Five minutes with… VicHealth CEO Jerril Rechter

Jerril Rechter - CEO from VicHealth

Meet VicHealth’s CEO for the past seven years, Jerril Rechter. The organisation is a pioneer in health promotion, which is sorely needed given two-thirds of Victorians are overweight or obese, half will experience mental illness and our physical activity levels are on the decline.

Tell us a little bit about your career path
After a successful career as a professional dancer, choreographer and artistic director, I’ve held executive positions at Leadership Victoria, Melbourne International Festival of the Arts and Footscray Community Arts Centre. I’ve also contributed to state and national policy development via numerous boards, committees and advisory panels.

Was such diversity a blessing?
Yes, not having a typical health background has given me a different perspective on VicHealth’s work and enables me to collaborate across sectors to create change. I believe the whole community can contribute to improving the health and wellbeing of Victorians and that new approaches to citizen empowerment and engagement require all of us as leaders to be more consumer and community centred.

Top three areas of priority for VicHealth in 2018?

  1. Obesity, mental illness and declining physical activity
    Two-thirds of us are overweight or obese, half of us will experience mental illness and physical activity levels are on the decline. We’ve come a long way in health promotion but we still have a massive challenge ahead in improving the health and wellbeing of Victorians.
  2. Young people’s health
    A particular concern – some experts believe this could be the first generation to have shorter life expectancy than their parents. In 2018, we’re aiming to get more young people active, eating healthily and make them more resilient to life’s challenges.
  3. Gender equality
    We’ll continue to drive this, particularly in physical activity with our upcoming This Girl Can campaign and in the workplace through our Leading Thinkers initiative. And throughout all our work, we’ll be prioritising areas and communities experiencing disadvantage and barriers to good health.

VicHealth has a goal of one million more Victorians experiencing better health and wellbeing by 2023. How do you monitor that?
We set an ambitious 10-year action agenda with a score card, which we regularly assess to ensure we’re on track to meet our goal.

Since you became CEO, what are some examples of the work VicHealth has done to remain a global leader at the forefront of health promotion and illness prevention?
Our designation as a World Health Organisation Collaborating Centre for Health Promotion Leadership; campaigns and programs to promote gender equality in sport and our partnership with Sports England; introducing behavioural insights to our work as part our Leading Thinkers initiative including the first large-scale citizen’s jury in Australia; and making family violence everyone’s business by undertaking world-leading research into the burden of disease and impact of violence against women.

What do you love most about your role?
I’m incredibly lucky – I get to wake up every day and focus on how to improve the health and wellbeing of all Victorians and make a difference in people’s lives. I have the best job in Victoria, collaborating with government, sports, arts, media, research, community, not-for-profit and private sector organisations, which means I get to work each day with outstanding leaders across multiple sectors.

Best career advice you’ve ever been given?
I once asked Lindsey Gaze, a VicHealth board member and sports legend (former basketball Olympian and coach), how he and his national players dealt with losing a significant match. Lindsey said that you just have to focus on making the next goal. A great lesson for leadership – don’t focus on what you can’t achieve, focus on the next thing that you can achieve.

Best business lesson you’ve ever learnt?
Think big and don’t be afraid to lead change. Keep innovating and look outside your sector for learnings.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years’ time?
Doing a job I love and continuing to make a difference.

Jerril Rechter’s vote for the top three inspirational Victorian health luminaries:

  1. Sir Gustav Nossal
    “He was the inaugural Chair of VicHealth, the 2000 Australian of the Year and director of the Walter and Eliza Hall of Institute of Medical Research from 1965 to 1996, for being a pioneer in health promotion – VicHealth wouldn’t be where we are today without his incredible leadership, passion and vision.”
  2. Rosie Batty
    “For her courage and incredible advocacy for family violence victims – her efforts put violence against women on the front page of the agenda.”
  3. Jason Ball
    The 2017 Young Australian of the Year for Victoria and former footballer, for his work in combating homophobia, particularly in sport, and for shining the spotlight on the impact of discrimination on LGBTI people’s mental health.”

CV Snapshot: Jerril Rechter

Jerril holds a Master of Business Leadership from RMIT University and is a Fellow of the Australian Institute of Company Director. She is also a recipient of a Centenary Medal, Tasmania Day Award, and Fellowships from the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust, Australia Council, Harvard Club of Australia, the Australian Davos Forum-Future Summit, and Williamson Community Leadership Program (Leadership Victoria). In 2017, Jerril was included in the inaugural Top 50 Public Sector Women (Victoria) list, which shines a spotlight on exceptional leaders and in 2016, she was named in The Australian Financial Review and Westpac 100 Women of Influence in the Public Policy category.