Sonya trained as an engineer and has worked in Australia and Britain across industries including beverages, packaging, retail, supermarkets and fashion retailing. In London she discovered advanced markets that were more attuned to the concepts of sustainability, waste, recycling and ethical purchasing.
She found her passion in sustainability and began the transition to managing sustainability and ethical sourcing.
“It was a really dynamic and active market,” she says. “Major companies like Unilever and retailers like Marks and Spencer were making their mark. They were putting out ambitious goals into the market and also positioning their business purpose with sustainability, which was quite new at the time. It was a really exciting and dynamic place to be.”
After returning to Australia she gained further experience at Coles and Cotton On Group before arriving at the Wesfarmers-owned Bunnings home improvement stores. Her job there took in all areas of sustainability; human rights, nature and biodiversity, energy, waste and packaging and community.
At the heart of what attracts Sonya to the sustainability sector is the people.
“The one common thread which brings them all together and links them, is that it's about creating better communities, more strong and resilient communities for people,” she says.
“I also find that the field of sustainability is constantly innovating and improving. What was a new idea many years ago becomes the baseline for the future. We all remember dolphin-free tuna many years ago and CFC aerosols. That was a new idea in its time but now it's the baseline for what we use to build even more sustainable initiatives.”
The Wharton program will give Sonya the opportunity invaluable interaction with both the faculty and a diverse group of students.
The course is designed to extend leadership and management skills for people who have deep functional expertise in specialist disciplines. Sonya has worked in sustainability for more than 20 years and wants to extend her leadership and management skills beyond her area of expertise.
Understanding the nuance
“This will help me to influence and partner more effectively across the business by having a deeper understanding and a deeper connected way of working with other key business functions. The key skills which I was looking to extend are around finance, marketing and also operations and strategy,” she says.
“The course was an ideal fit for me as I was looking to become more effective in communications and add more to cross-functional teams through that nuanced learning of what it is that connects the work that we do across those functions.”
In addition Sonya hopes the course will help improve her decision making overall and build her personal confidence to influence and create more long-term change in sustainability as well as linking strategy to financial-based performance.
We are proud to support this scholarship and we congratulate Sonya and the other recipients. Our support for this program aligns with our commitment to play a role in improving social and environmental outcomes for our customers and the community.
Christina Tonkin is managing director for corporate finance at ANZ and a CEW member