By 19/12/2019News


For David Hackett, CEO of MLC Life Insurance, the Executive of the Year Awards was an evening to be exceptionally proud of after he took out the pinnacle award – 2019 CEO of the Year. David says taking home the winning title was completely unexpected. “It feels quite surreal. It’s a great surprise so I am a bit overwhelmed by it actually,” he told The CEO Magazine on the night. “I thought, ‘Let’s have a go and see what happens’, but I never really expected to win it.”

He encourages other executives to “have a go” to be in for a chance at winning an award in 2020. “Throw it in the mix and you never know,” he says, adding that it’s about more than the recognition. “You get value out of the process. It’s good to get a handle on who you are, what you stand for and what you’ve done.”

As an underperforming insurance business that was cut loose from its parent company in 2016, David’s achievements are nothing less than formidable. He took the reins as MLC Life Insurance set out on its own in a heavily scrutinised – and publicly criticised – industry that was grappling with a sluggish economy.

In the financial year to 31 December 2018, MLC Life Insurance recorded a 68 per cent

Exceptional on developing They success by of the people improvement in after-tax profit of A$71 million on the previous year, due to a revenue increase of A$21 million and operating cost reductions of A$54 million.

David attributes this remarkable turnaround to his executive team, who stood firm together to ensure this cultural and strategic transformation endured and flourished. He adds that good leadership is centred around employees.

“Exceptional leaders focus on developing people,” David says. “They measure their success by the success of the people they lead. They bring their whole selves to the task of leadership and stay true to themselves and their % values through times of challenge. leaders focus Thev are humble and human’with people. measure their the success they lead.” an inner drive that means they stay strong, calm and focused, and connect to their people and stakeholders at all times.” David adds, “You can’t be a leader without followers. You need to engender a followership and to do that you have to genuinely connect with people and be authentic,” he explains.

“There is no formula to it. You have to really connect with people and leverage that connection to take a whole bunch of people in the same direction to try to achieve something together.”

The 2019 CEO of the Year Runner-Up was Fiona Johnston, CEO of UM Australia, and Highly Commended went to Anthony Nantes, CEO of Wisr.

Exceptional leaders focus on developing people. They measure their success by the success of the people they lead.”

During a glittering ceremony dinner held at The Palladium at Crown, Melbourne on 14 November 2019, the Executive of the Year Awards again recognised and honoured the achievements of senior executives in Australia’s business sector and their contributions to the greater wellbeing of Australian society.

Now in its eighth year, guests entered the magical venue for The CEO Magazine’s annual black-tie awards ceremony, gracing the red carpet in flowing floor-length gowns and bold suits complete with matching bow ties.

Hancock Prospecting’s Gina Rinehart, Coles Group’s Leah Weckert and Australian Olympians including swimmer Mack Horton were among the inspiring business leaders and famous faces capturing the glamorous evening against the media wall before meandering into the Gatsby-style cocktail room. Ready for an evening of prestigious awards, networking and socialising, many admired the sleek Maserati Levante prominently positioned in the centre of the venue.

Lounge tunes performed by DJ Emma Peters made for a laidback atmosphere as guests mingled among fellow industry leaders and conversed with some of the impressive guest judges, including 2018’s CEO of the Year Mark Nielsen, with a flute of Moet & Chandon Champagne or The Dalmore Old Fashioned in hand.

Guests soon began trickling into Australia’s premier ballroom, home of the iconic Brownlow Medal Awards, where they were greeted with extravagant seven-metre high ceilings, a Maserati on either side of the stage and tables flowing with fresh floral arrangements and hints of gold. Others joined the silent auction where a rare bottle of The Dalmore 35YO was up for bidding, its proceeds going directly to the Children’s Cancer Institute. Olympian Kieren Perkins was the winning bidder, purchasing the drop for A$11,000.

THE JUDGES Finalists were judged by an 13-person judging panel consisting of: Sportsgirl CEO Colleen Callander; BWX CEO Dave Fenlon; OzHarvest Founder and CEO Ronni Kahn; Salesforce Australia and New Zealand CEO Pip Marlow; Talent International CEO APAC and 2018 CEO of ^B I the Year winner Mark Nielsen; Maserati Australia, New Zealand and South Africa COO Glen Sealey; Wilson Group CEO Operations Jose Da Silva; Beyond Blue CEO Georgie Harnian; The CEO Circle CEO John Karagounis; Twitter Australia Managing Director Suzy Nicoletti; Europcar Australia and New Zealand Managing Director Ron Santiago; The CEO Magazine Founder and CEO Chris Dutton and Content Director Susan Armstrong.

Hundreds arrived in style to celebrate yet another exceptional year in business. Around 550 guests and nominees from the country’s most respected and innovative brands, including Coles Group, Tourism Australia, Spotify and Menulog, were in attendance. There were 76 finalists across 23 award categories hoping to take home a win. New for 2019 were the inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award and COO of the Year Award.

NOT-FOR-PROFIT EXECUTIVE OF THE YEAR VEDRAN DRAKULIC 0AM CEO, Gandel Philanthropy refugee from war-torn Bosnia, Vedran has contribute significantly to Australian society since immigrating in Lthe mid-1990s. Arriving without a penny to his name, he has worked tirelessly towards helping others throughout his career. He joined the Gandel family’s foundation in 2011 and under his leadership, annual giving by Gandel Philanthropy grew from A$5 million in 2011 to almost A$17 million in 2018. The organisation also saw annual distributions increase by 300 per cent and the number of grants allocated increase by more than 250 per cent, thanks to Vedran’s vision.

“It’s a surprise but it’s amazing,” Vedran said after being presented his award. “You don’t expect these things to happen but it is wonderful recognition of the work that everyone in the not-for-profit sector does and obviously the organisation. It is very thrilling.”

A non-negotiable quality in leadership is integrity, according , Vedran. “It’s an absolute must and first,” he shared. “It’s very hard to attain and very easy to lose. Being humble is also important, keeping your mind on the end result and not on the glory.”


FIONA JOHNSTON CEO, UM Australia iona has been propelled by a mission to be “the best media counsel” to UM Australia’s clients, and the results speak for themselves. She joined the company during a time of disruption and challenge, but her leadership has triumphed to lead the business to greater success. For Fiona, the key to being an effective leader is following the four Cs – compassion, conviction, courage and curiosity.

“It feels quite surreal,” she said of the win. “I feel very proud. I’m passionate about the role media plays in society and [from applying for the Awards] I hoped to keep the profile of media in a good, positive, professional space.” When asked what qualities she believes make the best leaders, she said, “You’ve got to be real. I don’t think you can do a job like this without being really you, otherwise you’d be too exhausted.” Fiona also won CEO of the Year Runner-Up.


Managing Director South East

Asia Pacific, Hugo Boss matthew can now add the prestigious Retail Executive of the Year honour . to his lengthy list of achievements. This accomplished retail leader has made significant strides in his 16 years at Hugo Boss – the German powerhouse brand known for its timeless tailoring and bold prints and colours.

With such a complex region to manage in terms of distance, culture, climate and wealth distribution, Matthew must be constantly switched on. For him, it’s part of the excitement. “It requires the ability to flick quickly into different mindsets while always maintaining the customer as central to decision-making,” he said.

His team entered the Awards on his behalf so he was pleasantly surprised to take out a trophy. “To be honest, I wasn’t expecting to win anything,” he said. “It’s really very nice. Retail is a tough industry, especially for fashion. I’m inspired to create a business that’s all about engagement. I want team that is truly engaged and passionate.”

For Scott Walker, winning an award was completely unexpected. “I am blown away and shaking.

I did not expect that at all. With the competition of the people around me, I certainly did not expect it,” he said, stunned. “Now I have an amazing bit of loot that will live with me for the rest of my life. That’s blown my mind.” When asked what success means to him, he responded: “I think I just found it.” Scott’s most impressive achievement, no doubt, was transforming VISA Global Logistics from the 17th largest wharf cartage carrier in New South Wales 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.

Fellow winner Julian Leach has also experienced great success in his role with ParcelPoint. He co-founded the business in 2011 and, throughout the past 12 months, has juggled leading the company and running the capital-raising process, while making strides forward with projects such as the implementation of electric vehicles. He said he was “surprised and thrilled” to hear his name announced at the presentation ceremony. “It’s been quite a journey,” he shared. “As a startup founder, every year the business goes to a whole new level. “Nights like this are great for people to be able to take a break from the hard yards of work to recognise each other and all of the great contributions we’re making to the economy here.”

BUILDING AND CONSTRUCTION EXECUTIVE OF THE YEAR SAM EL RIHANI Founder and Managing Director, Decode Group 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. In 2018, the Group was listed on the AFR Fast 100 List – a testament to Sam’s ability to keep a company growing in the face of adversity.

Meanwhile. Sam continues to provide internal opportunites for his team, through comprehensive formal learning and mentoring. He says that in business, it’s all about people.

On the win, he said he wasn’t expecting it. “My team said I should go for it, so I did.”

The Executive of the Year Awards is about recognising high achievement within the business community. As the major sponsor of the 2019 Awards, Maserati’s Glen Sealey, COO of Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, did not fall short of celebrating the talent in the room.

“As Australians, we don’t recognise each other that much, so it’s fantastic that we have a platform like this to recognise the best in business,” he told the executives and business leaders at the presentation ceremony. “Celebrate the successes of your year and help applaud tonight’s winners because they really deserve it.”

Maserati has been working closely with The CEO Magazine for a number of years now. “Chris [Dutton] and the team, you’ve been with us since we have expanded the Maserati brand exponentially to grow 600 per cent in five years and now we consolidate that growth,” he said. Glen also touched on how Maserati is preparing for a “new phase” and that it’s “exciting time” for the automotive industry with electrification and hybridisation on the horizon for the next 12 months. tuart took over the newly formed division of the Australian Red Cross Blood Service 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.

“It’s always good to stop and really review what you’ve done and to be proud of your achievements, just you as an individual, as an organisation,” he iimented after accepting award. “I’ve got nine y great colleagues ny table tonight and dreds behind me. It’s d to recognise the at things we’ve done and say well done, great, what’s the next thing?”


At the helm of Tourism Australia’s business strategy and operations is Phillipa who was recently promoted to Managing Director in September 2019. She took on the role in an acting capacity in mid-2019 and is the first female to have a senior leadership role at the national tourism organisation in its 50 years of operation.

When asked about gender diversity in the workplace, she said, “I don’t focus on that, but within our organisation it has meant a lot to the other females who work in the industry and organisation. I think they see it as giving them opportunities for the future.

“For me, success is about setting goals for yourself and achieving them, being a great role model for my daughters, and making sure that everybody who comes to work feels like they contribute every day and are recognised for that,” she added. “Our shared purpose is that we’re temporary custodians of brand Australia, and we want to leave this brand better than we found it on behalf of all Australians.”

Phillipa said it “feels amazing” to be presented the award and encouraged others to consider applying for 2020. “Get out of your comfort zone and give it a shot because that’s what I did. Put yourself on the line and it pays off.”


CEO, CHU Underwriting Agencies At the head of one of Australia’s pioneering strata nsurance agencies, Bobby _ieen well-placed to pursue his ambition of being “an evangelist for ge”. He has leveraged his tech ground to implement online services, while also diversifying the company’s core services.

According to Bobby, events like this are important. “To me, it’s about achieving more than just the profit that you make. It’s about being engaged, enjoying what you do and your work being more than just your day-to-day job. But the reality is, it’s not really about me, is about the organisation and what it is that we’re doing.”


Managing Director, Strategy, TM Insight Any provider of services , depends upon a cohesive workplace culture, and to achieve this, Milan has taken TM Insight through complete transformation since 2018. “It’s a rally good validation of all the hard ork we’ve done over the past 10 years. It’s great recognition,” he told The CEO Magazine on the night. “We’ve grown as a business quite a lot over the past four years.

“Sometimes you need to stop and look at what you’ve actually achieved,” he reflected. “We’ve won a couple of awards now, the Telstra Business Awards and this one. It’s good to stop and reflect on what you’ve achieved.”

Milan has worked to break down silos across departments and said his leadership style is to “lead by example”. “I let our guys be themselves. It’s a really good, high-performance culture.”

His inspiration? “Arnold Schwarzenegger. I grew up with Arnie as a 1980s kid. I saw him as an immigrant making a success of himself in a different country, which is the same as what I’ve done, coming from no word of English and becoming a success.”

On success, he added: “I don’t know if we’ve achieved success; it’s an ongoing journey. You’ve got to take it a day at a time and you’ve got to appreciate what you have each day.”

EDUCATION EXECUTIVE OF THE YEAR JON WHITTLE Executive Dean, Faculty of Information Technology, Monash University Ever the past five years, Jon has tripled student numbers an I grown research grant income to A$11 million in 2019. Against a competitive talent market for IT academics, he has reformed strategy and culture to encourage continuous learning, engagement and the pursuit of success. “It’s amazing. I have only been in Australi; for the past two years so to win an award like this is just complete unexpected and it’s really a team effort. It’s a testament to all the c workers,” he said on the night.

When asked about what success means to him he added, “I th it’s having a positive impact on the world. We’ve got about 6,000 students in our faculty who are all amazing and we’ve been doing a lot of work supporting them. They’re going to go out into the wor and change it, and they are going to be the CEOs of the future. Hopefully some of them will win awards along the way.”

He said his leadership philosophy “starts with a vision”. “Setting a simple, clear vision that people can identify with and be inspired by.”

And his advice for others? “Just do it. I wasn’t sure if I was going to apply or not. I ummed and ahhed about it. It’s really not that much work. Just do it; what’s the worst that can happen?”

START-UP EXECUTIVE OFTHE YEAR KRISTOFER ROGERS CEO, Split Payments plit Payments’ success is undeniable, having reached 14 million transactions through its Open Banking Payments Platform since launching in January 2018.

The key, said Kristofer, “is success through reputation and referrals”. It’s an exciting industry for him, with rapid innovation and endless opportunities, but his core focus as a leader is twofold – leading by example and allowing people to realise their own potential.

“You have to shine a light on what you do,” he said after the win. “And if there’s an award that shines a light on what you do then it helps you grow your business.”


Executive Assistant to Chief Human Resources Officer, Serco Asia Pacific 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, Julie Carroll, 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.

On winning the award, he credited his boss. “This is really for Julie and for us as a team.” Justin was also a finalist in 2018 and said it was “pretty exciting … two years to be nominated and to be taking it home today – you never do expect it but it’s nice to be recognised.”

MARKETING EXECUTIVE OF THE YEAR tiSTELCOCHICO onal Marketing and Communications lager, VISA Global Logistics ly speechless after winning Marketing . of the Year. “I was in the same category as the Head ^of Marketing from Spotify,” she said in amazement. “I thought she was going to win.”

Having been in the marketing space for about a decade, Krystel reflected on the journey with a wide smile, “I love it and I love working with amazing companies that let me do what I need to do. It’s a pat on the back saying keep doing what you’re doing.”

For Krystel, success isn’t about herself but about others. “That’s what it is for me. Helping other people achieve success.”


Michael has applied 15 years of sales , experience with Cisco, and transformed the technology business. As part of a ‘culture-first’ approach, he has encouraged and actioned gender diversity, lifting the female proportion from six to 37 per cent.

“I’m on the board of Women in Digital and I’m passionate about celebrating a whole heap of females in IT and getting them to stand up on stage … but I’ve never put my name in for anything so I thought I better walk the talk,” he shared with The CEO Magazine. “But I honestly didn’t expect to win. I don’t know what it’s going to bring but it’s really exciting.”



HR Manager, Menulog

One of Natalie’s most significant achievements has been the introduction of an 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 – a demonstration of her efforts to support workers and raise eNPS among female employees.

After accepting her trophy at the Executive of the Year Awards, she said she was excited to be recognised. “I’ve put so much effort into my career and I love doing what I do – bringing joy to the people at work. [This award] makes it all worthwhile.”

She encourages others to “put yourself out there”. “It’s really important to recognise that feedback and recognition is important for people,” she said. > >

CFO OF THE YEAR LEAH WECKERT CFO, Coles Group emerging from I JWesfarmers was Leah’s biggest milestone, to which she credits her team. “It has been such a huge process so 1 really feel this award is recognition for everyone who has worked on that,” the CFO of the Year reflected. “1 am very honoured and quite overcome actually.”

Leah added that success is about “being able to deliver something for our shareholders while creating an amazing environment for our team to work in”. She noted that good leaders have humility. “Do the best you can every day and be proud of your achievements.”

Chris Dutton, Founder and CEO of The CEO Magazine, used his opening speech to welcome guests and congratulate finalists before making a special announcement – the launch of The CEO Magazine Foundation, a not-for-profit to help drive positive change in the world.

Later in the night, he announced Gina Rinehart as the inaugural winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award. This award is to celebrate the outstanding achievements and accomplishments of someone over the duration of their entire career,” he said.

The Executive Chairman of Hancock Prospecting needs no introduction. 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$15.1 billion, Gina (pictured with her daughter Ginia) is clearly well-deserving of the inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award and Energy and Resources Executive of the Year Award.

Gina took over Hancock Prospecting from her late father Lang Hancock in 1992. His estate was bankrupt at the time and Hancock Prospecting was in a parlous financial position, with its contingent 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. She has grown the value of the company by, astonishingly, more than 20,000 per cent. Of the many noteworthy achievements that have given rise to these two accolades, it is her development of the Roy Hill project, Australia’s single largest iron ore mine, that stands out as where she established her name and fortune.

Gina attended the Awards night with a table of Olympians in tow. She provides funding for the Australian rowing, volleyball, synchronised swimming and swimming teams, and was the biggest individual financial supporter of Australia’s Olympic team for the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games.

COO OF THE YEAR KIRI BRAIN Former COO, Nexia Australia

When Kiri entered the Executive of the Year Awards, she was COO of Nexia Australia, and has since moved into the CEO seat of TurksLegal. With a wealth of experience in professional services management and innovation, she is the first non-lawyer to head the legal firm.

“I decided I was going to become CEO,” Kiri told The CEO Magazine. “This cements what I wanted to be. It’s everything that I aspired to.”

Her leadership philosophy is about “transparency, communication and empowering people”. “That’s really important to me,” she commented. “We are all on this journey together.”

Kiri stands by “constant listening” as her mantra, and she sits in the middle of the office to be part of the hub. “I don’t sit in the corner office. I sit with the guys and work among the team.”

The 2018 CEO of the Year winner. Mark Nielsen, returned for 2019 as a guest  judge and addressed the crowd on  stage. “Being a judge at this year’s Executive of the Year Awards gave me the opportunity to learn from the thinking and ideas of our Australian leaders who drive a diverse range of businesses,” Mark shared. “The applications were exceptional.”

His advice for 2019’s cohort of winners? “Take the time to savour your achievements. This is recognition for all of the sacrifices you have made in getting to the top of your field.”

Winning a double whammy as Young Executive of the Year and Managing Director of the Year is “pretty wicked”, according to Caleb. “For a 35-year-old to be able to compete with the other finalists and some serious talent and big names, we are doing the right thing,” he reflected. “We are on the right track and right path. The strategies we put in place for the business are working. It’s comparable to some really big businesses, so I’m over the moon.”

His advice for budding executives starts with believing in yourself. “If you have an idea, vision, plan or goal, just back it and go for it. Great things can happen,” Caleb told The CEO Magazine. He added that winning the award is about recognition for the organisation’s staff. “We’ve had such an amazing year so it’s good for staff to get some recognition. Also for our families – my wife supports me through all the travel and the huge amount of hours so it’s good to go home and say it is all worth it.”

Caleb’s advice in business is twofold. “Learn how to say no. A lot of people in the world are ‘yes’ people and want to please everyone. In reality, you have to let people down every now and then to get to where you need to get to. The second part is genuinely know what your skills are and bring in people around you who support your weaknesses. Knowing that I am not good at the numbers, I’ve got an amazing CFO; I’m not good at operations, so I have a great General Manager. I focus on growing the business and promoting and marketing it. Know what you’re good at and hire people around you who can support you.”

Congratulations to all of the winners at The CEO Magazine’s 2019 Executive of the Year Awards. As well as the faces gracing these pages, there were several individuals who took out a Runner-Up award: Managing Director of the Year Runner-Up went to Leanne Harwood, Managing Director Australasia and Japan of Intercontinental Hotels Group; COO of the Year Runner-Up to Jeff Yu, Co-Founder and COO of One Stop Warehouse; and CFO of the Year Runner-Up to Matt Young, CFO of Treasury Wine Estates.

Unable to attend the presentation ceremony was David Dicker, CEO and Chairman of Dicker Data, who won IT and Telecommunications Executive of the Year.

The 2020 Executive of the Year Awards will be back in Sydney in November with refreshed categories and a more streamlined application process. To register your interest and to find out more, visit


THE WINNING SHOT L-R Michael Reid, Jon Whittle, Leah Weckert, Anna Dutton, Fiona Johnston, Stuart Chesneau, David Hackett, Kiri Brain, Gina Rinehart, Scott Walker, Krystel Cochico, Jeff Yu, Chris Dutton, Natalie Brooke, Matthew Keighran, Anthony Nantes, Bobby Lehane, Phillipa Harrison, Matt Young, Glen Sealey and Caleb Bush

Link to CEO Magazine