When a baby girl came into the world at St John of God in 1978, it is unlikely any foresaw the passionate advocate for Ballarat into which she would grow.
Zoe Allan of Milano Partners, a boutique recruitment and human resources advisory business, is committed to luring talented professionals to the region to benefit the region.
Ms Allan has nothing but fond memories of her childhood and education in her hometown and enthusiastically expresses her love of both Pleasant Street Primary School and Loreto College.
"My children go to Pleasant Street," Ms Allan said, illustrating the status of the school in her life.
"Loreto offered great academic support and guidance."
An ambition to spread her wings saw Ms Allan then depart for the University of Melbourne.
"I wanted to learn more, know more, and see the world," she said.
"It was never about not coming back. It was about going out, seeing the world, and getting my own independence."
Having returned to Ballarat, Ms Allan took on a business degree at Federation University, another of the city's educational institutions for which she has affection.
"It was fabulous," Ms Allan said.
"It was so different to Melbourne Uni because it was much more personal and personally-connected."
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With her advanced qualifications, and a growing thirst for the commercial world, Ms Allan began to work for a number of high-profile recruitment agencies, such as Michael Page International, in Melbourne. It was in this realm Ms Allan found her calling, matching employers with employees.
"I live and breathe it," Ms Allan said.
"There's a number of different elements: there's the client, there's the role, and there's the candidate. So it's connecting those three elements. I've brought people to clients who they would never have thought of themselves. What I've grown to love about it is the ability to be creative and to see something that others might not see. (I also aim to) offer value that others might not be able to offer in terms of seeing the potential of someone and matching someone to a position, to see a different side of them, and maybe a side of themselves they hadn't seen."
As time progressed during this second stanza in Melbourne, Ms Allan's professional thinking evolved. In addition, thirteen months spent living in Croatia modified her personal aims, resulting in a desire to live and work in a regional setting.
"I always wanted to help Ballarat and I did always have that desire to come back so, in 2010, I came back," Ms Allan said.
"My partner and I did some work really understanding what was happening for small-medium business, working with the owners of businesses in Ballarat and the region. Their challenges were not enough people, resources, how can we overcome some of those unsolvable problems. I was seeing a trend in businesses opening for a year and then closing. I found it was often because their success factors were based on financial return; we helped them look at other ways of looking at success. We did not want to see so many 'For Let' signs on offices."
Another project Ms Allan initiated in Ballarat involved accommodating businesses and white-collar workers. Ms Allan continued to aim to benefit the city.
"I could see it was really hard to get an office, competing for leases, trying to get established," she said.
"We opened Armstrong House, helping small business. It was meeting room hire and (it was) also for business that wanted to come to Ballarat and wanted to test the market or to have people who lived in Ballarat be able to work in our environment and not have to commute to Melbourne everyday. While I was limited by my personal situation with small children, I was able to still help and add value to the region."
The latest chapter in the chronicles of Zoe Allan is her own firm, Milano Partners, established in early 2020.
"The universe called to me. Something was calling me to go now," Ms Allan said.
"I knew that I could bring that big-picture thinking to the region and help businesses to think big, but work within their means. I understood the context of the region, how to talk and how to deliver, and how to develop connection. It is about partnering and it is about that multi-dimensional support for businesses. I help to challenge them. You want me to recruit this role? How does that fit in the business? Why are we recruiting an HR manager now? Helping them think outside the square as to who to bring in. There aren't many (recruiting firms) that have feet and passion in the region. I knew that there was a need for it, to put those regional goggles on and say, 'Okay, this person looks fabulous on paper, they've come from these big global firms, but are they equipped for this environment?"
When investigating potential professionals for businesses, Ms Allan gives deep consideration to their motivations and whether they will fit beyond the workplace.
"There has to be something else that is pulling them. It can't just be a lack of other options or 'I'll give it a whirl'," she said.
"(Working in Ballarat) is all encompassing. It is not just your professional life in a box. Around Ballarat, you will see people at your kid's footy who are from work or at the supermarket. Especially when you're talking about leaders, they need to be prepared. They might be leaders in their professional work, but they will connect, they will see people within their social circles as well and on the weekend. If your seeking that out (social connection), it's going to work."
Ms Allan possesses immense optimism for Ballarat, but she emphasises it is vital it does not forget what makes it unique.
"Our future is what we make it, but we shouldn't lose the sense of ourselves," she said.
"We're amazing as we are and we don't need to fight to be like anything else. It's not about excluding anyone who wants to be part of that picture. No matter where they're from, they've got the same ideas."
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