Carolyn Smith (TC ‘96) discovered her passion for managing events after leaving school. The fast-paced environment, diversity of roles and her love for creating and making memories for others are what attracted Carolyn to the sporting events industry, and since then she’s gone on to hold a wide variety of roles during her career.
From the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games to the Royal Melbourne Show and major participation events including fun runs/walks, cycling events and triathlons in Australia, Canada & USA, Carolyn has worked across an enormous range of major events. “Knowing I’ll never be a professional athlete – this is the next best thing to being part of the action!” she says.
Recently, Carolyn worked on her ninth Australian Open, one of the world’s major tennis championships alongside the French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open. The event is the largest annual sporting event in the Southern Hemisphere and the biggest sporting event in the world in January, attracting up to 800,000 patrons each year.
Carolyn currently holds the role of Venue Manager, Australian Open at the Melbourne & Olympic Parks precinct, which spans 40 hectares on the banks of the Yarra River, and is home to six of Melbourne’s premier venues, including Rod Laver Arena, Margaret Court Arena, John Cain Arena, AAMI Park, CENTREPIECE at Melbourne Park and KIA Arena. Each year, the precinct hosts over 300 events and welcomes more than 2.5 million people, with an array of iconic and world-class entertainment and sporting event experiences.
WHAT ARE YOUR FONDEST MEMORIES OF YOUR TIME AT TOORAK COLLEGE?
The opportunities to learn and grow in such a supportive environment. The friendships made with other students brought together such a “community” feel, where these bonds have continued into my latter years in life where friends feel more like sisters.
Commencing my time at Toorak College in Grade 5 at Wardle House, I loved being able to try new activities and gain new skills (some of which I wasn’t great at, but it was all about having fun in an inclusive environment). Some highlights were:
- Bringing baked treats back from Materials & Technology class to the common room to share with friends
- The vast array of activities I participated in - swimming, tennis, volleyball, Rock Eisteddfod, and holding the role of a rowing coxswain (I remember those freezing mornings at rowing training at Carrum River!)
- Representing Cerutty House in blue and white colours for school sports day, cheering on fellow students and encouraging them to do their best
WHAT DO YOU THINK IT MEANS TO BE A TOORAK COLLEGIAN, AND WHAT DOES TOORAK GIVE YOU TO SET YOU UP FOR SUCCESS IN THE FUTURE?
Toorak College provided me with the tools to take on the outside world including building my confidence, passion, and drive to be my best. My time at school gave me the courage and independence to try new things and push myself out of my comfort zone.
Being a Collegian means you are part of a very special community. Anyone that has attended the school feels grateful for their experience. A lot of us have continued to demonstrate and live the Collegian values well after our last Year 12 exam. I feel very lucky to have been provided the opportunity by my parents to invest in my education where I held a great deal of pride to wear the Toorak College uniform.
The one thing about Toorak Collegians is no matter how long it has been since catch ups, it only feels like yesterday. So many of my best friends are those I made on my first day at school, where we roamed the cloisters and sat next to each other at school assembly. These friends have remained loyal and have been my biggest supporters and cheerleaders in life.
So many inspiring women have been raised from their time at Toorak College, who I admire for being able to juggle their career and family life. My friends are the most amazing role models for their children, and I have loved watching their little families grow.
WHAT IS YOUR CURRENT ROLE AND WHAT DOES A TYPICAL DAY LOOK LIKE?
Holding the role of Venue Manager, Australian Open at Melbourne & Olympic Parks, I lead the operational planning and delivery of the event in collaboration with the event organiser, Tennis Australia.
During the Australian Open, I work as the Chief Warden in the Venue Communications Centre where I work closely with Tennis Australia and emergency services such as Victoria Police to oversee the smooth operations and management of the event.
My role oversees many aspects of the event including emergency management, crowd safety, security, medical services, facilities management, site overlay, player movements, VIP arrivals and operational issues such as ticketing, catering, workforce, biosecurity, site redevelopment and guest experience… just to name a few!
My day usually starts with a 4am alarm - the days are very long and stressful, but when you see the event being broadcast to millions of viewers across the world, it’s a pretty special feeling knowing you have played a small part in making the event happen. I don’t think many people could claim they host the world’s best tennis players such as Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, and Serena Williams at their workplace!
I love seeing Tennis Australia continue to strive to be the best Grand Slam in the world – the event has really transformed in my time from being not just a sporting event but a destination for live music, food, shopping, and family entertainment. If you have not attended an Australian Open before, I hope to see you next January to experience this amazing event!
WHAT PATH DID YOU TAKE TO GET TO WHERE YOU ARE?
I worked my way from the ground up – my first job was a stable hand role at my next-door neighbor’s horse property in Year 10. Upon leaving school, I went to TAFE then started out in temporary and contract administration roles. One of my first tasks included stuffing newsletters into envelopes at a local school! Even though this wasn’t the most enthralling or glamorous task, it showed my manager I was willing to get my hands dirty and take on even the most mundane tasks with a positive attitude, which then landed me full-time employment at that workplace.
I continued to seek opportunities to gain as much work experience as possible and volunteer at major events such as Planet X Extreme Games, Rip Curl Pro, Vancouver Winter Olympics, and the President’s Cup Golf.
Reflecting on my senior years of school, I felt pressure that the default path I had to take was to go straight to university. I sometimes felt lost sitting in the Career Counsellor’s office - I compared myself to other girls that were stronger academically and had known they’d wanted to be a lawyer or doctor since primary school. My older self would now say never compare yourself or your journey to others – what success looks like is an individual journey.
HAVE YOU FACED ANY CHALLENGES IN YOUR CAREER?
Nothing will come close to defying the odds of hosting a Grand Slam with crowds during COVID-19 over the past two years. It was one of the toughest events to plan and deliver, but one of my proudest achievements under such complex conditions. Hopefully we can now put the lockdown disruptions, crowd capacities, biosecurity measures and onsite player practice quarantine facility behind us!
ADVICE TO THE CLASS OF 2022
Dream BIG! Never lose sight of your goals no matter what people say. Use any negative comments or experiences to fuel you to drive even harder to succeed and prove them wrong.
1. Best piece of advice you've been given?
Never stop learning. You can never say you know everything – continue to challenge yourself and seek opportunities to grow both professionally and personally.
Networking is such an important part of finding your being. Whether it’s working with connections to find a pathway to your next big break or leaning on a mentor for advice, these continue to be so important to build goals and help to gain more clarity/direction on your next step.
Your attitude can be a lot more valuable than your skillset to an employer – be proactive and keep a positive mindset no matter how many rejections you may encounter along the way.
2. Worst piece of advice you've been given?
Never make mistakes. If you don’t make mistakes, you don’t learn!
3. If you could create a universal law that everyone had to follow, what would it be?
4. Biggest influence on your life to date?
Travel… get out and explore the world! Make new friends, learn new cultures, and take it all in. Travel provides so many opportunities for self-discovery, transformation, and independence. I have been so grateful to live and work in London and Canada, where it stretched me and provided me with so many valuable learnings.
Travel enriches you as an individual. My biggest tip is to push yourself out of your comfort zone and take the opportunity to travel alone. Even though at the time it was scary boarding a plane to London on my own with a one-way ticket in hand, the friends I made and the independence that the experience gave me was invaluable to my personal growth in my 20’s.
5. Most important learning from the last 24 months?
Look after yourself – your health (especially mental health) needs to be #1 priority.
One of my key focuses was “circle of control” – to focus on the things I could control/had an impact on rather than waste energy on watching endless news stories on TV and social media which left me feeling down and negative about the situation. Surround yourself with positive people – spend time with family/friends that bring out the best in you.