Each year the Pinnacle Awards unveil the considerable depth of leadership excellence present in Western Australia.

“I don’t think leaders these days have defining moments,” former Water Corporation Chief Executive Sue Murphy FAIM told the audience on her joint-acceptance of the WA Business Leader of the Year award at the 2018/19 AIM WA Pinnacle Awards in March.

“I think the days of waiting for the hero on the white horse to save us all are long gone," she said. "Leadership these days is about making sure everyone who works for you has got the chance to be the best they can be.

“I’ve been blessed to work with amazing people who are passionate about what they do. This is just me basking in their reflective glory.”

Alongside Ms Murphy on stage at The Westin Perth Hotel was Mineral Resources boss Chris Ellison. The pair had just become the first in the history of the Pinnacles to share the esteemed award, and while their respective careers have been forged in very different fields of work there was a commonality in the way each spoke on leadership.

Both came back to people – through life and work; surrounding yourself with the very best you could find.

“If you pick the people you mix with you become the company you keep,” Mr Ellison said when asked by MC Monika Kos what his key lesson would be for the next generation of leaders.

“Surround yourself with the best people you can afford to and the best company you can in life.”

Given this rhetoric, it was fitting the two judged the very best by their peers stood side-by-side at the Pinnacle Awards. Both leaders had demonstrated their nous in their respective fields over many years – Ms Murphy in the world of water through an outstanding decade fronting the Water Corporation, and Mr Ellison since leaving school at age 15 to join the field of mining and resources.

On Ms Murphy’s watch, the Water Corporation closed the water cycle – an achievement she considers her finest.

“We have large scale indirect potable recycling, so the water goes down your tap, plug hole, shower or toilet and is recycled to very pure levels, injected into aquifers below our feet,” she said.

“It’s then sucked out again, treated again, and you’re drinking it. Eighty per cent of Perth think that’s a good idea, and 80 per cent of Perth don’t agree on anything.”

The appointment of leak detecting springer spaniel Kep was also highlighted.

“The dog is unashamedly my favourite employee,” Ms Murphy said.

Mr Ellison said while the Pinnacle Awards were among his proudest achievements in leadership, a number of pivotal moments stood out from the years gone by.

He recalled sitting in front of a bank manager in 1982 trying to justify the $190,000 overdraft he’d racked up with nine staff on his books, no money coming in and, in his own words, ‘no idea’.

“He looked at me and said ‘how do you propose you’re going to repay this?’,” Mr Ellison said.

“I said ‘out of profits’.”

Just 90 days later, Mr Ellison was running the supply base for Woodside, had a payroll of 140 and was earning half a million dollars a month.

“I still had no idea, but a lot of cash coming in,” he said.

While Ms Murphy and Mr Ellison topped the 2018/19 Business Person of the Year class, the Pinnacle Awards celebrate much more than just individual leaders, with eight further categories announced on the night in recognition of outstanding achievement.

“The diverse nature of the Pinnacle Awards allows a broad range of leadership achievements to be recognised, and each year at AIM WA we are reassured by the wealth of leadership talent that exists in the state,” AIM WA President Alison Gaines FAIM said.

“I think it’s fair to say the call for leadership across all facets of our community has become louder and louder, which is why it is so satisfying to all of us at the Institute to be able to present and honour such wonderful examples of leadership.”

In a bid to build and sustain leadership success, winners of each Pinnacle Awards category received a $20,000 leadership and management training prize to donate to a charity of their choice.

The Pinnacle Awards audience of more than 450 people included State Premier Mark McGowan MLA, who addressed the event, and Federal Finance Minister Mathias Cormann.

The winners of each category were as follows:

Winner: Rio Tinto
HAWAIIAN Corporate Social Responsibility Excellence Award
Recognised for its work in improving literacy outcomes for Western Australian families, Rio Tinto has funded the Better Beginnings literacy program for 15 years in partnership with the State Library of Western Australia. The program has provided more than 700,000 reading packs for children from birth to kindergarten throughout the state.

Winner: WA Country Health Service (WACHS)
SRG GROUP Customer Service Excellence Award
Delivering health services to more than half a million people at more than 100 sites spanning 2.5 million kilometres, WACHS has some challenges. Its Consumer Engagement in the 21st Century initiative identified gaps in the consumer feedback process. WACHS implemented a feedback program with strong uptake and engagement from its diverse client base.

Winner: Appbot
KOTT GUNNING LAWYERS Emerging Business Excellence Award
Started in 2011, Appbot allows developers and marketers to see how their app is performing in all app stores and has become the premier provider of app review analysis and reporting in the world. More than 35 per cent of the world’s top-charting apps use Appbot.

Winner: Rottnest Island Authority
RAC Green Business Excellence Award
Rottnest Island Authority’s commitment to environmental initiatives has led to it becoming one of just 10 Earth Check-certified sustainable destinations in the world. Moving away from diesel-powered generators, the self-powered island is a global leader and innovator in renewable energy.

Winner: VisAbility
PEOPLE2PEOPLE Human Resource Management Excellence Award
The National Disability Insurance Scheme and aged care reforms means now is a time of great change in the disability sector. VisAbility has worked to position itself as an employer of choice. The organisation has done away with annual performance reviews in favour of a focus on workforce development and transparency. A reward scheme for employees involving professional development has received great feedback from team satisfaction surveys.

Winner: P&N Bank
CURTIN UNIVERSITY Innovation Excellence Award
At a time when banks are being heavily scrutinised, P&N Bank has managed to stand out from its larger competitors through its approach to innovation. Its instant digital card technology was first to market in Australia and achieved huge uptake.

Winner: Cockburn Aquatic & Recreation Centre (ARC)
PRINTSYNC Marketing Excellence Award
The City of Cockburn rose to considerable challenges in the lead up to opening its ARC facility in Perth’s southern corridor in May 2017. Lacking brand awareness in a market where 12 similar providers operated within a 5km radius, Cockburn ARC created a unique, standalone brand. The facility opened with 3500 members and doubled that number the next year.

Winner: Black Swan State Theatre Company
PERDAMAN Workplace Diversity Excellence Award
Black Swan State Theatre Company achieved gender parity across its 2018 season for directors, writers and actors, with four of its eight productions written by women.

Pinnacle Award category winners will be featured in greater detail in coming editions of Leader magazine.

Jack McGinn is a Journalist at The West Australian Newspapers and is a writer for 'Leader', AIM WA's magazine for members.