Hall of Fame Alumni
About Me - My Biography
Audette Exel is a founder of the Adara Group (formerly the ISIS Group) and Chief Executive Officer of its Australian company, Adara Advisors Pty Limited (formerly ISIS Asia Pacific Pty Limited). The Adara Group was established in 1998 and consists of Adara Advisors, a private placement and corporate advisory business, and Adara Development, an international development organisation.
Adara Development focuses on health and education services for women, children and their communities in the developing world. They fund and manage projects for tens of thousands of people in extreme poverty; have a deep research pillar; and share knowledge locally, nationally and globally. Since inception, Adara has touched the lives of well over 100,000 people in need.
Adara Advisors was established as a “business for purpose” with the principle objective of supporting the work of Adara Development. The business has provided millions of dollars in core support costs to Adara Development since inception, allowing 100 per cent of all other donations received by Adara Development to go directly to project-related costs.
Audette is the VC of the Board of Steamship Mutual Underwriting Association Trustee (Bermuda) Limited. Audette is also a Non-Executive Director (NED) of Suncorp Group Limited, an ASX 20 company.
Before establishing Adara, Audette was MD of Bermuda Commercial Bank and is one of the youngest women in the world to have run a publicly-traded bank. During 1995 and 1996, Audette was also Chair of the Bermuda Stock Exchange. From 1999 to 2005, Audette was a NED of the Bermuda Monetary Authority.
Prior to joining BCB, Audette practised as a lawyer specialising in international finance with Allen, Allen and Hemsley and Linklaters & Paines.
In 1995, Audette was elected a Global Leader for Tomorrow by the World Economic Forum. She was the recipient of the Economic Justice and Community Impact Award from the Young Presidents Organisation Social Enterprise Networks in 2010. In 2012, Audette won the NSW Telstra Business Woman of the Year Award and was named as one of The Australian Financial Review’s 100 Women of Influence in Australia. In 2013, Audette was awarded an honorary Order of Australia for “service to humanity through the establishment of the Adara Group to provide specialist care to women and children in Uganda and Nepal” and was recognised by Forbes as a “Hero of Philanthropy” in 2014.
Sometimes entrepreneurs wait until they become billionaires before they begin giving to those in need. This is not the case for Audette Exel – if anything, the converse is accurate. Audette launched the Adara Group in order to fund Adara Development, a foundation that is underpinned by her philanthropic principles.
A core function of the Adara Group is to support and fund Adara Development. Adara Development has touched over 100,000 lives by focusing on improving health and education services in the developing world.
Audette is a non-conformist – her refusal to adhere to set conventions is what makes her such a dynamic and effective business leader. Indeed, if Audette had adopted a more ‘by the book’ approach, the world would be a very different place. Why?
It was Adara Development that negotiated the release of 136 trafficked children in an orphanage in Nepal. It was Adara Development that helped build a neonatal intensive care unit in Kiwoko Hospital in Uganda, after assessing that the high infant mortality rate arose from a lack of hospital facilities.
And it was Adara Development that was instrumental in improving access to education, after they helped build the Yalbang School in Humla.
However, what’s extraordinary is that all of this is just the tip of the iceberg of what Adara Development and Audette have accomplished.
Audette started her professional career practising as an international finance lawyer at the big law firms Allens and Linklaters & Paines. Instead of climbing the corporate lawyer ladder, precocious Audette –who had the capacity to progress to the position of partner – always had her social activist roots in mind.
Before starting Adara, Audette was the Managing Director of Bermuda Commercial Bank. 31 years old at the time, she was one of the youngest women in the world to have run a publicly-traded bank.
What is particularly admirable about Audette is the fact that she chooses to channel her immense intelligence towards social justice issues. Instead of using her formidable business acumen for personal gain, Audette wields it to improve the world.
With a plethora of accolades to her name (named as the Australian Financial Review’s 100 Women of Influence in Australia, awarded an honorary Order of Australia for service to humanity, and acknowledged by Forbes as a “Hero of Philanthropy”), Audette’s adherence to philanthropy has been recognised.
“My biggest failures have come from the times I acted alone. My successes have come from working in a team. Brilliant people have been by my side since the very beginning.”
Audette would like to share the importance of ‘purpose’ to other business owners: “I guess a key learning from me has been that it is critical to have stakeholders that are aligned with the core purpose right from the outset. People who have been part of the Adara journey who have had a different mission or objective to our core purpose have never worked out and have not lasted with us. Purpose lies at the very heart of a successful business, and it is far more than a branding exercise or a backward explanation of what a business is. If you don’t get the purpose right, clearly explained, and aligned at the outset, trouble lies ahead. So for me, its all about purpose first, purpose second, and purpose third! It’s the key.”
Strategies for Success
- Reject accepted orthodoxy – My journey with Adara has been contrarian. Many people are uncomfortable when we pursue ideas outside of the box. Establishing a corporate finance business for the sole purpose of funding the work of an international development organisation, challenged the thinking of many in both the investment banking world and, and the non-profit world. I am glad that I did not listen to the loud voices that told me “No!”
When I reflect on my career, often the most successful decisions I have made are those that were considered the wildest and most unattainable.
Through all the ups and downs, the mistakes and successes, I am very proud that today, Adara Advisors is an established and respected corporate finance and private placement business. Its sole purpose is to generate revenue to fund the core support costs of Adara Development, and it now funds a payroll of more than 150 development specialists. Over nearly 17 years, Adara Development has grown to touch the lives of more than 30,000 people a year.
- Humility – Humility is at the heart of all of our work at Adara. Only with humility that you can see your mistakes and work hard to improve. We never stop talking about mistakes and we never will! Humility helps you know your limits and have appreciation for the intentions, strengths and perspectives of others, something which is critical both when you are working with vulnerable communities and when you are doing the next great corporate finance deal. The minute you start believing your own press image, you are seriously in trouble!
- Courage – For me, courage is not an absence of fear. Throughout my career, with every big risk I have taken, I have been afraid that it wouldn’t work out. That loud voice of anxiety and fear has been a constant part of my journey. So for me, success happens when you ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’. Be brave.
- Find your passion – As someone who grew up as a social justice activist, I never anticipated that I would find a way to meet that passion with the tools of investment banking! I have been fortunate throughout my career to not only find my core passion, but also to find a way to use my skills to bridge the two sides of my life – social justice and law and banking.
So for me, a key to my success was firstly identifying what I was passionate about, and then finding a way to use my skills to pursue that. Passion gets me out of bed, even on those wet rainy days when there is something hard to face at work. It gives me boundless energy, and fills me with gratitude for a life where it sits at the centre of all that I do.
- Build a great team – Don’t imagine for a second that you can do this alone. My career has been built with a great team, working with a shared vision. My biggest failures have come from the times I acted alone. My successes have come from working in a team. Brilliant people have been by my side since the very beginning.
Adara is successful because we have built a diverse team of business professionals, academics, anthropologists, development specialists, nurses, doctors, philanthropists from all over the planet. You’ve probably never met a more diverse group of people! With a shared vision, we have managed to make a huge difference to communities in need over the past 17 years.