Jeanette Allom-Hill is known for her bubbly, outgoing personality. As group executive, business performance of Sunshine Coast Council since January, she has been leading with a sense of joy and purpose.
One of the council’s most senior women, she’s wasted no time getting to know her staff and discovering their strengths. But behind her warm smile and welcoming demeanour is a story of triumph over shocking childhood trauma and the conscious choice to lift people up, rather than tear them down.
A senior manager and highly respected expert in the fields of strategy and change leadership, she’s worked as an adjunct lecturer at the UNSW Business School and held leadership roles with the New South Wales Treasury, New South Wales Department of Transport, NBN Australia, Microsoft and Optus.
She left her position as a business transformation advisor at the Boston Consulting Group to join the council, happy to put the hectic pace of Sydney behind her.
“When you move away from a big city like Sydney or Melbourne or London and come to a great regional community, the ability to effect positive change becomes greater,” she says.
“I find it more exciting because I think I’ve got a bigger opportunity to do something amazing.
“I love this incredible collection of talented, passionate, intelligent people trying to drive positive change, not only inside council, but also people in the community I meet every day.
“I love everything about the Sunshine Coast. I love the sunshine – my number plate is ‘14sun’. One of my favourite quotes is, “Keep your face always towards the sunshine and shadows will fall behind you.”
They are telling words, as she has had to put some dark shadows behind her in order to become the vibrant, successful person she is today.
Born in South Africa to a single mother, Mrs Allom-Hill was adopted as a baby by a strict Christian couple from the Dutch Reformed Church. She was raised by a black nanny, who she loved dearly.
Tragically, when she was just six years old, her nanny was shot in the head in front of her by an intruder. She has little memory of the incident, but remembers her family moving to Australia soon after, fearing they would be next.
The family settled in Berowra Waters in Sydney’s northern suburbs and Mrs Allom-Hill’s life didn’t become any easier. She was relentlessly bullied at school and abused at home. Her strictly religious parents allowed no music or TV in the house and she remembers little joy in her childhood.
“That was one of the reasons I got bullied so badly as a teenager,” she says. “I didn’t know anything about the bands and they’d tease me.
“They’d know all the words to the songs and I didn’t know what they were talking about. It took away my ability to connect. I was never allowed to go out and play. It alienates you in not being able to relate, always trying to pretend you know something you know nothing about.”
Mrs Allom-Hill lights up when she talks about her children Tom and Will and husband Jeff, the three people she showers with love, kindness and compassion to make up for what she never had. She’s a shining example of someone who has refused to let her past define her.
“Sometimes you look at leaders and you think they’re so perfect, that it was breeding or money that made them successful.
“I had none of those things. In myself, I’m very joyful. People always say they can hear me singing in the lift and laughing out loud. I’m just normal. I don’t feel like I have to be something that I’m not for anybody.
“My childhood taught me incredible resilience,” she says. “You have two choices: either it can help make you strong or you can let it break you. It has shaped me in my ability to stand strong and not be scared.
“I know I can pretty much get through anything – there’s always some form of light at the other side.”
The abuse Mrs Allom-Hill endured in her younger years didn’t break her; it made her the compassionate and understanding leader she is today.
“With great power comes great responsibility,” she says. “For me, the most important thing at the council is to achieve trust.
“My people believe I’m here for the better good of them and the better good of the organisation. I do things like open door days and ‘making others great’ sessions. I’m connecting deep into the organisation and making sure people feel listened to, trying to be real and authentic.
“My purpose is to be useful, honourable and compassionate. If I can be those things to anyone in the organisation, it would make me feel like I’ve been successful.
“lf I can role model vulnerable, authentic leadership for men and women and let them know it’s okay, you can be your true self and also be successful, that’s the only thing you can hope for.”
5 quick questions
1. Best advice you ever received?
Vulnerability is our most accurate measure of courage. Also, stay kind, it makes you beautiful.
2. What was a turning point in your life?
Standing at the door looking my birth mother in the eyes for the first time at 32. Standing at the grave of my great grandfather at Westminster Abby between the unknown Soldier and David Livingston.
3. What frustrates you?
Lack of kindness, lack of passion or drive. Be fearless in pursuit of what sets your soul
4. What advice would you give your 18-year-old-self?
Live that life, the one that gives you breath and takes your breath away. What if I fall? But darling, what if you fly?
5. What do you want to be on your tombstone?
I would rather die of passion than boredom. Find joy in the journey.