Northern Region Entrepreneur Of The Year™ winners revealed

Thursday, 13 September 2018

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The top Queensland entrepreneurs have taken home honors from the 2018 Entrepreneur Of The Year Northern Region awards ceremony held last night in Brisbane. Three winners were chosen from an outstanding field to go through to the next round of the 2018 program. These are:

  • Brett Ambrose – Ambrose Building
  • Theo Vairaktaris – Usher and Son
  • Jae Fraser – Little Scholars School of Early Learning

Also recognised in non-competitive award categories were:

  • Bronwyn Sheehan from The Pyjama Foundation – Social entrepreneur
  • Sarina Russo from Sarina Russo Group – Champion of Entrepreneurship

The finalists from Australia’s Northern Region will join talented entrepreneurs from across the country nominated for this year’s awards.

“Dedication, innovation, enthusiasm and a hands-on approach are all qualities shared by this year’s outstanding winners,” said Alison de Groot, Managing Partner of EY Brisbane.

“Each in their own way have turned traditional approaches on their heads to disrupt and improve the services they provide to their clients – and importantly to give their staff great places to work.

Jae Fraser provides childcare services that extend outside the traditional bricks and mortar to improve outcomes for children and their parents. Theo Vairaktaris and Brett Ambrose have both used automation and technology to improve their offers to clients.

Each of our winners has seized opportunities to build their businesses. They are all to be congratulated and thanked for contributing to our great state’s economy,” said Ms de Groot.

Rob Dalton, EY Oceania Growth Markets Leader said, “EY is proud to support growing dynamic businesses through a number of platforms, including the Entrepreneur Of The Year Awards.

“It’s not just a “branding” program, although this is important. It’s the culmination of a knowledge journey, from helping start-ups get started, through to celebrating growth and success of their businesses all along the way. EYs Entrepreneur Of The Year program plays a significant part in embedding entrepreneurship into society.

“We collect and collate critical data on success factors globally, and then feed this back to the entrepreneurial community to help these dynamic business people achieve their growth aspirations. This coupled with the wisdom they gain, the mentoring they receive and the connections they make is something that money just can’t buy. I encourage all up and coming entrepreneurs to look into how they can engage with EY’s Entrepreneurship program.”

Mark Toon, General Manager Corporate Financial Services QLD, Commonwealth Bank of Australia Limited said, “We’ve seen exceptional entrepreneurialism coming out of the Northern Region and we congratulate our finalists who will now go on to compete at nationals. They have demonstrated a breadth and depth of entrepreneurialism that is akin to our region’s growth as a national and global business hub. At Commonwealth Bank we are proud to support a program which encourages innovation and supports Australia’s future business leaders.”

The Australian winner will continue onto the global program, travelling to Monte Carlo in June 2019 to compete for the title of EY World Entrepreneur Of The Year.

EY Entrepreneur Of The Year is considered one of the world’s most prestigious business awards and is the only truly global program of its kind, taking place in 145 cities in more than 60 countries. More than 1500 dynamic business people have been recognised through the program in Australia since 2001.

2018 EY Entrepreneur Of The Year National finalists, Northern Region

Brett Ambrose – Ambrose Building

Getting the quality right first and then concentrating on quantity is the defining strategy for Brett Ambrose, founder of property insurance repairer, Ambrose Building. Brett and wife Melissa launched the company in 2008, when Brett won a subcontract with an insurance contractor after the Mackay floods. In 2011, the double-disaster of Cyclone Yasi and the Brisbane floods created a shortage of experienced insurance builders in Queensland. Without a contract for work, Brett gathered a team of “subbies”, loaded up ten vehicles and travelled across the State to repair 450 jobs. Brett has invested in automation: using his bespoke app, estimators can complete 12 quotes per day, rather than five. Automated invoice processing pays within ten days, ensuring subcontractors are happy to prioritise Ambrose Building over others.

What the judges said about Brett

Brett blew the judges away with the clear passion he has for his business, his innovative focus on technology and the subsequent disruption of the industry in which he operates. The judges loved his enthusiasm for his team and the culture of the business, and appreciated his hands on leadership approach.

Theo Vairaktaris – Usher and Son

Theo Vairaktaris dropped out of university to start his own painting business which, over 17 years, has expanded to include several trades. That diversification helped the company weather the global financial crisis, which put a halt to the construction of high rise buildings. Usher & Son provides painting, rendering, signage and decorating services for residential and industrial projects in Australia and New Zealand. It has also developed its own paint brand, Baxta. The Arundel-based company has eliminated the use of scaffolding, using swing and stage and mast climber equipment which is regarded as safer and more versatile, and has developed enterprise resource planning software for painters to take the guesswork out of quotes.

What the judges said about Theo

The judges were impressed by Theo’s enthusiasm, authenticity and creativity. Theo transformed a painting operation into a diversified business involving technology innovation and a paint brand strategy. The judges were also impressed with Theo’s direct influence in amending safety legislation in his industry in order to bring loved ones home safely.

Jae Fraser – Little Scholars School of Early Learning

When Jae Fraser decided to build his own child care centre business, he wanted to do things differently – offer something that no one else did. The result for families who use the Little Scholars School of Early Learning are innovations such as chef-prepared take-home meals for busy parents who don't have time to cook. There is a free bus to pick up and drop off the children to home, school or work and older children have before and after-school care. They were one of the first to introduce Bush and Beach Kinder, all of this as well as first class education and care. Previously general manager of Australia's largest ASX-listed child care company, Jae bought a run-down centre in Yatala four years ago. Now his business provides services to more than 3500 children across seven Early Learning Campuses and employs more than 180 staff. Jae also owns Edge Child Care Management which has six management agreements and offers consultancy for other operators.

What the judges said about Jae

The judges were captivated by Jae’s contagious energy and his love and passion for every child who attends his centres. Jae is a strong advocate for his people and organisational culture while also innovating and disrupting the child care industry to ensure his organisation becomes every parent’s best friend.v

Bronwyn Sheehan – The Pyjama Foundation – Social entrepreneur

It was the sight of a toddler, covered in bruises that moved Bronwyn Sheehan to create a charity that uses literacy to help children in foster care. Bronwyn, a nurse, midwife and business owner, put some of her own money into her new venture and launched The Pyjama Foundation in 2004. The charity is now mentoring 1450 vulnerable children every week. There are 51,000 children in foster care in Australia, a number which has doubled in the last ten years. The Pyjama Foundation Love of Learning Program has won a number of awards, garnered corporate and government support and inspired a large team of community volunteers.

Sarina Russo – The Sarina Russo Group – Champion of Entrepreneurship

In 1979, Sarina combined inspiration and desperation to open a small typing school with just nine students. On graduation, she promised all the students jobs and she delivered. Today, the Sarina Russo Group employs over 1000 staff and is a global leader in education, employment and training. The group also specialises in helping people with a disability into work, people who want to start a business, apprentices and assisting employers get the right staff. The group now operates from more than 200 global sites throughout Australia, the United Kingdom, India, Vietnam and China. A graduate of Harvard Business School, Sarina is a member of World President’s Organisation, Women’s Leadership Board, Cherie Blair Foundation for Women and the Clinton Global Initiative.

For more information on EY Entrepreneur Of The Year go to

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About EY Entrepreneur Of The Year™

EY Entrepreneur Of The Year is the world’s most prestigious business award for entrepreneurs. The award makes a difference through the way it encourages entrepreneurial activity among those with potential, and recognises the contribution of people who inspire others with their vision, leadership and achievement. As the first and only truly global award of its kind, EY Entrepreneur Of The Year celebrates those who are building and leading successful, growing and dynamic businesses, recognising them through regional, national and global awards programs in more than 145 cities in more than 60 countries.

The Australian Entrepreneur Of The Year awards program, launched in 2001, is conducted in five regions culminating in the national awards. The program honours entrepreneurs whose ingenuity and perseverance have created and sustained successful, growing business ventures. Entrepreneur Of The Year’s primary objective is to identify, acknowledge and celebrate the outstanding contribution entrepreneurs make to the Australian business community and economy.

EY encourages women to apply to enter the Entrepreneur Of The Year awards. The program supports women entrepreneurs to think bigger, gain access to capital, enhance their business profile, network, learn from their peers and find seasoned advisors.

The Australian Entrepreneur Of The Year program now has alumni of over 1,400 entrepreneurs who have participated in the program. Since the program’s inception more than 15,000 people have attended Entrepreneur Of The Year events and award ceremonies in Australia.

About EY

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