As we ready the spotlight for our next Future Leader of the Year we check in with some favourite past winners. Where are they now?
The du Chateau Chun Award for Future Leader of the Year is always a hotly-contested category at the annual Property Council of Australia / Rider Levett Bucknall Innovation & Excellence Awards.
This year, 10 rising stars are in the hunt for the award which, according to the alumni of award winners, opens doors and career opportunities.
Davina Rooney, who was named Future Leader of the Year in 2014, is about to take on the top job at the Green Building Council of Australia after more than a decade driving an ambitious sustainability agenda with Stockland.
Rooney says the award was a “definite accelerator” in her career.
“Within six weeks of receiving the award, I was applying for the job as head of sustainability at Stockland and joining the organisation’s leadership team,” she says. Rooney’s successful application was due, in part, because the award “demonstrated that I had grown beyond a subject matter expert and was more broadly recognised for my leadership qualities”.
Rooney has a sage piece of advice that “would have helped my younger self”.
“Don’t be afraid of trying different things. When I finished university, I worked for the wonderful engineering firm Arup, and initially thought I would be in the same role my whole career.
“But I have always been encouraged – and sometimes pushed – by mentors to pursue different opportunities to broaden my skillset and allow me to give the best back to industry.”
An Arup fellowship, which took her to London and then eight months in the Indian Himalayas on the construction of a school which won multiple international awards. These experiences expanded Rooney’s horizons and showed her “how the value chain worked within property”.
“Resilience is new competitive advantage,” Rooney adds. And that means embracing a positive mindset, “where we take challenges in our stride and learn from our mistakes”
Work is not a dirty word
Natalie Myatt also rose through the ranks at Stockland and is now a retail asset manager with the Brisbane Airport Corporation. She says winning the award in 2011 gave her “great exposure” to several well-regarded and experienced leaders – both in her own organisation and more broadly.
“Believe in yourself and your abilities,” Natalie advises. She urges rising stars to ignore the naysayers “and surround yourself with supportive mentors who are also willing to have the difficult conversations with you on how you can improve”.
When Adam Haddow took home the award back in 2008, he was already the owner and director of architecture and planning firm SJB. Today he has a team of architects, interior designers, planners and urban designers working across Australia, Asia and Europe.
“Winning gives you an agenda to pursue, the ability to call people who you’ve admired from afar and ask for advice, help or an opinion. It is an incredibly liberating opportunity,” Haddow says.
“In retrospect you don’t need the award to be able to call someone up and ask for help – you just need a good idea and the courage. People in our industry are incredibly generous. Ten times out of 10 if you ask to have a coffee with someone who’s opinion you admire they’ll say yes,” he says.
Haddow’s advice to his younger self would be to “celebrate what you love doing”.
“It is incredibly unsexy to love your work in Australia, to love working. Culturally we’re taught from an early age to complain about it. I say celebrate it. If you want to work on your day off, go for it. Work is not a dirty word.”
While Haddow urges people to “keep an eye on balance” he believes the day-to-day “becomes much more enjoyable when you stop trying to disguise your passion”.
Seize the moment to gather momentum
When Emily Mudge was presented with the Future Leader of the Year Award in 2007, she was a project manager with Lendlease. Since then, she's worked on several large-scale hospital projects, advised the United Nations on post-disaster housing reconstruction in Sri Lanka and is now Icon Construction’s health, government and institution sector manager.
“Without question the award opened doors and lifted the glass ceiling for me,” Mudge says.
Her profile increased, and so did her confidence “that the work I was doing was relevant and of importance to the industry”. She remains proud of her contribution to post-disaster housing, as the program model to which she contributed was later adopted by the UN.
Mudge’s recommendation to rising stars is to “take the initiative” because that’s “where a lot of opportunities come from”.
“Stand up and say: ‘Yeah I can do that’, even if you’re not sure you can. Give it a go and use the support around you. It’s a great opportunity to learn about yourself as well.”
Another Lendlease winner is Sarah Kinsela, who was recognised as an emerging leader in 2016. Then, she had responsibility for driving sustainability initiatives across the property business. Today she is Lendlease’s general manager of strategic digital projects including digital marketing, sales experiences, customer portals and communications systems.
Kinsela says the award came at a time when she was “pivoting” from sustainability to innovation. “The recognition enabled me to transition with ease and several internal opportunities opened up for me”.
Kinsela’s advice is to “listen to your gut”.
“Your feelings at a workplace or within a team can give you extra intel that your mind doesn’t always identify as quickly. And don’t be afraid to try new organisations or career paths even if they don’t fit into a pattern. If you love what you do it will all come together.”
Say ‘yes’ and question the ‘no’
Meanwhile Joe Karten, who was named Future Leader of the Year in 2017 for his work as sustainability manager with Built, says “winning the award felt like icing on the cake after a successful run of sustainability achievements over the previous few years”.
Less than a year after taking home the award, Built promoted Karten to national sustainability manager and has since offered him “expanded opportunities to direct the delivery of the next generation of green buildings – something I’m really proud of”.
Karten urges up-and-coming property professionals not to be “afraid to question the status quo”.
“But don’t forget to make friends. If you work collaboratively and bring others along on the journey, you will achieve greater results with less effort.”
Rebecca Fitzgerald, now an associate and mechanical team leader with WSP, is the current Future Leader of the Year, and was applauded for her work to grow the pipeline of female engineers.
“At the beginning of 2018, I felt it was the right time to start a family, so in anticipation of taking a short career break for parental leave, I set a goal to have what I called a ‘yes year’. I said ‘yes’ to any opportunity that came along, no matter how intimidating,” she says.
Recognition as the Future Leader of the Year helped Fitzgerald uncover many of these opportunities, which included a promotion, moderating a panel session at The Property Congress in Darwin, and co-chairing the Property Council’s NSW Asset Management and Sustainable Development committee. Fitzgerald also fell pregnant with her now 14-week-old twins, Indee and Parker.
“Try out a ‘yes year’! I see too many people pass up opportunities because they are too nervous, it’s something they don’t usually do or often because they are worried about failing. Should you see an advertisement for something that gets you even a little bit excited or if you hear of an opportunity to get involved in something a little different, just say ‘yes’! Be prepared to put in the hard work but say yes first.”
Who will be crowned the du Chateau Chun Award for Future Leader of the Year on Friday 17 May in Sydney? Book your ticket to find out. Only a few seats remaining, so hurry!