It may have been delayed three months, but The CEO Magazine’s 2021 Executive of the Year Awards certainly didn’t disappoint. Between the glitzy arrivals and captivating magician show, Australia’s top executives didn’t let face masks and social distancing get in the way of celebrating another extraordinary year in the business world.
Hundreds gathered at The Star, Sydney to shine a light on the incredible winners for the 10th iteration of the awards. It was a special milestone reflected upon by none other than the Executive of the Year Awards’ first female CEO of the Year – Christine Holgate, Toll Global Express CEO – who was crowned in 2015.
This year, the awards introduced a handful of new categories: Real Estate Executive of the Year, Entrepreneur of the Year and Corporate Responsibility Executive of the Year. While the CEO of the Year isn’t new, it did receive a fresh new look where two CEOs of the Year were awarded, determined by annual turnover of the past 12 months.
With more than 200 years’ combined experience, the guests judges for 2021 were Grant Barling, Maserati Australia and New Zealand General Manager; John Karagounis, The CEO Circle Managing Director and CEO; Louise Adams, Aurecon Group Chief Operating Officer; Tobi Pearce, Sweat CEO; Rosi Fernandez, La Prairie Group Australia and New Zealand Managing Director; Dorry Kordahi, Illawarra Hawks Co-Owner and President, and DKM Blue Managing Director and Co-Owner; Tim Gurner, GURNER Owner; Lynette Phillips, MAXMEDIALAB and MAXCONNECTORS Founder and CEO; and Soren Trampedach, Work Club Global Founder, Chairman and CEO.
The Executive of the Year Awards will return in 2022, with more details to be released soon. We’d like to thank Maserati for returning as a major sponsor for the long-awaited 2021 awards ceremony.
CEO of the Year – A$100m+ turnover
CEO, Probe Group
Dedicated to fostering a productive environment for innovation, creative thinking and a relentless commitment to delivering results to clients, Andrew Hume has worked in leadership roles for more than two decades. Having joined Probe Group in 2014, the CEO’s extraordinary impact speaks for itself – the company was named one of Australia’s fastest-growing businesses in 2020 by IBISWorld. One of Hume’s strongest attributes is his belief that happy teams create great results – a notion that has shaped the culture at Probe Group.
CEO of the Year – A$100m+ turnover – Runner-Up
Starting his career in the property industry, Antony Karp worked as an adviser and broker before going on to make his way through senior executive positions in the retail sector at David Jones. Following Woolworths Holdings’ A$2.1 billion takeover of David Jones in 2014, he was appointed Head of Group Transformation Management. He then went on to become the Managing Director of Tonka Group before landing the role as CEO of Prezzee.
CEO of the Year A$0–100m turnover
Founder and CEO, Arriba Group
Arriba Group started in Marcella Romero’s home with five contractors 23 years ago and has since boomed into a national business with more than 395 employees across 106 offices. The company provides rehabilitation services to help people recover from accidents or illnesses and return to work, where it holds a 35 per cent market share. Valuing staff retention, Romero says she walks the talk – respecting both clients and employees. "Without our people, we wouldn’t exist," she previously told The CEO Magazine.
CEO of the Year – A$0–100m turnover – Runner-Up
CEO, Co-Founder and Managing Director, MoneyMe Financial Group Pty Ltd
Bringing more than 15 years of experience in developing brands, business strategies and innovation, Clayton Howes co-founded MoneyMe in 2013 to revolutionise traditional lending. With the goal to harness the latest technology and artificial intelligence decisioning tools in order to provide faster and fairer credit to consumers, Howes has propelled the business from a startup through to its initial public offering.
CFO of the Year
CFO, Mars Wrigley Australia
For almost 20 years, Duncan Webster has held various senior roles at Mars Incorporated – the global parent company of Mars Wrigley – but it’s his most recent position as CFO of Mars Wrigley Australia that truly allows him to influence value creation for the future of the most iconic brands. Described as bolstering the leadership team to help drive strong performance when he was appointed the top role in 2020, Webster has been leading the financial growth of the popular chocolate company in Australia.
CFO of the Year – Runner-Up
CFO, Collective Wellness Group
Responsible for leading high-performing teams at Collective Wellness Group (which includes popular brands Anytime Fitness, Australia’s biggest gym community, and Xtend Barre), Kevin Huang has faced several challenges after COVID-19 forced gym closures across the country. However, the CFO was able to overcome the hurdles with his innovative thinking and exceptional leadership.
COO of the Year
COO, Australian College of Nursing
With a career spanning both profit and not-for-profit sectors, Neil Haynes is passionate about getting involved with a hands-on leadership approach. For the past seven years, the Australian College of Nursing’s COO has worked to diversify income and expand on services for members – all while combating the direct challenges facing frontline workers.
COO of the Year – Runner-Up
COO of Minor Hotels Australia and New Zealand, Minor Hotels
Another leader of an industry hit hard during the pandemic is Craig Hooley, where he has spent the past couple of years navigating the perils of COVID-19. The Minor Hotels Australia and New Zealand COO is a seasoned leader with a proven track record in fronting successful multi-brand development, openings and rebranding opportunities. Supporting his passion for the hotel industry, Hooley is a board member of Tourism Accommodation Australia.
Managing Director of the Year
Managing Director, Aussie Broadband
Phillip Britt has worked in telecommunications almost his entire career. Wanting cheap internet, the Aussie Broadband Managing Director started his first ISP when he was just 18 years old. Soon after in 2003, he founded Wideband Networks with his business partner from their lounge room. That company amalgamated with Westvic Broadband in 2008, forming Aussie Broadband – a business that has gone on to win several industry awards.
Managing Director of the Year – Runner-Up
Morten Birk Belling
Managing Director, Menulog
One industry that thrived during the endless lockdowns was food delivery services – and Australian-born Menulog was no different. As Managing Director, Morten Birk Belling’s passion to build a thriving and sustainable food delivery service was welcomed by some 3.1 million customers – as well as supporting 22,000 restaurants and 10,000 couriers. With more than 16 years’ experience, Birk Belling has held positions with Just Eat, Canon and PwC.
Corporate Responsibility Executive of the Year
Executive General Manager, Director of International Partnerships & ESG, La Trobe Financial
Passionate about educating women in financial literacy, Caterina Nesci believes it’s crucial to empower women from a young age. The Executive General Manager, Director of International Partnerships & ESG at La Trobe Finance has used her position to advocate for financial literacy – sharing that investments don’t have to be complicated, it’s just about taking charge. Tasked with building the brand’s profile since 2010, Nesci is also Head of Foundation where she’s responsible for La Trobe Financial’s philanthropic arm.
Entrepreneur of the Year
Founder and CEO, Arriba Group
"At the age of 11, I remember looking up in the sky saying that, one day, I would be successful and then my parents would never have to work a day in their lives," Marcella Romero told The CEO Magazine in 2020. From a young age, the Founder and CEO of Arriba Group has worked tirelessly to build a successful – and inclusive – business. "I’ve always been an entrepreneur, and I started this business to be a voice for people and do something meaningful."
Executive Assistant of the Year
Executive Assistant to the CEO, Booktopia
Zia Keirouz is the invisible glue behind Booktopia’s CEO. Ensuring active communication, being empathetic, planning ahead and establishing a trusting environment are just some of the keys to the Executive Assistant's efficient performance, which overall allows for the business and its C-suite to thrive.
HR & Recruitment Executive of the Year
Managing Partner, Zeep
Robin Jerome has been building recruitment companies for decades. In 2017, Jerome co-founded Zeep – a medical recruitment business that empowers doctors from graduation through to retirement. Describing a career as the most important journey you’ll ever take, the Managing Partner continues to support everyone involved with Australia’s health services.
Marketing Executive of the Year
Chief Marketing Officer, Booktopia
Inspired by the people around him, Steffen Daleng loves nothing more than seeing his teams at Booktopia accomplish great achievements. "These daily moments inspire me to be better," the Chief Marketing Officer says. Having been in his position since 2018, Daleng says exceptional leaders must embody empathy, vision, clarity, strategy and tactical understanding. "The best leaders have a capability to predict, be proactive and solve hard problems before people realise they exist," he says. "The need to be bold and brave in the face of grave consequences for the greater good."
Media & PR Executive of the Year
CEO, This Is Flow
Early in Jimmy Hyett’s career, media was his passion. But after he established his own business, This Is Flow, he quickly discovered that media is his skill set and business is in fact his true passion. Attracting brands including Coca-Cola Amatil, Red Bull and the Sydney International Boat Show, the CEO is often inspired by audiobooks and the stories behind big businesses. However it’s his ability to be real and find balance that propels him as a great leader.
Not-For-Profit Executive of the Year
CEO, Gidget Foundation Australia
Established to support new parents experiencing perinatal depression and anxiety, Gidget Foundation Australia CEO Arabella Gibson is dedicated to growing the business from strength to strength, ultimately helping the emotional wellbeing of parents. Gibson’s wealth of business, marketing and communications experience allows her to share the foundation’s message with new parents, which is especially crucial in the fast-paced world. "I’m really pleased to be able to utilise my business skills for this role … and make a real difference to people’s lives," Gibson says.
Professional Services Executive of the Year
CEO, Builders Academy Australia
Growing up in a family as one of seven children, Andrew Shea is constantly inspired by his hardworking parents who instilled the importance of a strong work ethic. And it’s this determined yet humble approach to working hard that led him to being the CEO of Builders Academy Australia (BAA). "My father worked long days on the farm with very little fuss and it inspired me on how to handle different situations – just put my head down and get on with it without feeling sorry for myself," he shares. Joining BAA in 2015, Shea has impacted the careers of more than 30,000 domestic and international graduates across Australia’s building industry.
Real Estate Executive of the Year
Principal, Belle Property Central Coast
Recording phenomenal growth during the pandemic, Australia’s property market has only soared since the earliest days of COVID-19. For Cathy Baker, Principal at Belle Property Central Coast, the hot market has further cemented her stellar reputation for achieving outstanding results. Inspired by her team’s commitment, Baker says they drive her to succeed. "They make me want to continually improve personally to provide them with the best possible leadership, and help them to live their best lives," she says. "Richard Branson also inspires me – he taught me to say yes first and learn afterwards."
Sales Executive of the Year
Chief Commercial Officer, Wisr
A senior business executive with more than 25 years of global banking, finance and project delivery experience, Peter Beaumont has held roles at leading international investment banks including Citibank, UBS and, most recently, Wisr. As Chief Commercial Officer, Beaumont’s client sales leadership skills combined with his ability to transition high-volume financial product businesses from traditional channels allows him to make a positive difference to Wisr clients.
Startup Executive of the Year
Co-CEO, Vantari VR
Vijay Paul is giving the traditional world of medicine a futuristic touch with virtual reality. As the Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Vantari VR, Paul strives to harness the power of VR to transform healthcare applications in order to combine emerging technology with life-affecting health problems. When time allows, Paul practices as an emergency medicine registrar, which further combines his clinical medical experience with his entrepreneurial journey.
Young Executive of the Year
CEO and Co-Founder, Swyftx Pty Ltd
Two high school mates in their 20s are the fascinating minds behind one of Australia’s fastest-growing fintech companies, Swyftx. Launched from a share house in 2018, CEO and Co-Founder Alex Harper’s entrepreneurial pursuit started when he was in primary school. However, four years ago he partnered with his friend, Angus Goldman, where they established Swyftx – a cryptocurrency exchange with monthly trades of more than A$3 billion. "It’s still early days for crypto but we’re confident it will reshape how finance works in the ANZ region," Harper told In Queensland.