South Australian Business News

How a family farm harvested an industry trailblazer

Jake Spain
Tuesday, September 19th 2023

Growing up in a family of business owners and academics may seem daunting to some, but Jessica Macdonald, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Yanun Project Services, only saw an opportunity to be the hardest worker in the room. 

On the South Australian Business Chamber’s ThirtyNiners Podcast, host Tim Lavis, sat down with Jessica to understand how working on the family farm in rural NSW shaped her understanding of not only running a successful business but prioritising a sustainable and staff-focused workplace. 

While my parents had very good business acumen and Dad had a lot of technical skills. The thing that stands out for me about them is how they treated their staff — they really treated them like family.”

Jessica even recalls a time of financial hardship in the late 80s, and early 90s, where her parents refused to let any staff go despite the lack of incoming work, and instead employed them all to help renovate their family hobby farm. 

All of a sudden out of nowhere there were all these people just hanging out at the house doing some jobs and I didn’t know it then because I was only a kid. But later in life I found out and realised that was because Mum and Dad wouldn’t let anyone go”.

These core values of cultivating a supportive and inclusive workplace forms the bedrock of Yanun Project Services, a Project Services Company founded by Jessica and her Husband David Mallet.

David is a proud Ngarrindjeri man and his fierce desire to take tangible action to improve the lives of Indigenous Australians ultimately informs the mission statement at Yanun Project Services.

Both Jessica and David have decorated careers in their own right, Jessica in Business and Client Management in the Engineering space, and David a former Army Veteran and then Project Manager in the Mining and Infrastructure industry.

Jessica admits they had a eureka’ moment when they realised they may have the skill set to start their own business centred around social change and advocacy.

By coincidence or design, we had skills in the same industry, which is pretty unusual for a husband and wife, and we didn’t have the same skills, we had complementary skills and that’s pretty special as well. I have sort of the business management and he has very technical skills, so together we are a really great team and we thought we’d roll the dice on starting a project management business centred around First Nations People advocacy”.

This mentality of rolling the dice’ may seem risky to some but as Jessica explains, those dinner table conversations from her childhood, may have given her the audacity to bet on herself’, and as long as she worked hard, success would then come.

I kind of just worked harder and harder, and I always just assumed that I would succeed, I know it may sound simple or silly, but I think self-belief is incredibly important to success”

Jessica is extremely proud of the success of Yanun Project Services thus far, especially their First Nations Development Program which provides a clear and proven project management career pathway for First Nations Peoples.

Her mantra is simple, to ensure she always has a measured focus on seeking deeper levels of connection and learning in both her professional and personal life – which inevitably acted as the catalyst for joining the ThirtyNiners program.

I am now meeting smart, disruptive people challenging the status quo that I am learning from, and that diversity from learning from other industries and other people, can only make my business and the construction industry better”.

To hear the entirety of our extremely insightful conversation with Jessica MacDonald, Executive Director at Yanun Project Services, head to wherever you hear you podcasts and search ThirtyNiners Podcast by South Australian Business Chamber. 


Jake Spain

Marketing and Communications Executive
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