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"I've never felt like I was on my own"

When the University of Canberra’s Chief Operating Officer and Vice-President Operations Vicki Williams leaves at the end of the year – for a well-earned rest, while she figures out her next adventure – she believes her greatest legacy will be the strong, collaborative teams she leaves at UC, whom she has helped to empower.

In her 11 years of service with the University – leading first the Finance team, and then the entire Operations portfolio through challenging times – “I’ve never felt like I was on my own,” Vicki says. “It’s one of the most valuable things about collaborative working, and collaboration has been one of the core values of our portfolio since I took it on.”

True to form and practice, Vicki’s reflections on her years at UC are peppered with the individuals and teams she feels lucky to have worked with.

“Leadership is about seeing people grow and move through,” she says. “It’s about empowering them and enabling them to see the differences they could make, to watch them go on to make that difference.

“Relationships are very important to anything we do – I built them up early on, and encouraged all my teams to do the same.”

Clocking over a quarter of a century in senior leadership positions, Vicki has worked across areas like finance, human resources, information technology, program delivery and facilities and asset management in PwC, Walter Turnbull, Calvary Health Care, AirServices Australia, the Housing Industry Association (HIA) and Prime television.

She is also a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants, a graduate of the Australian Institute of Directors Company Directors program, and has contributed broadly to the higher education sector as a member of the Executive of the Deputy Vice-Chancellor Corporate group, a committee of Universities Australia.

Vicki’s career has given her a solid grounding across a broad range of business models – “But a lot of my career has been spent in the profit for purpose sectors, because I like contributing to something that contributes to the good of the community,” Vicki says.

That eventually led her to UC, when she became Director of Finance and Business Services in 2011. It was a full circle moment – Vicki had attained a Bachelor of Arts in Accounting from UC in 1986.

“I had never worked in higher education before joining UC,” Vicki says – but she knew that her alma mater’s vibe, values and impact resonated strongly with her.

“UC is so completely connected to Canberra, so much of what we do here has meaning for the everyday lives of the community – and I have always been a Canberra girl, through and through.”

In Finance – and later, in Operations – Vicki recognised that it was always about people first, and numbers and processes second.

“It’s really important to feel a connection to what you do, no matter what that is – are you proud to tell people that you work here at UC? That was always very important to me, and something I said to all my teams,” she says.

Vicki became the Vice-President and Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Finance and Infrastructure in 2016, and in mid-2021, she stepped into the role of UC’s Chief Operating Officer (COO) and Vice-President, Operations.

As COO, Vicki’s portfolio has encompassed Finance, Commercial, Campus operations and development, Digital Information Technology, People and Diversity, Quality and Service Improvement, Planning and Analytics, and Marketing.

“All of it has been about building and maintaining a good foundation for the University and I think we have done that, with strong teams in place,” she says. It’s this foundation that supports and enables UC’s teaching, learning and campus development objectives.

When the COVID-19 pandemic started to change the world as we know it in early 2020, Vicki was perfectly placed to steer UC’s operations through increasingly choppy waters – she has headed the Critical Incident Management Team (CIMT) for the past six years.

“UC’s COVID-19 response has been another great example of what people can achieve by working together,” she says. Vicki was away when borders began to close in early 2020, and quickly returned to the University.

“Then things started to change very fast, from day to day, and I realised that the COVID-19 response was going to have to be my main focus for that time,” she says.

“It was an intense time – a real rollercoaster! – but as with anything else, we simply needed to gather the best information at any one time, in order to make the best decisions. We got through it – and are still getting through it – because of the strength of our teams and keeping our community informed.”

Now, Vicki looks to a future which will still include the voluntary work that she has long done on various boards – and her connection to UC will remain, as she will continue to be on the Advisory Board of UC’s Canberra Business School.

She’s looking forward to exploring new trails – but first, a month down the coast awaits. “It’ll be the first time I won’t be on call, in a very long time!” Vicki says.

“I’m looking forward to seeing UC grow in this community, I think it has a very strong future and a role to play here. I’m leaving it in a good place – and in great hands.”

Thank you for everything, Vicki – this isn’t farewell forever, of course. It’s just ‘bye, for now’. And some of the many people impacted and influenced by Vicki over the years decided to have the last word(s).

Glenn Mowbray
Director, Strategic Planning and Program Management
Strategic Program Office

Vicki has shaped, led, inspired and motivated UC over her time here, working in and across many teams now falling under the Operations Portfolio.

She has always been personable, known and cared about you as an individual, before caring about what you brought to the institution and your teams – and celebrated our achievements as both people and as a portfolio, in an open forum.

And Vicki is honest and expects the same in return, providing guided direction and a supportive environment in which to learn, grow and win together.

Vicki has been a champion for streamlining service delivery, always focussed on the internal team to drive process improvement, and sharing expectations of data-driven decision-making to guide outcomes.

She has provided a voice of reason, stability, guidance and stimulus that I have relished for so long, having calmly led UC through a period of near constant chaos, many crises requiring new business resilience thought processes and the churn of our leader base.

She provided a safe space to try new things even if failure was an eventual outcome, supporting centralisation of accountability, collaboration and support. Vicki challenged us all to “poke the bear” and to be a part of the solution, whatever that may need to be. She reshaped how I think about people, process and place and helped me focus on being informed before offering opinion, thought or direction.

She offered me new opportunities – for which I am very grateful – and inspired me to new thinking and direction for both personal and professional aspirations.

In her time at UC, Vicki has coached and mentored many, evoked trust and communication between colleagues, inspired big thinking and collaboration with people, industry and sectors outside of the box.

She leaves big shoes to fill – but also a mob who is already marching in the right direction.

Melissa Hankinson
Director, Service Experience and Improvement

Vicki is an incredibly considerate, generous, kind and strong leader – and also a very stylish, warm and fun human!

I have had the privilege of working with Vicki ever since she started at UC, and I’ve always been amazed by the way she balances her exceptional common sense perspectives with encouraging innovation and questioning of how we do things. She has always given me the space to experiment and play, while providing supportive direction and guidance, and has unfailingly supported me through difficult and challenging times, while also being an enthusiastic cheerleader and champion.

Vicki has always had a special ability to know when and how to encourage me to take the next step, however uncomfortable or unsure I may have been.

Vicki was the real driver for the creation of a business process improvement function at UC back in 2016. I suggested the real need for an internal team, as there were so many opportunities for improvement, and said that I would love to be involved. Her response was to support me to set up a micro-team, to champion our fledging practice, and to keep providing a guiding light for us. This has led to so many of my professional career achievements and highlights; I know that without Vicki’s belief and passion none of this would have happened.

Vicki has been an exceptional role model as a strong and compassionate leader, and provided us with a template for future and emerging leaders. She has had a lasting impact building the strategic focus and professionalism of UC, while always considering the experiences of our people. She has anchored UC’s decision-making, overseen major change and planning projects, provided direction throughout the pandemic, and still been able to smile. Remarkable.

Wendy Flint
Chief People Officer, People and Diversity

Vicki is a thoughtful and inspirational leader, both of her portfolio and the wider UC.

Her calm leadership of the CIMT during the COVID-19 pandemic showed how considered and unflappable she is.

Vicki has always been there for me as a sounding board, both professionally and personally, and has continually supported me throughout my time at UC.

Vicki has steered UC’s finances through the challenging times of the pandemic – but if I were to try to quantify the kind of impact she has had on UC, there are just too many things to list!

Her reach is across  the University, from Payroll to Campus Development, and she will be missed by many.

Eric Wells
General Counsel and University Secretary

Vicki is a very principled, skilled and capable leader with the capacity to motivate and mobilise both her team and the wider University community.

She is a good listener, creative and empathetic with a great deal of emotional intelligence linked to the ability to communicate her key messages succinctly and clearly – working with her has been a pleasure.  Vicki is probably the best person to have beside you in any sort of discussion or negotiation – especially the tricky and complex ones!

I have always respected Vicki’s judgment and her ability to quickly analyse the most complex of issues. In this regard, she has shown her leadership skills and capability in dealing with several critical incidents affecting the University, including its response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Importantly, the best interests of the University have always been at the heart of everything Vicki has done.

For me personally, she has been a trusted sounding board over a wide range of University issues. I have enormous respect for her judgment and advice. We’ve developed a great friendship over the years and I’m going to miss her very much – as I am sure is the entire University.

John Owens
Associate Vice-President, Campus Estate

Vicki has such an impressive intellect and a great capacity for seeing and thinking through an issue quickly.

Couple that with very good judgment about how to weigh up courses of actionand how to proceed, and always provides very sound guidance.

She also has a real gift for explaining an institution’s financial situation – Vicki has been a voice of fiscal reason – and managed UC’S finances as well as she could during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In cricket terms, Vicki knows what to hit and what to leave – a good batsman knows that there are some balls he has to hit because otherwise they’ll get him out, and there are some balls he can leave to go through to the keeper.

Vicki has had a big impact on the campus development project, and has driven many Campus Estate projects; she was involved in big achievements like the University of Canberra Hospital and the Canberra Specialist Medical Centre.

UC will miss her – Vicki has been such an important personality here, and she leaves very big shoes to fill.

Professor Wendy Lacey
Executive Dean, Faculty of Business, Government and Law

Vicki has been fantastic to work with, an amazingly supportive presence both personally and professionally, and a wonderful sounding board for ideas.

An accountant by training, she’s really a strategic thinker – always across both the big picture and the little details. She’s incredibly well-connected, and stays calm in any circumstance.

I’ve worked closely with her on building the Faculty’s relationship with the Canberra Business Chamber and setting up the Canberra Business School Advisory Board, and she has been instrumental in connecting us with amazing people for the Board, particularly in terms of strong female representation.

Vicki will continue to be a valued member of the Advisory Board going forward, providing continued leadership to the Canberra Business School, including to our newly appointed Head, Professor Lorne Cummings.

I think that Vicki’s unique combination of strategic approach and appreciation of the finer detail has been incredibly beneficial for UC.

Louise Stevenson
Deputy Director, Financial Management, Finance

I would describe Vicki as an ideal boss – she is confident and can motivate people to achieve the goals that she has set.

It has been a pleasure working with her over the last 10 years, in which there have been lots of laughs – and some tears as well!

One incident that sticks in my mind is when we were doing the budget process one year, and I made an error in one of the calculations. Rather than getting angry, Vicki spoke very calmly – and said that rather than focus on what had happened, we needed to focus on how to fix it. I really appreciated the way that she handled this, and as a manager myself, it is something that I endeavour to do if I am ever in this situation.

I see the impact that Vicki has on UC – in particular with Finance – is that we are now seen more of a business partner, rather than the enforcer of policies and procedures. This has taken time to build, and it is one of the main areas that Vicki focused on when she joined.

Words by Suzanne Lazaroo
Photos by Tyler Cherry and supplied

Video by John Masiello

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