An extraordinary contribution

In conversation with Jillian Broadbent AC

As the University of Wollongong’s third Chancellor (2009 -2020), Jillian Broadbent AC provided outstanding leadership to the institution over the past 11 years.

As one of Australia’s most successful and respected businesswomen, as well as a passionate advocate for the arts, she brought her sharp mind, intellect, warmth and passion for learning to the role.

Before retiring in October 2020, Chancellor Broadbent spoke with UOW’s Director of Advancement Monique Harper-Richardson reflecting on her time and many contributions to the University. 

What were your first impressions of UOW when you commenced as Chancellor in 2009?

They were that it was a focused university, agile and progressive. I liked the dynamics of it and to me personally, it was very warm and welcoming.

Reflecting back on the past 11 years as Chancellor, what do you think has made the University so distinctive?

I believe the University has been able to get the right balance between teaching and learning, and research. Many universities are challenged by that. They favour one or the other. At UOW, we recognise the importance of both and progress them together.

What are you most proud of during your tenure as Chancellor?

I am proud of many things, but one thing that always made me proud was all of the positive comments I received about the University both nationally and globally from a broad spectrum of people. It made me proud to learn just how well regarded the University.

University, both nationally and globally, from a broad spectrum of people. It made me proud to learn just how well-regarded the University is. Something that made me very proud more specifically was the University winning the Solar Decathlon competition in 2013 in China. It was such a bold step to enter that competition demonstrating how to retrofit a typical Aussie ‘fibro’ house and transform it into a sustainable 21st Century net-zero energy home.

It was an outstanding achievement and demonstrated the talents of the students driving the project as well as the cooperation between the University and TAFE Illawarra. It also happened to be in a field that I was particularly interested (renewable energy and sustainable living) because of my Chairmanship of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.

2020 has brought with it a series of unprecedented events including the COVID-19 pandemic. How did you see the ability of organisations like the University to rapidly adapt and respond to this crisis?

Something that really shone through was the value of the human spirit and the ability of the community to mobilise in adverse times.

From an organisational perspective it was revealed that the organisations that functioned really well were those that were functioning well prior to the pandemic, who were able to operate remotely and maintain their momentum. That comes back to the integrity, respect, purpose, vision and values of the organisation.

In the case of the University, the vision and the strategy that the Vice-Chancellor had articulated through the strategic plan was there to guide and mobilise the University community. It was able to focus on the essential elements and sacrifices needed to ensure the continued momentum of the University and its purpose to inspire a better future through education, research and partnership.

As a Board Director for the Woolworths Group, what would you say about the way that Woolworths has navigated the crisis?

The response by Woolworths was outstanding. I am particularly proud of the way Woolworths responded to their community role. They created food boxes at subsidised costs to distribute to people living on their own and in isolation, worked to keep up stock levels, introduced product limits and played a key role in communicating with customers the need to only buy what was needed to enable the needs of the whole community to be met.

Disasters were avoided, shortages of key goods were minimised and the community’s most vulnerable were protected.

And this is where there is often an underestimation of what a company’s responsibilities are. They’re not just making a bottom line, they are, in Woolworth’s case, being able to supply food and basic goods.

Looking forward, what hopes do you have for the future and for the Illawarra as the University’s home region?

I really hope the University continues the momentum on its progressive path, improving its academic standards, crossdisciplinary research and graduate outcomes.

In terms of the Illawarra, the community has always valued the University as the University values its community and I hope that will persist.

Any final reflections that you would like to share about your tenure as Chancellor?

I will have very fond memories of the University. It’s not only the discoveries and intellectual stimulus I have enjoyed over the past 11 years, it’s the personal relationships I have developed.

The role of Chancellor, while an honorary role is a very important one. And one that I took very seriously and enthusiastically. There’s such a sense of appreciation and respect that I have received from the time and energy I put into the role and I am hoping that will be my legacy of fond memories going forward.

End note: Ms Jillian Broadbent AC is Director of Woolworths Group, Macquarie Group and Macquarie Bank. Previously Chair of the Board of Swiss Re Life & Health Australia, Chair of Clean Energy Finance Corporation, a member of the Board of the Reserve Bank of Australia and a Director of ASX, Coca-Cola Amatil, Special Broadcasting Service Corporation (SBS), Qantas Airways, Westfield Property Trusts and Woodside Petroleum.

You can also find an in-depth tribute to Chancellor Broadbent on The Stand