The surname that stumped an electorate: Gladys Berejiklian's rise to the top

Gladys Berejiklian was on Monday sworn in as the 45th Premier of NSW, following the resignation of Mike Baird the previous week. SBS takes a look at the life and times of the second woman to lead the state.

After 46 years of preparation, it would appear that Gladys Berejiklian is finally ready.

The Member for Willoughby's trajectory to the top has been a calculated one, after she rejected the opportunity to contend for the position of premier when Barry O'Farrell stepped down in 2014, claiming she didn't feel she was ready.

But, after setting in place the foundations for a career as a political leader from an early age, it would seem the time has come.

Born in Sydney to immigrant parents in 1970, the eldest of three girls, Berejiklian didn't learn English until she was five-years-old, speaking only Armenian until then.

Her father, a boilermaker who worked on the Sydney Opera House, and her mother, who left school at 15 to help her family and eventually become a nurse.

"There wasn't a week that went by when my parents didn't remind us of how lucky we were to have the opportunities we have here in New South Wales," she said after being sworn in as Premier.

"They made us believe we could be anything we aspired to be."

Her connection to her heritage has remained strong throughout her entire political life, which began in 1991 when she joined the Liberal Party.

She went on to be the third woman to lead the NSW Young Liberals, serving as president from 1996 until 1997.

Berejiklian also served a term on the Armenian National Committee of Australia and counts fellow Armenian Joe Hockey among her friends.

When Berejiklian delivered her maiden speech in 2003, she attributed her success and appreciation for public life to her parents and culturally dynamic upbringing.

"To my father Krikor and mother Arsha ... thank you for making me believe, ever since I can remember, that the sky is the limit," she said. 

"This experience taught me to be proud of my cultural background but, more significantly, to value the importance of being a good Australian.

"This includes being proud of my surname. I thank the good people of Willoughby who voted for me, even though they could not pronounce it."

Mike Baird and Gladys Berejiklian
Mike Baird and Gladys Berejiklian speak to the media in Sydney in 2016.

Berejiklian's surname proved a point of contention when she first ran in 2003, when she opted to deliberately omit it from her campaign posters altogether.

Unlike some politicians, although similar to her predecessor, Berejiklian's career extends beyond politics. The Master of Commerce graduate worked for the Commonwealth Bank as a general manager before being elected as the Member for Willoughby on Sydney's north shore in 2003.

However Berejiklian only pipped the popular former member for Willoughby, the late Pat Reilly, by less than 150 votes, in a result that was not known until days later.

In 2007, Berejiklian came up against the colourful mayor again, although this time, it was a far more convincing win, beating Reilly by more than 10,000 votes.

Berejiklian joined the front bench in 2005, and was shuffled between a number of portfolios including Shadow Minister for Youth Affairs, Shadow Minister for Mental Health, Shadow Minister for Community Services and Shadow Minister for Citizenship.

She was appointed Minister for Transport in 2011 under Barry O'Farrell during which time she rolled out the Opal card.

Following the election of Mike Baird as premier in 2015, Gladys was appointed Treasurer and Minister for Industrial Relations.

She counts having delivered her first state budget - one that put NSW back in the black - among her proudest achievements.

Berejiklian currently lives in North Willoughby and is regularly sighted catching the bus to work, despite having access to a ministerial driver.