Jill Taylor-Nikitakis is a woman that does not go unnoticed. In our community she is known from her action as the President of the organisation Fronditha, yet, the assertive guru of finance has left her mark on everything she’s touched.
Jill is a woman that has it all: knowledge, brains, assertiveness, drive and power but also a big personality that literally fills up the space around her with positive energy and optimism.
This was the only feeling our interview left me with; it flowed so naturally and pleasantly as if two old friends were hanging out, even though we’d never met before.
Like an overflowing river, not holding her words back -she admits it jokingly at the end of the interview- she talks about her experience as a child of migrant parents, her career challenges as an accountant and executive in a traditionally male dominated industry, the marriage with her Australian husband, motherhood and of course, Fronditha, her life’s work.
THE CHILDHOOD YEARS
Jill Taylor-Nikitakis was born and raised in Prahran, Melbourne by immigrant parents. Her mother was from Kalamata and her father from Athens. She was baptised, Ioulia, after her grandmother as the Greek tradition would have it. Her mother later changed it to Jill, in an effort to ensure that her daughter wouldn’t stand out from the “Aussie kids”.
Mrs Afroditi, has been a role model of a mother for Jill. “She was fierce and wanted the best for her children. She fought hard working three jobs. In Greece she was a very successful designer but here she had to start from zero. To this date, she has always done everything herself, without depending on anyone.”
Jill’s childhood years flew by beautifully and her memories are vividly painted with Greek colours.
“I remember visits to relatives’ homes with the ‘ipovrihio’ that was the most popular treat at the time and our mum that said every now and then ‘tsimoudia’ so we’d behave,” she muses adding that neither her nor her brother ever felt they stood out.
“We fit in with both the Greeks and the Australians. We never felt rejected or discriminated against. The difference was in the language. It bothered us that we had to speak only Greek at home and I can’t forget how embarrassed we felt when we were out and mum would speak Greek to us.”
Adolescence is the period of questioning every form of authority, especially that of parents. Teenage Jill was no exception.
“I grew up with my mother constantly telling me: ‘get a degree even if you end up hanging it over the sink’ That was every Greek parent’s wish back then. I reacted. In my first year in high school I announced to her that I was quitting to become a hairdresser. The year after I told her I would become a beautician and in my last year I said I would join the police force. Every year she’d respond: Nice. Get your degree and go become whatever you want’.”
Finally, Jill got into accounting by default, however, completing her studies was “a constant, harsh negotiation” with her mother.
“I’d tell her, that if I go to Greece or if you let me do x, y and z then I would complete one more year at Uni,” she says, admitting that during her second year she did not only realise that she was good at it but that she also liked the study subject.
That’s when I realised what we do at Fronditha. I realised that these people (our residents) are the ones that built this country
Today, women appear to have established their position in the business industry rising up to leadership roles and jobs with a lot of responsibility, however, when she was starting out in the mid-1990s things were completely different.
Back then she was working as the head of finance at Silver Top Taxi Service. At a young age, she was the first female partner and financial auditor in a completely male dominated sector. She vividly describes her experience as “staggering”.
“I remember entering the room where the managing board held their meetings and seeing a huge table filled with men, smoking, looking at me with suspicion while I was announcing to them that things had to change and from that point on they would have to pay taxes.”
“You can imagine how that went,” she says. “From that point onwards I didn’t have a name. I became ‘that woman who is going to make us pay taxes’. Everyone called me ‘that woman’,” she recalls.
In spite of that, Jill did not give up. She continued to be “that woman” who did her job and moved on.
“At some phase I had to take part in a ministerial committee and I remember that one of the managing directors called me to tell me, word-for-word: ‘don’t stress over your participation in the committee. We just added you because we had to include a woman.”
Even though Jill’s initial thought was to respond to that direct insult she managed to address it with calm and by seeing the positive in the situation.
“What mattered was that I was in the committee and I had a great opportunity to learn things that I could use in the future. Perhaps they wanted to include me as an ‘ornament’, but I would make the most of it,” she tells Neos Kosmos.
“It’s impressive how much things have changed for women in the past 20 years. Back then you had to be very strong to survive in the sector.”
The new millennium found Jill Taylor-Nikitakis still fighting to solidify her position in a kingdom of men who did not feel like comprehending or learning to collaborate with a female colleague.
Pregnant to her twin daughters she was not slowing down at all. As a result she went into labour at work. “The girls arrived ten weeks prematurely and they had to stay in hospital for about two and a half months. I was back to work ten days later,” she says, confessing that many women criticised her for that. As she explains, she had no other choice.
“At the time I had suggested we buy out a company that owed us money. The board of directors approved the acquisition on the term I would manage it. Consequently, I had no other choice.”
For the ten weeks that her babies stayed in hospital, Jill would visit them three to four times a day to make sure they were alright, pump her milk and store it in the refrigerator while the rest of her hours she would give a battle to justify her professional choices to her male co-workers.
Today, Jill’s daughters Nikita and Cassandra are 20 years old and both university students.
Even though their father is Australian, they feel proud of their Greek heritage and boast about it to their friends at any given chance. A behaviour much different to their mother’s when she was their age. Jill would pronounce her last name extremely fast to make it sound shorter and less Greek.
“I’d say it in such a way to make it sound like ‘Smith’ because I didn’t want anyone to realise I was Greek. My daughters may not be as Greek as children whose parents both have Hellenic heritage but they feel their Greekness a lot and are very proud of it.”
“Perhaps it’s due to the fact that Australians love Greeks and Greece very much,” she says, highlighting the importance her mother’s presence had in the girls’ upbringing.
“The girls have an independent relationship with my mother. Her house is like a hotel where the girls can invite their girlfriends over to enjoy a traditional Greek dish and feel the Hellenic hospitality.”
That strong, independent relationship that Mrs Afroditi has with her granddaughters is perhaps her biggest reward. Her fears and worries when her unconventional only daughter told her that she was marrying an Aussie who did not happen to be a doctor or a lawyer but a real estate agent, did not come true.
“In her defense,” Jill says, “she didn’t tell her daughter anything, because she knew I’d do what I wanted anyway.”
A traditional, self-respecting Greek mother, however, she wouldn’t leave anything to luck. She secretly called her future son-in-law out for dinner and literally “interrogated” him.
No one ever found out whether David got her acceptance or not but on the day of the girls’ 18th birthday he thanked his mother-in-law from his hearth for her contribution to their upbringing and instilling the Hellenic culture in their souls.
NELLY (BLACK CAVIAR)
The Taylor family passed the test of time with success, proving that when there is respect, mutual understanding and love, cultures can, not only co-exist harmoniously but also create a new model of everyday life based on diversity and choice where there is room for everyone and everything. Even for… a race horse.
Thus, Jill, being a human open to challenges that is unafraid to try new things – even though she had her objections – not only accepted her husband’s decision to co-own the famous racehorse Black Caviar in 2008, but she became its biggest fan.
“I never had anything to do with horses. At the time the girls were in primary school and I could not see where a racehorse could fit in the already hectic rhythm of our daily lives,” she explains.
She missed Nelly’s first race to take her daughters to a kid’s party. When she was told that Nelly won, she didn’t even react. Her stance quickly changed to the point she would become Nelly’s most fanatic and dedicated supporter. Nelly wrote her own history winning 25 races and winning multiple championships, from 2010 to 2013 when she retired.
“She was the fastest horse and everything we shared together was an amazing experience,” Jill enthuses.
Even though Jill Taylor-Nikiforaki’s life has always been full, with her trying to split her time between work and family, she has always managed to find time to give back to the wider community.
The proposition to join Fronditha came “unexpected”.
“Mike Zafiropoulos approached me in 2013 and told me they were desperately looking for someone that had a background in finance,” she says, adding that “I politely declined as I was extremely busy back then but he insisted. I ended up accepting to help them for six months – maximum a year- until they could find someone else”.
“Mike’s answer was: ‘if you get involved, there’s no way you’ll get uninvolved’ and I replied: ‘Wanna bet?’,” she recalls.
The rest is history. Only a few weeks ago she was reelected president.
“I can’t believe nine whole years have passed since. No matter how much we have accomplished there is so much more that we want to do.”
Jill’s last term at Fronditha finishes at the end of 2022.
“We changed the Charter two years ago and now managing members cannot have terms that go beyond three years. Before the amendment someone could remain a member for as long as they wanted, but that wasn’t right.”
Fronditha Care is an organisation that is respected by the entire Greek community. As such, it needs to constantly evolve and for new blood to enter its administration, with different ideas, experiences and visions, Jill argues.
GIVING BACK TO THE COMMUNITY
Jill Taylor-Nikitaki’s involvement with Fronditha brought her Greekness to the surface and completely changed her perception of the community, she admits.
“I started out strictly professionally but as time went by I saw how the then managing director communicated with the residents, how he developed connections with them and how much they loved him. That’s when I realised what we do at Fronditha. I realised that these people (our residents) are the ones that built this country.”
“It was the ones that came from Greece and did all the jobs that nobody wanted to do,” she stresses.
She then made a statement and a promise.
“It’s them I serve. They are the twilight of their lives and these years should be their best ones yet! That is why at Fronditha, we are constantly trying to find what more we can offer to them; what more we can do for them. In that frame of thought, we try to collaborate with other organisations in and out of our community in order to keep improving the service to our residents.”
“The last two years have been a challenge for all of us, not to mention for elderly care facilities. We are exiting the pandemic which taught us a lot. To be alert, to be able to respond in a timely and effective manner to sudden changes, to be flexible, adaptive and resilient despite all opposition,” says Jill, who believes that the changes our lives have been overrun with will be permanent.
“That applies to Fronditha, too.”
“We have to champion the right mentality in order to evolve and advance our people forward. We rely a lot on our employees and we are proud of them. We are all a team. This is how we work and how we succeed.”
By the end of her term she aspires to accomplish – together with her colleagues- the completion of the new expanded agreement which will bring over staff from Greece for key roles.
“Initially the agreement concerned only personal care staff. Now we are attempting to expand it to nursing and administrative staff and all our efforts are focused on this goal. We need Greek speaking employees,” Fronditha’s president stresses.
PLANS FOR THE FUTURE
Following Jill’s course to this day, one can hardly believe she has no plans for the future but she never ceases to surprise.
“When I complete a job or a project I never think of my next move. I just say, whatever is meant to come, will come. Whatever is meant for you, will find you,” says the assertive Greek Australian who believes that “things always fall into place as they should, even if they are not how you’ve wanted or dreamt of them.”
“I am proud of myself because I have managed to choose what to do, always having the endless support of my family”.