Three inspirational women who have each achieved much over the last 15 years were invited to speak to Illawarra Women in Business on Friday.
Melissa Abu-Gazaleh, Natalie Viselli and Jessica Saad DeAngelis spoke about their careers but also shared their thoughts on how we can encourage future leaders like them from the next generation.
The three guests spoke of how they got where they have through networking generally even though that can feel a little bit scary at first. Persistence, friendships and encouragement from mentors and each other were also important.
They have benefited from understanding they don’t have to try and be perfect all the time. They realised they don’t have to put too much pressure on themselves if they just keep moving forward with purpose, reach out for opportunities and not fear making mistakes but learn from them. Do what you love and embrace younger people coming through were other points raised.
All three benefited from involvement in programs when they were starting out such as Young Achievement Australia, Golden Key Society and Junior Chamber International. They were also embraced by peak business organisations such as the Illawarra Business Chamber, The Illawarra Connection (TIC) and Illawarra Women in Business. That is also where some of their mentors came from.
So what else can Illawarra business leaders to do to encourage future generations?
Ms Saad DeAngelis said the advantage was the region already has such an open business community.
“Keep embracing young professionals,” she said.
Encourage them to get involved while helping them feel like they have a little shelter and support. Otherwise they won’t take the risk.
She and Ms Viselli know being invited in a way that makes you feel welcome and comfortable and have value to add is really important. That is what really helped them.
“Forget about any negative stereotypes about young people in your organisation. They are enthusiastic young people with values and dreams. This young generation values experiences. So add that in and give young people opportunities. They may make mistakes but show a bit of trust and faith in them. That will give them encouragement to do more,” Ms Viselli said.
Ms Abu Gazaleh said the one thing she had learned how to do as a leader was to ask people what they want to do.
“I think often we forget to ask people the simple question of what is it that you aspire to do or achieve andf upskill in. Often it is not that much of a stretch to provide them with that opportunity.”
In April 2009 the Illawarra Mercury spoke to some of Wollongong's inspiring young, high-achieving business women about their attitude and determination to succeed. This is what the three IWIB panelists from Friday said almost a decade ago.
Jessica gives voice to young achievers
RISING STARS THE DIRECTOR
JESSICA Saad, 22, of Fairy Meadow discovered her interest in business through the Young Achievement Australia business skills program.
Ms Saad, then in year 11, went into the program thinking it would be a challenge, but 24 weeks later was named YAA's regional business person of the year.
"It was a light-bulb moment," she said. "I realised I needed to be leading and I needed to be motivating. "
In Year 12, Ms Saad was elected school captain at St Mary's College. She was then accepted into the University of Wollongong management cadetship program and has gained considerable experience in a variety of departments.
In October 2005 Ms Saad joined the newly formed Junior Chamber International Illawarra chapter where she found great stimulation mixing with like-minded people of a similar age.
She took on the role of project coordinator, which saw her heavily involved in organising the students-meet-professionals program with Claudia Perry-Beltrame and Angela Mendola, who founded the Illawarra JCI chapter.
In 2006 Ms Saad earned a Golden Key Scholarship for placing in the top 15 per cent of students at the university. She is presently in the final year of a Bachelor of Commerce.
In 2006 she showed her great insight and captured business leaders' attention when she wrote a forum piece for Enterprise and asked if this region gave sufficient opportunities to its emerging entrepreneurial business talent.
Two years later, Illawarra's peak networking body, The Illawarra Connection, invited Ms Saad to speak alongside UOW vice-chancellor Gerard Sutton and Wollongong City Council general manager David Farmer at a post-ICAC forum.
She produced a three-pronged strategy for rejuvenating Wollongong, centred around defining Wollongong and promoting a youth perspective.
She also said we should find ways to encourage the city's young talent to stay here.
Ms Saad was recently the keynote speaker at an Illawarra Women in Business lunch at the Lagoon Restaurant.
In 2007, she was elected a staff representative to the UniCentre board of directors.
"It is a great experience. You are on this board with people high up in the university and in the community," she said.
Ms Saad was elected president of JCI Illawarra in late 2007 and was recently appointed the youngest ever director of the Illawarra Business Chamber.
IBC president Les Dion said she was elected because of her drive and enthusiasm, and ability to provide an additional perspective and direct voice to up-and-coming business leaders.
"JCI had been involved with the IBC for at least two years by then," Ms Saad said.
"Wendy Fogarty always encouraged me to make sure I spread JCI's wings and get connected to the business chamber."
"When IBC approached me about becoming a director I was just like 'Phew, get out of it' because I knew who was on the board and you don't sit next to the likes of Noel Cornish every day.
"I was sitting there at my first board meeting going 'Nobody knows it but I am star-struck...so I am just going to play it cool'. It was amazing listening to them speak and being so willing to attack the hard issues. It gives me confidence that they must see something in me."
Ms Saad was also excited about what it meant for JCI Illawarra because it felt as if the Illawarra's most senior business people were saying she and the junior chamber were worthwhile and had a contribution to make.
Ms Saad is presently serving her second term as president of JCI Illawarra.
During her first term the Wollongong-based chapter hosted the three-day JCI Australia 2008 National Convention and board elections and became the first business organisation in the region to hold a twilight meeting at the Illawarra Fly.
"This organisation (JCI) has had 60 conventions in Australia. That was the first one ever in the Illawarra and it got promoted internationally. We were telling the world about Wollongong," she said.
Ms Saad's greatest influences are still her mother Connie Saad, who she described as a realist who encouraged her to learn by involvement, and her father John Saad, an idealist who always told her she had a ladder with unlimited steps.
"When I applied for a degree I went for communication and I also went for the bachelor of commerce in human resource management," she said. "My mum and dad were really stoked that I was going into the business area. I think dad secretly hopes that I will take over the business one day."
Ms Saad has enjoyed being asked by her former school to talk to students during events such as Australian Business Week.
Earlier this year she spoke to St Mary's students thinking about university and told them not to be too concerned if they still had not decided what they wanted to be.
Her advice to others is to aim high, because if you reach for the moon and don't quite make it, you will still fall among the stars.
Her other tip is something she had to convince herself about when she attended her first IBC board meeting.
"Don't be afraid. Whatever it is you want to do, or whatever changes you want to make, the world won't come crashing down if you try," she said.
"Failure is not trying in the first place."
One of the people she credits with helping her reach her potential is her school English teacher Betty Mayhew.
"She was really one of those inspirational teachers," she said.
Her other great motivator and encourager is boyfriend Anthony de Angelis, who works with PKF chartered accountants.
Ms Saad said she is trying to refine her goals for the future.
"I am at this point in my life where I want to do it all but I am starting to realise that I need to choose a few things I can do well," she said.
"In 10 years time I need to be leading people, I need to be trying to mentor people, I need to be trying to push people to do more."
And she wants to do it all in Wollongong.
"Everyone keeps telling me the economic climate is going to make me leave. I feel like whatever I am supposed to do, I am supposed to do it here," she said.
Ms Saad revealed more study will be on the cards after she graduates this year. She sees herself doing further studies in strategic management and marketing.
After completing this term as JCI president she is going to take on a mentoring role with the Illawarra chapter.
Her cadetship at the university will end this year and she will be looking for a new job for 2010.
"I will keep growing," she said. "Next year will be a big career focus for me."
Melissa keen to help others be their best
RISING STARS ENTREPRENEUR
ON International Women's Day last month, the Illawarra's Melissa Abu-Gazaleh was the keynote speaker at an International Women's Day National Conference in Perth.
Ms Abu-Gazaleh was speaking about an issue close to her heart.
The conference was themed Setting the Social Inclusion Agenda and was organised by the Federation of Ethnic Communities Council of Australia.
Ms Abu-Gazaleh, 22, took the stage alongside Australian Governor-General Quentin Bryce, Deputy Opposition leader Julie Bishop and SBS director Patricia Azarias.
She had 30 minutes to talk about her experience as a young person.
"The conference was about how we can help immigrant and refugee women to better participate in Australian life, whether it is economically or socially, and try to remove any barriers. I talked about a lot of the community development programs, especially in Wollongong, to help young women integrate and build their leadership skills. I concluded with some recommendations about some successful strategies that are working really well."
Last year Ms Abu-Gazaleh was named one of Australia's top 100 Bright Young Minds and attended a summit in Sydney.
"On the last day we presented our initiatives to all the corporate sponsors, interested parties and stakeholders. The one I worked on was about raising awareness and money to tackle child trafficking," Ms Abu-Gazaleh said.
She was also selected to participate in the Whitlam Institute Forum on Young People's views on democracy.
Ms Abu-Gazaleh's parents were married in Jordan and came to Australia in the 1970s because they wanted their children to have better opportunities.
She was extensively involved in leadership roles and charities during her teenage years and is now the managing director of Best Catch Foundation which empowers young men to positively contribute to their local community.
During the past four years she has seen great benefits in recognising young men for the contributions they make in a voluntary capacity.
The 2008 Best Catch event was a major success.
"It is about encouraging young guys (aged between 18 and 24) to contribute and be involved in civic engagement," she said.
Ms Abu-Gazaleh said being involved in Best Catch helped improve young men's self-esteem as well as their skills and relationship with the community.
Applications are open again and volunteers can be nominated at www.bestcatch.com.au.
The overall winner for 2009 will be announced at a presentation dinner at City Beach Function Centre on October 31.
The closing date for applications is July 31 and sponsorship opportunities are open until September 1, 2009.
Ms Abu-Gazaleh has big plans for the Best Catch concept, which is already attracting interest from other communities around Australia.
She is involved in franchise discussions with regions interested in recognising young men who are making positive contributions to society.
Ms Abu-Gazelah also hopes to engage young men who are not yet reaching their potential.
"In life you have three categories of guys. You have those who have been abused, neglected, done drugs and that kind of thing. And there is a whole industry to take care of those boys. And Illawarra's Best Catch is about profiling the high achievers and proactive go-getters. We want our new program to do is to take those guys in middle who are working and are going out on the weekend but that is about it. But we want to push them to be the best person they can be and to achieve."
Ms Abu-Gazelah said it was also important to encourage young unemployed men to do voluntary community work because it helped keep them occupied, engaged and developing their skills while they were waiting for economic conditions to improve.
She is keen for her Best Catch participants to help motivate them in that endeavour.
Ms Abu-Gazelah is busy as a volunteer herself, and is completing a degree in communication-media studies majoring in marketing and HR.
Last year she completed a welfare course and now works as youth worker at Port Kembla.
She has engaged young men with an artist to develop their art skills on projects such as the recent murals commissioned by BlueScope Steel at the No5 Blast Furnace reline.
On the weekends Ms Abu-Gazelah works as a case worker in Campbelltown.
"I supervise parents with their children when the court says they are not allowed to meet alone," she said. "A lot of them are fathers and it is great to help guys develop that relationship with children."
"I think I have learned in the last couple of years things about the world I probably would not have learnt any other way," she said. "But I love what I do."
Ms Abu-Gazelah said when she was in high school she thought her career would be in psychology but when she started studying it she realised it was not for her.
She spoke to a careers adviser at university who told her about studying welfare at TAFE which led to her job as a youth worker.
Her motivation is all about contributing and giving back to the community.
"I am a fortunate person," she said. "I have got my health, my education, my family so I feel I have got a responsibility to give back."
Ms Abu-Gazelah is now taking her time to do the subjects she most wants to do and get the most from at university.
She has also started travelling to Sydney for entrepreneurial networking events not yet available in the Illawarra.
As a member of Junior Chamber International Illawarra, she is taking further opportunities for personal development.
Ms Abu-Gazelah's advice to other young women is to be as active as possible, be prepared to take some risks and seek out mentors who deserve your respect.
"My mentor Wendy Fogarty is such a motivation and inspiration for me," she said. "She provides a really big boost to my confidence. She has also helped teach me the ropes of local business. You need to try to get that competitive edge. You can't say no to any opportunities just for the sake of saying no. Just get out there and be confident."
Unexpected career find in Illawarra
RISING STARS THE ANALYST
NATALIE Viselli, 24, wasted no time making the most of her opportunities and making herself known to the Illawarra business community when she started work as a research analyst at Illawarra Regional Information Service (IRIS) in 2006.
Ms Viselli initially took on responsibilities for research analysis in IRIS publications and quickly started networking at many business functions and events.
Born the daughter of two BHP engineers, Mario Viselli and Grazyna Viselli, she immediately showed how her eye for detail gave her the ability to analyse technical aspects of detailed research and make it easy to understand.
Ms Viselli is seen as a modest and humble high achiever who has developed a great rapport with all members of the business community.
In doing so, she commands respect among business leaders of all ages.
She was so proficient in her first 12 months at IRIS that she was provided with many more opportunities than outlined in her original job description.
Boss Simon Pomfret said she showed a great capacity to learn and grow into other roles and build many business contacts.
She managed to combine study and report writing with an ability to deliver informed articles for a variety of publications, compose press releases with detailed analysis and comment, deliver presentations on short notice and respond to interview requests from the electronic and print media.
Ms Viselli was studying for a double degree in commerce and law at the University of Wollongong when she was provided with this unexpected opportunity to work in her home town.
She grew up in Mt Warrigal and went to school in Port Kembla.
Ms Viselli said in her early teens she did not know what she wanted to be.
"About half way through high school I started to get the inkling that I wanted to be a journalist," she said. "I really enjoyed writing and many teachers told me I was really good at it. I actually did my work experience in Year 10 at the Mercury. A bit later in Year 11 I read a Ross Gittins article and that was when it hit me that I wanted to be doing that kind of economic commentary/journalism. By the end of Year 12 that ended up being my choice for an ideal job. And I get to do that at IRIS. Who would have thought you would be able to do that in Wollongong?"
When Ms Viselli started university she imagined she would have to seek out a position with an organisation such as the ACCC or Treasury. However, she was able to fulfil her ambitions in the Illawarra.
"It is like I found the job I could never imagine existed, but I am so glad I found it. My job involves so many aspects of economics. It is not pigeon holed. It is also market research."
Ms Viselli said being able to compare national research with regional findings made her job more satisfying.
She always feels she is doing something substantial and helping people make important decisions by providing them with information.
Ms Viselli and Mr Pomfret have become the go-to people for anyone in the Illawarra wanting to get a clearer overall picture of the economy.
Ms Viselli knows full well that being relied on so much to deliver accurate information is an awesome responsibility.
She is also aware of how publishing something in the media can influence behaviour in an unwanted way.
"I try to keep that balance of saying this is what is happening while making sure they get the full picture," she said.
Ms Viselli is planning a long-term future with IRIS and is keen to help the organisation grow.
She would like to take a more active role in regional development by identifying new opportunities that may not have been possible in the past.
"I have enrolled to do a post-graduate certificate in regional development, online through the University of Western Australia. Maybe down the track when I have more experience I can take on some of those broader roles."
In any endeavour Ms Viselli believes determination is just as important as experience.
It was her determination that helped her be promoted quickly to a senior research analyst position and then the research manager at IRIS.
After less than three years in the workforce, she is trusted with a wide range of responsibilities as a spokesperson, commentator, columnist, presenter and publications editor. She also manages commercial research projects.
In doing so, she has become a great role model for other young women.
She has always been a high achiever.
In the 2002 HSC she topped the state in information processes and technology.
Ms Viselli said her mother, Grazyna, was a great role model.
She is now an engineer with Hatch and her brother Stephen Viselli works in IT at the University of Wollongong and one day a week at IRIS.
He topped the state in IT three years after his sister.
Last year Ms Viselli won national industry recognition when she was awarded the Mike Larbalestier Australian Market and Social Research Society National Conference Scholarship.
The scholarship win was a first for the Illawarra. It is awarded to an individual who has achieved a high standard of academic and work accomplishments and is seen to have significant potential to contribute to the growth of the industry.
Ms Viselli attended the AMSRS National Conference in Melbourne late last year.
She also encourages other young business leaders through her role as secretary of Junior Chamber International Illawarra.
Ms Viselli has also been appointed to the JCI Australia national board where she holds the position of governance officer.
Her advice for other young women is to avoid assuming they will have to leave Wollongong after university.
"You may have to look a bit harder for opportunities, but they are there," she said.
Ms Viselli said young career-minded women should also consider joining an organisation such as JCI where they can contribute to the region and build connections with people who may know of career opportunities which are not advertised.
She believes perseverance and determination can overcome inexperience if employers are willing to give a young person a go. Ms Viselli said mentors such as Mr Pomfret and female role models such as Wendy Fogarty and Glenda Papac are also important, as well as networking with senior business leaders.
Mr Pomfret gave her the challenge of meeting at least three new people at every event she attended.
"You just have to throw yourself out there and do the best you can," Ms Viselli said. "I don't like selling myself but it is something you have to do if you are going to succeed."