Project Sydney: Influential group of business leaders pass vital lessons to a new generation

Project Sydney mentors: L to R, Kevin McMillan, Melanie Laing, John Slack-Smith, David Matthews, Ainslie Van Onselen, Damian Eales, Rebekah Giles and Joseph Carozzi. 

Project Sydney mentors: L to R, Kevin McMillan, Melanie Laing, John Slack-Smith, David Matthews, Ainslie Van Onselen, Damian Eales, Rebekah Giles and Joseph Carozzi. 

THESE eight movers-and-shakers are the powerful people you want in your corner.

The influential group of Australian business leaders have all benefited from the wisdom of mentors — and under the Project Sydney Go West mentorship program they will now pass vital lessons to a new generation.

As part of the scheme, 45 students from Western Sydney University and TAFE NSW will be selected for one-on-one mentoring with influential business leaders.

Project Sydney mentors: L to R, Kevin McMillan, Melanie Laing, John Slack-Smith, David Matthews, Ainslie Van Onselen, Damian Eales, Rebekah Giles and Joseph Carozzi.

It will also include “lunch and learn” workshops with leading chief executives and guaranteed work experience in industry leading companies. David Matthews, chief executive of The Giants, revealed his first mentor was a WWII veteran who ran a taxi company in Victoria and gave him his first job in Australian football.

“He imparted upon me the importance of building great relationships,” he said. “He encouraged me to ... find something I was passionate about and pursue that.”

Ainslie Van Onselen, chief executive of RAMS, counts foreign minister Julie Bishop among her mentors. “I think mentoring is really important if you don’t have family or connections within the industry,” she said.

“You can ask questions you might not be comfortable asking your boss in a more formal environment and they can help guide you with various questions you might have.”

GIANTS’ David Matthews.RAMS CEO Ainslie Van Onselen.

Project Sydney is The Daily Telegraph’s campaign to address the problems that come with our city’s soaring population and explosive growth — and that includes creating jobs for young people.

Joseph Carozzi, managing partner of PwC Sydney, said his mentor was the person who explained “what are the rules, what are the unwritten rules of engagement, who do you talk to, what do you do, what matters?”

Harvey Norman chief operating officer John Slack-Smith said the retail giant already had a graduate program and strong partnership with TAFE to mentor and encourage young people into the business. “We are really looking for people who have got great personalities, a good work ethic and at its most fundamental who enjoy working with people,” he said.

“And a part of that working with mentors is to be inquisitive, be open, ask lots of questions, ask their opinions but seek the opinions and advice and the stories from a whole range of people.”

Rebekah Giles from Kennedys Law.NEWS Corp’s Damian Eales.

Damian Eales, News Corp Australia Publishing chief operating officer, said mentors were vital in providing “honest feedback”.

“By giving you that honest advice they are going to tell you about those de-railers, those things that could really send you off track that others might not see and you might not see but a mentor often will,” he said. Melanie Laing, Commonwealth Bank HR group executive, said mentoring was “about giving and growing”.

“The key to success is being clear on expectations and committed to making best use of your time with each other,” she said. Commonwealth Bank has awarded $1000 to each of our inaugural Project Sydney Mentorship recipients to put toward their studies. Rebekah Giles, partner at Kennedys Law, has had a number of mentors over her career.

CBA Executive Melanie Laing.Kevin McMillan from The Works Creative Agency.

“They really helped me hone my interests, they pointed me in the right direction, they vouched for me as I entered the workplace and introduced me to people that I really needed to know,” she said. For Kevin Macmillan, founder at The Works creative agency, a good mentor was the person who translated how the working world really ran.

“Education is useful but it’s not the real thing. Having a mentor in the real world just gives you a better understanding,” he said. “The key thing for me was understanding what not to do.”