This was originally published in LBF News in February 2012.
Growing up in Mapoon there were two options for Lani. She could either follow the footsteps of many girls before her and get ‘married up’ with 5 children before she turned 25 or try something completely different and see the world. She chose the latter.
What’s most surprising was that there were no baby steps in the evolution of Lani Blanco-Francis. Some may have viewed Cairns or Brisbane as the big smoke, but Lani went all in with a full house of determination and opted for the ace of big smokes, Sydney.
In the summer of 1990, Lani and her sister hit the Harbour City with a dream of dancing. They both had been accepted by the National Aboriginal and Islander Skills Development Association (NAISDA). Six months later her sister left after becoming acquainted with the sights and sounds of one of Australia’s busiest cities.
She reflects, “I could have gone away when my sister left, but I had family support saying ‘Stay there, stick at it. Things are going to come good soon’. I’ve always had their support and I didn’t’ want to let them down. That’s why I stayed”.
Residing in Leichardt at the Tony Mundine Hostel, Lani stuck with dancing for another two years. Times were no doubt tough with Lani devoting over half of her cooking and cleaning wage to board. But Lani tends to not dwell on hardships. Instead, there’s this unique upbeat, positive and optimistic demeanor about her that makes you believe that her journey was nothing special at all when that could not be further from the truth. Her narrative is also helped along by her unique sense of self and that distinctive Murri humour.
A traineeship opportunity that would dictate her future career path arose at the ABC to assist the NSW Human Resource Manager. Lani enjoyed a few years at the ABC where she received a good grounding in mainstream and Indigenous employment. Shortly after she secured a Coordinators position in Corporate Services. Her career was going from strength to strength when she applied to be the Aboriginal Employment Coordinator with QANTAS. She was successful and got to see the world, which is something she always aimed to do whilst back in Mapoon.
Soon after receiving the 2002 Neville Bonner Award for Indigenous Employment while at QANTAS, she caught the attention of Insurance Group Australia (IAG). IAG made her an offer and she accepted and spent a further three years with the group before branching out on her own.
While working at the ABC, QANTAS and IAG, Lani was doing such a tremendous job in the employment space that she had a large amount of corporate entities contacting her with questions on how to make it work for their organisations.
Presumably, there was a lack of resources available for these corporate players to turn to. This realisation was her business idea, and how LBF Consulting was born.
Just like some 15 years earlier, after her initial trip to Sydney, Lani took another leap of faith. This time into the world of business.
“I thought I could have a crack at it! I thought surely I could do that for other Aboriginal people, so I then met up with a friend of mine who I had known in this space and we would network on a regular basis.”
That friend was Deb Nelson. So in 2006, Lani decided to leave the well-paid and secure job that she held at IAG for the uncertain and risky business world. She created a business partnership with Nelson called Yarn’n: an Indigenous organisation that at the time focused purely on recruitment.
In 2008, despite the temptations of the corporate world. Lani got a taste for business and continued on to create LBF Consulting later that year.
LBF has grown to become a HR organisation that sources and recruits talent, develops and mentors staff and is involved in corporate and community engagement. Corporate giants such as Salmat, Cisco, Corporate Express, Accor and the Commonwealth Bank are all clients on Lani’s books.
Lani’s determination and will to succeed in all areas of life have been evident since she had first arrived in Sydney. And, from a woman who’s been there and done that in the business world, she has this to offer aspiring business women: “Never give up. Even when you feel that it’s your deepest darkest moment. Always think that there’s someone there to talk to turn to that could help you.”
The decision to move into the world of business was not one made overnight. She was not only nursing the business from start- up, buy on the home front she was nursing her young children. At the time, Lani would have been nursing baby daughter Tiahnie, who’s now three and a half and raising her sons Alexander, 7 and Marcos, 8. All up, she is a full time mother, full time housekeeper at home and a full-time business owner who was learning the art of business.
Despite the learning curves associated with going into business for the first time, one surprising benefit from owning her own business and being control of all things LBF Consulting is the flexibility that she wouldn’t have realised working for anyone else. By juggling all sorts of roles from the household to the business, you need flexibility.
“I’m able to block out days and there for my children when they graduate and to be there for them marking special occasions throughout the calendar year. It works for me because I can block out the time when I need to have that R and R with my family. Don’t forget, that as a mother I’m properly relied on more so than my husband.” Lani says.
She goes on to explain “When you own a business, you get to learn what is critical. You get to learn what you can let go and what you should pick up, in terms of events. There are some things that you can forego because it’s family time.”
At the core of LBF Consulting, there is a woman who can not only talk the talk, but can walk the walk as well. Her story will probably match and better many Indigenous job seekers out there wanting to achieve something more with their lives.
Lani says “If I’m going to be the one standing up the front, then I’d better have something good to say to job seekers. I have some experiences to share about where I’ve been, what I’ve done and who I am today.”
But Lani wants more than to just give Indigenous people jobs. She’s got her eye set on the future of Indigenous employment far beyond the confines of LBF Consulting. Lani is of the opinion that there is a lot more skilled Indigenous talent out there that should be focused on for specialist roles.
“Moving forward, I’d like to see more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in specialist roles and decision making roles. We should not only focus on entry level positions where the bulk of our recruiting agencies are looking, we should be focusing on a certain percentage from top down and bottom up.”
The reason for Lani’s determination and effort on her earlier years are on show today. Since her journey down to the big smoke over twenty years ago, she hasn’t looked back. She is in a position that most from her background can only dream of. She also remains a significant role model to those Indigenous kids looking to make the leap Australia wide.