Australia’s Top Ten Women Entrepreneurs: Renata Bernard of Opal Minded



In 1994, Renata arrived to Sydney as a migrant from newly post-communist Poland. In the next 13 years, she worked various casual and temping jobs while pursuing her studies, which culminated in a doctorate in cinema. In that time, she also established a career as a media lecturer at Macquarie University, having published research articles and books including Diasporas of Australian Cinema, the first volume ever devoted solely to the contribution of migrants to Australian cinema.


In 2007, when Renata married Opal Minded founder and opal miner, John Bernard, she changed her life in more ways than just a marital status. Renata said goodbye to academic life to face a new challenge of bringing her husband’s business back from the brink of bankruptcy, with no entrepreneurial experience and her first-born daughter on the way. In ten years, Renata has managed to juggle work with raising two daughters to rebuild Opal Minded into one of Australia’s premier gem houses. She has also moved into jewellery design, with a selection of her pieces recognised with GIA London’s Diamond Design award and, most recently, the Queensland Boulder Opal Association’s People’s Choice award.


Nominee’s three achievements


1. Renata turned Opal Minded around from near bankruptcy amid the GFC, to a leading boutique opal jewellery design house with a five-fold increase in revenue, with no prior business experience.


Says Renata: “While on maternity leave with my first daughter, I not only faced the new world of motherhood, but also of entrepreneurialism. My husband’s 20-year-old opal business was on the brink of collapse, and I felt the only way forward was to take the reigns and run, wherever that new journey may lead.


“By quitting my university lecturing job, I placed myself at the point of no return. Facing a whole new industry with no experience was indeed challenging, and doubly so as turning around a flailing business is harder than starting a new one. I just knew I had to start. I studied the business accounts. I read about business theory, small business operations, and sales theory. I spent as much time as possible on the shop floor. I wrote letters to whoever I could think of to help me find the answers I needed to turn Opal Minded around.


“And we did, with a five-fold increase in revenue in just ten years. My gratitude to the people who walked beside me is boundless. They taught me risk-taking, humility and also that profit is a pleasant side-effect of making meaningful connections and genuinely wanting to help others.”


2. In Renata’s other role as Opal Minded’s creative director, she has seen some of her designs win international recognition.


“I received the GIA London’s Diamond Design Award and the Queensland Boulder Opal Association’s Commended award for my Divine Tear pendant, which comprises a rainbow-coloured, 8.72ct boulder opal from Winton, adorned with VVS/VS E diamonds and set in 18K white gold.”


3. Renata serves as a shining example of successful mid-life career change and a working mother, and hopes to inspire peers, other entrepreneurial women, and her own daughters.


Says Renata: “The most difficult challenge on this journey has been striking the balance between the business and family. The reality is that to achieve in both departments, you have to be 100 percent totally committed to each – impossible.


“When I started managing Opal Minded, the hours were excruciatingly long. I could work 12-hour days for four weeks straight. Sometimes, I saw my first-born daughter for days only in her sleep. I couldn’t have worked those hours had my mum not flown to Australia regularly to care for our little one.


“I now have a three-year-old as well as my now-11-year-old. Although I can still completely disappear into a work space occasionally, I reappear instantaneously if my girls need me. I want them to feel they can rely on me, no matter what, and that they can make anything happen as well.


“Role models are not about being infallible, but about trying to improve and learn all the time. I hope that my story can serve to help other business-minded mothers realise that the balance is forever a juggle – and that’s okay.”


Opal Minded

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