Single Mum and Real Estate CEO Wins Coveted Business Award

“The only thing you can’t fix is death. Everything else in life you can fix.”

Real estate executive, founder of not-for profit health organisation in Fiji, and single mum Sadhana Smiles claimed the title as 2013 Telstra Victorian Business Woman of the Year. She was also named the winner of the Private and Corporate Sector Award at the Telstra Victorian Business Women’s Awards at Crown Melbourne last night.

In her acceptance speech, the surprised winner who scribbled speech notes at the last minute upon her daughter’s urging said, “I believe women can have it all.”

Fijian-born Sadhana, who grew up in a culture where women weren’t seen as breadwinners nor capable of holding high-powered jobs, spent most of her life pushing boundaries and smashing ceilings.

“The only thing you can’t fix is death. Everything else in life you can fix”, she said.

Ms Smiles, CEO of Harcourts Victoria, has a track record of delivering strong growth during some of the real estate industry’s toughest times in the aftermath of the GFC. One of few female CEOs in her industry, she has led the Victorian franchise network of the international property group to revenue growth of 11 per cent over the past year. This followed a year as CEO of Harcourts NSW operations where she helped the business achieve 26 per cent growth in settled sales.

Before joining Harcourts Ms Smiles was a manager at McGrath Real Estate in NSW and Hocking Stuart in Victoria.

Working with franchisees, agents and customers she has set about developing a plan to help change consumer perceptions of the real estate sector and position the franchisees to be “as consistent as McDonalds and as energised as Virgin.”

“I believe it’s integral to the success of any business that leadership is conducted from the ground up, so I invest as much focus at a local level, as at a leadership one,” said Ms Smiles.

In 2013 she published a management training book titled People Power – did you have them @ hello? She also hosted Australia’s first Walk a Mile in their Shoes anti-violence walk in May this year that raised more than $30,000 for White Ribbon Australia.

Six years ago, the Suva-born Ms Smiles founded Links Fiji, a not-for-profit that focuses on health education and funds medical teams to visit villages in Fiji. On each bi-yearly trip, up to 1,000 patients are tested or treated for cervical cancer, diabetes and high blood pressure. Ms Smiles has seven adopted Fijian children.

Kate McKenzie, Group Managing Director Telstra Innovation, Products and Marketing and Telstra Business Women’s Awards Ambassador, said “The Victorian winners are inspirational business women with extraordinary achievements.

“Judges were particularly impressed by Ms Smiles’ ability to balance her business commitments with her international community focus.

“They recognised her achievements in making a name for herself in a heavily male-driven industry and also her involvement in organising community fundraising events,” Ms McKenzie said.

Sadhana’s advice to other women: “Get better at asking for things.”


Winners of the 2013 Telstra Victorian Business Women’s Awards:

Business Owner Award

Jo Fisher , Jo Fisher Executive, Melbourne

In 2002 Jo Fisher established a ‘next generation executive’ search firm with just a laptop and a good dose of passion. She now has four companies delivering executive search, professional recruitment support, interim management solutions and career transition services in Australia and New Zealand. Highly attuned to the need for workplace diversity, 46 per cent of all senior appointments the group has placed were women. Judges praised the way her business focus aligned with her personal values of giving women opportunity. They also recognised the strong and sustained performance of the business she had built from scratch.

Private and Corporate Sector Award

Sadhana Smiles, Harcourts Victoria ,Cheltenham

Community and Government Award

Natalie Collard, Australian Dairy Farmers Ltd, Melbourne

The career of ex-Army reservist Natalie Collard is dotted with roles of high impact and national importance. She managed an emergency post-September 11 arms control meeting in Paris and addressed the UN in Geneva on Biological Weapons. As CEO of Australian Dairy Farmers Ltd, she is helping to secure a sustainable future for farmers introducing an innovative structure and vision and diversifying and increasing income by 50 per cent. Judges described Ms Collard as consistently impressive and capable in all areas and noted her exceptional strategy and stakeholder management skills.

Business Innovation Award

Leanne Raven,  SIDS and Kids Australia, Hawthorn

For 25 years Leanne Raven has worked to improve the lives of others – as a registered nurse, teacher and in management. Spurred on by a son with special needs, she became CEO of SIDS and Kids Australia in 2007 and is now shaping its future to save the lives of babies. She acquired its first Federal Government grant to support bereavement services, revised the funding model, and diversified its income through online partnerships and sales. Judges said Ms Raven had turned the business around financially through online store innovation and enhanced fundraising and they acknowledged the international impact of her chairing the International Society for the Study and Prevention of Perinatal and Infant Death.

Young Business Women’s Award

Aimee Marks, TOM Organic, St Kilda

After identifying a lack of organic feminine hygiene products in Australia in 2009, Aimee Marks founded TOM Organic. A design student at heart she became alarmed by the amount of chemicals and pesticides used in manufacturing while redesigning tampon packaging to make the contents more secure. Ms Marks’s biodegradable and chemical-free product range, made with certified organic cotton, is available in Australia’s largest supermarkets. Her objective is to grow market share from two to five per cent. Judges praised the evolution of her product and brand as well as her people leadership skills and highly ethical business ethos.

2013 Telstra Victorian Business Woman of the Year

Sadhana Smiles, Harcourts Victoria, Cheltenham


More information on the Telstra Business Women’s Awards can be found at

Robelen Bajar

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