Why Lucy Turnbull Is Always Willing to Push the Boundaries

Lucy Turnbull

As Sydney’s first female lord mayor in 2003, she learnt a thing or two about trailblazing. Since then, the philanthropist, company director and chair of the Sydney Opera House Trust has always been willing to push boundaries.

My first job was making sandwiches in the school holidays when I was about 15. The guy who ran the local grocery store asked if I’d like to start a sandwich bar. I had a board outside saying, “Come in and try Lucy’s sandwiches.” It was a good way of learning how to deal with customers and have fun at the same time.

My first uncomfortable conversation was probably with a younger brother! But seriously, when you’re in a leadership position, you have to have uncomfortable conversations. There’s no doubt that when you’re in charge of an organisation, some people will be a better match for your goals than other people. What’s important is having empathy for the person you’re talking to.

My first boardroom was at a not-for-profit, the Sydney Children’s Hospitals Foundation. With any not-for-profit board or foundation role you have to be passionate about what you’re doing and about the cause – children’s health has always been a passion of mine and we raised a lot of money. To do that, you need to work on your “elevator pitch”, the same as in any sales role, be it children’s health, selling houses, securities, even political campaigns. Everything you do should align with that pitch.

The first time I chaired a council meeting as lord mayor was great. The most exciting thing was how many people wrote to me saying it’s so good that somebody has broken through the glass ceiling as a female lord mayor. I didn’t expect it. I’m practical – I do stuff and don’t consider what people think. Julia Gillard spoke about that when she became prime minister and it chimed with me. In a way, that meant more to me than becoming lord mayor.

The first time I invested in an entrepreneur I was hooked. [My husband] Malcolm and I established the Turnbull Foundation, which is a private foundation, more than 20 years ago. We get a lot of enjoyment out of supporting early-stage not-for-profit ventures: there’s a fantastic guy called Shane Phillips, who runs the Tribal Warrior Association; a wonderful woman, Dr Tracy Westerman, who has a foundation with the goal of educating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander psychologists; and Arise Foundation, which helps to re-establish women leaving home after domestic violence. It’s the small, community-driven notfor- profits that actually see the opportunity and do the work.

My first professional failure was in 1986. I capitalised a fashion business with a small amount of money. The money was spent very quickly. It taught me to know what I don’t know – and I didn’t know anything about fashion.

The first time I recall being truly impressed was when I went to the opening of the Sydney Opera House with my godfather in 1973. It’s very poignant to me that I’ll be going to its 50th birthday celebration in October as chair of the Trust. It’s something I would never have imagined in a million years.

Defining moment

I worked for many years in a law firm. We did some really interesting legal cases, like the Spycatcher case in 1986. I worked closely with Malcolm as his offsider. He was interested in the drama of the trial, the witnesses, the headlines; I loved doing all the legal research. The case itself was a triumph but it was also a triumph for our partnership and our marriage.

SEE ALSO: Gregory Robinson Shares How the Future of Leadership is Changing

Image credit: Daniel Boud

You may also like