AUTHOR AND BUSINESS FOUNDER EMBRACES POWER OF THE PEOPLE
ANDREA TUNJIC HAS BEEN BOTH UNION ORGANISER AND BOSS. NOW SHE’S TEACHING EVERYONE HOW TO BE HAPPY AT WORK
She had no idea at the time, but a teenage Andrea Tunjic was already preparing for her future role while still in the schoolyard. A student at Melbourne’s Kilbreda College — a Catholic school for girls — others often turned to her with their problems.
“It might be a boy problem, a family problem,” says the 47-year-old author, business mentor and 2015 Cairns Small Business Woman of the Year.
“I got a bit of a reputation for making people feel good about themselves. I just helped them look at their situation in a different way. I’d empower them. It was fun for me. It still is.”
The enterprising author of People Power and founder of business consultancy People Strong believes her family background helped her identify issues and come up with solutions.
“We had a lot of challenges at home and I had to learn to be resourceful. When I knew something worked for me, I could share it with someone else and that made me feel good. It’s really important for me to feel happy. It’s No 1.
“I’ll go to any seminar, read every book I can so I can influence my own happiness.”
Andrea’s parents arrived in Australia as refugees from Yugoslavia, meeting at English classes in Melbourne’s St Kilda.
“My mum was only 17. She escaped from a labour camp into Germany. She had quite a harrowing journey. Half of her family ended up in Canada and half in Australia. They were not sure who was going to make it.
“Assimilation was tough. My dad had some failed business ventures that he took hard and my mum lost a hand in a factory accident at 19. She had one child and was pregnant at the time. She brought up five kids with one hand. It’s remarkable stuff.”
Andrea says that tenacity rubbed off on the children — all born in Australia and brought up balancing the best of both cultures.
“Our parents love Australia. We were given Australian names. We didn’t speak a different language at home.
“We were really encouraged to be Australians.
“I had no sense they were struggling as much as they were. They did everything they could to support us. We were the only ‘wogs’ in the suburb and it was all part of their view, they had made the decision to be Australian.”
While education was important, gender was a non-issue, Andrea says.
“My dad had four girls and one boy, so we were encouraged to be strong women and the best that we could be.”
Marketing studies at Swinburne University in Melbourne failed to excite Andrea, who joined her sister in Darwin, re-enrolled at uni and immersed herself in political studies and international relations.
“I loved it. I became student union president and did some fantastic stuff in Indonesia on behalf of the university.
“We were trying to create an information exchange between our university and five provincial universities in Indonesia — to get more books into their libraries, help them think about having student unions, more female representatives and a sporting exchange,” she says.
It was Andrea’s first involvement with the union movement.
“My parents had nothing to do with unions. I didn’t know what they were,” she says.
Back in Melbourne, she was snapped up by the Finance Sector Union, and after moving to Brisbane, the National Union of Workers.
“That was great. I loved it. That’s where I met my partner. He was secretary. We’ve got a lot of common values.”
Switching to the other side of the table after seven years, Andrea joined the corporate sector. “I’d always been on the employee side of the fence and wanted to be a consultant, but realised I didn’t have enough understanding of what it meant to be a manager or boss, so I went into human resources.
Later headhunted by someone she used to negotiate against, she worked in industrial relations at the Civil Aviation Safety Authority. “I quickly decided I wanted to be doing more leadership development and improving the ability of leaders to bring out the best in their staff,” she says.
“Because I knew what was going on in the minds of staff and also knew what was going on in the minds of managers, I could tell managers what they could do to bring out the best in their people or what they were doing that didn’t work. They just couldn’t see it.”
Moving to Cairns in 2009, Andrea has been able to apply that knowledge directly to her own businesses, Pizza Capers Brinsmead and consultancy firm People Strong.
“I went out on my own and started my own consultancy. I thought, ‘I’m ready’. I’ve been on both sides of the fence. I know how to make a difference.”
That in turn led to her first book, People Power: How to activate, energise and inspire the most valuable asset in your business. “It’s all about how to bring out the best in your staff.”
There are other irons in the fire, including a new website to help bosses and employees create a better, happier work environment. “On reflection, I was doing this as a girl. “There’s such a strong pull within me to help people feel good, but in an empowered way that leads to organisations being more successful.”