Change has been a constant of Magdalena Klimkowska’s personal and professional life, which suits her just fine, as she thrives in the face of it.
Ms Klimkowska grew up in a small village in Poland, about two hours south of Krakow. From a young age she knew she wanted to see the world. While studying in Poland, her penchant for adventure took her to the United States on a work and travel program for two months every year. After completing her diploma and then a masters in textile engineering, she moved to the States to live.
She was then presented with an opportunity to head ‘down under’ and work in Melbourne for one of the world’s largest diamond manufacturers and wholesalers. She jumped at the chance to move to Australia, which she describes as "the best place in the world to live".
Opportunity in change
Ms Klimkowska describes her time setting up a new division of the diamond business in Australia as a fantastic experience, but she was keen to head down a different career path.
Eight years ago, this led her on a totally different path – to the power industry, where Ms Klimkowska started work as a temp in an admin role with Transfield Services. When Zinfra secured a contract to work with Transfield, she was transferred over to the Zinfra team. She quickly identified that the industry was ripe with opportunities and she was keen to grab them with both hands.
"Initially I thought I wanted to become a project manager, so I studied a project management course while working," Ms Klimkowska said.
"But through the various mentors I had at Zinfra, and in response to how the industry was changing, I realized I was better suited for subcontractor management."
Over the past three years, Ms Klimkowska’s role and the scope of her work has changed in response to Zinfra expansion. These days, Ms Klimkowska and her team, which has grown from two to almost 20 people, manages subcontractor performance in Victoria and Tasmania.
"We ensure the subcontractors are consistent with their performance and meet the training requirements that Zinfra and its clients set out," Ms Klimkowska said.
"Our focus is on safety, delivery, excellence, cost-effectiveness and continuous improvement."
One of the key projects Ms Klimkowska and her team has been involved in is managing the subcontractor component of the United Energy contract – Zinfra’s biggest, which is worth more than $100 million per year.
Ms Klimkowska describes her role as "a big job", but is quick to credit the work of her team.
"It’s a big job, but I’m able to do it because I’ve got a fantastic team. We work collaboratively with all stakeholders to mitigate risks, navigate challenges, find agility and flexibility when it’s needed, and create innovative solutions," Ms Klimkowska said.
"By managing the subcontractors in the power industry, I very quickly understood how crucial it is to create a high-performing team with a great variety of skills."
Depth in diversity
Ms Klimkowska said one of the greatest strengths of her team was in the diversity of its perspectives.
"Diversity for me means ‘uniqueness’; we’re not just talking about gender, but different backgrounds, experiences and abilities," Ms Klimkowska said.
"Our industry is constantly evolving and there’s an urgent need for innovative approaches. I find the more diverse the team is, the quicker it is to identify and solve problems.
"In my team, we challenge each other’s ways of thinking while, at the same time, making everyone comfortable to share their ideas. This creates a culture where no-one is afraid to speak up."
Ms Klimkowska acknowledges that women are underrepresented in the power industry, but she encourages women looking to embark on a career in the industry to see this as an opportunity, not an obstacle.
"It is a male dominated industry – that’s just a fact. But I think we should focus on capability not gender," Ms Klimkowska said.
"My advice is: don’t focus on being one of the few women in the area. Instead, concentrate on making yourself invaluable, becoming an expert in your field, holding yourself to a high standard and having a positive attitude. If your boss knows that you’re up to the challenge, they’re more likely to engage you in those great projects and will want you to be part of their team."
Making the most of mentors
Ms Klimkowska also advocates for everyone – irrespective of gender – having supportive mentors. She says she has had several key mentors – including Mark Adams, Paul Cameron and Michael Green at Zinfra – who have helped her develop her skills and supported her during her career at Zinfra. These relationships have helped her navigate times of change by creating a safe space to ask questions, and have given her confidence to embrace new opportunities.
"Change can be daunting, and sometimes frustrating. But it opens up so many opportunities to make a difference in the business across multiple levels," Ms Klimkowska said.
"And I thrive on it"