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Meet Jo Smyth – Twiga Managing Director

 Jo’s history of outstanding mentors and corporate-based work opportunities have been pivotal in the establishment and continuing success of Twiga Group.

It’s hard to believe that Jo was once too scared to start her own business. Fast forward to today and she wonders why she waited – Twiga Group is thriving. Jo now relishes being able to onlywork with clients where there is a connection and purpose.

Jo has designed Twiga Group to take clients on a collaborative and shared journey. “We help our clients step into the process of doing something different and enable them to become more confident in their learning and discovery”.

“We are part of the journey, part of their change, part of their innovation and walk the path with them.

“That’s why they keep coming back and referring others to us. Our clients trust us and we deliver.”

Jo always seeks to have “the best people” on her team. “I want to have people working with me who are better than me. I have an amazing team and learn so much from them. It’s brilliant to watch people shine and be passionate about what they love.”

Another area that is especially meaningful is Jo’s contribution to social change through her work on Boards that she began 12 years ago. She has stood on education and employment Boards covering education for early years, high school and adult and community vocational learning. The issue of learning and literacy is deeply personal.

“Education is the way to change a person’s future whether they are a young person or an adult.”

Strong role models

Jo grew up with very strong role models in both her mother and grandmother. Both were single parents who each overcame a challenging family life and limited education to forge their own career paths.

Jo’s mother had a high-profile career in industrial relations in Victoria and was also dedicated to social justice advocacy. Jo’s grandmother “overcame all the barriers of her generation” in the 1950s with her career in a stocking factory, making hosiery.

“I was brought up in thinking I could do anything I wanted. Except cook – neither Mum nor I are good cooks!”

“Growing up there was never a ‘can’t do’ moment and I had no choice but to follow in their footsteps.”

These positive role models have given Jo the freedom to make decisions to take on projects that fulfil her life – and it’s a pathway she is creating for her own daughter Lucy.

A fashionable start

Jo initially started her working life as a junior manager in retail. She was invited to be part of a management training program, where she learned about business management and people leadership, sparking an early career interest in human resource management.

Starting with a Graduate Certificate in industrial and employee relations, she followed that with a Graduate Diploma and then decided to keep going, adding a Masters degree into the mix. Jo’s own commitment to education continued with further post-graduate study in business management and ethical leadership.

Jo left retail to start a career in banking, initially in a branch and then moving into learning and development.

It was there she met an amazing executive who believed in her. A former educator, her mentor took the ‘red pen’ to all Jo’s work. It sharpened Jo’s skills and she finally achieved her goal of getting a piece of work back with no red marks. “This leader was so formative in developing and nurturing the skills I use to this day – quality, delivery and focus.”

During that time Jo learned a lot about the corporate world – how to negotiate sales, to facilitate training courses, run induction programs, how to integrate – and communicate – industrial agreements to staff and more. They are all skills integral in her own business today.

Many and varied opportunities

She was given many and varied opportunities to ‘have a go’ and had the motivation to get it right. “They gave me a shot.” That even extended to letting her use the office computer on weekends at a time when there was none at her own home.

When Jo left, she did a short stint in recruitment, which provided yet another stepping stone in her career in HR. She followed that with a role that included creating the first enterprise bargaining agreement for the Victorian Government for one of its major divisions.

Moving back into banking, Jo was offered an OHS leadership position in Sydney responsible for NSW and the ACT. With limited OHS experience, her new boss was undeterred.

He saw potential in her and became – and remains – the person who made the biggest impact on her leadership style.

Her manager cleared every obstacle that arose for Jo (then a working single parent). With Jo’s daughter Lucy able to travel with her, it enabled Jo to take up amazing opportunities and roles in HR, IT and overseeing a large-scale program management which included establishing offshore processing and change management.

After 13 years, Jo left banking and undertook the Company Directors Course and started her own business.

Initially taking on contract opportunities, Jo was able to extend and apply her capabilities across different sectors, as well as learn new capabilities for innovation and change.

It was during this time that she learned about human-centred design and its relationship to the customer and teams.

“It’s not just about the experience for the customer, but when done well it can create an incredible environment for people and the culture of an organisation. It can create innovation, autonomy and creativity in teams.” It was a turning point for her.

Looking for the freedom to take on projects that interested her, with people who were interested in the value she could bring, Jo was ‘gifted’ a client and the business changed direction.

Twiga Group has been working with that client for several years and has been able to help them look at new ways of operating and to grow their reach exponentially.

Jo loves innovating and exploring new ideas for Twiga Group. One thing is clear, she is only part way through this journey. “I’ve got more to do, that’s for sure.”

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