On Thursday November 16th last year The CEO Magazine’s 12th annual Executive of the Year Awards took place at The Star Sydney, spotlighting a new crop of visionaries, high achievers and tireless leaders in Australia’s business world. Evaluated across seven categories of excellence and representing multiple industries and disciplines, this year’s winners are all highly accomplished leaders and serve as an inspiration to us all.
The calibre of all finalists was extremely high, making the judging no easy task for the seven esteemed judges: Chris Dutton, Founder, The CEO Magazine; Anna Dutton, Co-Founder and Executive Director, The CEO Magazine; John Karagounis, Executive Chair, The CEO Circle; Ronni Kahn, CEO and Founder, OzHarvest; Andrew Hume, CEO, Converge International; Scott Power, CEO, BMD; and Tristan Sternson, NCS NEXT Global Co-Lead, ARQ Group CEO & NCS Senior Partner.
The Awards event had been highly anticipated by all nominees, and Andrew Purdie was extremely proud and honoured to be one of the finalists in the CEO of the Year category for $100m plus. He attended the event with his beautiful wife Sarah, his mum and her partner. Says Andrew, “We thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to celebrate all that has been achieved during the lifetime of Bennett Williams, and to acknowledge the efforts of my incredible team. None of what I have created could have been possible without them.”
“It has been my greatest passion to not just run a successful, respectful and mindful company, but to be able to give back both personally and through my company to those in need. Growing up in a low-income single parent home, I was in awe of my mother’s unwavering sacrifice. Giving back to the community was always going to play a significant role in my life. Firstly, out of respect for my mother’s sacrifice, and because I am committed to the discipline of having an empathetic approach to life.”
A huge congratulations to all of Andrew’s fellow finalists across every category, and especially to those nominated in the Not-For-Profit Executives sector. It was a wonderful opportunity to recognise those in the charity and foundation categories.
CEO OF THE YEAR – $100M+ – WINNER: John Winning, CEO, Winning Group
His family’s store first opened in Redfern in 1906, and in 2005, at the age of just 21, Winning founded Appliances Online with a laptop, rented truck and a mobile phone. Today, he leads four separate business entities and employs a workforce of about 700 across Australia as head of Winning Group. His mission: to provide the best shopping experience in the world.
CEO OF THE YEAR – $20M-$100M – WINNER: Melissa Fein, CEO, Initiative Australia
It’s rare to find a leader as committed to the personal and professional growth of their team as they are to commercial growth. Fein’s people-first leadership has driven her to introduce an award-winning bill of rights for her staff. Whether helping employees to grow their careers, initiating leadership opportunities or introducing automation, Fein has demonstrated herself to be a true advocate for industry progression.
MANAGING DIRECTOR OF THE YEAR – WINNER: Daniel Debattista, Managing Director, PARC Engineering
Debattista’s future-focused attitude has allowed him to see opportunity wherever he’s looked – and pushed him to take great leaps into the unknown. One of those leaps led to the founding of PARC Engineering, now in its fourth year of business and boasting a team that has grown exponentially in size, scope and ambition.
YOUNG EXECUTIVE OF THE YEAR – WINNER: Alexander Graham, Head of Environmental, Social and Governance, MoneyMe Financial Group
Just one year into his role as Head of Environmental, Social and Governance, Graham has worked to address critical challenges – from carbon offsetting and modern slavery to the gender pay gap and sustainability – all while steering the company towards greater responsibility on multiple fronts. A spirit of humility and a perpetually open mind guide his quest to bring awareness and social responsibility to the boardroom.
STARTUP EXECUTIVE OF THE YEAR – WINNER: Rashid Khan, CEO and Founder, Evacovation
With an extensive background in security and risk, serial entrepreneur Khan founded the company with the goal of transforming the global security and emergency solutions industry. In 2021, Evacovation created the first-ever hybrid app with a real-time information feed that facilitates seamless connectivity and information sharing during an emergency, revolutionizing international best practices and procedures.
ENTREPRENEUR OF THE YEAR – WINNER: Richard Joffe, Founder and CEO, Honey Insurance
Over the span of two decades, Joffe founded three successful tech companies, each heralding transformative change within its domain – be that parking, recruiting or home insurance. Honey Insurance is currently poised to disrupt the home insurance sector using cutting-edge technology and data analytics, driven by Joffe’s extensive experience in, and knowledge of business strategy, finance and global markets.
LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD – WINNER: Michelle Haber, Executive Director, Children’s Cancer Institute
With a career dedicated to pediatric oncology, the Australian scientist’s contributions to medical research have reshaped our understanding and treatment of childhood cancer. Both in and beyond the lab, her work has resonated on a global scale, yielding innovative therapies and treatments, elevating awareness, securing vital funds and, ultimately, offering young cancer patients a brighter future.
NOT-FOR-PROFIT EXECUTIVE OF THE YEAR – WINNER: Louise Baxter, CEO and Executive Director, Starlight Children’s Foundation Australia
Interview extract from The CEO Magazine
Louise Baxter, the CEO and Executive Director of Starlight Children’s Foundation, is on a mission to bring joy and brightness to the lives of seriously ill children when they need it the most.
Not-for-Profit Executive of the Year award winner Louise Baxter isn’t inspired by celebrities or high-profile CEOs. Rather, she draws her inspiration and strength from the children she meets in her role as CEO and Executive Director of Starlight Children’s Foundation.
“When people ask me who inspires me, they usually expect me to talk about someone famous,” she says. “In fact, I’m inspired every day by the seriously ill children and young people we support. Mackenzie, a triplet with cerebral palsy who could not walk, is an absolute inspiration. Recently, she walked for the first time into her high school graduation. She is now studying marketing and pursuing a career in communications.”
At the outset of Louise Baxter’s tenure, Starlight Children’s Foundation was crafting 120,000 positive experiences for children facing adversity. Today, under her visionary guidance, that number has ballooned to more than 1.3 million – an awe-inspiring tenfold growth that mirrors her relentless commitment to catalyzing change. Yet, Baxter’s leadership is not merely about statistics; it encapsulates the essence of innovation, creativity, positivity and inclusivity.
Her belief in the transformative potential of positive psychology has propelled Starlight Children’s Foundation to become Australia’s most reputable children’s charity. She also steered the organization through the tumultuous waters of the global financial crisis and charted a steady course through the COVID-19 pandemic – when Starlight Children’s Foundation didn’t just endure, it thrived.
“I’m inspired every day by the seriously ill children and young people we support.”
A remarkable initiative that emerged during this period is Planet Starlight, a virtual, interactive Starlight Express Room that serves as a fun digital oasis for children wherever they are. “Planet Starlight is being rolled out into all the hospitals across Australia,” Baxter tells The CEO Magazine. “We also have an online peer support program for adolescents who are seriously ill and disabled called Livewire.”
Baxter’s dedication to innovation extends to the digital landscape, with a particular focus on optimizing web experiences and launching digitally enabled fundraising campaigns. “From a fundraising perspective, a number of years ago we raised limited funds through our digital campaigns,” she explains. “This year, we’ll raise about A$8 million [US$5.24 million] just through our digital campaigns, so there’s significant growth there.”
Baxter also made it a priority for the Starlight Children’s Foundation to be as environmentally conscious as possible. The organization has actively reduced its environmental footprint, from decreasing single-use plastics to implementing sustainable practices in its operations. “We work in healthcare and, unfortunately, hospitals are one of the biggest in terms of waste. They’re not being sustainable because there’s a lot of single-use plastics,” she says. “We’ve tried to work against this and now we do things as simple as using tablecloths in our Starlight Express Rooms that are made of recyclable paper and have cartoons that kids can color in. We don’t give out any bottled water – everyone brings their own. But in many instances, we can’t control it because we’re in a hospital environment.” Beyond Baxter’s remarkable tenure at the foundation, she has been a fervent advocate for the growth of philanthropy in Australia and the pivotal role of civil society in creating an inclusive, equitable and flourishing nation.
Her passion for creating exceptional experiences and relationships has resulted in improved outcomes for children and their families. As we celebrate Baxter’s recognition as this year’s Not-for-Profit Executive of the Year recipient, we honor a leader whose commitment has illuminated the lives of countless seriously ill children and their families. Her journey exemplifies the kind of leadership that combines vision, innovation and a profound sense of purpose.
Our heartfelt congratulations to The CEO Magazine for a stellar event that acknowledges the hard work, team work, vision and determination that goes on behind the scenes in organisations across Australia – and to the all of the nominees, finalists and winners, and to the unsung heroes.
You can read Andrew Purdie’s interview with The CEO Magazine here: https://www.theceomagazine.com/executive-interviews/healthcare-pharmaceutical/andrew-purdie/