Leading by example
Finance manager, Columbus Coffee
After more than a decade working in marketing roles for small businesses, Jenaia Clarke (Ngati Tūwharetōa) was motivated to take on a Bachelor of Business (Marketing) with Open Polytechnic so she could back up her practical experience with a formal qualification and take her career to the next level.
Now, set to graduate in early 2021, she is working as a marketing contractor for a consulting firm in Auckland and says, after a long journey, she can proudly call herself a Marketing Specialist in the financial services sector.
Jenaia first started studying for a Bachelor of Business in 2001, and after taking time off a few years later to have her son, picked it up again recently – all while juggling full-time work and family life.
During her time working in various marketing roles for small businesses and later corporates in the funds management industry, Jenaia says while she had the experience, she knew she would feel more confident in her career if she had the theory and qualifications to back it up.
“I just wanted to get over my ‘imposter syndrome’ and being the person in the room who wasn’t tertiary educated but had all the practical experience. When you're sitting in a room full of young millennials, it’s quite easy to be overcome by this. For me, I just thought I would feel way better if I was qualified.”
After her first few years studying, she chose to major in marketing. “I had been working in marketing roles for years and I just really wanted to get that formal training. I was also more of a generalist having worked in small businesses, so I knew if I wanted to work in the corporate environment, I would really need to specialise, and marketing really excites me.”
Jenaia says understanding the theory behind marketing and being able to apply it directly in her roles has really helped with her confidence and ability to succeed.
“Everything I learn, I take back and apply straight away. Upskilling and understanding the theory has really helped me when it comes to not only my confidence but pitching my ideas. I think it is also knowing the language of marketing – it is now instilled in me and I can speak it when I am talking to clients or in the boardroom. It’s definitely this that has helped me the most being more confident in what I do.”
Jenaia was working as a Brand and Partnerships Manager for a KiwiSaver scheme when the nationwide lockdown began in March 2020 and was unfortunately made redundant not long after. While she says the redundancy was hard at the time, “it was also probably the best thing that has ever happened to me.”
“I’m now doing marketing contracting for a consulting firm specialising in the financial services sector. I worked with a career coach after being made redundant and she helped me realise that having worked in the funds management industry since 2012, I had a lot of knowledge and experience in a small and highly regulated industry. So, it was better for me to continue to work in that area rather than branch out into other areas or industries.
“Now I can say – I am a Marketing Specialist in the financial services sector and that is all I focus on doing. I have a number of clients I am working with and when I initially approached them, they were really responsive. It’s been a nice transition from being made redundant to contracting. Also, now I get to work from home and take my son to school each day and pick him up which is great. I am also focusing on finishing my studies.
The flexible nature of Open Polytechnic’s online learning was the best option for Jenaia enabling her to study around her work and family commitments.
“It’s always a juggling act being a Mum, working and studying. Time is always against you, but I try to balance out my day and as long as I can get a couple of hours study in, usually at the end of the day, it’s not such a struggle when it comes to the end of trimester and trying to put in all your assessments.”
Jenaia says, the way the study materials are set out makes it easy to access and learn at anytime. “I love the online format, it's fantastic. Even if you just have half an hour, you can go and do some reading.”
Working and studying through lockdown proved particularly challenging, but Jenaia says she was grateful for the support shown by Open Polytechnic staff.
“During the first lockdown I was studying three courses and home schooling and there was just a lot going on. I’m so grateful that the staff were so supportive and just asked – what do you need? I was able to get a week extension, which is all I needed. I’m so grateful for the leniency shown at that time.”
With plans to finish her degree next year, Jenaia is already looking at doing further education with Open Polytechnic.
“I plan to continue studying towards a Graduate Diploma in Strategic Management, because I love leading a team. I believe having both marketing and management behind me will give me a solid footing for reaching my goal over the next few years to hopefully become a marketing leader in a financial services corporate.”
Jenaia is also passionate about raising financial literacy in New Zealand, with a particular focus on equality for women and Māori.
“I’m a Māori woman in finance and it’s about empowering women to take charge of their finances and understand that making more contributions to KiwiSaver now will make a massive difference to them when they reach retirement. This is such an important issue that I am passionate about and will always bring my voice and expertise too.”
Jenaia’s advice to those who are considering study is it is never too late.
“I’ve been working since I was 18 and am now 42 and about to finish my first degree. Retraining now is the perfect time – because you’ve still got 25 years to work and you have all the practical experience behind you which sets you apart from early graduates. So, I think it is never too late to retrain.
“Also, when you do start studying online, dip your toes in the water first and start off with one course and get really comfortable, then you can ramp it up. Don’t go all in too soon otherwise you just get overwhelmed and won’t continue. You just need to be consistent and realise that you are going to have to forsake sitting on the couch and watching Netflix.
“I have recommended Open Polytechnic to heaps of my friends, just because when people have busy lifestyles and can’t commit to physically going on campus and are time-poor, it’s the best option!”
I’ve been working since I was 18 and am now 42 and about to finish my first degree. Retraining now is the perfect time – because you’ve still got 25 years to work and you have all the practical experience behind you which sets you apart from early graduates. So, I think it is never too late to retrain.