AIB Featured Business Leader – Thérèse Rein
Thérèse Rein has been in the public eye for many years, most notably as the wife of former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. But her reputation as a business leader and entrepreneur precedes that appointment, and it has carried her through the years following with barely a pause.
In 2012, Rein entered the BRW Rich List with a personal net worth of $210 million, which was notable both because she is a woman – only 16 of the 200 people on the list were female in 2012 – and because her wealth doesn’t come from an inheritance. Even rarer, Rein has found success within the welfare sector, which is heavily regulated and not known for its riches. Rein is the original self-made woman, a ‘super mum’ who has headed a multi-million dollar international company, raised a family and still found time for passionate advocacy of the many causes dear to her heart.
She was born in 1958 in Adelaide, the daughter of a former Royal Air Force Navigator. Her father had suffered severe spinal cord damage during a plane crash in the War, and was a paraplegic as a result. Despite doctors telling him that he would never work again, he became an aeronautical engineer and won gold as an archer in the first iteration of the Paralympics. Rein’s parents met when he was undergoing rehabilitation at a Sydney hospital: her mother was the head of the physiotherapy section. It’s little wonder, then, that the young Rein became interested in rehabilitation and advocacy for people with physical disabilities, nor that she inherited the same determination and ambition that characterised her parents.
After graduating from Australian National University in 1981, Rein married Kevin Rudd and the pair moved overseas to support his position as an envoy-in-training. On returning in 1987, she worked as a rehabilitation counsellor. Three years later, she founded her business, then called Work Directions Australia, which specialised in helping long term unemployed people return to employment – many of whom had suffered workplace injuries that had taken them out of the workforce. She did so with a $10,000 bank loan secured against the family home and little else. But the timing was good; throughout the 1980s and increasingly into the 1990s, successive governments outsourced job seeking services to private contractors. Work Directions became Ingeus – the name derived from the word ‘ingenious’ – and landed its first large contract from the Hawke government in 1993.
The outsourcing trend has continued not only in Australia but overseas, and in 2002 Rein and her co-founder Frances Edwards took the company into the United Kingdom. It expanded to France in 2005 and Germany in 2006, and now operates in ten nations worldwide. “I don’t like people being thrown on the scrap heap”, Rein has said of her ‘passion project’. “Enabling people to reconnect with their communities, to reconnect with independence, to reconnect with their potential – I think that matters.”
In the 2007 Australian Federal Election, Rein’s husband Kevin Rudd became Prime Minister of Australia. In the lead up to that election when it appeared all but certain that Rudd would be victorious, Rein sold the Australian arm of Ingeus to avoid the conflict of interest that would have arisen from the company receiving government contracts. After the sale, Ingeus continued to operate elsewhere, with 70% of its revenue coming from UK government contracts. Rein continued at the helm until 2012, when she sold the company to US firm Providence Service Corporation in a deal that catapulted her onto the BRW Rich List with a personal payday of $220 million. Rein agreed to stay on as managing director for five years as part of an ‘earn out’ package.
That role hasn’t stopped her from continuing with the philanthropic work that has earned her a Human Rights Medal by the Australian Human Rights Commission and an honorary Doctor of Letters from the University of Western Sydney. Her charitable causes include the Indigenous Literacy Foundation; UNICEF Maternal and Infant Health Campaign; OzHarvest Food Rescue; Ability First Australia; Arts Project Australia; ACT Junior Talent Squad for Athletes with a Disability and National Association for the Prevention of Child Abuse. Her own charitable foundation, the Rein Foundation, was started in 2007 when she sold off the Australian arm of Ingeus; regretfully for her, it had to be wound up a few years later, still during her husband’s tenure as Prime Minister, for conflict of interest reasons.
These days, the media scrutiny of the couple has lessened. Rein is free to travel with her husband and devote more time to her charitable interests, both of which she finds immensely satisfying. “I think there’s an opportunity to make a difference”, she says, and that’s one thing Thérèse Rein, businesswoman and philanthropist, has certainly done.
This article was written by Tanya Ashworth-Keppel on behalf of the Australian Institute of Business. All opinions are that of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of AIB. The following sources were used to compile this article: Wikipedia, Herald Sun, Smart Company, Sydney Morning Herald, Australian National University, Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and Women’s Agenda.
Photo credit: Ingeus