Superannuation trail-blazer wins nations top business womens award

Media Release, 15 November 2013

A woman driven by hearing fear in the voices of people whose superannuation savings were slashed by the Global Financial Crisis was named tonight the 2013 Telstra Australian Business Woman of the Year.

Rosemary Vilgan, CEO of QSuper, one of Australia’s largest superannuation funds with $45 billion under management and 530,000 members, also won the Community and Government Award at the Telstra Australian Business Women’s Awards presented at Crown Melbourne.

Ms Vilgan said the GFC left the retirement plans of many Australians in disarray. “It made me realise that it is the outcome for individual members that matters, not a comparative rate of return against other funds.”

With board support, Ms Vilgan and her team introduced QSuper Lifetime, a product that she says is designed to give members “dignity in retirement.” It provides a more tailored investment strategy based on the age and savings of a cohort of individual members and the economic cycle, integrated with financial advice.

Ms Vilgan was a technical specialist who helped establish QSuper, a universal superannuation scheme for Queensland public sector employees, in 1990 and became CEO in 1998. Recognising inequities of contributions, particularly for women, she negotiated an equalisation of the contribution rate for all State Government employees.

She also led major structural changes in QSuper that allowed it to be federally regulated in 2009.

QSuper's work in developing innovative superannuation products has received national and international recognition with Ms Vilgan presenting last month at the International Centre for Pension Management’s annual conference in Sacramento, US.

A member of the Council of QUT and the Federal Treasurer’s Financial Sector Advisory Council, Ms Vilgan served on the Board of the Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia for 15 years and was Chairperson for six. She says she was influenced to use superannuation policy to bring dignity in retirement by respect for her father and his older siblings.

Ms Vilgan described herself as “a doer, not content to sit on the sidelines but seek the right solution. I believe I have shown a strong commitment to social justice and hard work.”

Other winners of the 2013 Telstra Australian Business Women’s Awards were: Darwin optometrist Helen Summers; Laura McBain, CEO of Launceston-based organic baby and infant formula producer Bellamy’s Organic; Anni Brownjohn, owner of organic food business The Right Food Group in Murwillumbah, New South Wales; and Lieutenant Commander Kelly Haywood, a Royal Australian Navy Officer and Head of Department of HMAS Toowoomba.

Kate McKenzie, Telstra Chief Operations Officer and Telstra Business Women’s Awards Ambassador, said the Awards winners in 2013 were chosen from an amazing group of finalists whose passion, leadership and innovation provide inspiration and incentive for other business women forging their own careers.

“Rosemary Vilgan’s passion is to give Australians dignity in retirement and control of their own destiny. The judges described her as a vibrant, inspirational woman who has flipped an industry on its ear by putting the customer experience in the centre of everything,” Ms McKenzie said.

“Moved by seeing people desolate, after the GFC cut 30 per cent of their wealth overnight, she has led a huge organisational and industry policy change.”

Winners of the 2013 Telstra Australian Business Women’s Awards are:

Business Owner Award

Helen Summers, Helen Summers Optometrist Eyecare Plus Darwin, Northern Territory
Inspired to set up her own practice from her experience as a graduate optometrist in Kenya, Helen Summers launched Helen Summers Optometrist Eyecare Plus Darwin in 1998 with second-hand equipment and her own savings. Soon after she established outreach services to under-serviced regional and remote Indigenous communities throughout the Territory to reduce preventable blindness. Judges described Helen Summers as an innovator and expert in her field who both used and delivered commercially leading-edge technology and services.

Private and Corporate Award

Laura McBain, Bellamy’s Organic, Tasmania
Originally starting as a contracted financial controller for Bellamy’s Organics, Laura McBain has driven the Tasmanian-owned food company’s turnover tenfold since taking the reins as CEO in 2007. She has also overseen the company, which lays claim to having Australia’s only 100 per cent locally made and certified organic formula and toddler milk range in the local market, open a branch in Shanghai, China. Judges said Laura McBain took over and built Bellamy’s into something whole and sustainable that is now in the growth markets of Asia. They were impressed with her leadership and communications skills that, supported by her background as an accountant, had delivered tremendous growth.

Community and Government Award

Rosemary Vilgan, QSuper, Queensland

Business Innovation Award

Anni Brownjohn, The Right Food Group Pty Ltd, New South Wales
Unable to source suitable food products for her children provided Anni Brownjohn with the inspiration to start her own organic noodle business. Her Murwillumbah-based business, The Right Food Group, today supplies pasta, simmer sauces, dressings, marinades and spreads to retail outlets across Australia and exports to 20 countries. Judges described Anni Brownjohn as a focused, committed owner of a business that was fast growing. They were impressed by ability to be at the forefront of major consumer trends and that she was “fun, driven and a dreamer as well as being articulate and proud to be a regional Australian business woman.”

Young Business Women’s Award

Kelly Haywood, Royal Australian Navy, Western Australia
When joining the Royal Australian Navy as a sailor at 18, Kelly Haywood never expected that she would become Lieutenant Commander and Head of Department of HMAS Toowoomba. Throughout her career, she has been behind some of the Navy’s largest logistical operations, including the multi-million dollar Anti Ship Missile Defence project. Judges said Kelly Haywood was very proud of her role as a Navy officer and logistics expert, and that the passion she shows is an inspiration to all. The judges said an example of Ms Haywood’s efficiency and organisation skills was her leadership in moving a submarine rescue business from Scotland to Australia at $5 million under cost estimates.

Telstra Australian Business Woman of the Year

Rosemary Vilgan, QSuper, Queensland

Winners of the Awards will share in a total prize pool of $200,000 thanks to Telstra and CommBank’s Women in Focus. All finalists will also become part of an exclusive national business alumni.

More information on the Telstra Business Women’s Awards and the 2013 winners can be found on the Telstra Business Women's Awards website.

NOTE: A video news package containing event footage and interviews with winners will be distributed via satellite to TV networks and will be available for download. Audio grabs of the winners will also be available. You will be able to download both from midnight, 14 November.

Photos of all the winners are available for download or viewed online on the
TelstraCorp Flickr page.