Maternal bravery repaid A refugee’s risky quest for a better life is rewarded by her daughter winning a prestigious scholarship
WHEN Nancy Nguyen was growing up she used to ask her mother why she risked her life on a refugee boat from Vietnam to Australia in 1975. Her mother’s husband had fought in the South Vietnamese army and, after the fall of Saigon, the family faced possible persecution with their children being excluded from the country’s education system.
“A life where there was prejudice and, being barred from education for generations to come, was never an option for her,” says Nguyen who was born in Perth after her widowed mother came to Australia. “She decided to jump on board a boat and search for freedom and a voice. The sacrifices she made have always been a driving force behind why I value education.”
A business adviser working for oil and gas giant Woodside, Nguyen has become the first person to win a scholarship to do the University of Sydney MBA awarded by the UN Women National Committee Australia. Nguyen originally did a Bachelor of Science in physiotherapy at Curtin University and set up her own business. Deciding on a change of direction, she then did a Masters in occupational health and safety. Her high marks in the degree saw her offered a job at Woodside in 2005 where she has done a variety of jobs, including working offshore on oil rigs, in an onshore project in Libya and working on the company’s Browse gas project.
She says she was attracted to the University of Sydney’s MBA program because it was very hands on. “It is very immersive,” she said. “It is all about learning about yourself – breaking down your traits, getting a feel for your strengths and weaknesses and how you can improve on them. I felt I could use it to build on my skills – the skills you need when you are dealing with people face to face.”
Nguyen, who says she “loves education”, sees the MBA as helping her goal to serve in a senior leadership role at Woodside which, she notes, has two female non-executive directors, Sarah Ryan and Melinda Cilento. She says Woodside has been very supportive of her plans. “It is part of their diversity policy. They are allowing me to take the time off to fulfil my course requirements.”
Nguyen says she sees doing the MBA as helping to build her leadership skills. “I am working in a highly competitive, male dominated environment. The MBA will give me a greater understanding of how business operates and the finer details.” She is also keen on expanding her skills in future by serving on some community boards. “The MBA will help me become ‘board ready’,” she says.
She still admires her mother's courage to come to Australia and bring up two children on her own. “Coming to Australia wasn’t always easy, especially integrating back in the 1980s and trying to find work here, coming from a non-English-speaking background. Coming from a refugee family from Vietnam, I am grateful for the opportunities I have been able to pursue. I am part of a first generation of women in my family to have a tertiary education in Australia.” She hopes that winning the scholarship will help encourage other women to succeed in business including in the oil and gas business. “My aim is to help open doors for other women in my industry and in the broader community.”
Nancy Nguyen says the MBA scholarship will help her become ‘board ready’