From tragedy to passion: Finding the right career support

February 21, 2023
career support

Jennifer Heugh was only 21 years old when her life changed forever.

In 2009, Jennifer’s younger brother – then just 18 years old – passed away suddenly. And even more devastating, the exact cause of his death was unclear (and still is to this day).

It was shattering for everyone, but it hit Jennifer especially hard.

If there was one good thing to come out of such a tragedy, it was that it radically transformed Jennifer’s perspective on life. It ignited a deep passion that shaped much of her future.

Today, Jennifer is General Manager of Format Innovation & Development at Woolworths Group, and that same passion borne from that fateful event continues to drive her.

A life ended, a life reborn

Through the sadness and tragedy came a gift: a renewed perspective that accompanied her for the rest of her life.

“One thing I decided during the years that followed was that I would do what I love regardless of what others’ perceptions might be.”

Her brother’s sudden passing gave Jennifer the courage to do what she really loved without worrying about what others may say or think.

And for Jennifer, what she really loved was retail. 

Pursuing retail head on

Jennifer’s love for retail started from an early age.

At 14 years old, she worked in her local newsagent selling lotto tickets and papers. By 16, she was working in Kmart, where she worked her way up a number of line manager roles over the next several years. 

When her brother died, Jennifer was 21 years old and seemingly at a crossroads in her life.

“When I was younger, retail wasn’t necessarily considered a ‘career’. It was, however, something that I loved and was passionate about.” 

Her brother’s death inspired her to pursue retail despite it not being a popular career choice for many.

career support

“I threw myself completely into building my career in retail and advocating for it.” 

Over the next several years, Jennifer made her mark in retail, moving up the ranks in the companies she worked for and progressing to higher and more impactful roles.

After successful stints in retail giants Kmart and H&M, Jennifer was approached by Woolworths Group for a role as a Format Development Manager. 

She took it and later advanced to her current senior role, where she continues to use her expertise to shape the in-store experiences of the company’s stakeholders.

The right company at the right time

Looking back on her career so far, Jennifer realizes how fortunate she is to work with a company like Woolworths Group, which aligns not just with her values and career goals but also her personal needs.

A few years after starting with the company, Jennifer had her second baby. She recalls receiving outstanding support, both in terms of parental leave benefits and inclusivity. The company’s parental leave benefits remain exceptional to this day, as Jennifer recently had her third baby and is enjoying its many perks.

“The parental leave support is exemplary, as is the return-to-work support. I’ve always felt included and not missed out on opportunities as I work to balance my career with being a working parent.”

She adds: “The flexibility I have in my role and the opportunities I have at work mean I can integrate work and my personal life in a way that prioritizes and re-prioritizes what’s important on a regular, sometimes daily, basis.”

Woolworths offers flexible working arrangements, shared caring responsibility benefits, and a highly inclusive culture that supports working parents across all levels.

Learn more

Whether during pregnancy or her return to work, Jennifer never felt alienated, unsupported, or left behind.

“I’ve always been afforded choice and opportunity by the Format Leadership Team and the extended Woolworths Group to pursue the flexibility that works for me as well as being included in career opportunities.”

But the company’s support went beyond parental benefits – they also went further to help her improve her personal well-being.

Beyond professional support

Despite her success in retail, Jennifer realized that something was still not completely right in her life.

career support

“Even though I knew what was motivating me, I very much kept my personal life and professional life separate. I wouldn’t always show up completely and authentically to my team, which restricted my leadership. This created huge, overwhelming moments.”

Naturally, this took a major toll on her personal and professional well-being.

“It made me realize that I hadn’t processed my emotions connected to my brother’s passing. I’d just push them way down and ignore them.”

Fortunately for Jennifer, Woolworths Group was ready to help.

The company provided access to services that helped Jennifer process and manage what she was struggling with since her brother’s passing. 

“The ‘I am Here’ campaign that the company promoted and its focus on well-being gave me tools and access to therapy services and personal support. This enabled me to understand why I would respond the way I would, and it certainly helped improve my overall well-being.”

Woolworths Group’s focus on holistic well-being also shone through as it helped Jennifer develop her knowledge and skills further despite her personal struggles.

Woolworths invested in my professional development through individualized coaching opportunities that supported my skills and leadership capability. This also helped me bring my full, authentic self to work.”

A renewed purpose 

Through all this, Jennifer uncovered something bigger and deeper in her life. 

Bigger than her passion for retail is her purpose.

“My purpose is as simple as not wanting to make someone else’s day worse – we never truly know what someone is going through. Having empathy without knowledge is so important. I ground myself in that, and I approach any setbacks, challenges, or obstacles with optimism and problem-solving. My brother inspires that.”

Now, Jennifer is driven to create a better day not just for people today, but also the future.

“I’m inspired working in innovation and making decisions that will benefit the future lives of individuals and communities. I’m talking about our 2030 and 2050 sustainability goals.” 

“By 2050, my daughters will be approaching the age I am today. I’m motivated to be part of today’s solution for their tomorrow.”

jennifer heugh family

Jennifer looks back on her career with amazement and deep gratitude. She hopes to impart the same passion for life among her children and to everyone she meets.

“Ten years ago, I wouldn’t have expected to be in the role I am in today! While devastating circumstances triggered my own courage to do what I truly love, don’t wait for this to be passionate about what you do.”

Want to learn more about the benefits of a career at Woolworths Group?

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About the Author

Jacynta Clayton’s career started in recruitment advertising and employer branding, working with global clients to create and deploy strategic and creative content. Now she combines her industry experience with the knowledge from her psychology and professional writing degrees to write unique and resounding stories. As a WORK180 storyteller she relishes the opportunity to elevate the voices and experiences of so many amazing people, while also empowering and educating audiences on how to choose a workplace where they can thrive.

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