A defining moment as a young person led Jennifer O’Sullivan into the NSW Police Force and on a path that would equip her to respond to the needs of disadvantaged people in the community.
Following the Police Force, many personal life experiences and challenges, and employment opportunities continued to prepare, strengthen and shape Jennifer to be able to understand and truly relate to people who face adversities and the power of human resilience. Her commitment to working with homeless youth utilises her years of professional and life experiences.
Jennifer is currently the Executive Manager of Path 2 Change, an authentic leader inspired by those she has met along the way, and is dedicated to making a real difference.
- Could you tell us a little about your career path?
I left school in Year 10, I didn’t do the HSC thing. I did an Art course which lasted for about two years and that actually qualified me to get into the NSW Police Force.
I spent quite a number of years in the Police Force, it was in the period of the 80s so it was quite a challenging period. I was stationed at Kings Cross, The Rocks and Central and there was a lot of corruption in the Police Force at the time and it was having to cope with those sorts of situations and also the sort of complex clients that I worked with.
I got out of the Police Force and spent some time doing various different jobs and I felt that I really wanted to work with young people so I went to uni and started a degree in teaching and education and did my first few pracs and then I kind of went, you know what, I don’t know that I really want to work with 30 young people at once. So I thought I will just see what is out there.
I then got a position as a support worker with young people with very high behavioural needs and absolutely loved it. Loved the opportunity of seeing young people change their lives and being able to do that. Then I worked with other behavioural young people in an educational setting and watching them who had never had any sort of opportunity with mainstream school be able to get through some of those sorts of things. I continued from there and I went into developing programs for the organisations that I worked for, then became team leader and then coordinator.
I’m doing a Social Science degree at the moment but I’m taking a break from that and doing an MBA in Business. I love learning and getting to know how things tick and social science is very relevant to where I am at the moment and the MBA is very relevant to where I want to go.
- What do you believe has shaped your leadership style?
Mostly life experience and working with young people, especially just being able to lead them and guide them and I guess in a mentoring capacity that way has kind of transformed into leadership. I think it is really important as a leader to understand where people are at so that has really influenced me by being on the front line, by doing stuff, even the small stuff.
At the moment I am an executive manager but I clean the office. That kind of shows that I will get in and get my hands dirty. I believe that the people who work with me, I am very invested in growing them and making sure that they are reaching their potential and they will be the future leaders of Newcastle. I have some really inspirational people who work for me and I try and lead by example and show them that it is never too late or early to start on their career path.
I believe I am a supportive leader and that comes from being supported by other leaders that have been in my life and given me that bit of encouragement and direction.
- What motivates and drives you?
Just being able to get out of bed in the morning and breath and start the day but really people motivate me because they are just so resilient. I have seen so many people in situations that you would look at and go how are they going to overcome this. And they just inspire me and drive me to reach out to other people and say you know what, you might be going through a hard time but you can get up and you can move on and make choices and change their lives.
So that is what motivates me because I’ve seen it happen and even for myself and my own life experiences I know that we are all capable of changing our lives in such a dramatic way.
- What do you believe makes business unique in the Hunter?
I think working in the Hunter, especially in the not-for-profit area, working with other organisations in a collaborative manner and partnering up for the best outcome for the client.
I think people in Newcastle in business here are authentic and I also believe that it is not all about froth and bubbles and how we look and let’s just look the great sort of business, it’s about let’s really invest in our city and see how we can transform it.
I really believe that working together in partnership and having those connections that you don’t get in big cities is what makes us different in the Newcastle area.
- What local businessperson do you find inspiring?
The most inspiring business person in my life is Bruce Niblett and he is actually my father. He worked in the RAAF for many, many years in air defence in navigation and strategic defence operations and things like that. He just contributed so much to the Newcastle region when he came to Williamtown and then once he left the RAAF he worked for Australian Defence Industries in Sydney and then he came back to Newcastle and he was actually sought after by Boeing in Seattle to go and do some work over there with the wedge tail aircraft and radar and air defence. He left there and at 78 he got headhunted again to be a representative for Plexers which is a fighter flight simulator and he was a representative for Australia and opened up the office here and he retired at 80 years of age a couple of years ago.
For me he is inspirational as a businessperson just in his integrity and the way that he worked right throughout his life and his professionalism and also because he just never stopped learning – he just finished an advance maths course and he has just turned 82 and he is absolutely amazing and so he inspires me and he is the most inspiring business person I have ever known.
Path 2 Change is a non-for-profit organisation that provides assistance to young people in the Newcastle and Hunter region.
For more than 30 years, Path 2 Change (formerly Newcastle Youth Accommodation Service) has provided secular, client-centred, and strength-based case management to young people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, in the Newcastle and Hunter region.