Prof. Donna Pendergast – Education Executive & Chair

Professor Donna Pendergast, Dean and Head of the School of Education and Professional Studies at Griffith University, talks: Hearing others and shaping ideas, being a lifelong learner, growth mindset, collaboration over competition and diving into different worlds.

First and foremost Donna Pendergast is a born teacher, an education leader who is passionate about the possibilities and transformational qualities of learning.

Teachers and education have such a vital role to play in so many ways and I am focused on giving students capabilities to carry through life… education as a field is so crucial to the success of business and social enterprises,” she said.

Following an illustrious career in the education sphere, Donna is now the Dean and Head of the School of Education and Professional Studies at Griffith University in Queensland, and recently assumed the role of Chair of the Queensland Educational Leadership Institute (QELI) — a non-for-profit organisation which assists teaches and school leaders reach their full potential.

Donna has conducted a number of national research projects of significance including Beyond the Middle, which investigated literacy and numeracy in middle schooling; and Lifelong Learning and Middle Schooling. She has also published several books pertaining to contemporary teacher work, including Teaching the Middle Years, The Millennial Adolescent, Groovy Chicks and Blokey Blokes. Donna has a Bachelor of Applied Science, a Graduate Diploma of Secondary Teaching, a Masters of Education and is a Doctor of Philosophy.

Born in Chinchilla in South West Queensland the second of three children, Donna spent her formative years in Charleville and her parents instilled within her the transformative nature of education. Her mother was one of 10 children and Donna and her siblings were the first in her family to attend university. Inspired by the young teachers who completed their country service in Charleville, Donna knew from a young age she was destined for a life in education.

“Growing up in Charleville there was always young teachers, bringing new ideas all the time, so growing up in a country town is a real asset as a student because you get energetic young teachers and that’s what appealed to me.”


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Julia Davison – CEO – Goodstart Early Learning

headshotJulia Davison, CEO Goodstart Early Learning, talks: Early education, taking sabbaticals, learning through failure, being authentic and jumping ship.

Julia Davison is the CEO of Goodstart Early Learning, one of Australia’s largest social enterprises. She drives the strategic direction of Goodstart, which has over 615 early learning centres across the country in each state and territory, with more than 15, 000 staff educating over 70, 000 children. Goodstart is committed to working with children, families, communities, governments, and sector stakeholders to lift the quality of early learning in Australia, as international evidence proves the first five years are pivotal to how a child develops into adulthood.  Julia became CEO of Goodstart at a critical time. In 2009, Goodstart Early Learning was ultimately established after ABC Learning, then Australia’s largest childcare provider, collapsed and went into receivership in 2008.

Julia was born in Sussex, England. Following  high school, she had a gap year in Germany, where she worked as an au pair, before attending Durham University in the north of England. She holds a Bachelor of Science with Honours in geography and began her career in the health industry with a graduate training scheme with NHS. After working in the sector for many years, Julia decided to take a year off to study a Masters of Public Administration at the Harvard University Kennedy School of Government, before relocating to Australia to become the CEO of Flinders Medical Centre in Adelaide. Julia has extensive senior management experience and has also been the CEO of Workcover South Australia and the Chair of non-for-profit organisation Catherine House, an organisation which assists women experiencing homelessness.

Julia lives in Brisbane with her husband.


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Nina Chen – Founder and Director – Harvest Education Technical College

Nina-196x300The power of one: Nina Chen, Founder and Director of HETC, talks education, grabbing opportunity and transforming one country at a time.

Nina Chen is an entrepreneur and the Founder and Director of Harvest Education Technical College (HETC), an educational institute with two Brisbane campuses and over 3000 international and domestic students. HETC offers courses in business, hospitality and technology among a range of  other study areas. Energetic and boundlessly passionate about her work, Nina is a young woman who has achieved incredible things in her career and she has a personal, fascinating story. Nina strives to help others less fortunate and as well as operating HETC she is constantly working on ventures overseas to improve third world countries. She is also a mum to three young boys.

Born in Guangxi Province in China, education is at the heart of Nina’s story. Both of her parents were teachers who aspired to move to Australia to provide more opportunity for their daughter. Her father, a music and PE teacher, moved to Australia to find work and learn English, leaving Nina and her mother behind in China. For five years he worked in Sydney as a chef while studying. It wasn’t until the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989, that Nina’s father was granted permanent Australian residency and her and her mother were able to migrate to Australia to be with him.

Watching her parents work menial jobs to establish a life in Australia, Nina became passionate about creating a better life for both her parents and the wider community. While she was still at university studying a Bachelor of Business she established Harvest Education Tutoring Centre, inspired by wanting to help mature age students reach their full potential. HETC began with Nina working in a small 50sqm office in a bad location and the rest, as they say, is history.

Nine is a movie buff and enjoys board games and table tennis in her spare time.



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Jodi Schmidt – CEO – TAFE Queensland

0b66f43Jodi Schmidt CEO TAFE Queensland On the Changing Landscape of Education & Why it Pays to Be a Yes Person

Jodi Schmidt is someone who has made some significant career achievements at a relatively young age. The education sector is currently undergoing immense disruption and change, so it was fascinating to speak with Jodi and hear her views on shifts in the industry both in Australia and globally.

Jodi is the CEO of TAFE Queensland, a role she has held since 2013. TAFE Queensland is the state’s largest, most experienced training provider delivering practical, industry-relevant training to more than 120,000 students each year across 500 programs. Jodi has extensive experience as a leader within the education, training and employment sectors, having previously worked for a number of organisations including the Department of Education Queensland and Southbank Institute of Technology.

Born and raised in Maryborough in regional Queensland, Jodi relocated to Toowoomba to complete a bachelor of business in marketing and accounting at the University of Southern Queensland. After university, Jodi spent three years in the UK where she worked in finance and marketing before returning home to Maryborough for a period of time. When Jodi eventually relocated to Brisbane, her career took flight when she joined the Brisbane City Council. Her willingness to embrace new experiences and work from the ground up has been key to Jodi’s achievements. As a young woman, she worked in various roles across many industries including as a night sorter for Australia Post, while she was at university, and as a Pizza Hut manager and fruit picker, before she transited into the professional sphere. Her early career taught her the importance of developing practical skills and learning on the job, informing her “roll up your sleeves” approach to career and leadership.

Jodi lives in Brisbane and enjoys a good game of tennis and playing the guitar in her spare time.



Jodi on LinkedIn

Southbank Institute of Technology

Department of Education Queensland

Brisbane City Council


Geoff Abbott – Director Executive and Organisational Coaching – Queensland University of Technology

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAUfAAAAJDBmNGMyMjZjLWNkZTYtNDZlNS05ZjkwLTM3ZmE2ODFjNzIxZAGeoffrey Abbott Director Executive & Organisation Coaching at Queensland University of Technologys (QUT) Graduate School of BusinessOn Adding Power to Leadership & the Importance of Being Playful.  

The Arete podcast regularly features CEOs and senior leaders who discuss how much of an influence formal coaching and mentorship have played in them achieving career success. It was a wonderful opportunity then, to have Geoffrey Abbott on the podcast to share his knowledge of  leadership and coaching from an academic perspective. Geoff is the Director of Executive and Organisational Coaching at Queensland University of Technology’s (QUT) Graduate School of Business, where he manages coaching services to support learning and leadership development across masters and corporate programs; and develops and delivers coach training programs specifically tailored for leadership development. It’s a role he has held for a number of years and he has some excellent insights into coaching and leadership. His own career path is one which has led him to be regarded as one of the foremost experts on executive coaching in Australia.

Geoff was raised in Tasmania, the fourth of five children. He began his career as a teacher after graduating from the University of Tasmania with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science. Geoff’s academic qualifications also include a Graduate Diploma in Education, a Graduate Diploma in Psychology and a Phd in Business. Since 2005, he has been Director of the Centre for International Business Coaching and joined QUT in 2009.


Geoff on LinkedIn 

The University of Tasmania


Ray Weekes, CEO in Residence QUT Business School & Chairman CEO Institute of Queensland

Ray Weekes – CEO in Residence QUT Business School – on Taking Time to Reflect, the Power of Education and Why You Can Never be too Optimistic.

Ray Weekes is currently an Adjunct Professor and the CEO in Residence of Queensland University of Technology Business School. He is Chairman of the CEO Institute of Queensland and a director and advisor of various organisations within both the community and commercial and academic sectors. Ray is the former Managing Director of Castlemaine Perkins and former CEO of major, multinational company Rothmans Holdings Limited. Ray has also previously been a member of the Royal Children’s Hospital Foundation Board and is a member of the Queensland Business Leaders Hall of Fame Governing Committee.

Ray is dynamic and highly engaging, someone who I was really excited to host on the Arete podcast. He was open and genuine throughout our conversation and was all too happy to reflect on his career, sharing his insights and accomplishments with honesty and humility. I’ve known Ray for a long time and he’s been a tremendous friend and mentor not only to me but to Arete Executive. It was a welcome opportunity to return the favour by giving Ray the space to share his fascinating story. Ray is a great example of someone who has used his success as a platform to give back, by mentoring young CEOs and senior executives emerging through the ranks; as well as showcasing the achievements of those who have walked the path before him.

Born in Sydney’s Bondi, Ray started boarding school at just four years of age and later attended Canterbury Boys’ High School before completing a Bachelor of Commerce in Accounting at the University of New South Wales. After university adventure beckoned and  a young Ray travelled extensively through Europe in a Volkswagen van. He spent a significant time in Canada before returning to Australia to become a chartered accountant, and complete post graduate courses in business administration and education.

Ray was raised by his Mother in a single parent household on a modest income. Ray’s Mother was a senior executive at a time when it was unusual for women to hold top-tier positions. She taught Ray the power of education, and instilled him with an understanding of the opportunity for financial security and independence a career in business presented. They are values which still ring true, inspiring Ray’s role as Chairman of QUT’s Learning Potential Fund – a scholarship which provides assistance for financially disadvantaged students to help them achieve their academic goals. Ray can count many milestones along his long and diverse career, but cites being married to wife Penny for 46 years as one of his greatest achievements.

Ray is a Fellow of the Australian Institute of Company Directors and the Australian Institute of Management, and is also a member of The Institute of Chartered Accountants in Australia.


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Richard Kennerley – Former Executive Director – University of Queensland Business School

Changemaker, Richard Kennerley – Former Executive Director of University of Queensland Business School Executive Education – talks diversity, innovation and holding true to your beliefs.

The notion of adaptability kept emerging during my discussion with Richard Kennerley and he is indeed an individual who is willing to embrace change. Richard relocated to Australia from his native UK in 2010 to undertake the role of State General Manager of National Australia Bank, Queensland.  In 2014, he became the Executive Director of the University of Queensland Business School Executive Education, transitioning to a new sphere after working in finance and corporate banking for over 30 years.

The eldest of three siblings, Richard was raised in a middle class family in north-west England where he attended Sir John Deane’s Grammar School. A qualified banker and corporate treasurer, highly successful executive and leader, Richard’s career got off to an unconventional start. Fuelled by a touch of teenage rebellion, a young Richard challenged his traditional upbringing and dropped out of his degree to sing in a rock band. It wasn’t long before he changed direction and decided to do something a little more “respectable.” Richard assumed a position at National Westminster Bank where his talent for banking was quickly realised and the rest as they say, is history.

Richard’s capacity to think outside the box has been pivotal to his success as a leader, and has seen him deliberately and successfully deliver strategy around diversity and equality. Richard is a Graduate of the AICD Company Directors program. He also has extensive experience in finance and corporate banking in various leadership roles, previously as the Head of Corporate and Structured Finance, Clydesdale Bank and Director of Corporate Banking, Hill Samuel Merchant Bank

In addition to his role at UQ Business School Executive Education, Richard is also Vice President of the Brisbane Broncos Leagues Club and is a board member of the Australia China Business Council and Youngcare Changemakers.


University of Queensland Business School

Chartered Institute of Bankers

Associate of Corporate Treasurers

Brisbane Broncos Leagues Club

Australia China Business Council

Youngcare Changemakers

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