The Williamson Community Leadership Program 1999 alumni are celebrating the 20th anniversary of our program year, with two reunion gatherings held so far and more planned. The reunions have allowed us to revisit and rekindle the memories of our program year and to discuss its ongoing influence.
In February, 1999, the 32 new program inductees headed to the opening retreat at Marysville to discuss the issues to be addressed over the coming year. Some of our major concerns included the environment, social justice, the future of the working environment, the economy, science and technology and Australia’s role in the world.
Our chosen topics often found their way regularly into the headlines of the day during that year. We witnessed East Timor gain independence, the unsuccessful attempt via a referendum for both Australia to become a republic and the inclusion of a preamble in the Constitution to recognise Aboriginals as Australia’s first people. The GST bill was passed in the Upper House in Canberra for introduction 12 months later. Telstra shares reached a high of $7.60, billions of dollars were spent in preparation for Y2K and Albert Einstein was named Time magazine’s Person of the Century.
At this year’s catch ups, we looked back at the year and then discussed the impact of some of the major events that have affected us both professionally and personally since and how we managed the consequences. At each of the events we had a key note speaker from within the group. From Bunty Avieson, editor of New Idea in 1999, and then Mary Waldron, a partner at Arthur Anderson that year, we heard of their challenges and accomplishments including 3 successful career changes for Bunty and Mary’s journey to her current role as PricewaterhouseCooper’s Global Chief Risk Officer.
Then, in true Williamson style, everybody had a timed opportunity to share many extraordinary experiences since our graduation. Whilst everyone had some very positive news either in a professional or personal sense, it was the challenges or how they were handled that had us sitting on the edge of our seats.
The difficult professional situations included dealing with redundancy – both as the recipient and the initiator, having the courage to review and adapt core business practices to deal with the ever-increasing speed of change and keeping abreast of new technologies – all whilst attempting to maintain a healthy work/life balance.
The key strengths that most of us embraced that seemed to be constant in many of these situations were resilience, an ability to seek guidance, and maintaining courage in our convictions once they were established. Interestingly, all these attributes were continually exhibited by speakers in our 1999 program year including Greg Bourne, then MD of BP Australia, Michael Carr-Gregg, Rob Hunt, then GM Bendigo Bank, Janet Holmes a Court, and Doug Shears, Executive Chairman ICM Australia.
The flame that led us to apply to be part of the Williamson program all those years ago still burns brightly. Many of the group continue to lend their skills to not-for-profit organisation. Pro bono work remains an accepted responsibility.
On the lighter side, the group were invited to provide a significant photo of an event in their life since 1999. The photos were displayed at both events. Tony Bartlett sent a photo of him meeting Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II at a ceremony to launch the Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy, which fosters collaboration on forest restoration and collaboration, for supporting an Australian forestry project in Papua New Guinea. David Ali provided one with him meeting HRH the Princess Royal, Princess Anne at a function in Glasgow in his role as a Director of the International Alliance of ALS/MND Associations. The rest of us were content to provide images with the likes of Nic Cave, Julia Gillard, Linda Dessau and Martin Sheen, with one of the group (who wishes to remain anonymous) producing a pic with Donald Trump.
Overall, the coming together in the group’s 20th anniversary year has been a wonderfully uplifting experience. The opportunity to revive and relive the camaraderie and trust developed long ago has been appreciated by everyone who attended and contributed. As a group we will be forever grateful for initially the foresight and generosity of Hugh Williamson and subsequently the contribution of the Leadership Victoria team. Their efforts have provided us with the guidance to make a positive impact through the leadership roles we have embraced in both our professional lives and within our communities.