Inside Brisbane’s CEO Factory – How the QUT EMBA Keeps Producing Leaders


While the big corner office with a mahogany desk and private marble bathroom may be going out of fashion, the title of Chief Executive Officer (CEO) still carries with it great authority and respect.

For many young executives, the CEO’s job is seen as the pinnacle of their career and worth working decades to achieve.

While the pathway to the top spot in any organisation can be different for everyone who achieves the goal, one course at QUT Business School has gained a reputation as Brisbane’s very own CEO factory.

Ranked number 1 in Queensland and second nationally by the Australian Financial Review BOSS EMBA ranking in 2019 QUT Business School’s Executive MBA (EMBA) program has produced scores of leaders across all industries since it was first established in 1999.

Allianz Partners Acting CEO and QUT EMBA graduate Miranda Fennell

Miranda Fennell’s journey to the top job as Acting CEO at insurance group Allianz Partners is typical of many EMBA graduates and started with the wise words of a mentor.

After completing her undergraduate degree in Commerce, Miranda commenced her career as an accountant at a small firm in Deniliquin in regional New South Wales, before moving to Queensland and joining Deloitte’s Brisbane office. After stints working for Boeing and Virgin Blue, she started working for Allianz almost 10 years ago.

“I was a GM in the finance team and the CFO took me under his wing,” she said. “He encouraged me to look at undertaking further study to prepare for more senior roles in the future.”

“I looked at a lot of different programs but ultimately decided on the QUT EMBA because of the way it was structured and the strong focus on leadership.”

“The program is very focused where you just have three days on campus per month. There was a strong emphasis on the cohort experience — of going through the program with the same people — and, of course, the study tour.”

QUT Executive MBA Program Manager Tim Burton

QUT EMBA Program Manager Tim Burton said the EMBA was designed to facilitate the development of a deep understanding of personal goals and leadership traits.

“In addition to self-realisation and leadership, the EMBA program integrates fundamental units with more advanced elements that include organisational transformation, entrepreneurship, governance and corporate accountability,” he said.

The program culminates in an international study tour to one of the world’s best universities, MIT, or Europe, undertaking a deep dive with some of the world’s largest companies including Boeing and Amazon, and honing students’ abilities to meet the demands of a quickly changing globalised digital economy.

The 23-month QUT EMBA is offered in Brisbane and Canberra with classes scheduled once every four weeks over a long weekend from Friday to Sunday with the inclusion of a two-week international study tour.

Miranda said the diversity of the cohort and the ability to learn from other people’s experiences was one of the most valuable features of the QUT EMBA.

“There was about 30 of us and we were all from completely different backgrounds; we had engineers working in the mining industry, lawyers and a few people who owned their own business, so every conversation was an opportunity to learn.”

Miranda didn’t have to wait long after completing her EMBA to achieve her goal of becoming senior management and was appointed CFO of Allianz Partners Australia in 2016.

After a brief secondment into an Asia Pacific Regional Finance role for Allianz Partners, Miranda re-joined the Australian business in 2019 as the Chief Compliance Officer and was appointed as Acting CEO in September 2020.

Like Miranda, Deborah Henderson’s journey to the CEO’s chair was achieved shortly after completing her EMBA.

With a background in computer science and information systems, Deborah spent 25 years building her expertise in software engineering, data and analytics and over the last decade utilising her credentials in the data strategy, transformation and governance field.

“I noticed early on in my career that data was becoming increasingly vital for business success,” she told MBA News. “As I was moving up the ranks the questions became more about business outcomes and less about technology and there was a gap in shared understanding between business folk and technologists.”

After holding senior roles internationally with Accenture and locally with Avanade and Woolworths Ltd she decided to extend on her working experience in business with a clear goal – to help organisations bridge the gap from data and impact.

“I knew that if I could merge my technical expertise with a better understanding of the problems organisations needed to solve I could propose more effective solutions.”

QUT EMBA Debbie Henderson

After assessing multiple MBA and EMBA programs across Australia she saw the strength in QUT’s business school, with its practical real-world approach.

“Ultimately, the option to do a program with a tight cohort of people was what pushed me towards the EMBA and in the end, it turned out to be one of the best parts of the degree,” she said.

She had just signed up for the EMBA when she was selected as the inaugural Chief Data Officer for QUT.

“Working with the same people on each intensive was a great experience with nearly every subject relevant to my role and other students able to provide some of their insights.”

She believes the EMBA played a key role in being offered her first CEO’s role when she was approached to head up award-winning Brisbane-based data strategy and analytics firm BiTQ Services in late 2020.

“Having clarity in my values and purpose through the EMBA program I recognised the alignment and welcomed the opportunity. Together with my diverse experience in the field and what I have learned during the EMBA I feel I am well-positioned to lead them into the next stage of growth,” she said.

“More than just opening the door, the EMBA gave me the confidence to walk in.”

Deborah started her studies in 2018 and finally celebrated her graduation in late 2020 after some COVID-related delays to ceremonies.

“In hindsight, just about everything we learned was preparing us for this (2020) year,” she said.

“Undertaking complex problem-solving in the context of strategy, transformation and change to enable organisations to thrive and adapt with speed to the changing environment has never been more important.”.

For more information on the QUT EMBA please visit



Ben Ready
Ben Ready founded MBA News in 2014 and is the Managing Editor. He is a former business and finance journalist with Australian Associated Press (AAP) and Dow Jones Newswires in London. Ben completed his MBA in 2012 and was awarded the QUT GMAA Entrepreneurship Prize. He is also the founder and Managing Director of RGC Media & Mktng (