Resilience. Arguably the word of the year for 2020, which saw the world gripped by a global pandemic and industries forced to adapt and reinvent themselves in a desperate bid to keep their companies running and their people safe and employed. Bearing the brunt on the front line were the managing directors, the men and women in charge showing incredible resilience in the line of fire. From the extraordinary technology required to keep our telecommunications industry running to the basics of keeping things clean, below are the stories of Australia’s most outstanding managing directors, nominated for the Managing Director of the Year Award in The CEO Magazine’s 2020 Executive of the Year Awards.
The Managing Director of the Year winner will be announced at the virtual awards ceremony on 12 November. Learn more and register your attendance here.
Image: Top row, from left: Akash Ahluwalia, Managing Director, Jenny Craig Australia and New Zealand; Kelly Van Nelson, Managing Director, Adecco Australia; David Gagovski, CEO and Managing Director, Cleaning Melbourne; Peter Welling, Former Managing Director, Citizen Services, Serco Asia Pacific.
Bottom row, from left: Shelley Oldham, General Manager, Lismore City Council; Phillip Britt, Managing Director, Aussie Broadband; Marcella Romero, Managing Director, CEO and Founder, Arriba Group; Paul Sansom, Managing Director and CEO, Audi Australia.
Managing Director of the Year finalists
Akash Ahluwalia, Managing Director, Jenny Craig Australia and New Zealand
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic triggering an influx of new members joining Jenny Craig’s weight loss program, Akash says his company is still very committed to keeping its core weight loss customers front of mind when making business decisions. That means keeping on track with Jenny Craig’s intrinsic values and the unique niche the company has provided for hundreds of thousands of members for nearly 40 years.
Akash took on the Managing Director role four years ago and believes exceptional leadership requires finding the balance between business foresight, performance and character, while having the “quality of courage” to take risks, even when there is no assurance of success. He credits his father as being an important inspiration with his qualities of setting high targets supported by strong principles as shaping Akash to become the person and leader he is today.
Kelly Van Nelson, Managing Director, Adecco Australia
A quick conversation with Kelly reveals very early on she’s a consummate people person, not only in her commitment to getting Australians to work, but in her passion for inclusiveness – a drive which extends way beyond her role as head of one of Australia’s leading recruitment companies.
Kelly is an advocate for women in leadership and workplace inclusiveness and winner of the AusMumpreneur Changing the World Award for promoting antibullying initiatives in schools, universities and the workplace. She is also a bestselling author and poet, winning Best Book and Most Powerful Influencer awards for positively impacting society through her literary work.
During 2020, Kelly proved an inspiration for Australians left jobless during COVID-19, working tirelessly to help redeploy thousands of workers into new jobs. Always leading from the front, encouraging crowdsourcing of ideas and hosting online webinars, Kelly regards Adecco’s inclusive culture as key to its success, starting with clear and constant communication to ensure people are aligned towards common goals. Despite her eight years with the company, Kelly admits she frequently learns something new and encourages change, no matter how small. Her belief is that businesses need to constantly evolve in order to survive.
David Gagovski, CEO and Managing Director
David has built his cleaning business on a solid foundation of respect and fairness, remembering well his days as a 16-year-old helping his mother in her own cleaning job and the mistreatment she endured.
That was all the motivation he needed to launch Cleaning Melbourne 12 years ago, taking the business from very humble beginnings, employing just his mother and his wife, to grow it into the company it is today with more than 200 staff serving local government and commercial customers at 850 sites across Melbourne.
His core values are based on building an environment where people can work with dignity and safety and be offered opportunity. This year he took the important and courageous step of letting go of the day-to-day control of every aspect of the business and recruited a strong leadership team to enable him to refine his visions for the company and increase his connections with key customers and partners.
He says the move has made him a better leader and mentor as he focuses on allowing managers to make and learn from their mistakes, ultimately improving their capabilities and confidence.
Peter Welling, Former Managing Director, Citizen Services, Serco Asia Pacific
Peter didn’t hesitate when his young son remarked he wanted to be “successful like you, Dad”. The head of Serco told the 12-year-old to “find something you love, be the best at it, then the rest will follow”. It’s an example Peter has set at Serco, earning a strong reputation for initiating market-making programs and going proactively to government with new ideas.
He has also implemented significant digital capabilities such as robotic process automation, which drives process improvement and reduces cost. Peter has transformed Serco’s Citizen Services into one of Serco’s fastest-growing businesses in the world, winning contracts to supply services to Centrelink, Victoria Police, The National Disability Insurance Agency and one of the largest contracts the company has ever signed, the Health Services contract supporting the Australian Defence Force.
Peter has doubled the size of the business over the past year and tripled it since he joined the company five years ago as Managing Director, a role he relinquished in August to become the company’s CEO.
Shelley Oldham, General Manager, Lismore City Council
As head of a busy city council, Shelley says she’s reliant on her “amazing” team to turn community ideas into real solutions. Since she took up the role as General Manager of Lismore City Council in late 2018, Shelley has used her 30 years’ experience working across all levels of government to drive transformation and encourage her team to be the “best that they can be” to deliver fantastic outcomes for the passionate community-minded people of Lismore.
She’s determined to “leapfrog” Lismore into the future to become a smart city, delivering innovations ranging from developing solar carparks to flood mitigation. Leading with empathy, integrity and strength, her first task was to introduce modern technology and systems capable of delivering the substantial data needed to drive accountability, a move which reduced a A$6.1 million deficit.
She also encouraged more collaboration and efficient processes by reducing layers of command and control. While the results of her initiatives are promising, Shelley is adamant the answers are “always in the people” and that people matter as much as results.
Phillip Britt, Managing Director, Aussie Broadband
Phillip is described as a “thought leader”, someone who has spent more than 25 years in the telco industry and developed a reputation for not only being an inspirational leader who thrives on large challenges but an excellent communicator relying on straight talking with people at all levels of business.
Believing necessity is the mother of invention and requiring access to cheap internet, he launched his first internet service provider aged just 18. Wideband Networks followed in 2003, merging with Westvic Broadband five years later to create Aussie Broadband.
Widely recognised as an industry disrupter, it’s Phillip’s ongoing commitment and dedication to Australia’s entire telco industry that drives him to change and improve the “telco game”. He’s a strong believer in experimenting and making mistakes, after all, “scientists regard each failed experiment as a step towards success”, he says.
Phillip regards his own company’s innovations as steps towards making an impact on the industry as a whole. Promoting flexibility to be able to adapt to an ever-changing world, he encourages his leadership team to set breakthrough targets that will trigger different thinking and create better ideas such as building the company’s own national network or publishing daily bandwidth graphs.
Marcella Romero, Managing Director, CEO and Founder, Arriba Group
Marcella lives by the adage “together we can” – an inspiration vital to her world where improving the lives of people is a primary focus. Her family of companies provides rehab management, employment opportunities and access to support services for people living with disabilities.
Armed with a vision to make a difference to people’s health and wellbeing, the occupational therapist founded Rehab Management in 1998 to help people with disabilities or injuries. This was followed by the launch of AimBig Employment, a disability employment specialist for adults through government-funded disability employment, and LiveBig, a specialised allied-health and assessment service provider for people under the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
The company was rebranded this year, having grown 65 per cent over the past financial year and employing more than 400 staff across 100 offices. She says her secret weapon to ongoing success is to just be herself, to truly believe in what she says and what she does and to inspire her staff to do the same.
Paul Sansom, Managing Director and CEO, Audi Australia
While Paul’s working life may revolve around the latest technology driving prestige cars, it’s a drive of another kind that truly inspires him. That is the drive of people to be the best and to conquer adversity when things are tough.
Paul marvels at the humility, bravery and resilience of front-line emergency workers and their commitment to putting their lives on the line for others every day and admires the perseverance and “sheer hard work” required for the “spirit” of sport.
He recognises the passion to be the best and describes the agony and the glory involved as addictive. Paul also says people who live their life to the full and enjoy every moment are an inspiration for him to make better decisions for himself. He has always looked to genuinely humble, honest and open leaders who surround themselves with people “better than them” to develop his leadership style and bring people together to work towards a common goal.
View the full list of finalists for all categories here.