Alison Kennedy (centre), Downs Woman in Business of the Year and CEO of Toowoomba Hospital Foundation. Image contributed from Toowoomba Hospital Foundation.
Alison Kennedy (centre), Downs Woman in Business of the Year and CEO of Toowoomba Hospital Foundation. Image contributed from Toowoomba Hospital Foundation. Contributed

The humble leader

On Thursday, November 8, Alison Kennedy was overwhelmed.

The chief executive officer of the Toowoomba Hospital Foundation, Alison was surprised to hear her name announced as Business Woman of the Year for The Downs.

"I started crying!" Alison says.

"It was a very emotional acceptance speech, that's for sure," she says.

"There are so many amazing women in our community doing incredible things, so to be recognised as one of them is such a privilege."

Alison has been CEO for about two years - since January 2016, when the founding CEO Peter Rookas retired after 25 years with the Foundation.

"I was very lucky to step into a Foundation that was already doing incredible work within our region," Alison says.

"It's been a real privilege to see it grow and reach further and wider across our community."

This year has been a big one for the Foundation, with a record more than $1 million of fundraising and donations achieved.

"Together, my team and I assist our community of patients, their families and staff in a number of ways," Alison says.

"The award may be in recognition of my work, but I honestly wouldn't be able to do what I do in our community without the support and hard work of my team and I couldn't be more proud of them."

It was said team that nominated Alison for the award.

"I do what I do because I love it and I never expect to go to work to win an award for what I do, I just do it because I love helping others.

"So to be named Downs Woman in Business was such an honour and it wouldn't have been possible without my incredible team."

Each day at work is very different for both Alison and her team.

"We have this saying at the Foundation that 'no day is ever the same'," Alison says.

"Whether it's the people we meet, the donations that come through the front door, the patients and staff we assist in our hospitals - there's always a different story, a different opportunity or a different piece of equipment or program that we help to fund," she says.

"So I'm not a huge fan of the word 'typical', we should all be trying to get the most out of our days in whatever it is we do, and you can't do that by being 'typical'.

"At the end of the day, I'm here to do all that I can to help my team fundraise for our hospitals and make sure that the Foundation is here to stay and making a real difference in the lives of patients, their families and the nursing and medical staff that care for them."

Alison is glad to have a supportive family behind her as she works with the Foundation.

"I'm lucky to have a husband who supports the work that I do and the work of the Foundation," she explains.

"He's been dragged along to his fair share of events, but he has always been my biggest supporter in everything that I do.

"And I have wonderful parents who are there for the grandkids and who also come along to support the Foundation at events and fundraisers."

These things are critical when it comes to being a female leader, Alison says.

"Even though it's hard on them when you need to sacrifice your weekends and your Thursday nights, having their support, encouragement and belief in what I'm doing and for them to see and experience what the Foundation is achieving in our community makes up for it."

A person-centric woman, Alison enjoys spending time with her family, her kids and grandson, and also entertaining when she's not at work.

"Cooking and entertaining is something that I reall enjoy doing - the more the merrier!" she says.

"It's wonderful to be able to bring people together and enjoy good wholesome food and company; I recently got a new stove top installed, so I'm itching to break it in and cook up a storm for our friends and family."

Alison also volunteers as a board director at TASC National in her spare time.

"[TASC National] is one of Queensland's largest regional community legal aid services," Alison explains.

"There's so many people out there who are less-fortunate than ourselves, who don't have anyone to turn to for help and advice and who are in some pretty terrible situations.

"To be able to help give them a voice through my role on the TASC board is a great feeling and it's nice to be able to bring my knowledge and life experiences to help guide another local service doing incredible work within our local community."

Before becoming CEO of Toowoomba Hospital Foundation, Alison spent time in sales, marketing and corporate relations.

"I would say I've been working in the not-for-profit sector for almost 10 years now in varying managerial roles," she says.

"I love talking to people, finding solutions and generating new ideas so I've always been drawn to roles that challenge that and push the boundaries and stretch those abilities."

So what is it that makes Alison a good leader?

"I can only speak from my own experiences and my own knowledge of what makes for a good leader and managing a successful team, and I feel that stems from being a good listener, observing and learning," she says.

"I always want my team to know and feel like they can trust me to lead them, to be there for them, that I'm approachable and open.

"A lot of this comes down to good communication and making sure that everyone feels like they are a part of a team and they have a place and a purpose and that we all work well together."

Alison's advice to those wanting to become a leader is to always allow yourself to take advice and learn from others.

"Be open, honest and approachable, and surround yourself with people who are skilled and talented in areas you are not."

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