Jeanette Allom-Hill greets me at the door of her beautiful Mons home wearing a gorgeous flowing dress, minimal makeup and a warm smile, her scruffy Maltese shih tzu, Dublin, tucked under one arm. A lot has changed since I first interviewed her for My Weekly Preview in 2018, when she had arrived from Sydney to take on a top executive role at Sunshine Coast Council.
Ms Allom-Hill came to the Coast as a senior manager and expert in the fields of strategy and change leadership, having started her business career with Microsoft and progressed into the New South Wales Treasury, Department of Transport and NBN Australia. As group executive, business performance at Sunshine Coast Council, she quickly established a reputation as a leader with integrity, who treated all around her with kindness, respect and empathy.
For this, she was recently named the winner of the 2020 Telstra Queensland Business Women’s Public Sector and Academia Award, from a field of 22,000 entrants. The win is not only kudos for Ms Allom-Hill and the Sunshine Coast, but an acknowledgement that there is a growing appetite for her style of leadership – a mood for change.
“For me to be recognised as an outstanding woman who disrupts the way we do business and sets the example for others really honours everything I’ve fought for and stood for my whole career,” she says. “It just confirms I’m doing the right thing, being authentic, brave and courageous, but doing it with kindness and heart.
“The Telstra panel said what they loved was that my foundational trait as a leader is to get the balance right between grace and grit. Grace is how I think, act and carry myself and how I am with my people. Do I do the right thing? Am I always respectful, confident, do I help others succeed and feel good about themselves? Grit is being brave, gutsy and courageous, knowing that with great power comes great responsibility. Do I bring my true self? Can I not walk past the behaviour I don’t accept?
“Sometimes it’s hard to be that type of leader. You often get criticised because people think you’re weak. We’re lucky nowadays, we’re getting leaders like Jacinda Ardern talking about kindness. If I can continue to really promote that platform, what it ultimately does is it means people can come to work, feel safe and do their best work.”
Upon announcing her Telstra award win a few weeks ago, Ms Allom-Hill had another announcement: she was leaving the council to take on a new role consulting with the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet in Canberra in the area of public sector reform.
Working for her former employer, Boston Consulting Group, she’ll be based in Canberra three days a week, while her husband Jeff and sons Tom, 16 and Will, 13, will remain on the Coast – they’ve all fallen in love with it over the past few years and are here to stay.
An enthusiastic advocate of local business, Ms Allom-Hill has been busily posting photos of local businesses she loves to shop with to her Facebook page, encouraging people to support them.
Having decided to stay living here and commute to Canberra, she has plans for new business ventures to help stimulate the Coast’s economy and is supporting local charities, recently taking on a role as a board member for child abuse support group No More Fake Smiles.
“I am committed to the Coast and committed to thinking about what we can do post-COVID to help recovery. How can we showcase small business? How do we start to stimulate the economy?
“We are blessed on the Sunshine Coast because it is beautiful. We can’t underestimate how healing this environment is, and it is the best community on earth. People want to help you and we need to reach out and ask for help. For me, the Sunshine Coast is a place we can start something great together; it is the right place with the right heart.”
Happy to have time at home with the family before she embarks on her new role in Canberra in June, it’s clear family comes first for this high achiever. “The most important thing to me in my entire life is a loving family, and that comes from terrible trauma,” she says.
Born in South Africa to a single mother, Ms Allom-Hill was adopted at birth by a strict Christian couple who allowed no music or TV and fostered little joy in the home. She did find warmth and love in the arms of her black nanny, but after her tragic murder, the family fled South Africa for Australia. In Sydney’s northern suburbs, Ms Allom-Hill struggled to fit in and was relentlessly bullied at school. At the age of 30 and newly married, she set off for London with Jeff to look for her birth family. She hired private investigators and was shocked to meet an incredibly affluent family living a life she could only ever have dreamed of.
“I came from a poor, missionary, abusive childhood and the shock of the life I could have had almost killed me,” she says. “They showed me photos of their houses all over the world. I know they meant well, but I got in the car and sobbed my lungs out. I thought, what if I’d had that life? It’s not fair. But then I had an incredible moment where I realised everything that has happened to me has happened for a reason and I have to do something with it, otherwise none of it makes sense. I have to tell my story and I have to use it to help others. This has influenced every decision I’ve made from that time on.
“My childhood shaped me to have huge empathy. I know what it’s like to feel terror, be scared, be bullied and made to feel you’re not good enough and something is wrong with you. I believe everything shapes you for particular moments in life, and that helps me get up every day. As you become a leader, you feel a responsibility for others who have been through trauma and haven’t come out the other side.”
A role model for many women on the Sunshine Coast, Ms Allom-Hill works long hours and shoulders great responsibility – at the council she was responsible for a budget of $848 million – but somehow, she is able to strike the right balance between work and home life.
“I outsource things that take my time away from my family,” she says. “I’m very big on boundaries. I just box time. We sit down and have dinner together, we play a card game together, we have days and weekends that are family time. It’s about knowing what your core is and what makes you who you are, boxing that and keeping it safe. It’s about being authentic and true, versus being the ultimate career woman. There’s no such thing as the ultimate career woman.”
Ms Allom-Hill’s mission in life is to change the face of leadership, and she is well on her way, combining inherent qualities like empathy with those she has had to develop over time, like bravery.
“I think having empathy and heart is just who I am, but I’ve had to learn the bravery part. Grace is inherent but I had to learn the grit – to be brave and gutsy, because I was scared of what that meant. I’ve also had to learn to be brave enough to show up as my true self every day. I’ve learned that people connect to who you are, and when you connect to who you are, they trust you. The minute people trust me, I can get them to commit to something, have a conversation and deliver. Oxford University has done research on the relationship between kindness and happiness. If you are kind, people respond to you, trust you, are happier and therefore in a work environment, they perform better.
“That’s why I feel blessed to have won the Telstra award – increasingly my mission is to change the world in regards to leadership. I want to change leadership from dictatorial and power hungry, to leadership that’s kind and inclusive. That’s what really drives me.”
Love local – Jeanette Allom-Hill’s picks
Best cafe: Homegrown Cafe, Palmwoods
Best supermarket: White’s IGAs
Best flowers: Rosemount Flower Farm
Best cheese: Maleny Food Co
Best cheese accompaniment: Ugly Duck Fine Foods
Best chocolate: Kokopod
Best fruit grower: Green Valley Fingerlimes
Best herbs & seedlings: The Greenshed, Palmwoods
Best skincare: Banyula-B
Best cream: Maleny Dairies
Best pasta: Frank and Lotti
Best pizza and beer: Glass House Brewery
Best clothes: Sweet Charlotte Studio
Best shoes: Miss Maxwell
Best hair and makeup: Emily Gleeson
Best specialty food: Voodoo Bacon
Best gifts: Resin Republic
Best tea: GreenWitch Tea
Best coffee: Rue Bourbon
Ms Allom-Hill’s top 10 inspirational tips
- Always be a brave leader with heart – show others how to face fear, lead by example and take responsibility for your actions. “Promise me you’ll always remember that you’re braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” Christopher Robin
- Get the balance right between grace and grit. “Grace in women has more effect than beauty”. William Hazlitt
- With great power comes great responsibility. “All superheroes as we know today have gone through the process, understanding their responsibility to protect and further mankind.” Peter Parker
- You are enough, show up as your true self every day. “Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real”. Brené Brown
- I know that falling over makes you stronger and you can recover by taking one small step at a time. “Persistent people are able to visualise the idea of light at the end of the tunnel when others can’t see it.” Seth Godin
- Speak your truth with courage. “Integrity is choosing courage over comfort; choosing what is right over what is fun, fast, or easy; and choosing to practise our values rather than simply professing them.” Brené Brown
- Shine your light and be a strengths-based leader. “It is each of our responsibilities as leaders to shine the light so that others may find their path and walk in our footsteps.” Jennifer Swaine
- Lift and build others. “A strong woman stands up for herself, a stronger woman stands up for others.” Anon
- Take a leap once in while. “Jump off the cliff and build your wings on the way down.” Ray Bradbury
- Fight for the life you deserve. “Do not choose the lesser life. Do you hear me? Choose the life that is yours, the life that is seducing your lungs, that is dripping down your chin.” Nayyirah Waheed