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Meet the extraordinary finalists vying to be named CEO of the Year 2021

One of the most highly anticipated business events in Australia is just around the corner, and it won’t be long until the two top CEOs of the Year are crowned.

Despite facing the challenges of yet another lockdown, the nation’s finest leaders will be celebrated at The CEO Magazine’s 10th Executive of the Year Awards.

For the first time ever in the awards’ history, not one but two CEOs will be honoured with the prestigious accolade. The pinnacle of the awards has been split into two subcategories determined by annual turnover of the past 12 months – A$0m–$100million and A$100million+.

While there was no gender balance achieved among the CEO of the Year finalists overall, women dominated the A$0m–$100million category – 57 per cent of the finalists are women.

Being recognised for their inspirational leadership during the past year, which has been far from easy for any business given the challenges of the pandemic, the winners will be announced on 15 December at the awards ceremony hosted at The Star, Sydney.

CEO of the Year – A$0–$100m

Jenny Willits

Company: Seven Miles Coffee Roasters

After 17 years in the marketing and communications industry, Willits left her comfortable career and took a chance on something entirely new – the coffee industry. Becoming the CEO of Seven Miles Coffee Roasters in 2017, the executive was able to use her strong beliefs of integrity, empathy and kindness to adapt to the fresh role in order to make an impact and add value. "I want Seven Miles to be a thought leader in the industry and help everyone raise their game," she previously told The CEO Magazine.

Elena Gosse

Company: AIS Water

"Leadership is not about a title or designation. It’s about impact, influence and inspiration." And that’s how Gosse has led her team at AIS Water for several years. Having moved to Australia from Russia without any English more than 20 years ago, the CEO’s determination is evident through the company’s evergreen success.

Michael Cassel

Company: Michael Cassel Group

Businesses have faced any number of challenges associated with the health crisis, some more than others. For Cassel, he survived COVID-19 – which he caught from Rita Wilson or Tom Hanks. Also hit heavily by the virus was the performing arts industry, including his production business. "It’s a devastating time for the industry … we never expected to be in this position," he told 7.30. Despite the obstacles, Cassel has risen to the challenge with his passionate leadership and dedication.

Taylah Allen

Company: triSearch

Career changes often come later in life, but not for Allen. Transitioning from chef to CEO all before she turned 25, the young leader has quickly risen through the ranks. Starting her career at a leading firm in the legal technology space, Allen noticed a gap in the market before turning it into triSearch in 2018.

Jeremy Fleming

Company: Stagekings

Launching Stagekings in 2015 with his wife, Fleming is on a mission to enhance Australia’s music and entertainment sector. From the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games to Australian Ninja Warrior, the entrepreneur continues to take the business from strength to strength – even when the pandemic hit in March last year. Overnight the business pivoted to sell flatpack, quick-to-assemble, no-tools-required furniture. And the idea flourished, selling almost 40,000 products in the first year. "We feel truly blessed surviving (as a business) through COVID … we couldn’t have done it without the amazing creativity and tenacity of the team," Fleming shared.

Kylie Ward

Company: Australian College of Nursing

Not only is Ward a dynamic figure, but she champions the idea that every nurse can too be a leader. Committing her career to enhancing the nursing profession, the CEO leads by example through influential leadership to empower women and save lives. Creating a strong voice for all nurses across the country, Ward is the uniting force for the heroes of our war against the virus.

Nicola Stokes

Company: Sydney Children's Hospitals Foundation

Spending her career working to support individuals across corporate and for-purpose sectors inspired Stokes to work in the health industry. Since 2016, the CEO has been leading the influential teams at Sydney Children’s Hospitals Foundation as well as developing innovative fundraising solutions to help sick children.

Marcella Romero

Company: Arriba Group

Dogged determination and passion has resulted in Romero leading more than 395 employees across the 106 offices of her business to great success. It’s an incredible achievement that’s grown from her home, which started with just five contractors 23 years ago. Watching her parents, who immigrated from Chile to Australia when she was nine years old, go from having a comfortable life to working in factories drove Romero to chase great ambitions. "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," she said last year.

Shelley Sullivan

Company: ModelCo & MCoBeauty

From Karl Lagerfeld to Celeste Barber, the brands Sullivan has worked with over her decades long career is incredible – and it’s all because she launched her second business, ModelCo, after noticing a gap in the market in 2001. Offering luxurious yet affordable beauty products, Sullivan pioneered many items including the heated lash curler and airbrush spray tan in a can. The global hits propelled the entrepreneur to create her third business, MCoBeauty, in 2016, which provides luxe-for-less, cruelty-free, vegan beauty.

Karl Brown

Company: Instyle Solar

Recognising a growing demand for renewable energy, Brown founded Instyle Solar in 2014 where he watched his A$2,500 startup soar to A$100 million in sales within the first five years. Simply wanting to provide a better life for his family, the entrepreneur worked hard to build the business. Now, seven years since its inception, he continues to front one of Queensland’s leading solar companies.

Roby Sharon-Zipser

Company: hipages Group

When Sharon-Zipser and his childhood friend founded hipages Group from the back of a garage in 2004, little did they know it would become a thriving space for on-demand trade services boasting three million users. Within 14 years, it’s grown into a leading technology company propelled by the CEO’s experience as a senior accountant with PwC and Allco Finance.

Dr Lyn Bishop

Company: Sheldon College

After 30 years in the education department, Bishop left to establish her own school in 1997 – Sheldon College. Following an initial intake of 110 students, the college has flourished over the past 25 years, where it now has more than 1,450 students. "I made a conscious decision to leave the bureaucracy and go back to what I believe I did best, and that was working with children," Bishop said.

Tony Pearson

Company: AH Beard

Passionate about a good night’s sleep, Pearson has been the CEO at AH Beard – a family-owned company celebrating 120 years of mattress manufacturing in Australia – for close to five years. The seasoned executive has also led teams across a number of businesses earlier in his career including Velocity Learning Australia. Fascinated by the psychology of leaders, Pearson hopes to improve lives with a quality slumber.

Clayton Howes

Company: MoneyMe Financial Group

With more than 15 years of experience in brand development, business strategy and innovation combined with expertise in building new technologies, Howes saw an opportunity to co-found MoneyMe. The fintech venture allows faster access to credit directly from a mobile phone, making online loans more convenient. Howes has previously held roles at Vodafone and GlaxoSmithKline.

CEO of the Year – A$100m+

Kieran Lahey

Company: Vida Glow

One simple promise to offer a fountain of youth has seen Vida Glow reach astonishing heights of success – and Lahey is the brains behind it (along with his Co-Founder and wife Anna). For close to eight years, the CEO has been at the helm of Australia’s leading ingestible beauty company. Founded in 2014, Vida Glow has surged in popularity in the past couple of years alone as global attention grows towards the lucrative industry.

Antony Karp

Company: Prezzee

Starting his career in the property industry in Australia and Asia, Karp entered the retail sector in 2005 when he joined David Jones as a senior executive. He was then appointed Head of Group Transformation Management in 2014 following the South African-based Woolworths Holdings’ A$2.1 billion takeover of David Jones. The C-suite veteran later joined Prezzee as CEO and Managing Director in 2018.

Hiranjan Aloysius

Company: dnata catering

Aloysius is an inspiring example of how staff can work their way up through to the C-suite at one business. Starting at dnata catering as Commercial Director in 2005, he soon became CFO in 2009 – a role he held for eight years, before his final step up to landing the top job as CEO. Having been in the position for the past four years, the leader has faced a number of challenges including the damaging effects the pandemic has had on the airline industry.

Andrew Hume

Company: Probe Group

For the past 20 years, Hume has held several leadership roles throughout the customer service industry. Dedicated to fostering a creative environment for innovation, the CEO is passionate about building high-performance workplaces and understands the exceptional value happy employees have on delivering great results. Hume has held the top job at Probe Group since 2014 and is also a board member of Auscontact Association.

David Locke

Company: Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA)

From working as an adviser to several international governments on the regulation of non-governmental organisations to his early days as a lawyer at community legal centres in the UK, Locke has had an interesting career. More recently, the business leader became the inaugural CEO and Chief Ombudsman at the AFCA in 2018, leading the dispute resolution enterprise.

Michael Rebelo

Company:Publicis Groupe

Rebelo’s career in communications has taken him all over the world, giving him the skills for insightful C-suite leadership. Bringing together creativity, media and technology, the CEO is uniquely positioned as a leader who strives to solve transformational challenges in new ways by combining the three areas. The past 20 years have seen Rebelo advise clients, grow businesses and shape agency cultures across the globe.

Discover every finalist across every category for the 2021 Executive of the Year Awards here.

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