Jacqueline Kelly22 April 2015

After seven years as CEO of one of Queensland’s largest charities, Jacqueline Kelly knows a thing or two about leadership. Here she gives advice to others taking on the top job, explains the value of difficult relationships, the importance of humility and why being a CEO is only the beginning.

Who are your mentors?
My grandmother was entrepreneurial and brave - she taught me to stay humble but have confidence in yourself.My parents had a business together - I learned from them the power of complementary qualities. My father taught me the value of a win-win situation and how to negotiate a compromise.

However I believe some of the best lessons come from the most difficult relationships. There have been times when I’ve had clashes with people but made a deliberate effort to develop the relationship and felt richer for it. I learned to look at life from different perspectives.

How did you start your career?
After graduation, I started with my own business and sold it to move back to Papua Guinea for six years, where I worked for a large trading conglomerate and then for Coopers and Lybrand in management consulting.

I also spent some time as a mediator for businesses which got into trouble with the government. I won an award from the business community for establishing business development programs.

After moving back to Australia, I joined Queensland Treasury and helped establish the Queensland Investment Corporation. I went on to join a retail fund management firm undergoing large scale transformational change. At the time I was also doing an MBA and having a child - I needed more flexibility. I reassessed my career and set up a consulting company. One of my projects was in community care.

Two years after that, I was offered my current role at Lutheran Community Care. It wasn’t where I saw myself going at that time but the more I had dialogue with the Lutheran team, the more I could see the organisation’s great potential.

Could you describe your current position?
My main role is in setting the direction with the board, building the team and making sure everyone is on board. I support people to get on with the job and facilitate problem solving. Generally, I develop people and opportunities; and manage risks. I also make sure we perform for our clients and stakeholders.

What advice would you give to anyone wanting to become a CEO?
Get a broad and a deep experience across industries and roles - business today is increasingly complex and the more opportunities to work broadly, the better.

Work at it - an international director of a major company once told me, “You can get better and better as a CEO. It’s only the beginning of the career, you always have to improve.”

Make sure you have good people around you who will tell you the truth, good and bad. Give people permission to challenge you and stay humble - leadership is about serving, not being served.

Don’t become lonely – maintain a regular dialogue with key people and build relationships.

Don’t underestimate the impact that your behaviours and moods have on people around you. You set the tone and flavour.

Be prepared to challenge your own views of the world.

What impact has UQ Business School had on the way you operate?
It trained me to look at things holistically and make sure each element of the system is supporting and not conflicting with the others. I also learned the importance of rigour in decision making.

The most notable impact was that UQ Business School was at the forefront in terms of relationship marketing. This thinking has been fundamental to my ability to make a difference in every role I’ve had in my career.

What is your philosophy in life?
Stay grounded, always look for the best in people, keep your ego in check, be respectful and kind to others regardless of who they are. Take pleasure in the simple things in life. Most importantly, always act with grace under pressure and remember there is opportunity in adversity.

If you could wish for one change in the world, what would it be?
It’s a cliché but it would be world peace and the end of weapons of mass destruction. I wish we could learn to be more tolerant of differences and value diversity.

 

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