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Sue Murray National Breast Cancer Foundation

07 March 2011

\"People pose the suggestion: 'well, really, breast cancer has enough support don't you think'. I make no apologies, when 3000 people are dying every year from breast cancer we cannot say there is enough support.\"

Sue Murray is Puritanically passionate about helping healthy people stay healthy but she would never be inflexible. Besuited in a jacket and skirt in large red and yellow checks, Sue is a slim compact ball of energy, health and enthusiasm for life and making a difference.

I, on the other hand, am sniffling with a winter cold in grey – but feel better basking in her boundless passion for the work of the National Breast Cancer Foundation (NBCF) of which she is the reigning CEO. The warmth of the sun-heated meeting room in which we sit at the NBCF's newly fitted out headquarters in Sydney, also helps. The grey-black-white fleck of the furniture's upholstery offsetting the pale pink of the individual feature walls in the offices and meeting areas, has Sue's full approval as she announces, proudly, that it was done for them by the owners specially.

I get the impression that Sue knows how to facilitate to achieve positive outcomes consistently. And her record of achievement at the foundation supports my impression.

Win Win

In 10 years at the NBCF helm Sue has steered the organisation from a publicly supported foundation earning less than $1million a year to an entity that actively goes out to fundraise and generated \"$20million in 2009\".

The success has come through thinking about how the organisation can garner more support by delivering different activities out into the marketplace that reach new and different audiences. One of those newly identified target audiences is appealing to men through men's own stories. The percentage of men who care and want to share and support the women in their life who are at risk of developing the disease has huge potential.

\"It's a wider more diverse look at the issue. The organisation was devised to undertake research and translate that research into practice. The best way to manage breast cancer is through evidence-based medicine and to do that you need funds. At the research end we know that what we find out in one aspect of the disease cancer can in fact inform us about aspects of the disease in another cancer site.

\"We've funded a familial program for the past 12 years, and in 2009 the researchers published a paper that showed that people who carried a particular breast cancer gene are at four times the risk of the general population of developing prostate cancer. And there's a form of treatment for melanoma currently being applied to breast cancer.\"

Opportunity knocks

Sue sees her role as a facilitator and has done for all her working life. During our interview, she speaks often and passionately about watching for and taking opportunities, and her best advice to anyone starting out in a career – for that matter, anything – is \"be open-minded\".

\"Performing for Prince Charles was the catalyst for where I am today,\" says Sue in answer to my question about career planning.

I couldn't be more surprised or intrigued by her admission if she'd said the Prince's late first wife, Diana, had come to her in a dream and provided her career counselling.

\"It was back in about 1978. I was teaching Health and Phys Ed, which I'd studied at Wollongong Uni after school. I was at Bulli High School, which, while not a flashly resourced school, had a wide range of sporting resources that allowed us to give the students an experience across a real breadth of physical activity.

\"I took a group of kids to do this ribbon dance for the Prince. It looked spectacular because of the striking colours in the costumes and the ribbons but was incredibly simple.

\"It was a hit and I was asked then to be a delegate to a state education dance conference. It was there that I met Alf Colvin, who was to become my employer at head office in the state education department. Through him I met with Elaine Henry, who became my employer at the Cancer Council and from there, the NBCF board, which had decided around 2000 that it wanted to put a person into a fulltime leadership position, chose to invest their decision in me. Each of those people played a role in bringing me an opportunity, opening one door after another that I was able to step through.

\"I can't imagine an opportunity is ever going to get by me. What I mean by that is, if an opportunity comes my way to contribute to a job I'm in at the moment, then I won't look the other way.\"

The admission goes a long way in explaining how Sue found herself on the June long weekend this year judging Miss Universe Australia.

Most unexpected

\"Not in my wildest dreams would I have anticipated filling such a role. Like many businesses looking to align themselves with causes or community work that aligns with their customers and target audiences, the Miss Universe Australia business had determined that breast cancer is an issue that the young women moving into the competition have a concern around.

\"The organisers then approached us to set up a strategic alliance and so, in my role as CEO, I became a judge.

\"Initially, I had had some concerns, philosophically. But very soon after meeting the young women participating I realised that it meant a great deal to them and that they were doing this with every seriousness under the sun.

\"I thought about what the win has meant for Jennifer Hawkins and what it has brought about in her life and I watched the dedication of the young women in this year's competition and the potential it offered them and it gave me a very different context in which to view it.

\"As an entrant they have a community engagement responsibility, they have to be a part of and involved in the community and that means learning about public exposure and presentation. They are good principles.

\"All the women I interviewed had been through the competition at a local, regional, state and now national level. They were high achievers academically, in sport and in personality. The process had taught them public speaking, media awareness and engagement. It was a very positive experience.\"

For the NBCF the Miss Universe Australia pageant has real reach, reinforcing its name, role and profile in places it simply does not have the resources to access.

\"There are 33 of us in the organisation and more than 20 million Australians we'd like to touch. We need to utilise other avenues to do this and the competition's broad reach helps with that.

\"The pageant organisers also plan a program of activities for the coming year for the successful recipient and the foundation is able to fundraise alongside that activity. At the end of this year, the crown, worth around $30,000, is being donated to NBCF to fundraise with.\"

Doing the job

Passionate about the cause, Sue's an advocate of life-long learning and sticking to the job at hand. She makes no apologies for wanting to prevent deaths from breast cancer, reducing the 3000 a year to zero and then continuing the research to understand the causes of the disease to find the potential to prevent it.

\"I've got better at delegation. Having been one of two people in the organisation and then one of five and then 10, you have no choice but to be a doer. I am a doer and that has stood me in good stead for supporting and facilitating the work of the people in the organisation now, as a larger concern. I can supply the organisational framework for staff, but it's up to each of them with their skills and experiences to deliver on their particular aspect of the business.\"

Key Achievements

Taking the NBCF to a large, nationally successful organisation.

Producing Australia's first national plan for breast cancer research and funding.

In my time as the media manager at the Cancer Council, being identified in an independent study as the most reliable source of information on cancer for the media.

Personal Passions

Helping healthy people stay healthy.

I want to know I've been on this Earth and made life a better place.

My family and partner.

\"When it comes to people and what they can do, without a doubt we learn from the community. Often people will say to us, I'd love to raise money for you but don't know how. We can point them to a multitude of ways that people have devised to raise funds for us.\"

\"In this business you need to have initiative, discipline and resourcefulness, because as a community funded organisation you have to be able to do a lot with very little. Being creative with limited resources is something very important in the whole community sector. You also have to have a heart, be caring and compassionate. You have to want to achieve a greater outcome in terms of benefiting our society.\"

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