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The one piece of advice John Howard gave me to land my dream job

The New Investors video series brought to you by Yahoo Finance reveals the secrets of the most successful entrepreneurs and business people in Australia today. This is the tenth episode of the season.

When former NSW Liberal Party lead Kerry Chikarovski entered politics, there weren’t many women who had walked the path before her.

In fact, Chikarovski, or Chika as she’s widely known, was the first woman to lead a major political party in NSW and held the position of Leader of the Opposition from 1999 to 2002.


But, prior to this, Chika was Member for Lane Cove - a gig she nearly missed out on.

Kerry Chikarovski is interviewed by The New Investors Host, Sarah O'Carroll in the studio. She sits on the couch, and discusses the piece of advice former PM John Howard gave her that led to her landing her dream job. John Howard attends the late Bob Hawke's memorial service in Sydney. Source: Yahoo Finance/Getty
Kerry Chikarovski on the best advice she received from John Howard - that led to landing her dream job. Source: Yahoo Finance/Getty

Chikarovski was on a short deadline

At the age of 34, Chika made a five-year plan to achieve her dreams of being a politician, but eight months into the plan, she was hit with a big surprise.

“John Dowd decided to resign as the local member four days before Nick Greiner called the ‘91 election,” she told The New Investors host, Sarah O’Carroll. “So my five-year plan at that stage was about eight months in, not as well advanced as I'd hoped it to be.”

In most pre-selections, budding politicians are meant to meet other members of parliament and explain why they’re the person for the job, but Chika only managed a few phone calls on her short deadline.

Up against existing minister of the Crown, John Hannaford, who wanted to come down from the upper house to the lower house, Chika thought her chances were slim.

John Howard’s advice that changed Chikarovski’s course

The lack of women in politics in the 90s was becoming an election issue, and often used as a play card.

As a mother of two in her early 30s, Chika was entering new territory, and she needed to make a call on what her campaign narrative would be.

If Chika was tossing up between answer A and answer C on Millionaire Hot Seat, former Prime Minister, or former Leader of the Liberal Party as he was back then, John Howard, was her lifeline.

Prior to her pre-selection, Chika phoned her mentor, John Howard, and asked for his advice on how to win the seat.

“‘Look, there's one thing I would say to you. Do not harp on about being a woman’.”

“He said, ‘because it's clear that you are a woman. You don't need to be throwing that into their face that they need to pre-select a woman’,” she explains.

Instead, Howard told Chika to talk to her audience about what could bring to parliament as a member.

A winning political speech

Chika said she persuaded the crowd on the night that she could do the job.

“I think what I was bringing to the parliament was that I was a local. I mean, my kids were at the school locally, I'd grown up in the area, and I was someone who was in touch with what that community was needing in terms of its infrastructure,” Chika said.

After nominating on Monday, Chika headed to the pre-selection that Sunday, and walked out a winner.

“There were 50 people in the room - I got 22 votes on the first round, but I got 26 on the second round, and I won the preselection.”

“From teaching at the College of Law, I was suddenly thrown into an election campaign, and it didn't stop from there.”

Chikarovski’s advice to women

While Chika chose to pitch her qualities and not her gender, being in politics as a woman was not, and is still not, without its challenges.

And, the challenges of being one of the first women to lead a major political party did eventually take their toll on her relationships, and later her career.

“I think if you talked to my ex husband, he'd say to you that I was a good mum, but not such a good wife,” she conceded. “And I acknowledge that upfront, because I got so consumed by it all that I was always making sure I had time for the children, but I didn't have time for him.”

So while Howard’s advice may have landed Chika her dream job, women still take on the major family caregiving role, and that combined with a demanding job can be extremely difficult.

“I'm always encouraging women to step up and to actually push themselves, and to try things which they don't think they can do,” Chika said.

“But I always say to them, ‘you need to do two things when you do that. You need to have confidence in yourself, but you also need to make time.’”

That’s time for your partner, children and yourself, Chika explained.

“I did the kids one, but I was lousy on the partner and myself.”

Putting her kids first was a major factor in Chika’s exit from politics, as she realised they were over the ups and downs of the job, and it’s something she thinks men are a little less inclined to do.

“I do think women make some decisions which men won't make.”

The New Investors video series brought to you by Yahoo Finance reveals the secrets of the most successful entrepreneurs and business people in Australia today. This is the tenth episode of the season.