After spending weeks sorting through hundreds of applications from Australia’s most inspirational and successful business leaders, the 2019 Executive of the Year Awards’ judges have selected the finalists.
Now in its eighth year, the highly anticipated event celebrates the success and achievements of CEOs and senior managers across a wide range of businesses and industries in Australia.
On Thursday 14 November, the winners of the Executive of the Year Awards will be announced during a glamorous ceremony at The Palladium at Crown, Melbourne.
Awards will be handed out across 22 categories. The highlight of the evening will be the CEO of the Year Award, which recognises excellence in business leadership.
Here, we introduce you to the 10 finalists for the coveted award.
Zena Burgess, CEO, Royal Australian College of General Practitioners
A CEO with more than two decades of experience across the public, private and social enterprise sectors, Zena joined the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) as Deputy CEO in 2007. One year later, she was appointed CEO. Under Zena’s leadership, RACGP – the largest medical professional organisation in Australia – has more than doubled its annual revenue from A$29.9 million to A$75.3 million and its membership has increased from 20,461 to more than 40,000.
In the past 12 months, Zena has restructured RACGP’s operations to better align with the delivery of key services to its members and deliver better member value. As a result, the organisation has become more responsive to member needs and more efficient at delivering services.
David Hackett, CEO, MLC Life Insurance
During David’s 30-year career in the finance industry he’s held senior executive roles in Australia and Japan. He believes his decade working in Japan underpinned his suitability for his current role as CEO of MLC Life Insurance, which requires close consultation with the company’s Japanese parent company, Nippon Life Insurance. When David accepted the role as CEO, he knew he was taking on a formidable task: to take a large but underperforming life insurance business, detach it from its parent company, NAB, and lead it to success.
Since separating the company from NAB in 2016 and stabilising it in 2017, David oversaw the development of a new strategy in 2018. During the past 12 months, he has led the executive team in transforming the organisation both culturally and structurally. In the financial year to 31 December 2018, MLC Life Insurance recorded a profit-after-tax of A$71 million, representing a 68% improvement on the previous 12 months.
Emma Hendry, CEO, Hendry
As a female CEO in the male-dominated building and construction industry, Emma is passionate about promoting diversity and encouraging other women to pursue leadership roles. Emma began her career with Hendry in 2007 and worked her way up to become CEO in 2014. A respected industry leader and advocate, Emma is driven by innovation and finding better, smarter solutions for buildings, cities and communities. Last year, Emma was thrilled to become the first female winner of the Building and Construction Executive of the Year Award.
Fiona Johnston, CEO, UM Australia
When Fiona was appointed CEO of media agency UM Australia in October 2017, the industry was going through a period of disruption and decline. Equipped with nearly two decades of senior management experience in executive consulting for media and creative agencies in Australia and the UK, Fiona embraced the challenge of reviving the business. She developed a three-year plan for the company, providing her team with clear vision, direction and communication to ensure they rallied together to rebuild through pride, not fear.
During the past 18 months, UM hasn’t lost a single client or pitch, and in the past year their client wins have included the Australian Government, Nestlé, AGL and Accenture. The company has also won numerous local and international industry awards and retained its solid client base.
Bobby Lehane, CEO, CHU Underwriting Agencies
An evangelist for change, disruption and innovation, Bobby has been CEO of CHU Underwriting Agencies – Australia’s largest provider of strata insurance – since 2015. Although Bobby’s career has predominantly been in the financial services sector, he has also worked in the property and health sectors across four continents. When Bobby first joined the company, it had been disrupted by new competition and was in decline.
During the past two years, Bobby and his team have grown the business, which has just experienced its strongest financial year in its 41-year history, exceeding all key financial metrics. In 2017 and 2018, CHU won the Australian Insurance Industry’s prestigious Underwriting Agency of the Year Award.
Anthony Nantes, CEO, Wisr
During the past decade, Anthony has held senior executive roles in three of Australia’s most exciting and fast-growing tech companies: UXC (now DXC), Prospa and Wisr. In 2016, he founded Wisr, Australia’s first neo-lender and the fastest growing ASX-listed fintech in FY2019. Anthony’s vision has led Wisr to launch four truly innovative products into the market with rapid mass adoption. The number of Wisr customers has grown from 4,000 to more than 60,000 this year and market capitalisation has increased from A$6 million to A$150 million in FY2019.
Andrew Ritchie, CEO, EstimateOne
Tech entrepreneur Andrew co-founded EstimateOne in 2008 with business partner Mike Ashcroft. After starting out as Head of Platform and Product, he moved into the CEO role in 2015. A software platform for the commercial construction industry, EstimateOne is based in Melbourne and has clients across Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines and the UK. Andrew has spent the past 11 years developing and growing the business, but he believes his biggest accomplishment is his decision to step down as CEO in October and hand the reins over to the next generation of leaders.
Michele Smith, CEO, North Eastern Community Hospital
With a career spanning 33 years, Michele is a respected leader in the South Australian healthcare sector. She spent almost two decades working as a nurse before turning her hand to health management, holding various hospital CEO and Regional Director roles during the past 15 years. In 2018, Michele became CEO of North Eastern Community Hospital (NECH), a not-for-profit, community-owned private hospital and aged-care facility. Michele has played a key role in NECH landing a contract with the South Australian public health system which will help alleviate long public waiting lists and assist NECH in achieving long-term sustainability and financial security.
Kim Wethmar, CEO, TravelEdge
After starting her career in the industry alongside her travel agent mum, South African-born Kim moved to Australia in 2008 and became CEO of TravelEdge in 2015. Since then, she’s played an instrumental role in reshaping the business and increasing profits. In the past 12 months, Kim has completely restructured the organisation, focusing on customers and technology to allow TravelEdge to be well-positioned for taking full advantage of industry changes and improvements across tech stacks.
Kim acknowledges the travel industry is ripe for disruption yet remains optimistic, looking at it as a challenge rather than a threat. She believes this is a great opportunity to flex her skills in creativity and resilience, as well as allowing TravelEdge to demonstrate its true value as a trusted travel partner.
John Winning, CEO, Winning Group
Back in 2005, at the age of just 21, John founded Appliances Online with only a laptop, a rented truck and a 1300 number diverted to a mobile phone. He set out to offer Australians an efficient, streamlined and convenient shopping experience. In 2011, John took over the reins at Winning Appliances and formed the Winning Group.
He now leads six separate business entities and has more than 1,000 employees across Australia. A sluggish appliance retail market saw many long-standing competitors around the country close their doors; however, the Winning Group achieved written sales in excess of A$640 million and 17% year-on-year growth in FY2019. Appliances Online achieved record written sales in excess of A$325 million this year, with 28% growth.