Sachi Wimmer—our deputy chief executive officer.
Well credentialled and highly motivated… what can’t AMSA’s new deputy do?
By JIM WILSON
Marine scientist, transport security expert, fisheries expert and, now, an executive manager and regulator in the commercial maritime sector. Does Sachi Wimmer have salt-water flowing through her veins?
Sachi Wimmer was earlier this year appointed as the deputy chief executive officer of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority.
Sachi explains the attraction of AMSA.
“I’ve done a fair bit of work in the compliance space. I’ve worked with AMSA in the past, from the outside, and it always struck me as a really mature, competent, regulator. I really like the regulatory space, the marine environment and maritime issues more broadly,” she explains.
Sachi is very familiar with the maritime world – she’s been involved with it in many different guises – as a marine scientist, tour guide and security expert, among others.
Her undergraduate degree from the University of Sydney was in marine biology, with a focus on marine botany.
“Even as a little kid I always said that I wanted to be a scientist but I’m not sure I even knew what that was,” she laughs. “I was inspired by David Attenborough and the naturalist Gerald Durrell. I’ve always been inquisitive and curious, so science was interesting”.
After graduation in early 1994, it was not long after the end of Australia’s “Recession We Had To Have”. Sachi had spent a “nice year” on the Great Barrier Reef finishing her honours year in marine biology but there wasn’t a lot of work around for a newly-minted graduate.
“When I handed in my thesis, I thought ‘oh my God, what do I do now?’,” she says, adding that she “toyed” with the idea of becoming an academic.
She settled for, in difficult economic times, a job as an ocean tour guide at the coastal suburb of Manly, which is famed for its beaches, cliffs, and its rocky shores. It was then she realised that marine biology did not have a good career trajectory.
She “fell” into her first serious job working with a lobby group and then worked for some more advocacy bodies. But she wanted to have real influence, which she realised meant working in Government itself. A Master of Legal Studies in Environment Law followed. “Government is all about legislation,” Sachi comments.
By the end of her law degree, Sachi was working in a government role for the International Section of the then Department of Environment and Heritage.
“It was my first major job. Also, I was very focused on environmental issues. It fitted with where I thought my career would go. It’s big global issues and concepts, and it was very slow. It was a great learning experience, but, I thought, it’s probably not the right job fit for me. I’m probably not patient enough,” she chuckles.
Sachi’s Australian public service career was briefly interrupted with a short time in Papua New Guinea. Her then-partner got a job over there and so she followed. She was lucky enough to get a job as a fisheries advisor. Unfortunately, someone took “umbrage” at a variety of reforms that were going on – which, incidentally, weren’t in Sachi’s area – and when her visa came up for renewal it wasn’t renewed.
Sachi was glad to come back to Australia and the Public Service, to continue her career. Life in Papua New Guinea could be difficult.
“We lived in a fully-secure compound: dogs, guards, window bars, razor wire. The bedroom had a massive security door you could barricade yourself behind if you had to. But someone broke in. They threw a mattress over the razor wire, jimmied open the bars and broke in. We thought we were safe because of all the security. But we weren’t really. It shook me, it could happen to me. I was in my early 30s and thought I was immortal. Maybe my mortality came home to me,” she laughs.
Back at home, she undertook an Executive Master of Public Administration, which is basically very like a Master of Business Administration but focused on government and public service.
“It was very helpful, and it rounded out my understanding of government. I most enjoyed meeting the people! They were fantastic people and we were in touch for a long-time afterwards,” she says.
Sachi has worked extensively in the public service in a variety of roles. She says that most of her career is made up of bouncing in and out of the Prime Minister’s Department. “It is my foundational experience – knowing how, when and who to talk to, to influence,” she says.
Among the times she vividly remembers are her experiences at the Office of Transport Security.
It had grown massively after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and there needed to be a re-focusing and transformation. During her time, the agency reformed how it dealt with risk, its policy, its legislative agenda and how the workforce carried out its operational compliance. Then there was the first major aviation-related terrorism plot in Australia, when malevolent actors tried to smuggle an improvised explosive device.
“It was very significant as it was the first time it had happened here,” she says.
There was also an intensive period when law enforcement agencies were pushing for criminality checks as part of the Maritime Security Identity Card process. There was a National Security Check – which checks if a person has any terrorist affiliations – but it didn’t check criminality. Legislation was introduced but the unions became very concerned about how it might affect employment at the wharf.
There have been other intense high-stakes issues and matters too.
“I spent a lot of time working on people smuggling for a number of different Prime Ministers including Howard, Rudd, and Gillard and Abbott. They were some of the toughest gigs that I have ever done. They were the jobs that really helped build resilience. They were fast, high-paced, and they taught me how to put my own views aside,” she says.
Later, in the early 2000s, there were lots of issues around illegal fishing, and Sachi feels she really worked on areas that delivered outcomes in the national interest – new legislation and more capable Australian patrol boats with greater range.
“It really felt like I’d driven a successful area of policy work,” she says.
Family and heritage
Sachi has a sister, Joy, a naturalised Australian. Joy was a war orphan from Vietnam in 1975, which was at the tail-end of the Vietnam War. Sachi’s parents adopted Joy. Sachi is a first-generation Australian. Her parents are from Austria and they migrated to Australia.
Surprising fact: “Sachi” is the shortened form of the Japanese name “Sachiko”, a feminine name apparently meaning “child of bliss” or “happiness”, when written in kanji. Hence the naming of the two Wimmer sisters: Happiness and Joy.
Sachi’s first language is – or rather, was, German, and she had to learn English at an early age. “I can still understand German, but I don’t speak it very well,” she says. Beyond enjoying a schnitzel, she freely confesses that she’s “not very Austrian”. That said, Sachi likes to visit Austria to see family when she can.
Activities and interests
Sachi is a keen skier. She tries to blend skiing trips with visits to overseas family. She did a little skiing at school and came back to it in her 20s. “I thought, this is something I wanted to do,” Sachi says, so she took a few lessons, then a few more, and eventually became a skiing instructor. She taught at a mountain school in the Austrian Tyrol, part of the European Alpine mountain range.
Hiking is a favoured activity, whether that’s multi-day hiking in South America or single-day walks. “I like to do long multi-day walks but I’m a bit soft now and like to go on catered walks,” she confesses. She also hikes around the Canberra Centenary Trail. It’s a 145 kilometre walk but Sachi and a friend have broken it into 30 kilometre hikes each time. “It’s good for a catch-up and a bit of a natter,” she explains.
Sachi has also enjoyed caving, canyoning, scuba and skydiving. “I enjoy the adrenaline thrill and the mental preparation. It’s the satisfaction and thrill of doing something that’s challenging,” she explains. Sachi also enjoys going for a run and working out. “I’m a much nicer person if I get up early and go to the gym,” she laughs. She also enjoys group exercise classes, which are motivating because it is about keeping up with the other exercisers. Sachi is also a keen motorbike rider and, with her partner, she likes to go touring around nearby parts of Australia such as in the South Coast, the Southern Highlands, and the Snowy Mountains.
Reading, music and gardening
It’s not all about rocketing around, under, over, or on top of the Australian countryside though. She is a voracious reader, saying that her favourite book is “Rebecca” by Daphne du Maurier. “It has to be good quality writing. I can’t stand Mills & Boon,” she says. Turning to TV, and Sachi enthuses about English drama and crime series. She also doesn’t mind a bit of ScandiNoir. Her favourite show that comes to mind is “Killing Eve”, which is about a violent, psychotic female assassin. “I’m not quite sure what that says about me,” she muses, adding that she’s a fan of action films and James Bond in particular. “We just did a retrospective on James Bond as we’re not going out these days. I’ve always quite liked Piers Brosnan and I quite like Daniel Craig. It’s escapism for me”.
Musically, Sachi tends to listen to whatever her partner puts on as “he’s the music-man”. However, she’s often running to some kind of dance anthem and she likes alternative music by acts such as Massive Attack, a multi-award winning, English 90s hip hop group. She’s also a fan of the Stevie Nicks-era Fleetwood Mac.
Sachi also has a “handkerchief” sized vegetable patch for gardening. After a busy week holding meetings and communicating with stakeholders and working inside an office every day, the outdoors and the fresh air is appealing. It also gives her a bit of much-needed time to herself. She likes gardening because it's creative. “I’ve gotten very good at growing zucchini – they’re the easiest things to grow,” she quips.