended industries and became relevant to all of us in many different ways, helping us to form great bonds and also support one another to be better and more effective individuals.

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‘Ideas worth spreading’ – TEDx Sydney 2014

By Hugh Simpson, corporate advisor, digital entrepreneur and current student of the University of Sydney Business School’s MBA program

Hugh SimpsonTEDxSydney is the local licensed version of the world famous TED Talks, where a hand-picked audience gets to listen to some of Australia’s best thought leaders, innovators and doers under the theme of ‘ideas worth spreading’.

I was incredibly lucky to be accepted as one of the 2300 attendees who got to fill the Sydney Opera House on 26 April 2014 to experience what can only be described as inspiration heaven. Walking up the Opera House steps to a Woolworths Innovation breakfast and meeting some of the attendees, you got the sense straight away this was not like any other conference.

Over the last 18-months I have experienced one of the most innovative university courses I have ever completed with my MBA, but it was great to see that the University of Sydney carried this sense of innovation through as the Principal Partner of the world’s leading ‘ideas festival’.


Michael West, member and cultural representative of the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council (MLALC), started the day with a ‘Welcome to Country’ on behalf of the Aboriginal communities in and around Sydney. ‘Black Arm Band’ then provided a moving musical performance to get us in the mood for the long list of acclaimed speakers, performers and wonderful locally sourced, crafted and sustainable food, coffee and drinks.

There are too many speakers to list them all here, but the full stream can be found here.

Barat Ali Batoor’s story of his journey from Afghanistan to Australia as a refugee was one of the highlights for me. Adam Atler, author of Drunk Tank Pink: And Other Unexpected Forces That Shape How We Think, Feel, and Behave and Assistant Professor at NYU’s Stern Business School, presented his research on psychology in marketing by teaching us how to get more hits with online dating. The University of Sydney’s own Dr Clio Cresswell followed this theme by describing the mathematical formula behind sex and finding the right partner.

Internationally acclaimed artist, Tim Clark, and his mother Judy told their story from Tim’s diagnosis with Autism and living in poverty to being having artworks and a film being displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Acclaimed singer-songwriter Megan Washington performed the closing song, but not before she showed true inspiration by revealing she had a stutter and despite being an incredible musician, she found public speaking daunting.

Following this exhausting day of inspiration, what better way to soak up the atmosphere than to continue meeting some of these inspirational speakers and attendees over a few beverages on the Sydney Opera House steps.

It was a privilege to be part of such an event and without the inspiration derived from the innovative approach of the MBA, I don’t think I would have been accepted to what was hopefully the first of many TED events I’ll attend in years to come.

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Gender equality – it’s not a numbers game

By Seema Pun, current student of the University of Sydney Business School MBA program

358c19cWhen a patient stumbles into a doctor’s office clutching his chest and writhing in pain, you don’t give him a panadol and send him on his merry way. Setting quotas for women is akin to treating the symptom instead of addressing the problem.

Recent data from the Australian Institute of Company Directors shows women make up 17% of directors on the boards of ASX 200 companies and only 3% of board chairs and CEOs. Today, the proportion of women and men with graduate qualifications are equal, yet the representation of women in senior leadership positions in this country continues to be unacceptably low. However, I’m not convinced that simply tapping women on the shoulder and offering directorship positions is going to solve the gender diversity issue.

A simple statistical push is not enough. It doesn’t help support women where the environment is not conducive to nurture their strengths and differences. It doesn’t help change mindsets, biases, cultures, or create opportunities to question and explore new ways. Anyone who thinks otherwise is trying to stick a Band-Aid to a gaping wound.

If not enough women are applying for the top job, organisations should be asking if they are doing enough to remove gender barriers or cultivating the right culture that attracts and supports women. Instead of making it a ‘women’s issue’, the focus should be about rebalancing organisations to represent today’s workforce and today’s market. These organisations need to seek talent far and wide instead of fishing from the same pond. They need to promote professional development of women and have flexible working arrangements. Organisations should be addressing these issues and making a concerted effort to bring about real and meaningful change.

If we are to make progress in gender equality in our boardrooms and senior leadership positions, a quick fix is nothing more than demeaning gender stereotyping. In the same way our patient with chest pain will be examined, investigated and receive appropriate treatment, we should be looking deeply at the fundamentals of gender inequality and treating the illness, not the symptoms.

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