In her own words
I fell into ports by accident after starting my career in coastal zone management and impact assessment. An opportunity came up with the Townsville Port Authority for a four-week contract to write their first ever Environmental Management Plan and I ended up staying with the Port for six years. In my role I grew my focus working with the Port community and its stakeholders. I then expanded into law, obtaining my masters in local government and environmental law. I ended up specialising in maritime pollution law because of my ports and marine focus.
When I was writing my thesis I came across the International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation (ITOPF) based in London and they happened to have a job vacancy. I submitted an Expression of Interest and the next day the Managing Director who was visiting Cairns rang to arrange a meeting. It was a fantastic opportunity because ITOPF work directly with international merchant shipping fleets. My role at the Port of Townsville gave me a good understanding of the landlord’s perspective and I was keen to work on the maritime side and gain a different view.
Taking the ITOPF position and moving to London was a defining moment, not just professionally but also personally. I am a planner and I like things structured and here I was accepting the role almost on a whim and buying a one-way ticket to London. That role forced me to grow, to change, and to evolve so much in terms of stakeholder engagement and understanding different cultures. I was required to travel to remote locations across the globe and respond to shipping accidents locally, often not speaking the country’s language and needing to work with national governments.
The exposure from that role was significant and in hindsight it was one of the best decisions I have ever made; it was the most amazing experience.
Coming back to Australia I returned to Townsville and put together the first business case for the waterways redevelopment suite of projects. I discovered what I really enjoyed was being able to take all the ideas and concepts from different people and put them into something we could deliver that was a viable and commercially-real outcome. Then the opportunity came up to move to Melbourne and work with the Port. Even though I have been with the Port for 17 years, there have been different owners and I have had completely different roles across the organisation offering an incredible diversity of experience and opportunity.
Bringing strategy to life
My career at the Port of Melbourne has included securing the debt financing for the Port Capacity Project, leading the privatisation process internally, and post privatisation transitioning the business.
What is rewarding is to work in an environment where strategic plans don’t sit on a shelf, they are brought to life. In the most recent port development strategy we have nine key infrastructure projects - four of which are currently in delivery and two in planning.
Ports, shipping, and freights logistics have so many avenues and complexities that every time you think that you might know enough about the industry you uncover something else! I have been in ports and shipping for 25+ years, and I will never think of myself as an expert. I am always learning.
I work with an amazing group of people who are passionate and committed. One of the biggest rewards is seeing the team fully engaged and excited, and witnessing something you have been working on for a long time come together.
It is about finding the simplicity in something that can appear at face value to be extremely complex in order to see the solution. My early study and career in science gave me a unique grounding and a different skill set. I was trained to identify problems and structure analysis to find a solution; it was always about problem solving and that has served me well.
Deliver the difference
Like me and a lot of my colleagues who fell into transport by accident it wasn’t a chosen career path, and the impact of transport was largely invisible. When I was at university in Townsville I did field trips travelling through the Port to Cleveland Bay and I seriously had no recollection that the Port existed prior to me getting a job there. Raising awareness and knowledge of the opportunities in the industry is really important, particularly as we are on the cusp of the greatest level of change I have ever seen. In terms of retention, I believe it all comes down to inclusion.
I grew up in a family with three girls, all treated the same and offered the same opportunities, so gender never appeared to me as an issue. It has only been later in my career that I recognised the different treatments and the different opportunities provided to women and so much of it is an unconscious bias.
I believe inclusive workplaces cut down a lot of the barriers that prevent women from progressing or being presented with the same opportunities.
To all entrants to the industry I say – absolutely go for it and don’t hold back. My biggest advice is to be yourself and bring something different to the industry.