An interview with Jennifer Byrne

Australian journalist Jennifer Byrne says she was born running fast and it’s pretty clear she hasn’t stopped. Landing a cadetship with The Age at just 16, she kicked off a stellar career characterised by quality, longevity and a huge work ethic. Jennifer was a journalist for Foreign Correspondent, 60 Minutes, The Bulletin and The Age, but for the past 10 years, she has hosted ABC’s The Book Club.  She’s ridden the highs and lows that come with the media spotlight.

In this interview she shares her financial lessons, why balance is key to keep firing on all cylinders and how the book Marjorie Morningstar inspired her to keep running in the direction of her dreams, no matter what.

As a journalist, Jennifer is no stranger to challenging conversations. But as a young woman, the conversations she shied away from were the ones about personal finance. “I was brought up, like many women of my era, being that money was a vulgarity, something you don’t talk about.”

Her reluctance to discuss money changed when she met a financial advisor from the Women’s Investment Network in her early 30’s. Her advisor taught Jennifer the principles of sound financial management and one of her best financial lessons – the point of money, “truly, she didn’t teach me Einstein level mastery of finance but she taught me to manage it. She taught me that the point of money is not to either look at it in a bank account, nor to spend it, it’s not goods on the hook. It’s all about where you want to be, your future and your security.”

Putting basic principles into practice increased her wealth over time and meant money didn’t always need to play the key role in Jennifer’s career choices. When she moved from Channel 9 to radio she took a 75% pay cut, choosing creative freedom and more time to spend with her family over the size of a pay cheque.

She may have started practising sound financial management in her 30’s but Jennifer began investing in her physical fitness years earlier. It’s the key to her energy and impressively buff figure at 61. “Since 23, I have been at gyms and worked out,” says Jennifer. Not just gyms either, it’s been hot yoga, tennis, aerobics and horse riding. But she does have her vices, she stays up late,“drinks like an adult fish and sneers at kale.” It’s all about balance for this self described “well functioning, slightly decadent unit.”

She’s notched up 10 years as the host of ABC’s Book Club and when asked what book has a special place in her heart, Jennifer answers without hesitation: Marjorie Morningstar, the 1955 novel by Herman Wouk. She first read it as a teenager and has returned to it time and time again; the tale of a young actress, Marjorie, with big hopes and a burning ambition to leave her mark on the world, to blaze her own trail. But by the end of the novel she’s given up on her dreams and succumbed to total social conformity, slipping quietly into an unremarkable suburban life.

A sad ending for such a bright start. It’s clear from the way Jennifer speaks about this book, that the poignant message is still as true for her today as it was for her teenage self. Never give up on your dreams. Be remarkable. Keep running. Sounds just like the way Jennifer lives her own life.

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