Charles Sturt University alumnus Mr Steven Hinks has worked at some of NSW’s most impressive tourist destinations and now spends his days among its cuddliest creatures.
Have you ever scaled the heights of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and taken in the wonderful views of Darling Harbour and the Opera House from above?
You can thank Charles Sturt University business graduate Mr Steven Hinks for that experience.
Mr Hinks returned to Australia after two years in the United Kingdom when the Australian tourism industry was ready to boom.
As Sydney prepared to host the 2000 Olympic Games, Mr Hinks started his tourism career with an organisation that was leading guided tours to the top of the Harbour Bridge, a feat that has since become one the world’s best adventure tourism attractions.
After starting as a guide leading climbs to the bridge’s summit, Mr Hinks stayed with BridgeClimb for 13 years, 10 of those as the Head of Operations.
He realised to make the jump to a general manager position, he would need more formal training.
When his wife Rebecca was pregnant with their first child, Olivia, he enrolled online in a Bachelor of Business (Management) at Charles Sturt University.
“Before studying at Charles Sturt University, I was a strong operational manager but making the leap into a general management job was proving harder than I expected,” he said.
“What I didn’t realise at the time is that there is a very big difference from being a subject matter expert to becoming a master of multiple disciplines and managing people that have more knowledge in their area of expertise than you do.”
Prior to graduation, Mr Hinks became the General Manager of Wild Life Sydney Zoo in Darling Harbour, which he credits to helping him further his education with Charles Sturt.
Since he was working in the zoo industry, he decided to attend the graduation ceremony in Dubbo and visit the Taronga Western Plains Zoo, unaware he would work there four years later.
“I walked up the stairs onto the stage at the Dubbo Convention Centre and just as I was about to shake Vice-Chancellor Professor Vann’s hand, I heard a tiny voice from the back of the hall call out ‘that’s my dadda’,” he said.
Mr Hinks and his wife were looking to relocate to inland or coastal NSW or Queensland in late 2016 and early 2017.
He was working as the Regional General Manager for Sydney Attractions with Merlin Entertainments, which oversaw the running of Sea Life Sydney Aquarium, Wild Life Sydney Zoo, Madame Tussauds Sydney and Sydney Tower Eye.
As luck would have it, a job as the Director of Taronga Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo became available and the Hinks family jumped at the chance to move.
“It was a great piece of serendipity that we ended up in the very city in which I graduated from Charles Sturt University,” he said.
“The timing was perfect in that I was looking for an opportunity to get out of Sydney at the same time that Taronga was looking for someone with the specific skills that I had developed during my career.”
Mr Hinks said he has been fortunate to forge a successful career in the tourism industry, one which is often subject to external factors such as terror threats, natural disasters, economic downturns and global pandemics.
But Mr Hinks said through the uncertainty there have been moments of incredible satisfaction and personal achievement and even a celebrity encounter or two.
His love of animals and inspiration after having his children to make the world a better place makes his current role the perfect fit.
In addition to managing a team of more than 300 people, Mr Hinks turns his focus to planning projects, reporting on the zoo’s financial performance, interacting with staff and guests or witnessing the birth of the zoo’s newest family members.
“Taronga Western Plains Zoo is a very unique place,” he said.
“We are a conservation research centre, wildlife hospital, visitor attraction, an accommodation provider, a scientific research facility and home to more than 600 native and exotic animals.
“There is no such thing as a typical day or week running a zoo … and that is probably one of the best parts of the job.”
Mr Hinks said those in pursuit of their dream careers should not underestimate the value of education, not be afraid to ask for help and to take responsibility of your own career by working towards a plan.
“The most important thing you can do is be awesome at what you are doing right now and avoid letting your focus drift too far to the future thinking about the next opportunity,” he said.
“Success is not about getting the job, success is about how well you do the job once you’re in the chair.”