Sipping T2 with Georgegina Poulos
Every time Georgegina Poulos boards a plane, her parents worry that she won't come back.
That's because when she first traveled to Europe for her 21st birthday, she ended up staying for 10 years.
Having left school halfway through Year 12, Georgegina departed Australia with no formal qualifications. A small-town girl from Traralgon, Georgegina moved to bustling London and plunged herself headfirst into the world of restaurant hospitality. She went on to spend a decade managing and eventually launching new outlets for a leading restaurant in the UK and Amsterdam.
“I was learning so much and experiencing new cultures. My motto was: if I’m not having fun then it’s time to go home,” she said of her time in Europe.
Eventually, she did return to Australia. And it was not until her thirties that Georgegina first obtained her university qualifications. Determined to make a formal move into human resources, she undertook a Post Graduate course in Human Resources (HR) and Industrial Relations followed by a Masters in Organisational Dynamics at RMIT University.
“I decided that if I was going to be serious about moving to HR, I needed some form of formal education to show that I understood the theory,” she said.
Today, Georgegina is the Global Director of People at T2, where she is responsible for building organisational capabilities and implementing people strategy at the gourmet tea business.
T2 is the Melbournian brand well-known for their imaginative spin on the humble tea leaf. With unique blends like “Beauty Queen”, “Turmeric Matcha” and breakfast blends named after Melbourne, New York and Singapore, the T2 experience is both aesthetic and sensory.
“There is something quirky about what [T2] has; the names of the tea and when you enter into a store, the homewares are beautiful and so when you receive it as a gift, it feels considered and valuable,” said Georgegina.
“They continue to be innovative and disrupt the market either through tea wares, brew tools or tea offerings.”
Walking into the T2 head office in Collingwood, a reception area designed just like a T2 store greets you with exotically-designed homewares and colourful tea boxes that contrast vibrantly against a backdrop of black shelves and countertops. The scent of brewing tea wafts through the office as T2 team members - dressed in their signature black - go about their work.
Since its inception in 1996, T2 has enjoyed immense success in Australia. Following Unilever’s acquisition of T2 in 2013, the brand has expanded overseas with shops in the US and Singapore.
In addition to T2, Georgegina’s portfolio has recently expanded to include other brands under the Unilever umbrella such as Maille Mustard, Grom gelato and ice-cream brand Soft Republick.
With so much on her plate, one wonders - how does she stay on top of things?
“Everyone asks me that,” Georgegina chuckled. “I’m naturally highly organised and I think it’s because I’m driven. I like getting stuff done, I like to deliver and prioritise naturally.”
Georgegina attributes her stellar work ethic to her parents. Growing up in an entrepreneurial family of Greek immigrants, she was selling dresses at her parents’ boutique at the age of 10. This gave her the inclination towards leadership from a very young age.
“I’m a high achiever, I put a lot of pressure on myself,” she said.
“So each move I made was strategic. My roles and portfolios are always changing, but it’s the work that’s driven me - what I can contribute and what I can learn.”
Working with businesses across different industries is nothing new to her either. In addition to hospitality, Georgegina has worked for businesses that range from stationary to energy and logistics. She also runs her own consultancy, Gamma3, on the side.
“I’m a fixer. I love to create and implement, but I’m not a maintainer,” she said.
“If you look at my resume, I’m like a millennial. I move around because once we have created a really well-oiled machine, it’s time for me to go and fix something else.”
Georgegina’s knack for creating and fixing comes at a perfect time for T2, as they aim to become a global conglomerate in the tea market. She readily shares her strategy that would equip the company for their international ambitions:
“The first pillar is ‘fit for purpose’,” she explained. “The right roles and the right people at the right time. What do we need to do in order to deliver? We are looking at succession planning, talent, job fit, design and structure. I spend a lot of time doing that.”
The second pillar, she said, is called “fit for growth” and is about building internal capabilities.
“What are the new skill sets that are coming true. What are some of the basics that we need to do brilliantly and what are the gaps as we enter into new markets and channels? I look at where we need to close those gaps.”
To wrap it up, the third pillar, “fit for T2”, focuses on culture. Incentives, health and well-being are examined to further enhance the workplace.
“I work in these three buckets at a strategic level, then I roll up my sleeves and interview people and write position descriptions,” she said. “But really, my role is to provide strategic insight into the business.”
As a leader, team happiness is of utmost importance in running a successful business.
“My motto is: laugh or leave. If we don’t laugh everyday, something is not right,” she said.
To build a sense of community remains a personal guiding principle of Georgegina’s. Born to philanthropist parents who run a not-for-profit, generosity was instilled in her as a child.
She pays it forward as the Hellenic Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (HACCI) Chair of Board, where she runs networking sessions as well as mentoring and internship programs for young professionals
“I am lucky that I can give back with my brain,” she said.
If you are looking for a job at T2, Georgegina offers some valuable advice:
“Understand the store and who is interviewing you,” she said. “Read the job ad and use the language that we would use. Be authentic, be real and share experiences in a way that is meaningful and honest instead of telling us what we want to hear.”
As for tea tips, she advised to never make green tea with boiling water as it burns the tea leaves. Instead, brew green tea at 80 degrees, 'It changed my life’ she laughs.
Georgegina completed the RMIT Master of Applied Science (Organisational Dynamics) and a Graduate Diploma in Human Resource Management and Industrial Relations.
Follow @t2tea on Instagram