There are people you meet in life who appear able to overcome just about any obstacle placed in front of them. Andrea Galloway is one of those people.
Having experienced youth homelessness herself, Andrea has risen to significant heights personally, academically and professionally in the intervening years. Studying and graduating from college in the US, her corporate existence included successful stints as CEO of large information, communication and technology (ICT) companies throughout the Asia Pacific region over a 20-year period. But, when Affordable Community Housing Limited approached Andrea about an interim CEO role a number of years ago, it seemed like a challenge too good to pass up.
I’ve always had passion to build things and to create things
“I’ve always had passion to build things and to create things,” explains Andrea. “When I was in America going to university, and working over there, I went into a joint venture to develop some condominiums; about 10 of them. That was when I was in my early 20s. Later, when I took a break from corporate life, I built a number of properties in the Bonnells Bay and Morisset area [south of Newcastle in NSW]. I loved doing a little bit myself – I’m very handy – doing some renovations and building some properties and things like that. I’ve always had that passion. ”
“So,” she continues. “When I was approached to take on an interim CEO role for Affordable Community Housing, their whole agenda was around assisting people, putting a roof over their head, putting programs around them, so they could become more and more independent, advance across the continuum of housing and, hopefully, even get into the private market at some point. This really resonated with me, as you can imagine.”
When I started, we had about $7 million on our balance sheet. We now have about $350 million
Upon assuming the Affordable Community Housing role, Andrea immediately went about transforming the group into a company that could “not only provide those processes for social outcomes but also develop property and develop it for the long term.” Her modus operandus boils down to “keep reinvesting and leveraging against that investment to create more homes.”
“When I started, we had about $7 million on our balance sheet. We now have about $350 million. Getting to do that combination [of property development and positive social outcomes] has been absolutely fantastic,” reflects Andrea. “Because being able to be a part of that with my general managers of development, and the people I work alongside, is very inspiring for me.”
Apart from having fun with her two rescue Labradors and escaping the noise of the city for the serenity of the NSW North Coast, there’s another sizeable passion in Andrea’s life: tennis. A lifelong fan of the game, Andrea was handy enough on the court to earn a scholarship to San Diego State College and the National University in Southern California in the late 1970s. Originally enrolled to study Sports Medicine, she eventually graduated with degrees in Business and Computer Technology.
Andrea agrees there were worse universities to study: “It was a bit of a party school but it was so much fun because you’ve got your beaches close there and the weather and the environment. I was born and raised in Townsville, but [San Diego] reminds me a lot of Sydney.”
Andrea was so good at tennis she found herself juggling the demands of academia with maintaining a spot on the then-nascent women’s professional tennis tour. An ill-fated trip to Hong Kong, though, put paid to a life on the tour.
“I broke my ankle playing in Hong Kong,” Andrea explains. “I was 21, and there wasn’t a lot of women who earned money on the tennis court and there wasn’t a lot of sponsorships around. So you had to rely on either racquet sponsor or shoes or clothes, or whatever. My sponsor basically dropped me [after the injury] because there are a million other people who were 20 or 21 years old.”
But, as the old adage goes, when one door closes another opens. The 10 months Andrea spent overcoming and then rehabbing her angle injury gave her the opportunity to return to college, complete her studies and finally graduate.
Her sports dream may have been over but the competitive side of people like Andrea doesn’t give up easily. A few years later, after returning to Australia, a chance encounter with a past player from her time in the US inspired her to pick up the racquet again. While the spirit was willing, the flesh, as anyone who’s been in her shoes will attest, wasn’t as strong as Andrea has hoped.
“In the space of 10 or 15 years, your whole body changes,” says Andrea. “You can’t just go back and hit the ball the way you used to, and to realise you can’t do it the way you used to is quite eye-opening. I’m very interested in watching tennis and going to tournaments and stuff but I just don’t play myself these days.”
Each year in January, as the Australian Open rolls around, Andrea likes to travel to Melbourne to get her tennis fill: “I like going down in the later part of the first week because you get to see everybody play. You can also start spotting some of the upcoming juniors too, who are playing on the less-crowded outer courts.”
“I love seeing those up-and-comers,” she continues. “I don’t go down [to Melbourne] just to see the top 10. I go down to see everyone, and the changing styles. To me, it’s always about someone who has unique style that ends up getting through and becomes one of the top-ranked players. I love seeing that kind of stuff – the difference in racquet technology, all of that, I actually enjoy seeing that.”
From her perspective as a former professional player, Andrea has an enormous amount of respect and admiration for those at the top of the sport’s pyramid: “Roger Federer, to me, is an amazing individual and so is [Rafael] Nadal – both on and off the court. I think it’s a tough gig when you’re continually being pounded by people. One of the best athletes is Serena [Williams]. She’s got such ‘physicalness’ about how she plays and being able to come back, after the birth of her child, is pretty amazing. I admire people that can go to the top of their field like that.”
I have a great deal of respect, obviously, for Billie Jean King. What she does, not only in tennis, but also for women in general
When it comes to her all-time favourites, Andrea doesn’t hesitate in acknowledging the debts owed to the WTA trailblazers: “I have a great deal of respect, obviously, for Billie Jean King. What she does, not only in tennis, but also for women in general, and how she represents that and supports what women achieve. I think she’s amazing. And Martina [Navratilova], because of her flexibility, and she had a serve-volley game that brought a different playing style to the tennis.”
Collecting sport memorabilia also ranks high in Andrea’s interests spare. An old Chris Evert-Lloyd racquet, Serena Williams’ apparel and a signed Roger Federer tennis ball take pride of place in her collection.
“I haven’t collected in about five or six years now. I haven’t had time to look at auctions, and things like that,” she muses, while reflecting on her busy schedule.
It is the contribution she makes on a personal level to people’s lives that she calls the most satisfying part of her career.
Her responsibilities at Affordable Community Housing keep Andrea focused on housing matters nowadays. When asked about how she’d like to be remembered, Andrea confesses to wanting recognition in the housing industry as an innovative, out-of-the-box thinker who rolls up her sleeves and delivers. However, it is the contribution she makes on a personal level to people’s lives that she calls the most satisfying part of her career.
“What motivates me is the innovative thinking around providing housing solutions,” she says. “Being able to innovatively create that outcome for a diverse group of people is what really gets me out of bed every day. The joy has been in being able to put a roof over someone else’s head when we build something – complete something – see someone move in who’s in need but gives them a stepping stone required to assist people through their life journey.”
People who have taken up residence recently in our Harts Landing development have said it’s felt like winning the lottery
“People who have taken up residence recently in our Harts Landing development have said it’s felt like winning the lottery. In New South Wales, there are 60,000 people on the waiting list for housing. To see the look on their faces – to give people safe and secure housing, to see them participate, the impact it’s made on their lives – that feels so good to me.”
“Just to feel that you’ve assisted even one person, to improve their self-worth and importance, “ Andrea concludes. “That’s extremely rewarding.”