This Q&A column also appeared in print in the August 2020 issue of ProPrint magazine. To view the digital magazine, please click here.
Sandra Duarte’s passion for print is unquestioned but inspiring young women to aim high is also a key driver.
How did you get into printing?
I discovered printing through my first job with tourism publisher, Total Tourism Group, back in 1991. I was 18 and was what they called a ‘Girl Friday’, aka an office assistant. I didn’t know much at all but had a strong passion to learn and grow. When I went for the interview I was asked if I could type and use a computer. I answered “no” to both questions but backed that up with: “I don’t know how to do that right now but if you give me the opportunity to work for a month for no pay, I will show you I can”. I got the job and at night kept busy learning how to type and completed a marketing course. A few years later, I was managing the production studio with a team of eight people before becoming general manager of the business. During my 17 years with the company I did countless press checks and visits to printers. I also studied print technology, sales and business management.
In May 2008 Percy Vij, the owner of Centrum Printing, approached me about coming to work with him to bring to life his vision of creating large format offset printing. I took him up on the offer and together we have moved Centrum into point of sale and packaging which has held us in good stead.
What do you love about the printed form?
Being quite ‘old school’ I really enjoy that print is ‘tangible’. I love to be able to hold and feel
the printed form. Having been in the industry for a while now, I can’t help but pick up a
printed product and check for quality and accuracy. I’m sure I’m not the only one who
does that. With so much online information around, I still love reading a magazine or the Sunday
paper over breakfast. I love the colour and creativity that goes into each printed form be it
a magazine, poster, display or packaging product. I have a sense of pride in print. My kids get
quite sick of me saying: “Look we printed that” when we are out and about.
What do you love most about being the CEO of Centrum Printing? What are the biggest challenges and stresses?
Being a CEO means I can lead by example and inspire other women in this male dominated industry to pursue their dreams and know that they too can be successful.
Women can often be overlooked or undervalued in comparison to men, especially in leadership roles, but I feel this is slowly beginning to change as more women empower women. I also love that I can make positive changes not only to the business, but with the great team of people I work with. Motivating and inspiring them to be the best they can be is important to me. If my team feel amazing and are inspired, they will do great work beyond their means. This also means the business can thrive. It really is that simple — when you feel good, you do good. As CEO, I wear many hats and am involved in many aspects of the business. I am also very hands on and will do whatever it takes to get the job done. I am highly approachable and available to my team on a professional and personal level as it is important to ensure the staff are also maintaining a good work life. Creating a positive, productive and happy workplace is vital.
What have been your career highlights?
One of my biggest career highlights and challenges was in 2014 when Centrum purchased a new KBA Rapida 162a. Moving an entire print factory to a new purpose built 3000 sqm site without interrupting one day of production was an achievement. It was at this time Centrum moved beyond commercial print and into point of sale and packaging. It was a risky decision and many in the industry thought it would fail, but ultimately it was the right move. In 2016, I found myself in Düsseldorf, Germany attending drupa to purchase a new KBA Rapida 145. It was wonderful to see the vision transform into reality. It was a game changer for Centrum and for me as I was completely involved and responsible from the purchase stage right through to installation and setup of the new premises. This included dealing with everything from engineer and factory plans,
electricity, concrete slabs and lighting right through to selecting the paint colour for the production floors and walls. It was a massive project, but it all ran smoothly thanks to a great team of experts and professionals.
Who or what has shaped you?
My parents have played a huge role in helping me become who I am today. They instilled in
me a very strong work ethic where perseverance was key. I was brought up to believe in working hard, showing up and never giving up and this was how my parents, who migrated from Portugal in 1969, have lived their lives. My parents worked hard to give me a good education. There were no tutors or Google in those days to get me through, it was just good old perseverance. As an only child, we were and still are close as a family unit. It is for these reasons I feel it’s important to
‘pay it forward’ and help the next generation find their way.
What are you most passionate about?
I am a very passionate person and believe in helping guide and inspire the next generation,
especially young women. My voluntary work with ‘Inspiring the Future Australia’ has
allowed me to share my knowledge, Sandra Duarte is passionate about inspiring the next generation of women experience and advice with students. I want to encourage the next generation to consider Print Manufacturing as a career and am always looking for young people to take on an apprenticeship. At Centrum we provide site tours for graphic design and school students regularly so they can understand the world of print and packaging. I’m also looking to launch a ‘CEO for the Day’ programme for young business minded women. As we have seen with the recent world pandemic, manufacturing is an important and essential part of our economy. So, being able to provide opportunity and growth for the next generation in Australian manufacturing is something I feel strongly about. I enjoy attending schools to mentor young people and am involved in school career days. I also visit design students at TAFE to build collaboration between the design and print process. We recently held a ‘Superheros of Centrum’ day in support of HeartKids Super Boss Day to raise money and awareness for Congenital Heart Disease (CHD). This is a charity that is close to my heart as my god daughter was born with CHD. We can all do our bit to help make a difference in the lives of others.
Any advice for the next generation?
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. It is a necessary part of learning, growing and
succeeding. It creates experience and builds resilience which is what you need moving
forward. Enjoy the journey of life and don’t rush your years away as you will get to where
you need to be when the time is right.
Advice for young women entering a male-dominated profession?
Back yourself and go beyond your borders to take chances. Believe you can even if you don’t
succeed the first time. Never let a setback hold you back. Know you are capable and that your
thoughts and opinions matter and are needed. Stay true to who you are and remember,
behind every successful woman is herself.
Three people you would like to have dinner with and why?
Oprah Winfrey: Oprah needs no introduction and I’m sure most of us would want her at our
dinner table. I’m sure if I had the opportunity, we’d be BFFs for life. She is a woman who has
defied adversity in many ways and has worked hard to be where she is today. She inspires
millions of people around the world and gives to those in need. I love what she stands for and
Brené Brown: Researcher and Storyteller who introduced me to the power of
vulnerability and courage which helped me look at all aspects of my work life differently. If
you don’t know who she is, I strongly suggest you look up Brené Brown: The power of
vulnerability TED Talk.
Tina Arena: I’ve been a fan since her Young Talent Time days. She has a powerful voice
and sings with passion. Her music always tells a story and she writes from personal
How do you cope with pressure and unwind after a busy week?
I’m a social butterfly and enjoy catching up with friends and family and share a good
laugh. I also meditate and practice gratitude daily. I find this really helps clear a busy mind
and create some new perspective about what’s important. I exercise regularly and enjoy
boxing and getting a massage to de-stress. I also love to unwind after a busy week
watching Netflix in my PJs (Bridget Jones style) rugged up on the couch with my blanket
and some ice cream.
If you didn’t work in print, what would you be doing?
My younger self would’ve said Law or Real Estate as I have strong negotiation skills and
love dealing with people and finding solutions. Yet, now in my late 40s it would be very
different. I would see myself teaching, mentoring and inspiring young people and
helping them succeed in their career and life path. Basically, something where I get to pass on
knowledge and information to others and help make difference.
All-time favourite holiday destination?
Bula Fiji! I just love the people and the slow pace of life in Fiji. It’s always a great place for
me to relax and unwind. Some would call it boring but I call it absolute bliss! I enjoy
visiting the local villages and immersing myself in the culture.
First band you saw live?
I was a big fan of Bros. They were an English band made up of twin brothers Matt and Luke
Gross and their friend Craig Logan. I saw them play in the Push tour of 1988 at the Sydney
I love movies so choosing one is extremely
difficult, so I’ve named three: The Sound of
Music, Grease and Dirty Dancing.
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