‘Just say yes’ to life and boost your career

Sue Jackman

General Manager, Power Services

Career at a glance

While completing a degree in Civil Engineering and post grad studies in Financial Project
Control, I kicked off my career as a cadet, tunneling under the city streets with Melbourne
Water.

A few years in, I took a leave of absence and relocated to London, where I worked for
engineering consultants, WS Atkins, on a number of water based projects across the UK and
Europe.

The role took me to Egypt as well which was a real eye opener, particularly in the late 90’s as a young, blonde-haired woman, with female engineers all but unheard of there at the time.
Soon after, I was asked to go and work in America, and figured if I had the opportunity to
continue combining travel with my career, that could only be a good thing. And so I moved to the USA.

My intention was to go for a year, but I ended up staying for 8, including a year in Canada. I was primarily based in Dallas, Texas, working on gas and electricity projects, but worked on a variety of hurricane and tornado emergency response efforts across the country too.
14 years ago, I moved back to Australia where I took on a consultant role with Alinta, now
Jemena. And just 6 months ago, I moved across to my current position at Zinfra.

Working at Zinfra

Zinfra is full of action. The speed we work to is incredibly quick because the industry and
environment can change very rapidly. There’s always a new challenge, but I love the pace – it’s very energising!

The Zinfra leadership team is wonderful to be a part of. Five women make up 50% of it, which is the largest group of women I’ve ever worked with at that level. This is a real testament to
Zinfra’s values of diversity and inclusion as an organisation.

If you 'just say yes' you never know what amazing life adventures await
Sue Jackman, GM Power Services

Greatest career challenges and achievements

In my early career, being a female in a man’s world was a real challenge. But the experiences I
had made me appreciate difference, and I learnt to relate to people who might be navigating
similar struggles.

My dad and brother were both engineers, so that’s what I knew, and that’s what I wanted to
become. I wasn’t going to let anything stop me.

In the mid-90’s, I was the first female worker allowed onto a prominent landmark construction site in Melbourne CBD. Initially I wasn’t welcome because I was a woman, and my boss suggested I be assigned elsewhere to save the hassle. But I was persistent, and eventually I was granted access, opening doors for other females in the industry. That’s something I’m really proud of.

In the USA, I worked on some really interesting and significant projects. In Dallas, I carried out
power response efforts across states in the “Tornado Alley”, and after Hurricane Katrina, I
moved to New Orleans to be part of a 6 week response team restoring power to affected areas.

After Hurricane Wilma, I moved to Florida to help rebuild the power network. This took just 4
weeks, despite having to navigate floodwaters in tin boats surrounded by sea snakes and
alligators.

In New York, a week before the 9/11 attacks, I gave a presentation to ConEd, one of the largest energy companies in the US, on some of TXU’s projects. That was the last time I had contact with many of those ConEd reps as some were injured, and others suffered mentally trying to process what had happened. The experience taught me the importance of understanding mental health as a leader, and that you don’t need to be directly impacted by something to need support.

Passions outside of work

During the Covid-19 lockdown, I discovered that I love doing puzzles. But I don’t like things unfinished, so my new hobby has become quite time consuming!

I love to snow ski - that’s my favourite sport. My husband and I own a beach house, so we spend most of our free time there over summer. I also enjoy mountain biking and kayaking, as well as a catching up with my girlfriends over a few wines.

Climbing the ladder and giving back

My philosophy in life and career is ‘just say yes!’. Many opportunities will present themselves
and there will always be reasons not to take them, but if you ‘just say yes’, you never know
what amazing life adventures await! Also, build yourself some good networks. Make sure you
have someone you can have grumble to and seek advice from, and get yourself a mentor, and mentor others if you can. It’s a real privilege to help someone else achieve their goals.

Being female means you have wonderful opportunities in the industry today. At Zinfra, we’re
encouraging women to take up roles in operations, not just leadership positions, because we’re keen to see more women moving into non-traditional field and technical roles.

Key career influences and supporters

As a young engineer, I worked with a man named Bill at Melbourne Water. He managed large
complex projects and when stressed he would simply stand up, look around the room, take a
few deep breaths, then sit back down and get on with things. People in the office would say
“ooh Bill must be having troubles on his projects”, which surprised me because he always
seemed so calm. But I soon came to realise and respect that this was his coping mechanism,
and it really stuck with me because stuff will happen, and to be resilient, sometimes you just
have to “be like Bill”.

Empathy is also an incredibly important skill I learnt from many of my favourite managers.
When a colleague is struggling with something or simply has a different opinion, you have to be able to empathise with them. What may not seem like much to you will always be a really big deal to someone.