Jan's story: from Olympic swimmer to success in HR

Jan went for an interview for a job through a corporate placement agency in the 80’s and realised quickly that the girl behind the desk, interviewing her, had the exact job she was looking to land. “How can I do what you do?” she asked. HR in the 80’s didn't require the psychology degree it demands today, instead it was a glorified matchmaking service, that’s not to say it was easy. Jan had no training, no formal higher education and no mentor; she had her brain, drive and intuition, a combination of attributes that would catapult her talent into real success at a global level.

Way before this era in her life, Jan was an Olympic swimmer. She traveled to Townsville with her family when she was 12 years old and watched in awe the Australian swim team, training for the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. She knew then she wanted to swim professionally. Her Dad became her coach and by the age of 19 she was swimming the freestyle relay with Dawn Fraser et al, to win the silver medal in Tokyo at the ‘64 Olympics. Her Dad died six weeks before this dream was realised and she accepted the coaching baton in lieu of further professional swimming pursuits. Running her own swim school, becoming a Mum to 3 children and then a single mum, she was ready for the next challenge, a complete shift away from the pool.

Jan believes that when she started working at Drake as an employment agent she had a knack for tapping into the potential of employees by helping them get comfortable in their own skin. Before she realised there was any such competition for the number of placements a consultant made in one year, she was second worldwide. The next year she topped the list, placing 210 employees into work. She could see beyond the candidate’s specific skill set and drill straight for their energy (the vibe), drive, sociability and insight. She had a talent for matching the right employee with her clients (companies). She never put someone in a job she didn’t believe was the right candidate and as a result, companies sought her expertise in finding the right person, they developed trusting, successful relationships. She was headhunted by one of her clients to work in-house as the HR manager, where she worked for 22 years, developing her own career. She saw huge shifts in industrial law, fair work and employee rights before she retired at 69.

Ever since I first spoke with Jan she told me, where life was concerned, “I just knew what to do.” And she really does possess that air of ease and an unquenchable thirst for getting things done or putting the right people in the right place to get things done. Jan is in her early 70’s with a sharp mind and a quick tongue. She loves to potter in the garden and read, she has dedicated her life to meditation practice under Falun Dafa and exercises to keep her grounded and healthy. She is also pretty busy teaching the grandkids how to swim, keeping her connected to her life in the pool.

- Jan Becker's story as told to Nat Power

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