Property Australia

Rising star shines


The secret to success is to share your struggles, says SHAPE Group’s Althea Papinczak, who took home the hotly-contested du Chateau Chun Future Leader of the Year Award last Friday night.

SHAPE Group’s design manager was presented with one of 20 gongs handed out at the Property Council of Australia / Rider Levett Bucknall Innovation & Excellence Awards at the International Convention Centre Sydney.

Papinczak earned applause for her work to establish Women in Design and Construction, or WIDAC, an events and networking platform that has engaged more than 4,000 women over three states.

Papinczak has spent more than a decade delivering fitouts after “stumbling” across the industry and “falling in love”.

“I started as a cadet and worked my way up through years of experience and on-the-job learning,” she explains.

She’s worked on some impressive projects, including H&M’s retail fitout at Sydney’s Macquarie Centre, Virgin Australia’s ‘village’ and Amazon’s headquarters in Brisbane, as well as dozens of hospitality fitouts. Her favourite projects are always those that enable her to “take a step outside my comfort zone and learn new skills”.

WIDAC was formed in 2016 after Papinczak moved from retail and hospitality to commercial fitouts, and “I found networking daunting”.

“I had an events background, so I decided to host my own event. It was 20 women in a pub and everyone loved it”.

Papinczak’s business partner, Erin Oxley, who also works with SHAPE Group, put her hand up to help host another event, and soon the idea “snowballed”.

Papinczak says she’s a “very open person” and thinks that the “vulnerability” in her events has been WIDAC’s point of difference.

“Our events are focused on the struggles that women are going through – but we tackle them in a positive and practical way.”

How does Papinczak find the time to juggle two full-time jobs? “It’s an amazing problem to have,” she says, but admits she’s burning the midnight oil each weeknight and spends every weekend on her business.

Papinczak says SHAPE Group’s support has been instrumental, with the company’s leaders “coming to the party with ultimate flexibility for me – I wouldn’t have been able to do it without them”.

What’s Papinczak’s advice to the industry’s rising stars?

“Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable. Part of the reason I connect with people is because I’m open, honest and vulnerable. A lot of people put on a big mask and say they are handling everything when they aren’t.

“If you speak up when you need help with something, aren’t across the detail or aren’t having a good day, people will want to help you. Be honest when you are struggling or not sure, because people will connect with that.”

Papinczak’s other piece of advice is to build a “strong support network”.

“I have an incredible husband and business partner, a supportive employer and an amazing team – none of this would be possible without their support”.

While Papinczak is honoured to receive a prestigious property award, her eyes are firmly fixed on the future.

“I know WIDAC will keep growing. There are so many things we want to do, because we know we can make a difference.”

Check out the other winners of the 2019 Property Council of Australia / Rider Levett Bucknall Innovation & Excellence Awards.