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We ask the CEO of the Year finalists: Who inspires you?

From the former head of PepsiCo to an ex-US president, these are the people inspiring the Australian leaders vying for this year’s CEO of the Year Award.

CEO of the Year

Finding people who inspire, motivate and push you to become the best version of yourself is an important aspect of any leadership journey. Ahead of The CEO Magazine’s 2019 Executive of the Year Awards on 14 November, we ask the 10 CEO of the Year finalists who inspires them the most.

Zena Burgess

CEO, Royal Australian College of General Practitioners
“Many people I come across inspire me in some way, but there is a handful of people who significantly influence the way I approach my role as CEO, as well as in my career and my life.

“Noel Waite had a significant influence on me in the early stages of my career. Noel is a highly experienced company director, who was awarded an Order of Australia Medal for her work to advance the development of women in management. She encouraged me to branch out beyond psychology into management and directorship roles and to always strive to be highly competitive for my organisation’s outcomes, rather than competitive against others. Without her guidance, I wouldn’t be in the wonderful and challenging position I am in with the RACGP today. I understand what a privilege it was to be guided by Noel in the early stages of my career, so now that I am in a position of influence, I make an effort to guide and support the young women and men I work with today.

“Like Noel, my father always encouraged me to focus on the team and team outcomes, rather than my own individual success. He was a humble, determined and demanding man, with a kind spirit. As a fisherman who worked on trawlers, and a lawyer who worked for social justice, he taught me the value of assisting people through my actions rather than my words. He also taught me to self-evaluate my decisions based on what is the right thing to do, what is morally right and what is achievable. When all three aspects are in balance, I am confident that I am making a good decision.

“Finally, my four sons have taught me to be flexible, to laugh at myself and to see the world inter-generationally. They inspire me to think about the legacy I leave my organisation and the world, and to strive to be a leader, in all aspects of my life, that they can be proud of.”

David Hackett

CEO, MLC Life Insurance
“I’m inspired by my friends Holly Ransom and Naomi Simson – both smart, brave and successful women in business and in life. They make it seem as though barriers don’t exist, are relentless in their challenge of traditional norms, and remain very human and grounded.”

Emma Hendry

CEO, Hendry Group
Indra Nooyi – former PepsiCo CEO. I found that her professional approach is exactly the kind of confidence and intuition that I wish to model in my life and work. I appreciate her ability to act strongly and decisively to create a launching point for future growth and success in business. She has had to work many years to get to where she is today, and her work has been heralded the world over as a result. I also really appreciate her branching out across business and social endeavours, joining the International Cricket Council Board last year to raise the profile of women in the sport.

“Margaret Hamilton – NASA Software Engineer on the Apollo Space Missions. Hers is one of the greatest stories of a woman forging her path in a male-dominated industry, against not only prevalent misconceptions and stigma, but also in pioneering her field – in this case software engineering – and staying steadfast to her intuition and knowledge. Fast forward to the present day and many of the practices she established for designing and developing software are still in use. I deeply enjoy reading her achievements and the conviction that brought her there, and I hope that many more can be inspired to create a lasting legacy of their own.”

Fiona Johnston

CEO, UM Australia
“My team – old, young, new; being open, funny, curious and smart to be the best we can be.

“My clients – all with human stories and their own needs.

“My yoga teachers – to strike balance and manage the storms and sway of business life.

“My charity in Tanzania and Redfern – supporting kids’ education and confidence; such bravery in their facing adversity.”

Bobby Lehane

CEO, CHU Underwriting Agencies
“My chairman Robert Kelly is hugely inspiring and remains relevant and passionate about insurance, business and all manner of things today at the age of 72.

“My mother Breda Lehane who gave birth to 14 children and while raising her family worked tirelessly in the family business, as she does today at the age of 76.

“I have been very inspired by Barack Obama. In a divisive environment, his message of hope is important for humanity. In addition, he is a wonderful orator.

The Atlassian boys, what a wonderful story. I especially relate given my own technical background. I love their success, and their need to contribute more broadly to society than just their own businesses.”

Anthony Nantes

CEO, Wisr
“Anyone who challenged the norm and brings authenticity and creativity to what they do.”

Andrew Ritchie

CEO, EstimateOne
“Pretty much everyone. As a white male born in Australia to parents who valued education, I won what Warren Buffett would call the ‘ovarian lottery’. There are people I see succeed all around me that didn’t win that lottery, but have found the intrinsic motivation and work ethic to do so well despite this. These are the people who inspire me – people who don’t have the many forms of privilege I have, but who have flourished as leaders regardless.

“People like Jamila Gordon, Rosie Batty and Noel Pearson all fit this bill, but are just a few of many such leaders.”

Michele Smith

CEO, North Eastern Community Hospital
“Ginger Rogers when she danced with Fred Astaire. She did everything Fred did but backwards and in heels. She didn’t seek the spotlight for herself, but for her partnership and the beauty of the dance.”

Kim Wethmar

CEO, TravelEdge
“Patty McCord – the former Chief Talent Officer at Netflix. While I haven’t personally met her, listening to her podcasts on how to engage staff, and the way she speaks is just truly inspirational. She reminds us that our staff are fully formed adults and should be treated as such.”

John Winning

CEO, Winning Group
“For life values, my dad, as he always puts the happiness of the team and the people in his life ahead of any financial goals.

“For innovation and staying true to yourself over any external influencing factors, I would say Steve Jobs and Elon Musk, as they were and are consistent no matter how much money is involved or what or who tries to influence them – shareholders or otherwise.

“For motivation, Gary Vaynerchuk, as his views of work ethic and financial success are super aligned with mine and he tells it straight with no filter.

“For leadership, Alan Jones has passion, drive and a way of storytelling to get people onboard and motivated to make change. Agree with his views or not, he can create movements among people to influence major change to everything from sports teams to political parties.

“For building and growing highly successful scalable organisations, Jack Welch, as he has built winning strategies and scalable systems that are ruthless but equally fair to teams and shareholders. His decades of success speak for themselves.”

See the full list of finalists in The CEO Magazine’s 2019 Executive of the Year Awards.

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