From ‘woman overboard’ to woman on a Board: How a sailing accident gave Jackie Connor purpose

Jackie Connor trained as an early childhood educator before moving into the printing industry for 17 years as a business owner. Now Jackie holds a corporate role as an experienced Procurement Category Manager with Metcash - which supplies IGA and other retailers in the food category, on premise and off premise alcohol with ALM, as well as hardware retailers including and Mitre 10 and Total Tools. She is also on the Board of two not-for-profits: SPELD NSW which helps children and adults with specific learning difficulties, mainly dyslexia, and One Direct Connect which offers in-home and out of home services, including Meals on Wheels, to people on the NSW Central Coast. 

You started on your Board journey three years ago. What was the catalyst that made you apply for your first Board role?

The whole board concept came across my desk when a girlfriend planted the seed. I knew I had some skills I could obviously share with Boards but wanted to make sure the Boards I joined aligned with my values.

Around the same time, I had a near-death experience. I was learning to sail on a 37ft yacht on Sydney Harbour when I almost drowned. It was only my third time out sailing. The skipper called ‘all about’ and that’s when everyone has to go from one side of the boat to the other. I hesitated and, in that split second I flew across the length of the boat, smashed into the side and flipped upside down into the sea.

I remember thinking, ‘I can't stop’. I was plummeting down, deep into the ocean. I didn't know how long I could hold my breath. When I finally came up for air, I’d swallowed so much water I felt sick. My first thought was ‘well, I’m alive and breathing’. Then my second thought was ‘but what about sharks’. I looked for the boat, but it was getting dark and the boat was quite a way off. I saw a buoy in the distance so started paddling to it. Eventually the yacht came back to save me.

I was bruised all over and broke my wrist but was quite flippant about it the next day. It wasn’t until someone told me how I could have smashed my head on the boat on the way down, that I realised how lucky I was to be alive. 

How did this incident change your outlook on life?

I went out sailing the next week. It’s like getting back on a bicycle - you have to do it. But I think I'm resilient. I've had a lot happening my life including running my own business. After this experience I could see how people can give up in the water and drown. When you swallow that much water, it really does affect your psyche. Again, it’s about making the most of every opportunity. Because you never know what's around the corner. Events like this teach you to value life and think about using your time wisely.

Why did you choose to join the Boards of SPELD NSW and One Direct Connect?

I realised that I even with my full-time corporate job and as a mother, grandmother, Toastmaster and more I still had bandwidth in my life to contribute to causes that help others.

SPELD NSW helps adults and children with specific learning difficulties. Having trained as an early childhood educator, I strongly believe everybody needs to be given a chance in this world - and if you can't read that really limits your ability. It’s important to identify dyslexia early.

With One Direct Connect I had recently made a sea change from Sydney to the Central Coast and wanted to do something on a local level. They were looking for somebody with a logistics background, so it was simply a case of having the right skillset and being in the right place at the right time. 

Why was it important to you to be on the Board of a local organisation?

You don’t have to be based where the organisation is. In my day job I’m solving problems with people on the other side of the country and it doesn’t matter. But living in an area you get to see what the issues are. So being on the Board of One Direct Connect is not just about being able to attend board meetings in person. It's about knowing what the problems are locally, who the organisation is helping, and getting to see the direct results of your decisions.

Do you have any regrets not starting with Boards sooner?

I always say I wish I’d started sooner. But no matter when you start to think about Boards, or what stage you are at, there will always be opportunities depending on your skill set and what that Board is looking for.

You pivoted from running your own printing business for 17 years to a corporate career in procurement. Tell us about that.

I made a concerted effort to gain experience outside of the rapidly declining printing industry. It proved I can adapt to different situations - I had four jobs in four years which at my age was pretty rare. But I think it helped me, in terms of flexibility and cognitively - with learning new systems, new industries and meeting new people.

How do you balance your full-time job and Board roles?

I now hold down a high level, full-time, corporate role and two Boards. It’s about being able to juggle all that and still having a good work/life balance. It’s all about time management. If you don’t allocate enough time to read Board papers you're not going to be as valuable to the Board. Reading them the night before is not reasonable.

How have recent world events, such as COVID, drought and the war in Ukraine affected your business dealings and Board work?

It's been a real challenge. I work closely with our transport manager and in my procurement role, this affected everything from transport to labour and has meant building partnerships with our existing supply chain and also making changes to the way we appoint new suppliers. It has a domino effect. 

What we’ve encountered recently on the global stage, we have not seen before in our lifetime. It is also a big deal for all not-for-profit Boards, because where we might be trying to raise money or apply for grants, the focus now is elsewhere with people donating to other charities.

What message do you have for other women thinking about taking on their first Board role?

If I can encourage anyone to pursue a Board career I will. One of the messages I have for women is to never underestimate themselves. With any of us sometimes you can get imposter syndrome, but I come away from board meetings feeling that I've really contributed. I believe you are a better contributor when you're happy in your life and feel fulfilled. For me, giving back to others is a fulfilling thing. And with everything that’s happening in the world right now, you never know what’s around the corner.

You can find Jackie on LinkedIn HERE