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After being announced as the new CEO and Managing Director of IDP Education in September 2022, Tennealle O’Shannessy said she was looking forward to leading the company through the next phase of its journey. Her new role in the international education sector also felt like homecoming of sorts. Not only has Tennealle previously held key roles in the online retail and employment sectors, but she has also been deeply involved in the world of online education services, which is a key aspect of IDP’s mission. And with rapidly growing numbers of students pursuing overseas studies every year, Tennealle is set to lead IDP through this exciting period.

With a big year to look back on and in even bigger year ahead in 2024, we spoke with Tennealle to get a better picture as to what are the daily routines, motivations, inspirations, and beliefs of IDP’s newest CEO.

What does the average day look like for you?

A typical day for me is connecting with people. This includes my leadership team, our staff around the world, our customers and clients, fellow business and industry leaders, our board, and shareholders. These connections drive my curiosity, providing fresh perspectives and new ideas. The strategist in me thrives in these interactions, which help shape how we operate as a business today and into the future.

On a personal note, I like to stay active. Exercise is my form of meditation and staying healthy is important for me and my family. We are heading into the summer months in Australia so outside of work you’ll find me outdoors on my bike or going for a run with one (or all) of my three kids.

You’ve held some key leadership and CEO roles prior to IDP. What inspired you to join IDP?

For 10 years I led global teams in the higher education space. This included partnering with university clients on new ways to deliver quality education services on a global scale. In many ways joining IDP was like a homecoming, and I was excited to return to a sector passionate about transforming lives through education. 

What attracted me was IDP’s human-first approach. Our people are passionate about supporting our customers to access global education and careers. They are genuine and authentic and that is reflected in the ways in which IDP engages with students and clients.

I was also drawn to IDP’s commitment to support our students at every step of their journey. We are trusted by students and their families to help guide them through one of the biggest decisions in their lives, and that is incredibly empowering.

I’m inspired by the potential we have to further use our technology, data and insights to build deeper, more personal connections with our customers and clients on a global scale. 

Are there any valuable lessons you took from your previous roles that you’re currently implementing and utilising as CEO of IDP?

I led the growth of a popular online ecommerce marketplace which had a strong focus on customer experience. At IDP, our customers are at the heart of everything that we do and this is an area that I’m absolutely passionate about.

Delivering an exceptional service to our students means matching them quickly with the right course, institution and destination to meet their career ambitions, and our FastLane service helps us and our clients achieve this.

However, that is not where great customer service ends. We know that students often need support once they have arrived in their destination country. We launched Thrive to help students in Australia succeed in areas outside of the classroom. We are also strengthening students’ connections with others through The Ambassador Platform (which IDP acquired earlier this year). This is where working in strong partnerships is so important, as together we can better support students once they are in-country.

Despite pressing cost of living and accommodation matters, international students are flocking to our shores. What are your thoughts on the current state of the Australian and New Zealand markets, particularly in comparison to other leading destination markets?

Australian and New Zealand are very attractive markets for international students. In our most recent Emerging Futures 4 research, Australia has joined Canada as the first-choice study destination. Students are choosing Australia because of its graduate employment and post study work opportunities. What is positive is that both Australia and New Zealand are seen as being safe for international students, as well as being supportive and welcoming countries.

Competition between Australia, New Zealand and other destination countries will continue to be strong. Cost of living pressures and affordability of accommodation are real reasons for students to reconsider their international study ambitions. Our research shows that globally, 56 per cent of students are reassessing studying overseas due to the costs involved. This is a major consideration for all destination markets, not just Australia and New Zealand.

IDP recently acquired The Ambassador Platform, enhancing the company’s ability to facilitate peer-to-peer engagement. What are you most excited about this acquisition? Are there any other IDP initiatives or developments on the horizon which you’re particularly excited about?

The Ambassador Platform brings sophisticated technology to IDP that connects prospective students with universities and their ambassadors through one-to-one and group chats and live streams.

What is exciting is that through The Ambassador Platform we will be able to accelerate our plans to incorporate peer-to-peer engagement as part of our student placement proposition, further differentiating our offering to students and universities.

We know that in addition to the IDP counsellors, students trust their peers for advice when making decisions as life changing as studying overseas. The platform further expands the network of our prospective students, ensuring they’re not only connecting with institutions, services, agents and counsellors, but alumni and current students. This real-life conversation and connection with trusted peers empowers students on their global education journeys, as well as helps universities to set students up for success.

From a university perspective, it unlocks the power of their students’ voices in their marketing and recruitment campaigns.

In other developments, we are about to launch a new personalised, adaptive, AI-powered English language test, called Envoy, primarily for use in education settings. It’s easy to use, is online so can be accessed anywhere, anytime. It provides teachers with updates on students’ progress towards language proficiency, enabling them to tailor lessons to students’ needs. It’s a new and exciting product for IDP and you’ll hear more about this in the new year.

You attended your first AIEC as CEO in Adelaide last month. What was that experience like?

My first AIEC was truly amazing. It was an excellent opportunity to meet face-to-face with many of our partners and stakeholders from around the world. It gave me the chance to connect with others in the industry, to hear different perspectives and have engaging conversations about the issues affecting us all. It was a good reminder that we all have a role to play in promoting the importance and benefits of international education to those outside of our industry, and the need to stay involved and engaged with those who make decisions and shape policies.

As CEO of IDP and noted Melburnian, what are you most looking forward to when AIEC returns to your home city in 2024?

AIEC showcases a different region of Australia every year. Next year the focus is on Melbourne and the beautiful state of Victoria. The theme will be ‘the human element’ and I cannot think of a better place to host a conference centred on human connections.

Victorians are warm and welcoming. Melbourne is a vibrant, culturally diverse city with a strong connection with international students and the global education sector.

As a very proud Melbournian, I am looking forward to welcoming AIEC delegates from around world to IDP’s hometown as we come together, reignite our connections, and experience some of what this city has to offer.

What is one thing you want institutions to know about IDP?

We pride ourselves on building trusted relationships with our partners. Together we are working towards the same goal of creating the best experience for international students and helping them realise global opportunities. While we have been doing this for more than 50 years, we are always looking for new ways that we can delight and surprise our students and our clients.

Vincent Dwyer
Vincent Dwyer27 November 2023