A disruptive virus may have hit pause on many of our plans over the past two years, but it certainly wasn’t going to stop Australia’s top business leaders from celebrating The CEO Magazine’s 10th annual Executive of the Year Awards.
Postponed by three months, the awards were well and truly worth the wait attracting hundreds of the industry’s finest leaders and entrepreneurs to The Star Sydney.
While it was the city’s wettest summer in 30 years, guests didn’t let it rain on their parade. Dapper suits, bow ties and vibrantly sequined floor-length gowns coloured the grand ballroom with effervescence – a telling sign the business world was more than ready to celebrate.
Greeted by Maserati’s unmissable striking hyper green Ghibli Trofeo, soon-to-be winners, inspiring finalists and supportive teams made their way through the media wall and into the breathtaking awards space.
"When you win this award, it’s a credential that can never be taken away." – Christine Holgate
Socially distanced tables were elegantly topped with 18-arm glass candelabras and crystal chandeliers, creating a magical atmosphere for the special 10-year milestone of the Executive of the Year Awards.
Throughout the decade, The CEO Magazine has crowned 223 leaders, recognised 709 finalists and welcomed more than 5,000 guests to bask in the glory of the country’s exceptional executives – with 17 more accolades awarded for 2021.
"The sole purpose of these awards is to highlight that a company is nothing without the best assets it can ever have, which are of course its people," said Chris Dutton, Co-Founder of The CEO Magazine. "Over the past 10 years of these awards, the judges and myself have seen so many success stories in business but, as always, the success is down to the people driving these companies, not the companies themselves.
"Congratulations to all the finalists this year, and secondly to everyone who’s navigated through the COVID-hit waters of 2021. Even though last year was tough, we all emerged stronger, and I think the only difference between a good year and a bad year is purely mindset."
To celebrate a decade of top performers, Toll Global Express CEO Christine Holgate – who was the first-ever female CEO of the Year in 2015 – delivered a powerful keynote that received a standing ovation.
"Back in 2015, I was the first female CEO of the Year award winner and that was an incredible achievement," Holgate said. "I remember being on the stage and acknowledging the many women in the room giving them hope that one day they’ll be a CEO, that if an ordinary person like me can win this award then they can too.
"I didn’t realise how important that endorsement would become. When you win this award, it’s a credential that can never be taken away."
Bravely opening up about her controversial departure from her role as CEO at Australia Post, Holgate was raw and honest about her experience, sharing how she became a victim of cynical politics and a victim of bullying and humiliation.
"That this happened on the national stage, over a sustained period, only amplified my distraught," she said. "On May 26 the Senate findings were published. They completely vindicated me, they found I had done no wrong and was deserving of an apology from the highest ranks of our government. I cannot begin to tell you all how it felt that day."
Following in the esteemed footsteps of Holgate, Marcella Romero, Founder and CEO of Arriba Group, was crowned The CEO Magazine’s third ever female CEO of the Year for the A$0–$100m turnover category.
For the first time in the awards’ history, the pinnacle CEO of the Year award was separated into two categories – the first being A$0–$100m turnover and the second being the A$100m+ turnover, where Andrew Hume, CEO of Probe Group, claimed the influential accolade.
As Master of Ceremonies Ben Fordham announced the winners, attendees enjoyed a delectable three-course meal complete with exclusive WorkClub cocktails. There was also an array of entertainment keeping spirits high, from a magician act and aerialist show to an upbeat modern jazz performance by Michelle Martine who – quite literally – got Australia’s top leaders up and dancing along the red carpet.
The highly anticipated evening continued to be a reminder of the influence the Executive of the Year Awards can hold, where the 10th iteration once again shone a light on the compelling achievements of the business community’s most elite performers.
And it wouldn’t be possible without the honourable sponsors, most significantly the Executive of the Year Award’s major sponsor, Maserati, which has sponsored the event for the past nine years.
"We all have one thing in common here tonight … it’s our ability to navigate through these challenging and changing times," said Grant Barling, General Manager of Maserati Australia and New Zealand. "I’m sure you’d agree the past two years have been unprecedented. We’re constantly changing, evolving as we go along, and we’ve also got a changing workforce and factors that are outside our control.
"What is it that gives our customers – the majority of Maserati owners are very successful business leaders – what is it that gives them a spring in their step? After talking to a number of them, what I found is their confidence in the future, their commitment, their communication to their people and their empowerment of their staff to make decisions.
"I want to congratulate and commend all the nominees. For you to be here tonight, you have managed change. You have been resilient and you are ready for the future."