CEO leads with heart in business

27 June 2016

“It’s important to have your heart in your business and your business in your heart.”

This is something Anne Cross holds true for her working life and forms part of her personal values and beliefs.

“I think it’s really important to stay grounded in `the why’,” Anne says. “Understanding why an organisation exists; what its core purpose is; and why you work there, is fundamental to having an impact.”

Anne had a passion from a young age to improve opportunities for those not doing well in the world. She believed it was an obligation she had as an everyday person to do what she could to improve some of the situations that impact on humanity and our environment.

The ambitious leader has worked to realise these goals during her career as a frontline social worker and more recently during her 12 year tenure as Chief Executive Officer of UnitingCare Queensland.

“Throughout my career I’ve been very lucky to work in roles that are coherent with my own personal values. That’s been really important for me because I believe that you do your best work when you’re doing things that are coherent with who you are as a person.”

After completing a Bachelor of Social Work at The University of Queensland, Anne gained a role as a social worker in the Commonwealth Government. Her career path later took a turn into the policy and management areas including in the Commonwealth Rehabilitation Service which she credits as an extremely important foundation for her work today.

She has also worked in the non-government sector, contributing to significant change in the disability sector focusing on leadership and the development of a range of demonstrational pilot projects that supported people with disabilities.

“The projects looked at different ways of providing support to people so that they could have all the ordinary opportunities that most of us take for granted,” she explains.

In 2003 Anne was appointed as CEO of UnitingCare Queensland.

UnitingCare Queensland provides health and community services to thousands of people every day through its’ service groups – UnitingCare Community, UnitingCare Health, Blue Care and ARRCS (Australian Regional and Remote Community Services). As the health and community service provider of the Uniting Church, the not-for-profit organisation supports people from all walks of life, including older people, people with acute health conditions, people with a disability and children and families, including many Indigenous people.

“I am absolutely privileged to be the CEO of such an amazing organisation.  I am motivated and passionate about the work we do and I see the difference our work makes in the lives of our clients, families and staff, every day,” Anne says.

Within two years of her appointment Anne led the transformation of the governance of the organisation by merging many disparate boards and committees involved in the hospitals, Blue Care aged care services and a wide range of community services spread throughout the state. This was an important step in the consolidation of UnitingCare’s services into four groups, which now employ 16 000 paid staff and 9 000 volunteers.

Anne has used her human services experience and business acumen to support the organisation to be a leading aged care, health and community service provider. In recognition of her outstanding achievements in the health and community services sector Anne was the national Telstra winner in the Community and Government category and was also named the 2014 Telstra Business Women of the Year.

 “Winning the 2014 Telstra Australian Business Woman of the Year Award was a great honour for me, for the organisation, for the Uniting Church and for the not-for-profit sector,” Anne says.

You know Anne loves what she gets up to do every day when her face lights up talking about the positive impact of UnitingCare’s work with people in the Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal communities.

“I’m particularly pleased with the work we’ve been able to do in remote communities and much of that is with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. In North Queensland, we offer many services specifically for Indigenous people, and 80 per cent of our staff are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. It’s very heartening to be able to support service models where Indigenous people care for Indigenous people, restoring dignity to people’s lives.”

Anne also finds many ways to contribute to the sector where she can, outside of her role at UnitingCare Queensland.  One of these ways is through her appointment as an Adjunct Professor at UQ. Through Anne’s role she facilitates meaningful partnerships between UQ and UnitingCare Queensland. She also provides advice on shaping UQ’s social work programs to meet industry needs and provide placement opportunities for social work students.

“Providing my knowledge and experience to UQ to help shape the social work programs and assisting students with placement opportunities is really important to me, as this is a very important pipeline for future leaders. “

Reflecting on her years of study at UQ Anne says, “UQ certainly provided me with knowledge and it also allowed me to meet many inspiring people. As a young person I found this incredibly motivating. You’re in such a rich environment where you can soak up all these different ideas, you’re expected to be curious about the world, and you get inundated with possibilities.”

Anne Cross is an inspiration to all women who have an ambition to succeed, make an impact and ground that ambition in their own personal values and beliefs.

“Some might say it’s doing business differently, but I disagree. I think all successful people understand the value of having your heart in your business and your business in your heart. You need to care deeply about what you do.”

Words: Kirsten O'Leary