The Best HR Executives in Australia | The Hot List
The Best HR Executives in Australia |
The Hot List 

Data-driven decision-makers

As desks have moved from offices into homes and hybrid working has become the norm, executives have sought out the strategic advice of leading HR professionals. Engaging a remote or hybrid workforce is no easy feat, and recent years have shown why HR is no longer viewed as a support function, but rather, an integral part of any organisation.  

Peter Bowen, managing director and CEO of HR consulting firm deliberatepractice, says, “The top-performing talent possesses the ability to walk a tightrope with finesse. Whether it is between business interests and employee interests, or working on workforce strategy plans but also delivering activities that bring the strategy to life, HR must balance, bend and adapt constantly.”

According to McLean & Company’s 2024 HR Trends Survey, HR involvement as a partner in planning and executing organisational strategy has increased:

  • from 36% in 2021 to 50% in 2024


The survey also found organisations that make better use of technology are: 

  • 1.2 times more likely to be high-performing at supporting change

  • 1.3 times more likely to be high-performing at changing quickly at scale to capitalise on new opportunities

Through technology driving employee retention, progression, engagement and inclusion, the leaders on this year's Hot List are shining examples of why HR professionals now sit at the executive table. 

Sarah Novelli, BGIS
“For myself and my team, decisions need to be backed by data. We know when to focus, we are always professional. But we have fun – that’s 90% of the reason we are successful. Innovation and creativity are the reason we are making an impact”
Sarah NovelliBGIS


Evidence-based HR 

When it comes to workforce management, Sarah Novelli, executive director of people and culture at BGIS, a global facilities management firm, advocates for team-targeted strategies.  

“Before we had our dashboards, we would make quite general blanket statements across the business and we’re a 10,000-person organisation,” she says. “My business cases and my decisions on where to now invest in programs have become so data-driven, it’s very similar to any other part of the business.”

Over the past 12 months, Novelli has set up several dashboards to provide live data on: 

  • turnover (age, division, exit survey themes)

  • career progression (recruitment, promotions, transfers)

  • learning (training, compliance, retention, succession planning)

  • diversity and inclusion (gender, Indigenous, LGBTQ+, veterans, disability) 


Using these metrics, Novelli and her team craft bespoke HR solutions to address the needs of different teams across the organisation. 

As a result of her innovative dashboard tool, Novelli can give sound advice to the BGIS Executive Board and identify areas in need of investment to achieve organisational strategic objectives.

Through observing trends in dashboard data, she was able to: 

  • identify a skills shortage in BGIS’ Critical Environments division and create a graduate program solution in response

  • pull BGIS into the top 15% of employers with a gender-fair workplace in 2023

“The data has given us the benefit, obviously, of knowing where to look and where to ask questions. Because there’s always a million things that you can be working on,” says Novelli. “If we work out where the highest priority areas are, we can get the biggest bang for our buck.”

Fellow winner Jessica Bilston-Gourley, director of consulting firm Positive HR, also focuses on data. She explains, “It is pivotal in shaping our decision-making processes, especially when implementing new programs or initiatives. It allows us to monitor if our programs continue to meet the ever-evolving landscape of HR practices.”

Jessica Bilston-Gourley, Positive HR
“We focus on continuous evaluation of data points, which allows us to make ongoing adjustments or improvements to any program and we can capture emerging trends in real time”
Jessica Bilston-Gourley Positive HR


Benefits on a budget 

Athena Chintis is an exponent of the targeted approach. The HR director at event management company Cliftons advises on being wary of industry trends.

“You need to have a strong awareness of the business that you’re working in and its commercial drivers. Just because one organisation might be implementing some cutting-edge best practice, it might not suit your organisation.”

Fellow winner Laurence Halabut, chief people officer of Australian Military Bank (AMB), echoes that strategy. 

“What might be an issue in IT is something totally different in finance. You can do stuff at a company-wide level, but it’s not going to have as much impact.”

Despite working under funding constraints, Halabut is still making a noticeable impact. Since starting at AMB in 2020, he has led:

  • 10 restructures

  • 16 new learning programs, resulting in a 51% reduction in staff turnover 


“I suppose being in a mutual bank, the issue is you’re not working for profit. So, from an HR perspective, things are tight.”

To effectively acquire budgets for new programs and initiatives, Halabut frequently uses data from engagement and exit surveys to advocate for program funding. 

“All those sorts of things where you can get quantifiable data are super important, especially for a bank who works on data,” he says. “Although we get a lot of commentary coming through in a lot of the stuff we do, we must be able to show our data as charts because that’s what executives understand.”

In 2023, Halabut worked to review and enhance employee conditions, introducing: 

  • paid parental leave

  • wellbeing day

  • industry reviews of salaries

  • enhanced flexible working arrangements


Athena Chintis, Cliftons Event Solutions
“I embrace a growth mindset and take the opportunities to learn from both successes and setbacks”
Athena ChintisCliftons Event Solutions


Upward mobility 

Many HR leaders hope to increase opportunities for education and succession planning within their respective organisations.  

Bowen says, “The impact that HR professionals can have on others, whether having a corridor conversation with an early-career business grad who is considering HR as their focus, or a peer who connects with your journey, challenges and successes, cannot be underestimated.”

In 2023, Halabut  introduced a series of engagement and education programs, including: 

  • LEAD: a development program for potential and first-line managers

  • AMBITION: a four-week orientation process to set workplace expectations, build skills and employee knowledge

  • BOOST: a training program for customer-facing employees to develop retail banking skills


Reflecting on the benefits of these programs, Novelli shares, “In the immediate term, engagement has a huge impact on bottom-line profitability. At BGIS, we don’t have a product, we sell our people. If our employees are engaged and believe in our company, that’s the key to our growth, as they are out there representing us to clients.”

Since developing her dashboard tool, Novelli noticed a positive shift within her organisation’s HR programs and a change in how managers evaluate success. 

“Instead of just talking about their financial performance, our managers are sitting down with their superiors and saying, ‘I’m proud because in the last eight months, I’ve brought my turnover down by 9%.’ They’re using HR metrics as part of their discussions as leaders, and I don’t think that was happening before.”

Laurence Halabut, Australian Military Bank
“I love transformation. Being able to build and make that change, and then see it come to fruition, is huge”
Laurence HalabutAustralian Military Bank


The Best HR Executives in Australia | The Hot List

  • Alex Pusenjak
    Vice President, People & Culture
    Fluent Commerce
  • Amy Singe
    General Manager, People Performance and Culture
    Yarra Valley Water
  • Amy Watts
    Head of People and Culture
    Experience Gold Coast
  • Anna Sparkes
    Chief People Officer
    Gilbert + Tobin
  • Barb Dawson
    Global Head of People & Culture
    Lauxes Grates
  • Bernadette Cavanagh
    Chief People Officer
    NSW Land Registry Services
  • Brooke Adams
    HR Director, Australia & New Zealand
  • Caroline Handley
    Director, Human Resources
    St Andrew’s Hospital
  • Deepak Singh
    Senior People & Culture Manager
    Uber Carshare
  • Dora Peake
    Group Director, People & Culture
    Versent Group
  • Gabrielle Bongiorno
    People & Culture Manager
  • Gemma Mulready
    General Manager, People & Culture
  • Gillian Davie
    Director, People & Culture
    formerly AMP Australia
  • James Hancock
    Co-Founder and Managing Director
    mwah. Making Work Absolutely Human
  • Johanna Neilsen
    Head of People
    Victorian Funds Management Corporation
  • Kate Ludwig
    Head of People & Culture
    Story House Early Learning
  • Kaylene Idda
    People & Culture Director
    Animals Australia
  • Kimberley Rymarczyk
    HR Director, Australia and New Zealand
  • Louise Hope
    Chief People Experience Officer
  • Luke Fleming
    Director of Human Resources
    ICC Sydney
  • Malcolm Day
    Head of People and Culture
    The Mark Moran Group
  • Martha Travis
    Founder and Director
    Martha Travis People Innovators
  • Meahan Callaghan
    Chief People and Culture Officer
    Redbubble Group
  • Pauly Grant
    Chief Talent Officer ANZ and APAC Head of People Strategy
    Publicis Groupe
  • Rachael Britton
    HR Director
    McCabes Lawyers
  • Rachel Thompson
    Director of People and Culture
    Excelsia College
  • Sarah Sammut
    Global People and Culture Director
  • Sarah Scottpaul Barnes
    Head of P&C - Australia/Global Head of L&D
    Enero Group
  • Simone Robards
    Director, People & Performance
    Canterbury Bankstown Council
  • Susan Sadler
    Chief Executive Officer
    Red Wagon Workplace Solutions
  • Tahnee McWhirter
    HumanX HR
  • Trisha Scott
    Head of People & Capability
    Coleman Greig Lawyers
  • Vanessa Morley
    Director, People and Culture
  • Wesley Graham
    Human Resource Manager



As part of our editorial process, Key Media’s researchers interviewed the subject matter expert below for an independent analysis of this report and its findings.



 In September 2023, the HRD Australia team conducted a survey on the Australian HR sector to find the most influential leaders who had contributed significantly to the industry over the previous 12 months. To be eligible for nomination, candidates must be at HR director or similar level and have at least 10 years of HR experience.

The team aimed to identify individuals who had led new initiatives in the HR space and advanced the standing of HR within their respective organisations. The team also considered previous awards won by the candidates.

By the end of the research process, 40 key figures were selected for their leadership, innovation and industry contributions.