Corporate Ladder: your weekly guide to executive appointments

South Australia’s premier executive appointments column tracking the movements of those driving the state’s public and private sectors. Plus good advice on landing that executive position.

Sep 19, 2022, updated Sep 19, 2022
Senior SA public servant Dr Alisa Willis has taken on a new role with Junction Australia. Photo: supplied

Senior SA public servant Dr Alisa Willis has taken on a new role with Junction Australia. Photo: supplied

Cherylyn Skewes

Julia Shea

Fresh path for St Peter’s Girls

Cherylyn Skewes, former Principal of Annesley Junior School, is returning to Adelaide after being appointed Principal of St Peter’s Girls.

Skewes is currently Principal Consultant with Independent Schools Victoria, a role she took on after five years as Principal of Melbourne Jewish school Leibler Yavneh College.

Her return to the Adelaide private school scene comes after she led Annesley College through its crisis period in the early 2010s when it faced imminent closure. She was appointed inaugural Principal of the renamed and retooled Annesley Junior School in 2012.

Skewes’ appointment at St Peter’s Girls sees her replace Julia Shea, who has been Principal of the Anglican school since 2014.

St Peter’s Chair Jeremey Shultz said Skewes would start as Principal in January.

“We once again thank Julia for her immense contribution and her continued leadership as she shares an expert handover with Cherylyn in the weeks ahead,” he told school community members.

“We look forward to introducing Cherylyn to our wonderful community and can’t wait to see the legacy she will create as she leads the next chapter in our School’s remarkable history.”

Anne Dunstan

Carolyn Grantskalns

AISSA finds new leader

The Association of Independent Schools of South Australia has appointed Anne Dunstan, Principal of Guildford Grammar School in Western Australia, as its new CEO.

Dunstan, a former Principal of Pulteney Grammar, has held leadership roles at several South Australian private schools, including Scotch College, Wilderness and St John’s Grammar.

Her 30-year career in education has also taken her to Tasmania and WA. She was Deputy Principal of Scotch Oakburn College in Launceston from 2009 to 2013, followed by a six-year stint leading Pulteney Grammar and then two and a half years as Principal of Guildford Grammar School in Perth.

AISSA represents familiar territory for Dunstan. She was a board member of the association from 2016 to 2019, which included two years as Deputy Chair.

Her appointment as CEO will see her replace retiring AISSA boss Carolyn Grantskalns on January 3 next year.

Grantskalns flagged her retirement in June after nearly 10 years leading the association.

AISSA Chair Brenton Howell touted Dunstan as a “vibrant, engaging and positive leader”.

“Throughout our national recruitment process, Anne’s commitment to AISSA’s purpose, support for genuine independence, choice, quality and excellence in independent education were clear,” Howell said in a statement.

David McKeon

McKeon goes against the Grain

National peak body GrainGrowers Ltd is on the hunt for a new CEO following the resignation of its Adelaide-based leader David McKeon.

The grain farming association announced last week that McKeon, CEO since 2017, would be finishing up with the organisation in October.

He first joined GrainGrowers in 2015 as General Manager of Policy and Innovation before stepping up as Joint CEO in 2017 and then sole CEO in 2018.

GrainGrowers Chair Brett Hosking credited McKeon with helping to establish Grains Australia, an organisation providing services such as classification, trade and market access and market information to the grain industry.

“David is a tireless advocate for growers and during his tenure, has worked hard to ensure the grower voice has been heard on a broad range of issues,” Hosking said in a statement.

“David will be finishing with GrainGrowers in October and will continue to support GrainGrowers through a range of strategic projects for the remainder of the year to ensure the organisation continues to utilise his deep grains industry insights.”

Prior to joining GrainGrowers, McKeon was Rural Affairs Manager at the National Farmers’ Federation and a Senior Policy Officer within the Federal Government’s Department of Agriculture and Water Resources.

Dr Alisa Willis

Top public servant reaches Junction

Department of Human Services Director Dr Alisa Willis has been appointed Head of Service Impact at housing social enterprise Junction.

Willis’ 20-year career in social work has spanned Australia, the United Kingdom and the Philippines, according to Junction.

She has since 2019 been Director of the DHS Early Intervention Research Directorate, which was established in response to the 2016 Nyland Royal Commission into Child Protection. The Directorate is tasked with preparing state government agencies a prevention and early intervention strategy that is updated every five years.

Prior to joining DHS, Willis was Operations Manager at national Christian charity Mission Australia and a Principal Social Worker in the South Australian Department for Education and Child Development.

She has a PhD in public policy and a Master’s in social work.

“Alisa has a strong focus on early intervention, child protection, domestic and family violence, Aboriginal culture competency as well as service modelling, training, research and practice reform,” Junction CEO Maria Palulmbo said in a statement.

“Alisa’s significant experience and expertise in impact will be instrumental as we work to make a long term, positive difference for people, neighbourhoods and communities.”

Willis’ Head of Service Impact role is a newly created position within Junction.

Why close dates are dangerous for employers

At Hender Consulting we generally and deliberately stopped using close dates (unless we are forced to) many years ago. The reason is they often do more harm than good.

When a close date exists, it can often create a dynamic whereby candidates leave it until very near (sometimes seconds before) the nominated deadline before applying. This means it is very hard to judge the strength of the field until much later in the process and take contingency action such as extra search or advertising. When candidates call and ask ‘when it closes’, we simply encourage them to hurry up and submit their application, which helps maintain momentum.

A second and much more serious downside of a hard close date is that it can potentially stop the best candidate from applying. Why on earth would you discourage an application from a strong candidate just because they missed an arbitrary date that someone thought was important? Several times in this year alone, one of our positions has been won by a candidate who joined the field well after other candidates had been shortlisted.

The absence of a close date also means that if a completely compelling and obviously ideal candidate with another pending opportunity applies and cannot wait for the close date, employers are not obliged to wait until some pre-determined and meaningless day and can instead, simply interview and hire the person if they wish.

For these reasons, our advice is to eliminate the close date and treat jobs as closed when they are filled.  I’m not sure who invented the close date but whoever it was, they probably cost millions of employers better appointment outcomes.

Gillian Mercer

National arts body taps SA leader

Adelaide arts industry manager Gillian Mercer has joined the Australia Council for the Arts as Director of Business Development and Strategic Partnerships.

Mercer, who starts in her new role today, has worked for Illuminate Adelaide over the last two years as Head of Business Development and Partnerships.

Her more than 20 years in the Adelaide arts scene has seen her take on senior business development and corporate partnership roles with the Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide Festival, Adelaide Fringe, Adelaide Entertainment Centre and Adelaide Convention Bureau.

She is also a former Chair of the Slingsby Theatre Company.

Her new role with the Australia Council, the Federal Government’s arts investment, development and advisory body, will be split between the organisation’s Sydney office and her home in Adelaide.

Mercer said: “I am delighted to join the Australia Council to bring to the fore the important role of collaboration and judicious partnerships to serve the sector, and to further deliver on the Council’s strategic objectives and commitment to public value.”

Eoin Loftus

SATC’s Majestic move

Former Majestic Hotels CEO Eoin Loftus has been appointed to the South Australian Tourism Commission board.

Loftus, who in May stepped aside from Majestic Hotels after 29 years with the company, now runs a freelance business consultancy.

He is also Chair of the Tourism Industry Council of South Australia, a role he has held since 2016. His appointment as an SATC Director means he now sits on the board of both the peak industry and government bodies for tourism.

Loftus replaces Helen Edwards, whose term on the SATC board has expired. She began on the Commission in March 2020.

The SATC is still on the hunt for a new CEO following the departure of long-time boss Rodney Harrex in July.

Michael Lennon

Lennon makes his choice

Former State Planning Commission Chair Michael Lennon is stepping down as Managing Director of Housing Choices Australia.

Lennon has led the national affordable housing provider since 2014, splitting time between his Adelaide home and Housing Choices’ Melbourne head office. He was also CEO of the organisation from 2007 to 2012.

His career in planning, housing and development has seen him take on numerous high-profile roles across South Australia, New Zealand and Scotland.

He was appointed an inaugural member of South Australia’s State Planning Commission in 2017 before taking over as Chair in October 2018. He left the commission in 2021 following the completion of South Australia’s new planning and design code.

Among Lennon’s other senior roles are CEO of the Glasgow Housing Association, CEO of Housing New Zealand Corporation and CEO of the South Australian Government’s former Office of Urban Planning and Development.

Lennon is due to leave Housing Choices Australia on January 31 next year.

Brett Loughlin

Mark Jones

New CFS boss

Brett Loughlin has been promoted to Chief Officer of the Country Fire Service.

Loughlin first joined the CFS in 2015 as a Regional Commander and has since moved up the ranks to Director of Preparedness Operations, Director of Regional Operations and most recently Executive Director of Operations.

He also worked as a Lead Analyst on the Keelty Review into South Australia’s 2019/20 black summer bushfires.

Prior to joining the South Australian CFS, he spent nearly nine years in management roles with the New South Wales Rural Fire Service.

Loughlin will take over from current CFS Chief Officer Mark Jones, who indicated in June he would be moving back to England to take on the top role at the Northamptonshire Fire and Rescue Service.

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Peter Varacalli

Homecoming for Ivy League lawyer

DMAW Lawyers has appointed property lawyer Peter Varacalli as a Principal within its transactions division.

Varacalli, who was a Law Clerk at DMAW in 2009, returns to Adelaide after two years as a Senior Associate with Herbert Smith Freehills in Melbourne and London.

He also completed a Master of Laws at Columbia Law School in 2020.

Before he made the move out of Adelaide, Varacalli worked as a Senior Associate for Wallmans Lawyers and Associate for Norman Waterhouse.

“Peter has a wealth of knowledge and practical experience having acted on large commercial real estate and infrastructure deals, including for some of the world’s leading private equity, investment management and energy companies, and some of Australia’s largest developers,” DMAW Lawyers Principal Daniel Jenkinson said in a statement.

“He is well respected within the South Australian legal community and will offer invaluable counsel to our clients.”


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