Now completing its eighth year, The CEO Magazine’s 2019 Executive of the Year Awards has once again earned its title as Australia’s most prestigious business awards event. We are pleased to announce all of the award winners from this year's Executive of the Year Awards.
Recognising the exceptional achievements of CEOs, managing directors and senior management, the awards were presented by The Morning Show’s Larry Emdur at Crown, Melbourne. The glittering black-tie event welcomed 550 guests and nominees from the country’s most respected and innovative brands.
Finalists were judged by an 11-person panel: Colleen Callander, CEO of Sportsgirl; Dave Fenlon, CEO of BWX; Ronni Kahn, Founder and CEO of OzHarvest; Pip Marlow, CEO Australia and New Zealand of Salesforce; Mark Nielsen, CEO APAC of Talent International and 2018 CEO of the Year winner; Glen Sealey, COO of Maserati Australia, New Zealand and South Africa; Jose Da Silva, Group CEO Operations of Wilson Group; Georgie Harman, CEO of Beyond Blue; John Karagounis, CEO of The CEO Circle; Suzy Nicoletti, Managing Director of Twitter Australia; Ron Santiago, Managing Director of Europcar Australia and New Zealand; Chris Dutton, Founder and CEO of The CEO Magazine; and Susan Armstrong, Content Director at The CEO Magazine.
CEO of the Year
David Hackett, CEO
David has had a less-than-traditional career in finance. He spent years working in Japan’s finance industry before returning to Australia, eventually taking the helm of MLC. It was no simple role – David joined up just as the insurance company detached from its parent, NAB. He guided the large-yet-underperforming company through that transitional period, reinventing its values and purpose, while dramatically reducing costs and raising revenue. Ultimately, profits shot up by 68% over the course of 2018.
CEO of the Year Runner-Up
Fiona Johnston, CEO
Like David, this year’s runner-up for CEO of the Year joined her company during a time of upheaval, disruption, challenge and transformation. Fiona’s leadership reversed a four-year decline, through new people-focused initiatives. She tripled the people budget, training and coaching of her team, while also encouraging openness and communication. For Fiona, the key to leadership is the four Cs – compassion, conviction, courage and curiosity.
CEO of the Year Highly Commended
Anthony Nantes, CEO
Anthony brought years of experience in the tech industry to found one of Australia’s fastest-growing fintechs, the “neo-lender” Wisr. Anthony’s ambitious vision for the company has seen rapid uptake, going from 4,000 customers to 60,000-plus just this year. It’s in no small part down to his ethos of “purpose before profit”, providing a service for Australians at a time when the industry has been rocked by unethical actions that damaged the public’s trust.
Managing Director of the Year
Caleb Bush, Managing Director Senior Vice President
From being last year’s Media Executive of the Year, Caleb has only gone upwards. He’s worked towards modernisation and innovation, but one of his most notable achievements is a 94% retention rate – a testament to his commitment to the GPJ ANZ team. Caleb believes in “being passionately human”, a philosophy that sees itself reflected in his work with Sydney’s 2018 Invictus Games.
Managing Director of the Year Runner-Up
Leanne Harwood, Managing Director Australasia and Japan
Having only become Managing Director last year, this award is quite the accolade for Leanne. Her career in hospitality has been fuelled by passion first and foremost, and that passion has manifested in rapid expansion for InterContinental Hotels Group. A total 3,000 rooms were added across the region, with 2018 representing the Group’s strongest growth yet. Meanwhile, Leanne has overseen cultural improvement, setting goals for female empowerment and overcoming the industry’s talent challenges.
COO of the Year
Kiri Brain, former COO
The win is a fitting end to Kiri’s tenure as COO of Nexia Australia. After five years in the role with the financial services provider, Kiri has succeeded in slashing overheads; managed a A$10 million merger; and brought on board six new clients in a six-month period. She also took an active part in the company’s cultural transformation.
COO of the Year Runner-Up
Jeff Yu, Co-Founder and COO
With 16 years working in IT, it’s no wonder Jeff decided to strike out on his own in 2013 to help start One Stop Warehouse. Over the years, he’s overseen an ever-growing team, and fought to make solar power accessible for all Australians, fighting import taxes and hiring the best team possible. In practice, he draws inspiration from Linux creator Linus Torvalds, “working for fun” and doing “one thing only and make it the best”.
CFO of the Year
Leah Weckert, CFO
Leah came to Coles Group at a tumultuous time, just as a new CEO was starting and Coles was demerging from Wesfarmers. In such a difficult environment, she rose to the challenge, overseeing a A$1.5 billion profit last year. But most critically, she revitalised the company’s strategic direction, having launched a new strategy in June. Focusing on helping Australians lead healthy and happy lives, Leah has helped lead new partnerships, campaigns and initiatives to communicate this to the Group’s customer base.
CFO of the Year Runner-Up
Matt Young, CFO
A responsibility for financial operations across Australia, China, Singapore, the US and Europe is no small feat, but for the past year, Matt has handled this for Treasury Wine Estates. His success is no doubt down to his belief in the ‘why’ of finance, ensuring buy-in and engagement from his team through a hands-on leadership style. While the company shifted to self-distribution in the US, Matt’s work has helped avoid cash flow problems and maintain a dedicated team.
Lifetime Achievement Award
Gina Rinehart, Executive Chairman
Recognised as one of Australia’s most successful business people, and one of the wealthiest women in the world with an estimated net worth of US$14.8 billion, Gina Rinehart is clearly well-deserving of The CEO Magazine’s inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award. Gina took over Hancock Prospecting from her late father Lang Hancock in 1992. Lang Hancock's estate was bankrupt at the time and Hancock Prospecting was in a parlous financial position, with its contingent liabilities, liabilities, legal claims and threats, and most of its few remaining assets heavily mortgaged. Gina turned the company into what it is today – the most successful private mining company in Australia’s history – and for decades she has been one of the most influential figures in her industry and in Australian business. She also works against human trafficking and with the Australian rowing, volleyball, synchronised swimming and swimming teams.
HR Executive of the Year
Natalie Brooke, HR Manager
One of Natalie’s most significant achievements has been the recent introduction of a new and improved parental leave policy, addressing shortcomings in the Australian system. She was able to get a 12-week paid scheme approved by the global CEO – unbudgeted. It’s a demonstration of her clear efforts to support workers, and represents part of her success in raising eNPS among female employees.
Marketing Executive of the Year
Krystel Cochico, National Marketing and Communications Manager
This year, while maintaining her role with VISA, Krystel made the ambitious decision to begin her MBA. Impressively, this hasn’t detracted from her duties; the company has seen a 300% increase in leads for VISA Travel’s national campaign, sky-high customer satisfaction for customer communication services and a conversion rate improved by 25%. Krystel’s philosophy – that knowledge is power – has helped drive her team to stay informed and informative.
Sales Executive of the Year
Michael Reid, General Manager QLD, NT and PNG
Michael has applied 15 years of sales experience with Cisco, and transformed the business. He introduced age diversity into the business, and lifted the female proportion from 6% to 37%. It’s part of a ‘culture first’ approach – the proof is in a tragic incident just months ago, when the son of Michael’s team member was diagnosed with a brain tumour. It was naturally a difficult time for the team, and especially for the family, but Michael’s team rallied together to raise A$100,000 for the five-year-old boy.
Young Executive of the Year
Caleb Bush, Managing Director Senior Vice President / Managing Director ANZ
Besides Managing Director of the Year, Caleb also took home this year’s Young Executive of the Year Award, making his achievements with GPJ ANZ and Project Worldwide all the more impressive given his youth. That youth, no doubt, drives his belief in getting down in the “trenches” – the idea that leaders need to understand what work is like on the ground floor of their workforce.
Start-Up Executive of the Year
Kristofer Rogers, CEO
Split Payments’ success is undeniable, having reached 14 million transactions through its Open Banking Payments Platform since launching in January 2018. It was also valued at A$15 million this year, raising an additional A$2.5 million. The key, says Kristofer, is success through reputation and referrals. It’s an exciting industry for him, with rapid technological innovation and vast opportunities, but his core focus as a leader is twofold – leading by example and allowing people to realise their own potential.
Executive Assistant of the Year
Justin Barwick, Executive Assistant to Chief Human Resources Officer
While the Executive of the Year Awards celebrates the achievements of those at the pinnacle of Australian industry, it’s fair to say they wouldn’t be able to get as far without the efforts of Executive Assistants. Justin has supported Serco Asia Pacific’s Chief HR Officer through a tumultuous period of overhaul, managing her agenda and general wellbeing. He’s also made huge steps towards efficiency with digital innovation, while supporting his executive through trust and communication.
Education Executive of the Year
Jon Whittle, Executive Dean, Faculty of Information Technology
Over the past five years, Jon has tripled student numbers and grown research grant income to A$11 million this year. With the introduction of postgrad degrees in data science and AI, the Faculty has been futureproofed, and Jon’s work in establishing the Monash Data Futures Institute has nationwide implications for the evolution of AI. Against a competitive talent market for IT academics, Jon has reformed strategy and culture to encourage continuous learning, engagement and pursuit of success.
Professional Services Executive of the Year
Milan Andjelkovic, Managing Director, Strategy
Any provider of services depends upon a cohesive workplace culture, and to achieve this, Milan has taken TM Insight through complete transformation within the past year. Processes were offshored to Asia, with the local team streamlined and used to nurture new talent overseas. Meanwhile, the business structure brought together siloed departments to improve efficiency. The result: successful consultancy projects that have brought in a profit of more than A$10 million over the past year.
Financial Services and Insurance Executive of the Year
Bobby Lehane, CEO
At the head of one of Australia’s pioneering strata insurance agencies, Bobby has been well-placed to pursue his ambition of being “an evangelist for change”. He’s leveraged his tech background to implement online services, while also diversifying the company’s core services. Bobby passionately values diversity and innovation; he’s championed a people-focused leadership involving informal catch-ups, recognition of achievements, and staff-selected charity contribution.
Hospitality and Tourism Executive of the Year
Phillipa Harrison, Executive General Manager International
Despite some restructuring of Tourism Australia, Phillipa has not only helped boost the numbers and spending of visitors to Australia, but also engineered a staff engagement score of 97%. As well as being motivated by the collective purpose of representing the Australian brand, Phillipa also says she’s inspired by New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, and her efforts to redefine leadership as being human and compassionate. “We all need a little Jacinda in our leadership style,” Phillipa advises.
Energy and Resources Executive of the Year
Gina Rinehart, Executive Chairman
As well as the Lifetime Achievement Award, Gina has taken home this year’s Energy and Resources Executive of the Year Award. Through 2019, she’s continued to lead one of Australia’s largest mining companies, initiating a major project in Ecuador, establishing promising partnerships with Asian steel mills and continuing to build up a successful Wagyu beef business. Gina counts among her inspiration leaders such as Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, Donald Trump and Narendra Modi, and of course her late father and predecessor, Lang Hancock.
Building and Construction Executive of the Year
Sam El Rihani, Founder and Managing Director
In the past year, Decode Group has continued to fight a slowing market, expanding into new areas and continuing to develop an impressive number of units, with 13 continuing projects across Sydney. Last year, Decode Group was listed on the AFR 100 Fast List – a testament to Sam’s ability to keep a company growing in the face of adversity. Meanwhile, he continues to provide internal opportunities for his team, through comprehensive formal learning and mentoring. Sam says every interview includes the question, “What can we do to assist you in achieving your dream?”
Health and Pharmaceutical Executive of the Year
Stuart Chesneau, Executive Director, Business Growth and Innovation
Stuart took over the newly formed division two years ago, and has taken to the role with passion and dedication. He’s worked to lower costs and improve availability of life-saving processes, including the collection of plasma, organs and blood, and even the donation of human milk for prematurely born babies. Most critically, he’s driven the organisation to embrace agility and risk, while still putting communication, safety and enrichment first for all of the company’s employees.
IT and Telecommunications Executive of the Year
David Dicker, CEO and Chairman
For 41 years, David has led Dicker Data, since founding the company. It’s grown to be Australia’s largest local tech distributor, and in just the first half of this year, grew its share prices from A$2.82 to A$7. The company implemented an operations team to identify room for improvement and best practice, while continuing to implement new IT capabilities. The workforce has grown to match the company’s evolution, and to accommodate them, David has ensured a culture of autonomy and trust.
Transport and Logistics Executive of the Year – Joint Winner
Scott Walker, National Transport Manager, Commercial
Scott’s most impressive achievement, no doubt, is transforming VISA Global Logistics from the 17th largest wharf cartage carrier in NSW to the third largest in Australia. Under his leadership (since the start of 2019), the business has hit the A$500 million turnover milestone and opened five new offices globally. Scott’s establishment of a new facility in Erskine Park has helped circumvent Sydney congestion, getting deliveries to customers faster than ever.
Transport and Logistics Executive of the Year – Joint Winner
Julian Leach, Co-Founder and CEO
Having launched a similar concept in the UK, Julian co-founded ParcelPoint in 2011, and today, the company counts businesses like Amazon, eBay and The Iconic among its partners. Throughout the past 12 months, Julian has juggled leading the business and running the capital-raising process, while making strides forward such as the implementation of electric vehicles, for which he worked alongside business leaders throughout the retail market.
Retail Executive of the Year
Matthew Keighran, Managing Director South East Asia Pacific
Matthew believes “leaders are only as good as their teams”. For him, the challenge of managing a region as large and complex as South-East Asia means people-management skills are crucial. Under Matthew’s guidance, the luxury label has navigated challenges like ecommerce and rental costs while expanding in various Asian markets. Internally, Matthew says they offer opportunities to any team member who shows the potential and the passion to grow, giving the whole team something to strive for.
Media Executive of the Year
Fiona Johnston, CEO
This year’s CEO of the Year runner-up has been propelled by a mission to be “the best media counsel” to UM Australia’s clients, and the results speak for themselves. During the past year and a half, the company hasn’t lost a client or a pitch, and recently those clients have included bodies like AGL, Nestlé and the Australian Government. Regular planning sessions with clients and a new client platform have helped ensure strong partnerships across UM Australia’s customer base.
Not-For-Profit Executive of the Year
Vedran Drakulic OAM, CEO
Vedran has led the philanthropic organisation since its inception in 2011. Since then, Australia’s largest private family foundation has distributed charitable grants exceeding A$100 million – from 2017 to 2018, total donations grew from A$15 to A$17 million. Vedran’s biggest achievements include the Pauline Gandel Children's Gallery at Melbourne Museum, and the Gandel Holocaust Education Conference, which drew 300 participants nationwide – no mean feat for someone who arrived in Australia as a refugee 24 years ago.
Missed out on applying for the 2019 Executive of the Year Awards? Don't worry the Awards will be back in 2020, you can register your interest here.