"I never meant to do an MBA, but it was the best decision I made"
Change-maker and HR leader Julia Poloai explains why her urge to gain global experience and make a difference in people’s lives led her to an unexpected study choice she’ll never look back from.
I cannot remember a time I didn’t want to change the world. At age 12, I chose to do my school project on discrimination, while other kids chose to study horses and skateboarding. Even then, I could not think of any better project than one which would bring awareness to myself and my classmates on the opportunities that exist to better celebrate diversity.
People are my passion! I enjoy helping them overcome challenges and recognise what they are capable of achieving. During my time at university studying a Human Services Degree, I was eager to apply my newfound education. So, I dedicated two years to community service, building resource programs and awareness for issues facing America’s refugee and nationally displaced communities.
It was during this time that I also learned the value of self-care through hobbies like yoga and kickboxing; my stress management tools to decompress from the day and move my awareness from a constantly working mind back into my body. From a wellbeing point of view, I think this is a vital process we all need to find an outlet for.
I eventually widened my scope of influence to manage employees in the not-for-profit sector. I facilitated behaviour change services, coached new change-makers and developed regional diversity and inclusion programs aimed at bridging the gap for professional staff of colour and other minority groups.
But, my widened scope of work also led to a career transition that forced me to pick a diverging path. During my time working at not-for-profits, I had been thinking about doing a master’s degree.
Instead, a great opportunity in a new industry presented itself with a national insurance broker in Seattle.
A few years in though, and I still could not shake the long-standing desire to learn more. My existing job would keep me locally grounded, but I already knew the path of continuing HR in my hometown; whereas the path of going abroad was becoming more appealing. I saw it as an opportunity to further my growth – both personally and professionally, igniting a desire to discover more.
The University of Queensland landed heavily on my radar. I always intended to continue specialising in my field, but I wanted to build international understanding and experience. I already had contacts in Australia, so I chose UQ as Brisbane’s highest ranking university on a local and global scale, to ensure my degree could be recognised worldwide.
I arrived in Australia, intent on studying a master’s more aligned with human resources. However, an unexpected front runner came to my attention with the Master of Business Administration (MBA) at UQ.
Since I already had years working in HR and management under my belt, the UQ career consultant I met with assured me my experience was better suited to an MBA. While unsure at the time, I trusted their advice on the MBA being the best route to grow a new professional network abroad, while broadening the scope of coursework to international business and C-suite topics that would leverage my existing experience.
Having undertaken a career transition in the past, I wanted to ensure whichever degree I chose wouldn’t pigeon-hole me in one field.
The UQ MBA program not only enhanced my existing skill set, but also helped me better understand the distinction between consulting and company practice, define my interests and identify opportunities. The real-life experience gained on client projects throughout the program gave me exposure to varying industries and local issues, and allowed me to hone in on the value I could bring to business.
The unexpected study path paid off, and I managed to turn my global passion into action, becoming the Head of Culture and Talent for a fast-growing Australia and Germany-based tech startup – a role I absolutely love.
While studying and even in my new role, I advanced my kickboxing and yoga, as a way of taking control from the challenges of the day. These activities help me restore balance, an important trait of any leader I believe.
The Brisbane job market is competitive for my field, and the benefits of an MBA allowed me to keep challenging myself in local industries and Australian HR, whereas I otherwise would have had to start over or rebuild from the ground up in a new location.
I didn’t know it at the time, but learning about innovation and working with startups during the course later allowed me to hit the ground running and understand the new environment and challenges I now work in.
I could have had a difficult time transitioning effectively or been unable to remain agile in my new role without having an existing foundation. Because of the MBA, I could walk into a new company and a relatively new industry and understand what questions to ask to get up to speed quickly.
A UQ MBA was an unanticipated path for me, but it gave me the confidence to continue changing the lives of people in business and help them succeed, no matter where I am in the world.