The RACGP’s six CEOs in four years

5 minute read

It’s been a tumultuous half-decade for leadership at the college.

The RACGP is on the hunt for a CEO yet again, after Paul Wappett’s tenure came to an abrupt end on Thursday last week.

Mr Wappett’s interim replacement is Professor David Hillis, a former GP and experienced healthcare CEO, who is the sixth person in the job since long-term CEO Dr Zena Burgess departed in October 2019.

Here’s how the six most recent people to sit in the RACGP’s top job compare.

Dr Zena Burgess

Tenure: December 2008 – October 2019

Remuneration: $553,475 (FY19)

Total revenue: $83m (FY19)

Operating revenue: $6.9m (FY19)

Reason for leaving: resigned

The college was in dire financial straits at the beginning of the millennium, but by the time Dr Burgess arrived on the scene it was starting to turn things around.

During Dr Burgess’ 11 years in the role, the RACGP doubled its membership numbers and revenue.

She unexpectedly parted ways with the college toward the end of 2019, citing the death of long-term board chair Emeritus Professor Peter Mudge.

Dr Burgess, a psychologist by training, is now CEO of the Australian Psychological Society

Nick Williamson (interim)

Tenure: October 2019 – July 2020

Remuneration: unknown. The RACGP reports state that $1.4m was paid to two CEOs in the 2020 financial year. This would cover the end of Dr Burgess’ time in the job and includes any salary, super or termination payments made to her in the first three months of the new financial year. Given that the college didn’t specify what this amount was, it’s unclear how much of the $1.4m went to Mr Williamson.

Total revenue: $83m (FY20)

Operating revenue: $1.9m (FY20)

Reason for leaving: permanent CEO appointed

Following Dr Burgess’ departure, former Chief Operating Officer Nick Williamson stepped into the role.

As timing would have it, Mr Williamson was left holding the reins for both the Black Summer bushfires and the beginning of the covid-19 pandemic, the two biggest disasters to hit the health sector in decades.

The college was forced to cancel most of its money-making events but was able to qualify for the federal government’s JobKeeper payments and avoided the worst impacts.  

After stepping down as acting CEO, Mr Williamson continued with the college as general manager of membership and business transformation before parting ways with the organisation in December 2021.

Dr Matthew Miles

Tenure: July 2020 – August 2021

Remuneration: $588,162*

Total revenue: $90m (FY21)

Operating revenue: $5.9m (FY21)

Reason for leaving: resigned

Almost immediately upon taking the job, veterinarian Dr Matthew Miles was hit with one of the worst college scandals in recent history when a high-stakes online fellowship exam derailed in spectacular fashion.

Dr Miles was based in Sydney, despite most RACGP staff working in Melbourne.

He cited the difficulty of trying to coordinate between the two cities over successive lockdowns as part of the reason for leaving the role so soon after starting.

Christine Nixon (interim Executive Chair)

Tenure: August 2021 – November 2021

Remuneration: $48,750

Total revenue: $133m (FY22)

Operating revenue: -0.73m (FY22)

Reason for leaving: permanent CEO appointed

Former Victoria Police commissioner Christine Nixon stepped up from RACGP board chair to executive chair during the global CEO search which ended in Mr Wappett’s appointment.

She was first appointed to the board back in September 2016, and served as the first non-GP board chair between October 2019 until her departure from the organisation in November 2022.

Paul Wappett

Tenure: November 2021 – November 2023

Total revenue: $192m (FY22)

Remuneration: $636,874

Operating revenue: -$5.8m (FY23)

Reason for leaving: unclear

A lawyer by training, Mr Wappett has spent the past 20 years or so in leadership roles over a range of industries.

Most recently, he worked in the online education sector as CEO of Open Universities Australia and then as CEO at the Australian Institute of Business.

In March of this year Mr Wappett revealed the college was heading toward a $10 million operating deficit in the 2022-23 financial year. 

The RACGP’s financial troubles had been building for some time but were masked by an influx of cash during the early pandemic.

In a bid to head off the projected shortfall, the college cut 15% of staff. 

Under Mr Wappett, the college also restructured its membership categories in such a way that will likely see more members falling into the full fee-paying category.

The college ended up with a $5.8m operating deficit at the end of the last financial year, far smaller than the $10m originally anticipated.

Despite his seemingly positive performance, the RACGP announced that Mr Wappett was leaving the college on Thursday last week.

It has not commented on the reasons for his departure other than confirming that it was a board decision and that Mr Wappett had not done anything illegal.

Associate Professor David Hillis (interim CEO)

Tenure: November 2023 –

Remuneration: unknown

Total Revenue: n/a

Operating revenue: n/a

Reason for leaving: n/a

Professor Hillis, a former GP, has been appointed interim CEO while the search is on for Mr Wappett’s replacement.

Unlike Mr Williamson and Ms Nixon, Professor Hillis was not a board member when he was appointed interim CEO.

While his background is in medicine, Professor Hillis’ career over the last decade or so has focussed on research and medical education.

His LinkedIn indicates that he holds academic positions at both the University of Melbourne and Monash University.

He also spent 13 years as CEO of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons.

*Dr Miles received $361,539 in FY21 and $226,623 in FY22

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