Tanya Unkovich is a regular participant of monthly online meetings organised by an initiative of successful Australian and New Zealander women of Croatian ancestry, at which she supports and advises others active in the initiative.
Tanya Unkovich is a New Zealander born in a family of Croatian descendants as the youngest of four children. She offers business and life training, hosts radio shows, and is a motivational speaker and writer. She kicked off her career in a corporate environment and has seen trials and tribulations give her pursuits new direction. She spoke to Jasna Milić Novak about her story.
Auckland is home to Ms Unkovich, a successful New Zealander of Croatian background that has undertaken broad career pursuits and is now working and living her lifelong dream of providing assistance to others. She was led to this path by her own painful experience, a journey she came out of stronger, more self-confident, and readier than ever to turn over a new page. Unkovich studied economics and worked for a number of companies where her career fortunes saw her hold a number of leading posts in the corporate hierarchy. She came to a crossroads, however, at which she opted to step off the corporate ladder and launch her own enterprise. She racked up a number of professional titles and the role of counsellor, life trainer, writer, motivational speaker and much more. In New Zealand she is considered an authority in her areas of expertise, above all in helping people get over personal loss and overcoming various forms of addiction.
Tanya is very proud of her Croatian genes, in which she sees the roots of her capacity to draw the best out of a difficult situation. Her father Smiljan came from the village of Račišće on the island of Korčula, and her mother Pavica (née Samić) came from Opuzen. In 1958 they moved to New Zealand’s Northland with three-year old son Željan in tow looking for better opportunities. Once settled they had a further three kids: sons Nick and Antony, and daughter Tanya.
Tanya was only eight when the family, now working in agriculture, suffered the first in a series of tragedies. A fire broke out on their estate in which the family home burned to the ground.
The family then moved to Auckland. Tanya remembers that strong faith was an anchor for the family recovery after the loss of their home and in starting again from scratch. In Auckland father Smiljan found work on the fishing boats. In time he earned a license for the installation and maintenance of sewerage systems and launched his own business. Tanya’s mother was an excellent seamstress, known far and wide for her wedding gowns and fur coats.
The young Tanya excelled in mathematics and keeping accounts and taking up the study of economics at the university in Auckland just seemed the natural thing to do. Having earned her degree, she worked as an auditor with one of the top eight New Zealand accountancy and auditing firms. Despite success in her career Tanya was not enjoying her work and very much wanted to see the world, travel and explore. She never lacked courage and always let her heart and intuition lead her. She quit her job at a prestigious company and found a new one as an airline stewardess with Air New Zealand. She held that job for three years, doing domestic and international flights, before moving up in the company to internal and flight auditor. She continued, however, to dream of setting up shop for herself. At the age of 28 she quit her job at Air New Zealand and opened an accounting service as a sole trader. It was not long before she was offered the job of one of the first training heads for the MYOB accounting software then introduced in New Zealand, a job she stuck with for some time.
And while her career was on an upward trajectory, Tanya, at the personal level, was constantly in search of self and purpose. At the age of sixteen, she faced serious existential angst, which led her on a path of self-discovery and healing, which she says continues to this day. In her thirties she did double duty: running her firm and taking up new studies. She was motivated in part by yet another challenge: the discovery that she was unable to bear children. If it was not her role to raise children, she felt, her purpose must lie elsewhere. Her decision to enrol for psychotherapy studies was motivated by a strong desire to help others. As fate would have it, she began providing help to members of her close family and her friends while attending studies: those with cancer or who had family members that had fallen ill to cancer. This gave her further impetus and motivation to complete her education. She then found herself directly affected by the same problem—her parents Smiljan and Pavica and her then husband Phil, who lived only five months from the date of his diagnosis, also fell ill with cancer.
And so, at forty, Tanya found herself suddenly a widow. It was yet another turning point in her personal development. Crushed by the death of her husband she was once again in search of her identity and purpose. Sharing the inner strength of her parents she rebuilt her personal, spiritual and professional life. To her psychotherapy diploma she added the titles of life and business coach and expanded the services provided by her firm from advisory and accountancy services to personal and business mentoring in various personal and business domains.
She did not stop there however. She wanted very much to make a record of her own experiences; facing challenges and coming out of them reborn and reinvigorated, and has, to this end, penned a pair of books, with a third book on the way.
Tanya is now a regular guest of radio shows in New Zealand and the United States of America, and is a speaker for a wide range of audiences on a wide range of topics: from how to successfully run a company to how to deal with the loss of a loved one. She is also a regular participant of monthly online meetings organised by an initiative of successful Australian and New Zealander women of Croatian ancestry, at which she supports and advises others active in the initiative.
In her speech at the first meeting of successful Australian and New Zealander women of Croatian ancestry staged in Canberra in 2019 Tanya highlighted the importance of adaptability and resilience in facing challenges. She says she inherited these attributes from her parents, who often faced challenges in their lives and overcame them thanks to their adaptability and strong faith. She believes that Croatians are characterised by their resilience and adaptability and is very proud of her Croatian roots.
In her personal life, she has found a new love and partner and recently celebrated her tenth anniversary with husband Grant.
Tanya runs her firm, is a regular on radio talk shows, is putting the final touches on her third book, is the first life coach in New Zealand to follow the Tony Robbins method, is active in the work of two ethnic Croatian clubs in Auckland and follows a regular workout plan. She also cares for her parents. They are currently housed in separate homes for the elderly and infirm, something she feels unhappy about. They have been married for just shy of 69 years and wish to spend their remaining time together. She is working on making that happen for them.
Tanya’s story vividly illustrates the notion that “what doesn’t break you, makes you stronger”. Personal tragedy and the loss of her first husband motivated her to open a new chapter in her life. She chose not to give in to loss and helplessness, nor to dissatisfaction at work. Helping herself, she wanted to help others by sharing her experience. Tanya has become the change she wanted to be, and her authority stems from the fact that she speaks (and writes) from her own experience.
By: Jasna Milić Novak
Photos: Unkovich family album