Ladies in Racing –  Charmein Bukovec

Charmein Bukovec with Galileo in June 2018

Charmein Bukovec is shattering glass ceilings.

As the newest Executive Officer of Thoroughbred Breeders Victoria (TBV) not only is she one of the first females in the position, but she is also one of a few women across any industry in Australia to hold such a position under the age of 30.

As the state arm of Thoroughbred Breeders Australia, TBV is the peak industry and representative body for Victorian thoroughbred breeders. The TBV Committee, headed up by President and Lauriston Thoroughbred Farm’s James O’Brien, works with its members and stakeholders to promote a sustained and successful breeding industry in Victoria.

Growing up in Melbourne, Charmein’s family regularly made the trip back to her mother’s home country of Ireland, her first was to celebrate her first birthday. It’s here in the Emerald Isle that her love affair with horses began.

“I remember being on Nan’s farm playing with the cattle and horses,” recalls Charmein.

“My uncle would take me around the paddocks, bareback on a pony that he’d borrow from the local castle. I got bucked off a few times but he’d always say to get back up and get back on. Whilst they aren’t involved in horse racing, my family love watching the races and National Hunt.”

“My parents would ride hacks on the weekend and my dad bought me a rocking horse for my sixth birthday. They say horses are part of an Irish person’s soul and my love affair with horses definitely started young!”

Charmein started her career in the corporate sector, working in high performance management, customer management and experience and improving team cultures across Australia and New Zealand.

“In 2015 I was working for an American owned company when I was approached on LinkedIn by a member of Racing Victoria’s HR team about a job opportunity,” said Charmein. “It came through when LinkedIn was still relatively new and I initially thought it was spam!”

Agreeing to an interview and quickly realising she could combine her passion for horses with her business skills, she jumped at the opportunity and accepted the role of Racing Victoria’s Customer First Team Lead. Her work here gave Charmein a great insight into many aspects of the industry – the success stories, the challenges and the unique offerings such as the breeding industry’s Victorian Owner & Breeder Incentive Scheme (VOBIS) program. Amongst other initiatives, it was under Charmein’s guidance that Racing Victoria implemented the syndicate online renewal process, which was rolled out nationally.

“I’ve been fortunate to always have had very supportive colleagues and managers around me,” said Charmein. “The Board at TBV is phenomenal and we have some strong amazing people helping to drive and change the industry. We’re making change however I still think our industry has a long way to go to make it an even playing field for all.”

Charmein credits coming from a very female-centric family as inspiration and a massive foundation that has gotten her through a lot of the challenges she has faced in her work life.

Charmein Bukovec and Ellie Vagg at the Moir Stakes Owner’s Event at Moonee Valley (Reg Ryan/Racing Photos)

“One of the strongest women I know personally is my Nana. She came from an era in Ireland where men were in charge, but she was different. She ran the farm with my grandfather, taking charge and built it up to be a very successful farm at that time in Ireland. As a child, my father also instilled in me the values that I still hold dear today, such as loyalty and integrity.” (Charmein’s father passed away from Motor-Neurone Disease when she was only 8-years old).

When asked if there is one stand out issue that the industry needs to tackle, Charmein takes a moment to think about the question.

“There are so many things I’d like to focus on,” considers Charmein.

“Welfare is dear to my heart. We do a lot for our horses but I don’t think the general public realise exactly what we do. We need to bridge the gap between our racing and breeding industries and the general public. When you’re riding or working with a horse, there’s a complete level of trust from both sides.”

As well as improving the industry’s public image, Charmein also believes in creating educational programs for young people, especially women, to encourage people into the industry.

“I’d love to see the creation of a Training Centre for Excellence one day. I never knew I could make a career in this industry or know where to even begin to look for a role. Had I known, I would have been in this industry a lot earlier than I was. It’s the best industry to work in, such a community, with so many opportunities.”

In late July, Charmein spoke to a group of 30 women about to embark on racing’s Women’s Mentoring Program. Run in partnership with Tabcorp and Racing Victoria, the 12-week program is designed to improve gender equality in the racing industry, whilst engaging, growing and retraining women in the industry.

Charmein was a mentee graduate in the 2018 program and it was through connections and learnings made within the group that she credits with the opportunity of applying for the TBV role.

What advice would she give to young women either already working or looking to get into the industry?

“When thinking about your goals, where you are now is only temporary. It’s only a stepping stone to where you want to be, so stay true to yourself and back yourself,” Charmein advises.

“Learn and be open to as many opportunities as you can. Know your values and your morals and don’t let anyone push you to compromise them. Work hard and it will all pay off. Ultimately, stay kind and just be a good person. Your family aren’t going to remember you for your job title.”

Outside of the racing and breeding industries, Charmein is heavily involved in Melbourne’s Irish community, and is a member of the Irish Chamber of Commerce and the Victorian Wakeful Club. She credits her experiences with the Rose of Tralee, an international event billed as a celebration of modern young Irish women, as great foundation for public speaking and getting pushed out of your comfort zone. So much so, she challenged herself by playing Danny Boy on saxophone to a crowd of four-hundred Irish people solo.

Connections of Halvorsen after winning the VOBIS Gold Carat at Moonee Valley. (Brett Holburt/Racing Photos)

Having already achieved so much in her short career, Charmein has a plan in sight for the future but also doesn’t let this limit new opportunities that may come her way.

“I grew up wanting to be a vet or a lawyer prosecuting for children’s rights. As a child, I would collect any sick dogs or cats and bring them home, my mother was forever calling their Owners however my career led me into the business world. I did work experience with the Victorian Courts and realised I’d get too attached to the cases and so it wouldn’t work with my personality. I know I won’t leave the industry, but I’ve always wanted to make a difference. If I’m not working towards the greater good, it doesn’t make much sense to me.”

As she is currently also completing her Master of Business Administration (MBA) at Victoria University, Charmein does not have a lot of spare time but she when she does, she loves nothing more than switching off the phone and getting to the great outdoors to hike, ride or read a good book under the shade of a tree.

Over the past few years Thoroughbred Breeders Victoria has gone from strength to strength, and under the leadership of Charmein, it only looks set to soar.

Article courtesy of Ladies in Racing