Meet the amazing leaders from Geelong community; small  business, corporates and government

Theresa Best is Group Marketing Manager for the Southern Star Group of Companies, responsible for the development and implementation of its national marketing, brand and communication strategies. The fastest growing window and door manufacturer in Australia.

Theresa is also Principal of Best Solutions and Best Ever Events; consultancies offering Event Management, Marketing, Capital Fundraising, Sponsorship and Strategic Communication services, primarily to not for profit organisations.

Theresa sits on the Board of Cricket Victoria having been appointed as a Director in March 2018.  She is also a Director of the Geelong T20 Board (a consortium of Geelong businesspeople working to achieve a Geelong based team in Cricket Australia’s T20 ‘Big Bash’ competition).  Other roles including the Salvation Army’s Geelong Advisory Board, and the Salvation Army Victorian Corporate and Philanthropic Committee, and she is a member of The Rotary Club of Geelong West.

Christine Couzens has a lifetime of active commitment to social justice issues in Geelong. She has worked with homeless young people, assisted in the public housing sector and represented people on consumer law issues.

She has a proud record of fighting for workers’ rights through the union movement. She served multiple terms as President of Geelong Trades Hall and established a working womens network which has been running for over ten years.

Prior to being elected to Parliament herself, Christine worked for former member for Geelong Ian Trezise since he won the seat in 1999. These experiences gave her an unrivalled knowledge of the needs of the community where she was born and bred.

Christine currently serves as the Victoria’s Ambassador for Closing The Gap where she advocates for equality for indigenous Victorians through delivering better health, education and employment outcomes.

Lisa Sweeney is CEO of Business in Heels, daily she works to fast-track women on their journey. She has 4 1/2 years of small business experience and well understands the transition from corporate to business owner.

Her expertise includes strategic planning, marketing, expansion through digital marketing, she is a strategic connector.

Her background is 25 years of corporate buying experience with expertise in strategic planning, sourcing, online retail,  negotiation and she well understands the hurley burley of a corporate career.

She is passionate about making a difference for women & on a daily basis works to find solutions to levelling up the playing field. This year having launched mentoring, access to new women’s professional indemnity & superannuation solutions.


Krystine Canny-Smith is a Director (CPA) in the Canny Group; a holistic accounting, legal & financial practice focussed on supporting women to achieve their financial goals.

Krys has a keen interest in small to medium businesses and enjoys working with them  to maximise cash flow, manage the compliance burden and complete tax planning.  She also has significant experience with the Not-for-Profit sector, GST and management accounting.

Krys has a personal affinity for Geelong’s northern suburbs and the Not-for-Profit sector.  This is evident in her community contribution as Treasurer on the Board of the Norlane Community Centre, which she has been involved with since 2013.  In 2016, Krys received a Commonwealth Bank Non-for-Profit Treasurers’ Award which recognised her valued contributions and highlighted the appreciation of the entire Norlane Community Centre Board.  Additionally, Krys has been on the Board of Bethany since 2014 and was also asked to join the ATO Lodgement Advisory Committee in 2016.

In her down time, Krys enjoys hanging out with her husband and three children, going to the movies, keeping fit at the gym and dining out at a great restaurant.

Amanda Wilkens is co-Director(CPA)  in the Canny Group. Amanda has a keen interest in helping women in business.  Whether this is starting, growing or exiting the business, she has helped many small to medium business owners with cash flow management, employment issues, financing growth, taxation, business planning and succession planning over the years.

Amanda is an Alumni of the Leaders for Geelong program and is also on the board of Encompass Community Services which started out as one of the only nine funded Disability Employment services in Australia in 1985 and are proud to be customer service leaders in delivering NDIS supports.  She is also on the board of Elf Squad a Geelong based charity.

She holds a Bachelor of Commerce from Deakin and is a qualified CPA and has a CPA public practising certificate.

When she’s away from the office, Amanda loves spending time in the garden at home.  She is often socialising with family and friends and playing ‘Ninny’ to her two young grandson’s.


Jo Plummer is Director and co-owner of Business in Heels International, an organisation that exists to unlock the potential for women in business by connecting them with the connections, education and marketing that are essential for success. They operate internationally and connect over 160,000 women.

She is also;
Board Chair – Barwon Water | Barwon Asset Solutions | VicWater
Board Chair – Advisory Board | Deakin MBA
Committee Chair – South Melbourne Market
Executive Director | Co-owner – Business in Heels International
Committee Chair – Geelong Regional Football
Geelong Committee Member – AICD

Kate Gillian – Chief Nursing and Midwifery Officer Barwon Health. Kate is well-known across the Barwon South West region, having held leadership roles in both the private and public healthcare sectors. She is the former Chief Executive Officer of Lorne Community Hospital and Otway Health, and led the successful amalgamation of both health services to create Great Ocean Road Health.

Initially trained as a nurse, Ms Gillan has held various leadership roles at St John of God Health Care, including Director of Surgical Services and Director of Nursing.


Bernadette Uzelac is an experienced CEO spanning more than 30 years in business. She is a respected business and community leader with strong regional, state and national networks and currently holds senior board appointments including Chair of the Victorian Small Business Ministerial Council and Chair of the Geelong Tech School Committee.

Among her many achievements, Bernadette founded the Geelong Ambassador Group of Opportunity International Australia, a not-for-profit organisation providing microfinance to impoverished entrepreneurs in developing countries with a focus on empowering women. In 2010 Bernadette was awarded the Zonta Club of Geelong ‘Outstanding Woman of Achievement Award’ in recognition of her leadership and contribution to the community.

Over the years Bernadette has been a trailblazer in breaking new ground.

Roxie Bennett is a life coach, radio personality, keynote speaker, MC, entrepreneur, influencer and life changer.  Roxie’s superpower is helping others find theirs!

Roxie combines running Roxie (PR & marketing agency) and Roxie Bennett – Live Changer (life coaching practice) with co-hosting The Catch Up on Bay 93.9 three afternoons a week plus, she is currently writing a book, The Butterfly Plan, a weight loss and wellbeing plan for women of a ‘certain’ age and developing the accompanying an on-line program. 

With a passion for the community, Roxie sits on the Barwon Health Foundation Board, Salvation Army Advisory Board (Geelong region), Cherished Pets Foundation Board, Geelong Contemporary (Geelong Gallery) Committee, is the Ambassador for Geelong Animal Welfare Society and an active supporter of Cottage by the Sea, Geelong Racing Club and Geelong Cats (AFLW and AFL).

Dr Sarah Leach: General Manager Health, People and Community,  GMHBA Ltd.

Professional Summary Executive leadership, management and consultancy in healthcare, community and welfare services for over 30 years.
Senior roles in health, nursing and community sector service management and service development, health and business consultancy, and health sector education.

Extensive board and committee membership experience in health and community sectors.
Strong networks in health and community sector agencies, local, state and federal governements, and tertiary education institutions across Victoria, and particularly in the Barwon South-Western region in Victoria.


Renée Jovic B Com Dip FP CPA has been in the accounting industry for over 23 years and was the Director and Managing Accountant of her own practice, Jovic Accounting for 16 years.  

Renée recently sold her practice and has started a new boutique Business Advisory business – Zenith Business Advisory.  This is an internal financial and business advisory business for Medium-sized businesses, who require the skills of a CFO/CEO without the wages of a full-time employee.  

Renée believes in becoming integral part of a client’s business, property and personal strategies.   She is passionate about making business financially successful. 

Renée also has board experience, having helped establish and sit on the board of two successful charities. As a businesswoman and married mother of two children, Renée understands the challenges to obtain the work/life balance.  In her spare time Renée loves to spend time with her family (usually in a basketball stadium), stay fit, travel, cook, and indulge in good food and wine.


Melissa Stephens leads the Organisational Performance team at Barwon Water.  Melissa and her team ensures the integration of people, process and governance systems to drive high performance workplace to deliver Barwon Water’s Strategy 2030.  The role informs decision making on prioritisation, risk management and deployment of resources within a financially sustainable framework.  The group’s core responsibilities include People, Finance, Commercial and Portfolio governance and Health, Safety and Wellbeing. 

In a career spanning more than 25 years, Melissa has extensive experience in strategic management, human resources, change management, customer service, stakeholder engagement, and finance.  In 2018 Melissa was named as one of the Top 50 Public Sector Women in Victoria and has been recognised on the IPAA International Women’s Day Honour Roll. 

Melissa holds a Bachelor of Commerce and a Master of Business Administration.  She is a Fellow of CPA, a Graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors, a Fellow of Institute of Managers and Leaders and is a certified member of Australian Human Resource Institute.  

Julie Hunter is the Chief Financial Officer for SC Technology since 2008. She is responsible for the administrative, financial and risk management operations of SC Technology Group, including the development of a financial and operational strategy, the metrics tied to that strategy, and the ongoing development, analysis and monitoring of control systems designed to report accurate financial results.
Julie has extensive knowledge of the financial sector with over 30 years’ experience in Accounting and financial roles.
Julie is an active VECCI and Geelong Chamber of Commerce member and enrolled in the Committee for Geelong Leaders Program and CPA Australia program.
“I love being active and going on bike rides with my son and husband on weekends. I also love shopping and catching up with friends and family.

Julie Hope is Deakin University’s Geelong broker of business and community partnerships, leading collaborative teams to enhance community engagement in Geelong and surrounds. Julie has connected and managed Deakin’s patronage of many key partnerships including the Geelong Cats, Deakin Cats Community Centre, Geelong Arts Centre – Deakin University Theatre Season, the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race and the Deakin University Geelong Business Excellence Awards.

Julie proactively seeks ways to unite all aspects of Deakin’s business and with the community, civic and business spheres by connecting Deakin’s research, student interns, graduate employment and teaching and learning opportunities.

She endeavours to facilitate Deakin’s support of many other organisations including smaller not-for-profit organisations and local iconic festivals like Pako Festa and Gala Day.

A passionate advocate for Geelong, Julie has been a Director of the Geelong Chamber of Commerce (2 tenures) and is currently engaged as a Director of Geelong Connected Communities, the Community Advisory Sub-Committee of Barwon Health and Sport in the North Advisory Committee. She has been an Ambassador for Project Love acknowledging her time as a patient in the Andrew Love cancer centre in 2011 and she is a Tourism Geelong and the Bellarine ‘MEET Geelong’ Ambassador.

Deb Fribbins: entrepreneur, author, speaker, strategist, mentor, business coach, and community volunteer supporter.
Deb is passionately committed to supporting small businesses to grow and prosper today and into the future, using her unique, simple 5 step process to break down all the barriers, both imaginary and real, preventing them from achieving their goals. With over 30 years successful experience predominantly in the retail sector.
Deb has been both a category buyer and planning manager for major retailers – Myer, David Jones, Target and Harris Scarfe – nationally across Australia, as well as an office manager for small businesses in a jewellery and a staff recruitment firm.
Her community work crosses a variety of charitable organisations as a founding board member for both Geelong Regional Cancerians and Elf Squad. She is a Paul Harris Fellow and Past President of Kardinia Rotary, working on the board for over twelve years.
As the manager of two Branches of Business In Heels for almost three years, she developed her skills at networking.
She was awarded the Outstanding Professional of the year by Cambridge Top Private Consultant of the Year by the International Association of Top Professionals. In 2019 she was nominated as Top Female Executive of the Year.
Time management, organisation and planning have been her way of life to achieve her goals.
Supporting the 17 Sustainable Development Goals to transform our world as set by the United Nations is a further passion she is able to support while supporting her clients through contributions to B.1. G.1 .”

Amanda Bennetts Director at The CEO Institute Geelong, she strategically invites elite business people who are in growth businesses to join.

No stranger to developing & growing businesses across the globe. As Chairman & CEO of a world leading fashion brand of boots, Director of a sourcing company based in China, developer of Café/Play centres, glossy magazines, events, business development companies, charities, Sydney Olympics, Insurance agencies, Real Estate, published author, franchises… she is ambitious, experienced and open to a challenge.

Nominated Telstra Business woman of the year 2014 and runner up in Chamber of Commerce & Industry awards as she has a passion for exceeding expectations.

I’m her early 40’s & already has a world of practical experience, which probably shouldn’t be a surprise given at 15 years old she was the youngest drama teacher in Australia running my own school, and hasn’t stopped since. Some say she has ‘ants in her pants’, but it’s this energy and drive that gets her the results.

In my spare time I negotiate how much chocolate is appropriate after dinner is OK before bed, with my 9-year old daughter and change the dirty nappies of my 3 year old.

Learn the HARD way or the FAST way, it’s up to YOU. Experience & setbacks is hard, the FAST way is learning from others who have done it before, & fast track your success. The right education has the power to change your whole life & the lives others.

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”


Nicola Wojcik  – Worksafe Stakeholder Engagement &  Communications Manager.

She has lived in Geelong for 16 years, but she has only worked in Geelong for 2 of those years. She very quickly established a solid understanding of the Geelong business community through her role as Manager, Stakeholder Engagement & Communications for WorkSafe.

She played a large part in the project team for integration of WorkSafe to Geelong and was heavily involved in all local partnerships.  She has recently moved to the role of Customer Experience Manager for Silica to help address the latest health crisis, silicosis.

Nicola spent the majority of her childhood in Perth where she completed a degree in Asian Studies, with a double major in marketing and Japanese.  She has spent time in the energy, water and mining sectors and in trade & investment with those roles seeing her work in Perth, London, Port Hedland, Melbourne and now Geelong.

She loves to be active and takes her love of sport to the Boardroom where she is a commissioner for AFL Barwon. She has been involved in the judging for the Give Where You Live grants, Pako Festa and the Geelong Business Excellence Awards.

Outside of working life, Nicola enjoys spending time with her family, reading and travelling.

Catherine A Middlemiss Director of Development, Marketing and Communications, Sacred Heart College. 

Proudly born and raised in Geelong, Catherine is a marketing, communications and business development specialist. 

With 16+ years’ experience in public relations and marketing, Catherine knows what genuinely drives community engagement and brand management, and how to identify market opportunities in order to develop and implement innovative strategic plans for the organisation. 

Catherine enjoys the challenge of delivering a variety of business development activities that further develop and contribute to the growth of the business, particularly those that expand on market share. 

Her most recent project involved developing strategic partnerships with Deakin University and three of Victoria’s leading industries resulting in a new and innovative revenue stream for the College. She recently completed a $2m capital campaign and is currently developing a $12m campaign for a sports and wellness centre, working with local and state government, and local and state sporting organisations. 

Catherine is a past chairman of the Signature Charity Foundation, a former Director of the Costa Foundation and a current Director of the Chamber of Commerce. She holds an MBA from Deakin University, has completed two courses with Harvard Business School (Disruptive Strategy and Leading Change) and recently completed the Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD) course. 


Libby Mears CEO, Leisure Networks

As CEO at Leisure Networks for the past 6 years, Libby has developed a reputation as a #culturefirst leader. Her passion is in supporting her team to be aligned to the vision and mission of her organisation and to make an impact.

She has a strong interest in supporting young women and women returning to work after children to develop their presence and maximise their impact as values-based leaders.

Libby brings to Leisure Networks a strong commitment to the organisation’s vison of capable, healthy people and inclusive communities. With a Masters Degree in health sciences Libby has held senior roles with state government, Barwon Health and the TAC along with eight years as an elected local councillor and Mayor.

 Under Libby’s leadership, Leisure Networks is going through significant NDIS driven growth. Libby has excellent skills in developing strategic insights into  leadership in times of change, stakeholder management, building strategic alliances and developing new business and service models.

Maree Herath Director Harvest Recruitment

With over twenty five years working in recruitment, Maree has significant global experience recruiting for some of APACs leading brands across Melbourne, Perth and Hong Kong.

Returning to her hometown of Geelong in 2009, Maree established Harvest to bring best-practice talent acquisition and Executive search to the Geelong and South West Victoria regions. Today, Harvest is a well-known player in the Geelong talent recruitment, Executive search and human resources field with strong experience in placing some of the region’s most difficult to fill roles.

Maree’s focus is on strategic account management and business development, but has a particular soft spot for recruiting across:- Executive search; Oil & gas and petrochemicals; Manufacturing and logistics; Transport; Engineering; Construction; Resources and energy; and Life sciences.

Fiona Cromarty Senior Manager Strategy, Risk & Performance TAC 

Fiona has had a long career leading a range of strategic programs primarily focussed on improving the outcomes of people who have sustained long term disabilities due to motor vehicle accidents.

In her current role, Fiona works to deliver a high quality research program that provides both insights and value to her organisation but also delivers improved outcomes for those living with the effects of road trauma. She is motivated by developing connections and finding opportunities for collaboration in order to develop new evidence and insights in the area of road trauma.

Underpinning her strategic management skills is extensive experience in leadership and operational management, and Fiona has a passion for developing and supporting those around her. 

Natasha Williams is an Executive General Manager at GenU. She oversees the Ability and Aged areas and has been employed with GenU since 2013.

Prior to this she enjoyed a career with the State Government for more than 20 years. Natasha is an experienced leader and manager in the disability sector and demonstrated her strengths during the trial period of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) in the Barwon region.

Natasha has achieved much in her career considering the struggles of secondary school and studying all those years ago. Natasha is highly qualified and is an influential leader at GenU in the Ability and Aged programs and a well-respected as a manager.

She feels enthusiastic and passionate about ensuring employees receive and are able to give genuine feedback. Natasha has become known for her “honest conversations” and coaches by sharing practical tips and analogies. She believes strongly in the proverb of; “giving a woman a fish and you feed her for a day; teach a woman to fish and you will feed her for a lifetime”.

Jodi Fuller is the Owner of Jodi Fuller Consulting and is also a Principal Consultant at TQ. Jodi has extensive experience working in Talent Acquisition and HR space across a variety of industries including Not for Profit, Education, Energy, Finance and IT. 

She has been involved with complex and high-profile projects that has led to significant organisation change.  Her recent projects have focussed on HR and TA process optimisations, implementation of a centralised talent function and an extensive review to design a future workforce model for a large government entity.  Jodi believes success to any project is alignment with the HR strategy and key business priorities, an engaged workforce and technology enablers that can support the process.

Jodi lives in Jan Juc, Victoria and her experience spans businesses all over Australia and within the Geelong region.

ome known for her “honest conversations” and coaches by sharing practical tips and analogies. She believes strongly in the proverb of; “giving a woman a fish and you feed her for a day; teach a woman to fish and you will feed her for a lifetime”.

Marnie Troeth is currently the General Counsel & Assistant Company Secretary at genU , a registered charity that provides disability, aged care, training & employment services, as well as retirement living, childcare, recruitment and labour hire services.   genU operates nationally, has over 3,000 employees and an annual revenue exceeding $320m, with its corporate support services based in Geelong. 

Prior to her in-house legal career, Marnie spent over 15 years in private legal practice.

Marnie holds a Bachelor of Laws and Bachelor of Economics from Monash University, is a graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors and recently attended a Leadership program at the Harvard Extension School.  Marnie has been a finalist in: the Women in Law Awards in the Not for Profit Lawyer of the Year category; Association of Corporate Counsel Awards in the Mentee of the Year category and the Law Institute of Victoria Awards in the In-House Counsel of the Year category.

Marnie enjoys contributing to her profession by mentoring the next generation of female lawyers and supporting women in business at all stages of their career journey.