(Left to right) David Gonski AC, Michael Ellis, Professor Chris Styles, The Hon. Gladys Berejiklian MP, Nicholas Moore, Mark Scott AO

When Gladys Berejiklian was first elected into Parliament in 2003, her mother asked her: “If you had the choice between being in politics or being a professional tennis player, which would you pick?”

Baffled by the question, her mother explained to her that as a child, Gladys had once requested tennis lessons, which she was denied due to financial reasons. She had recognised in her daughter, however, a strong determination to excel in all she did, and knew one day she would achieve great things in whatever path she pursued, whether it be tennis, her finance career, or public service.

Attendees to the invite-only event included many notable alumni and university stakeholders, including UNSW Chancellor David Gonski AC, Business School Dean Prof. Chris Styles, Macquarie Group CEO Nicholas Moore, and McKinsey & Co Senior Partner Michael Ellis. The audience heard of Ms Berejiklian’s upbringing, dotted with academic excellence and early signs of natural leadership.

Speaking with Mark Scott AO, Secretary of the NSW Department of Education, Ms Berejiklian detailed how this determination her mother noticed was instilled into her at a very young age due to starting school without being able to speak English. Coming from the Armenian community, her parents emigrating to Australia in the 1960s, Gladys’ family had spoken their native tongue at home, and so her first years of schooling saw her struggle with spelling and grammar, falling behind her classmates. 

“I remember when we were able to form proper sentences, we would get a sign on our chairs that read ‘Sentence Maker’, and every morning I would peek into the classroom to see if I’d gotten mine,” she said. “In the end, I was the last person in my class to get my sign, and I vowed never to be the last at anything again.”

After being voted the Member for Willoughby in 2003, Gladys stepped down from a senior leadership role in the finance sector, and quickly became caught up in the throes of public office. Without any prior experience in each field, Gladys took on and excelled in her roles working across mental health, transport, and then as Treasurer.

When elected Premier in 2016, Gladys says she was quite surprised by the change in pace. “The multitude of daily challenges that land on your desk is incredible,” she said. “You learn to not respond to the daily clutter and keep working towards a long-term strategic vision, which is very challenging. I chose to cut down on crisis control, and only deal with customer services issues.

“Five years in the banking industry set me up extremely well for a life in politics,” she added.

When queried by an audience member on whether she had plans to move into Federal Government, Gladys said she couldn’t concern herself with next steps, and instead focuses on doing her best with the tasks she is faced with today. “I have no ideal timeline for my political career, but ultimately that will be decided by the people of NSW,” she said. “The public will not support you unless you own the future. The decisions we make today will absolutely affect the future generations.”

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