With nearly 11 years’ experience at Sydney Water, Jaques Ostrowski, AGSM 2020 Full-Time MBA student, joined Sydney Water’s graduate program in 2008. Progressing through the ranks to Senior Process Engineer Team Leader where he provided technical expertise in water quality, system analysis and treatment processes.

In addition to being a highly qualified chemical engineer, he is a certified organisational coach and a Toastmasters International trained speaker – two very different but complementary career paths. Jaques began his AGSM Full-Time MBA program in 2019 and was elected President of the Public Speaking and Debate Network by his cohort and he regularly mentors UNSW Engineering students. AGSM spoke to Jaques about how important it is for leaders to be excellent communicators.

Q: Can you tell us about your career at Sydney Water and what inspired you to improve your communication and public speaking skills?

A: My first few roles at Sydney Water involved project managing and technical troubleshooting of water and wastewater treatment plants and distribution systems. It was a great way to learn about the whole process from catchment, to tap, to the beach. In my last role, I led specialised teams in the development and implementation of systematic strategies to improve the performance of treatment processes, assets and operating water systems.
I found that many smart and capable engineers had difficulty expressing their ideas on how to improve work-place systems. I observed that this wasn't due to managers being unreasonable, but rather the message was getting lost in the way it was being delivered. During an engineering degree, you are not typically taught presentation or managerial skills and I thought this was a huge shame as the organisation could benefit from these innovative ideas, so I decided to do something about it.

Q: What made you decide to do an MBA?

A: I wanted to challenge myself to grow my skillsets and broaden my knowledge to leverage my unique combination of analytical and people skills. I wanted to be accredited by a highly regarded MBA and I did my research and considered the top three in Australia. After attending a few information sessions AGSM blew me away by the quality of the program, staff, alumni, and the variety of scholarships available. I spoke to several AGSM students and alumni to find out about the program and based on their inspirational stories I had to apply.

Q: You are also a certified organisational coach and a Toastmasters International trained speaker. How have these qualifications helped your career?

A: It has provided me with the skills and tools to help engineers within Sydney Water to communicate effectively in a business environment. Coaching them to use the tools to communicate their ideas effectively to non-technical people. The most rewarding aspect of this new career path was seeing my shy colleagues come out of their shells and really start kicking some career and personal goals.
I also mentored other professionals within the Australian Water Association’s Young Water Professionals network and I was appointed the President of Toastmasters International for Sydney Water Club.

Q: Since starting your MBA, how have you integrated your skills as a public speaker and coach with your studies?

A: I've carried my passion for public speaking into my MBA by setting up a program to coach and provide a safe environment for my peers to practice and acquire key public speaking skills within the first week. As a result, my peers elected me President of the Public Speaking & Debate network and I led and mentored my cohort to develop their confidence, leadership, and self-actualisation through public speaking. Transforming today's managers and thinkers into impactful leaders.

Q: What has had the most impact on your career and MBA journey so far?

A: The Managing Director of Sydney Water once said that everything and every task involves people. Without them, you cannot achieve anything of significance. I've taken this to heart and have learnt to work on my emotional intelligence, more specifically having empathy for people.
Empathy has helped me understand how other people think and feel and is key to learning what drives them. I now seek input from others, and I’m guided by their support and partnership on projects. I’ve had an amazing experience coaching people however, the MBA taught me that it is ok to lean on others as well, which has had a profound impact for both my personal and professional life.

Q: Do you have any advice for future MBA students wanting to study at AGSM and how they can develop their public speaking skills?

A: As the country's top MBA school, AGSM carefully selects not only top talent, but also well-rounded experienced candidates to create value and diversity of thought for every cohort. You will be challenged, but with that comes incredible growth and opportunity. The academic and professional staff along with the alumni network are amazing and will offer you a world with limitless possibility.
Also, don't let a fear of public speaking hold you back as it can be one of your biggest assets. The AGSM MBA is about being pushed out of your comfort zone to become an exceptional business professional. Find a safe place to overcome your public speaking fear, and practice until it becomes second nature. A famous saying that got me through my fear is: - 'Ships are safe in harbour, but that's not what ships are built for'.

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