When our team at Talanoa sat down to brainstorm – Sitiveni’s name came up as one of the best that we could potentially learn from and hopefully interview. At the age of 29, he’s overcome a humble upbringing in Fiji, a diversion from his dream job and the barriers that many Pacific people come across in the corporate world. Today, we’re thankful to have been able to speak with him. Thinking of climbing the corporate ladder? This one’s for you.
What career path have you chosen and why?
At the moment I work in the fast-moving consumer goods industry – looking after the Customer Relationship Management database for the Field Sales team in Wrigley Australia.
Why did I choose that career? To be honest it wasn’t my first choice – I always wanted to be a pilot but when I graduated from high school, Dad told me he couldn’t afford to send me to flight school which was about $80,000FJD at the time.
So I had a plan B – I was good in business and decided to pursue a degree in commerce. That was the cheaper option, but also the ideal option because it was my back up plan at the time.
What keeps you motivated?
My upbringing – I had a rough upbringing, we didn’t have much. My parents worked hard for my brothers and I, and sent us to the best schools in Fiji – but they sacrificed three quarters of their salary to do that. Looking back, I see now what the value of education was in my life then.
One vivid memory also stands out to me. When I was ten years old I saw my father pick up my moneybox and look for fifty cents to go to work. Right there and then I made a promise to myself that I would never be in that position, and that I’d never allow my children, my brothers or any of my family members to be in the same position as my Dad was in that day.
That’s what motivates me to excel every day. Yes, there are challenges that we face but I think my upbringing has prepared me for life today.
What advice would you have for other young people thinking of leaping into the corporate world?
Be curious and open to ideas that may not be similar to your own. Just because you were raised in a home where you were told you can’t do certain things doesn’t mean you’re limited. I always say, “just because someone says you can’t, doesn’t mean you can’t – you can”. You gotta believe in yourself.
Growing up I always made sure I had a dream, but I also always made sure that whatever job I started off with, I remained focused.
You have to understand that the job you start off with is just a temporary chapter – it’s not the end of your career. I think what people get caught up with is that they get too comfortable. People get too comfortable earning $600 – $700 a week just above the minimum wage in Australia. Yes, that’s a great wage, but wouldn’t you want to have a secure income? Wouldn’t you want to have a future where you can provide financially for your family?
Always look for opportunities to up-skill, and always look for opportunities to network. Networking doesn’t necessarily mean sticking with your own group of friends – friends are great, but in terms of your career, always be open to friendships with people from different backgrounds and ethnicities where you study and where you work. Always be open to asking what makes them successful at certain subjects or career paths, and ask them “what did it take for you to get there?” Always be curious.
Also, it comes down to yourself – how bad do you want it? I came to Australia in 2005, graduated from university in 2010 and didn’t start working in the corporate world until 2012. So realistically, from 2009 to 2012, I was working in a factory – I was a delivery driver and worked in warehousing. My first corporate gig was at Colgate.
Before my interview with Colgate, I had gone through many levels of interviews where I had failed. Those failed interviews prepared me for that big interview at Colgate. I went into the boardroom at the head office with people sitting next to me that we more qualified than I was for this graduate opportunity, but what set me apart from them was my presentation skills.
Be open to getting out of your comfort zone – do things like public speaking and try to up-skill your vocabulary by reading business books, autobiographies or reading the business section in the newspaper.
What are some of the barriers in the corporate world for Fijians?
From 2009 to 2012 I was applying for roles with my proper Fijian name – Sitiveni. In 2012 I changed my name to reflect it’s English version – Steven, and that’s when everything changed. It was ridiculous how many responses I got when I applied for jobs. If your name may be too hard to pronounce, try to make it easier for others and translate it to an English version. Is it taking away your identity? No, your identity is who you are.
Another barrier is presentation skills. Being Fijian, and being brought up in Fiji, when your parents are speaking to you, you don’t say anything. In the corporate world, when people say something to you or ask you a question, you have to open up and speak. You have to speak your mind while being aware of your surroundings. Use the appropriate vocabulary to reflect your ideas and they should be constructive ideas. When you’re speaking to your boss and there’s a problem – also have a logical solution ready to suggest of how you’d solve it.
I think those are two of the biggest barriers I’ve seen in the corporate world with people from our culture – a Fijian culture which is sort of a culture of silence – because when your parents say something, you listen. So if your boss says jump, you say how high, right? Well today, when people ask you for your opinion, you’ve got to speak up –if they doubted your capability, they wouldn’t have asked you in the first place. Your opinions matter so don’t be afraid to speak your mind and tell it like it is.
What does the future hold for you?
In terms of my career, I know where I want to go – to be a senior business manager for Wrigley and I’d like to look after the export account. I’m also open to a global role to work overseas for Wrigley.
How am I going to get there? Through hard work, planning, and constantly developing my current skills.
The ultimate dream job would be to go back home and work in Fiji to give back something I’ve learnt.
We’d like to thank Sitiveni for taking time out of his busy schedule to share his story with us. If you’d like to get in touch, or if you’d like to find out more about Sitiveni, you can find him on LinkedIn.