Lyn Lewis-Smith – CEO of Business Events Australia, and an avid champion for mentoring. In this podcast we discussed her passion for humanitarian work, women empowerment and building a purposeful career. She talks about the impact of having a mentor in the early stages of her career, along with her numerous life stories on formal and informal mentoring that are inspirational enough to get you going, so let’s dive right into it!
Hello, and welcome to The Mentor Evolution Podcast. I’m Charlie Ellis your host, and I’m here to uncover the stories behind Australia’s great industry minds. So you the listener can know their story.
Hello, and welcome to the next episode of The Mentor Evolution Podcast. I’m here with the CEO of BESydney, Lyn Lewis Smith, a not for profit events company, who market Sydney as a business, global talent, investment and trading hub. How are you going today, Lyn?
I’m really well, Charlie, really well.
Well, looking forward to the conversation we’re gonna have, I’ve been doing some research on your experience. And it’s really amazing. And you must have some fantastic stories to tell. So I’m looking forward to that on this gloomy Sydney day, locked down.
A good story will keep us happy and healthy.
Exactly. So to start off these fantastic stories, we’re just gonna do a few daft little questions. Based off the popular chat show. Inside the Actor’s Studio. We’re just going to do a few inside the mentor studio questions. So Lyn, we’re just gonna start with what’s your favorite word?
I have to say, awesomeness. I love people achieving extraordinary things. And when my son was growing up, I would always say, man, that’s awesome. I took him to Google because he didn’t believe it was a word. So yeah, that one has stuck with me for a while.
That’s classic. That was a lot. That’s cool. What’s your least favorite word?
Well, it would have to be the opposite. Like pessimistic. I’m a glass half full kind of gal.
Cool. Nice. What sound or noise do you love?
Ocean waves crashing at my front door. I don’t live in that environment now. But boy, I want to live in that environment soon.
That’s the same as me. 100%. There’s something so calm about hearing that. And what sound or noise do you hate?
Definitely nails down a chalkboard.
Definitely, definitely. And the final question, what profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
I’m going to say where I’m going next and that’s humanitarian work, addressing social inequality. It’s a real passion of mine. I see the inequality and the divide, and I want to work around mental health, homelessness, supporting women fleeing domestic violence. Simone, who runs this mentor business, is also the founder of the Women’s Resilience Center. I want to give back and there’s a lot that we can do.
Well that sounds like some really fantastic work that you’d like to do. And like you’re saying, with Simone, and her running the Women’s Resilience Center, obviously doing a lot of work around that. That probably says a lot about your motivations with regard to your career. So how did you get your start in your career? Was there someone that helped you along the way?
My journey has been pretty long and windy, I’d have to say. I’ve worked in a number of industries in many countries and also worked in many cities in Australia. I started out in Adelaide in retail banking and then moved to resources working for Santos. But my real career started when I came to Sydney. I fell into this group of friends that were from all over the world, and they’d come to Sydney for different reasons. And they have sort of been my guiding light through my career and my personal life.
So you’ve got a lot of influence from your peers and your friends and family, from their experiences. And that kind of inspired you in a way.
Yes it did. It helped shape my next 10 years early on in my career. I met this fabulous woman that gave me an amazing framework to work with. She helped me understand what I was passionate about, my strengths, what I loved and loathed… and that really set up a roadmap for me and my career, and I owe a lot to that person. We have stayed in contact and I have taken everything that I learned from her and now I’m giving back to others through informal and formal mentoring.
That’s fantastic. You know, we say 80% of CEOs say they’ve received some form of mentoring in their life, whether it’s formal or informal. And was there a moment when you were younger where you realized the career projection you wanted to have? Or was it quite organic?
I actually think there was a pivota, moment and that was when I came to Sydney. I felt like I hit the glass ceiling in Adelaide, and I just couldn’t get those jobs to progress my career. So I was actually on the way to New York, I was going to buy a ticket. But I arrived in Sydney, and I didn’t leave. And the pivotal moment was when I got a job at TNT Express Worldwide. I had an amazing manager there. And I went on to be one of the top 30 sales people in the world and I qualified for an incentive trip. First class to Miami to take a Caribbean cruise. I was able to take my partner who’s now my husband. I was exposed to all these senior executives from around the world. And I had a week with them on this cruise. And at that moment, when I came back, I thought this is where my career trajectory is kicking off. It was two months after I got back from that trip that I left TNT and moved into Tourism. I developed a startup called Australian Sports Travel – I identified a gap in the market for the Hotel Group I was working for, to host sporting groups on weekends. We went on to plan meals for these elite athletes as they traveled around Australia competing at state and national championships. That role led me to Kosciuszko Thredbo and establishing the Institute of Sport Thredbo Alpine Training Centre. A $6 million facility that was built for our Olympic athletes leading up to the 2000 Olympics. They used it as a base for altitude training. And those were the two pivotal moments and I have spent the last 20 years in tourism and business events.
Wow, that’s a fantastic story. So you got to spend a week on a cruise in Miami with CEOs and corporate managers.. That sounds fantastic.
It was great, but very daunting at the time.
What’s the most valuable life lesson you’ve ever learned from any person?
It’s my husband. He said to me early on in my career, it actually was when we just got back from the trip to Miami. He Said, you know Lyn, certain people will come into your life and be influential in a positive and negative way and it’s important you swim in your lane, don’t enter into the negative and always take the higher ground – and I’ve done that ever since. That approach has built a lot of resilience over time. Just keep focused and you will go on to achieve some great things.
Well, that sort of advice, you know, that kind of informal mentor that you receive from your friends and family – you know that that stuff can push you to go on. Fantastic advice and the ability to be able to take that and run with it. You know that that takes a lot as well from a person.
It does impact your personal and professional life. And I think that’s the key. You know, the conversations that we have, we really need to lean into and listen to what people are saying, sometimes they don’t want to be quite direct, but they say things for a reason. And if you take that seriously, you can reflect and do something with it. I think it’s really important to listen to what people are saying to you when they are giving you advice, they’re doing it for a reason.
Unknown Speaker 10:23
Definitely. And, you know, you’ve got to respect those relationships that you develop in the business world. And because they are people you work with, and it’s all a matter of developing relationships, but in a professional sense, so you take those values from your personal life and run with them in the business world, like you say, by listening and having a conversation and working together. That’s something that can make business and organizations really powerful. So what advice would you give to a driven student or worker you know, say a young professional that wants to break the mold?
I would say that there is no mold. I would say get comfortable with being uncomfortable, you sort of have to continue to challenge yourself to develop professionally and personally. My friend PIp Marlow says, fear is only a feeling not a fact. So don’t let anything hold you back. I just think back yourself and go for it. What’s the worst that can happen? You know the saying, that that doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Right?
Definitely. Definitely. That’s such a great outlook to have. And I’m sure you’ve had that as you’ve been going through your professional career. You’ve had seven years at the UTS Business School, you’ve won the Destinations International Humanitarian Award as well.
And I’ve also read that while you’ve been at BESydney, they’ve generated commercial outcomes, more than a billion dollars. You obviously have that attitude that you’ve been describing the whole way, I’m sure, through that kind of work you do. But saying that, I’m sure there has been failure. What’s your favorite failure, if there is one?
I just learned this saying recently, because I’ve been on a digital transformation journey and speaking to tech companies, a saying called fail-yeahs – celebrating failures is important because risk taking is part of the innovation ecosystem. You really do need to take risk and celebrate failures. I think my favorite goes back to my early years. I tried out for the Australian netball team and I had worked so hard, I had done everything I could to prepare and you get one shot on the court. And I blew it, unfortunately. Not to say I wasn’t good enough. I just did a few silly things on the court that day. But I learned a great deal from that. And I think that has set me up in my business career. Playing sport teaches you leadership, teamwork, strategy and decision making. I think you learn a lot from your early years and you take that into your personal and professional life later on. So yeah, fail-yeahs!
What a great saying! I know what you mean, those sports and scenarios, you do learn a lot because it’s so intense. And that feeling you get when you’re playing at a higher level, I know the pressure. You know, it gets to me sometimes and you do feel like you learn a lot about yourself – who you are and what you need to do to grow. When you’re in such a position being a director for the committee for Sydney and the Association of Australian Convention Bureaux, how do you learn to stay on top of things within your role?
It’s about lifelong learning, isn’t it? You know, one thing I’ve learned being on the Business School Board of UTS is that it’s all about keeping up to date. I’m a podcast junkie, there’s no doubt. I listen to various podcasts, mainly about leadership and strategy. I keep up to date with the Australian Institute of Company Directors, because of my board roles, it’s really important that I stay abreast of compliance, regulation, risk, and everything that’s going on in terms of governance. I have a degree in Business and Technology so digital transformation is really a passion of mine. BESydney has just been through a significant transformation which has been really exciting. Technology is one of the biggest industries in the world, it affects every business and our daily lives. So to keep ahead of the game. I also read a lot but podcasts are my go to.
It’s interesting to hear the tactics used to stay in the loop. And through that whole industry development, through your career, what’s been your most fond professional memory?
A career highlight for me was co-chairing the Global Summit of Women in Sydney in 2018. I’m a true advocate for women in leadership and their personal, professional development. We had an amazing steering committee that I worked with, we hosted 1000 women from 65 countries in Sydney. But the key highlight for me was the vision to bring women from the Indo Pacific to this meeting, an opportunity that they would never have, that is to go to this event where it happens anywhere around the world. But because they’re our close neighbor, we were able to work with DFAT to bring around 30 women to Sydney for the event. And the real gratifying point for me was the learnings they took from the summit, the tools and techniques that they learned, they took back to their personal and professional lives, into their communities to address inequality, domestic violence, pay parity, women in leadership and politics. And that just really, at that point, proved the power of people coming together and meeting face to face, and discussing and debating issues and challenges and sharing ideas and solutions. And yeah, I’m really proud of that moment. And it really is a career highlight. For me, I feel like I’ve made a difference in some women’s lives.
Well, that’s amazing. And I’m sure like you said those women would have taken so much from that. I mean, I’ve just read a report, Goldman Sachs reported 70% of women who were mentored by senior leaders were promoted to managing directors roles within the next five years. So that you know that kind of formal mentoring at those events is such a powerful tool for everyone who attends, if it’s minority groups, whoever it is, it’s such a great memory to have.
And I think what’s wonderful about the role that I’m in now and the amazing team that I lead, is that we have an opportunity to bring events to Australia that can address the inequalities. There are events that are obviously good economic powerhouses and there are also events that we can secure that address a lot of the issues and challenges that are going to come out of COVID. We can play a role to bring the world leaders here to discuss and debate those big issues and come up with the solutions. Australia will be seen very differently on the world stage and we feel at BESydney we can play a part in making that happen.
100% I mean, Australia is renowned for its tourism, industry and its events and everything that happens in that regard, however being able to navigate some kind of message towards women, resilience, like in the sense that in many minority groups or people who need that kind of support and developing their careers is fantastic. Bringing the global talent to Sydney to provide their thoughts and inspiring ideas is such a great movement to create.
Absolutely what we should be doing in Australia, playing our part on the world stage.
Definitely. And I suppose this links into the idea that your husband gave to you that kind of piece of advice, or it could have been through your early development when you were talking about a week cruise in Miami, or it could have been the netball trials. So where does your sense of self belief come from?
I’m my father’s daughter. Dad was a racehorse trainer. We had 70 race horses, in our backyard, in suburbia Adelaide, near the beach, and I used to get up at 4am every morning with dad to work horses. He instilled in me work ethic and self belief. You know, you fall off a lot of horses. And you’re told to get back on. And so I just decided that I wasn’t going to keep falling off. You learn to believe in yourself, perseverance and a whole lot more. He taught me that. And he taught me about leading a purposeful life. Yeah, he has been a major influence. He unfortunately passed away 30 years ago. I really regret that he hasn’t been around for most of my adult life to see my professional career, but I know he’s looking down on me.
Well, we look at all the achievements you’ve got. I mean, that work ethic is definitely something that’s carried you through. I’m gonna ask my final question of the podcast, now, this one’s probably a little bit more philosophical. And it’s not necessarily about your career or your story. It’s just more about what you think of the world, it could link to the idea of BESydney incorporating those messages for more minority groups and people who need it after COVID. If you could teach everyone in the world one concept, what concept would have the biggest positive impact on humanity?
Oh, boy, that’s such a big question. I’m going to say lead a purposeful life, be passionate and kind, respectful and be grateful. Contribute to making the world a better place.
What a fantastic answer. Well, there we go. That’s it for our next episode of The Mentor Evolution Podcast. Thank you very much for coming on Lyn. It was fantastic to hear your stories, and how BESydney has been working over the past years and what you’ve done throughout your professional career. It was really fantastic speaking to you Lyn, thank you so much.
Thanks, Charlie. I really enjoyed your great questions.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai