20 years of vision to reality

20 years of vision to reality

As Executive Assistant to The George Institute co-founder Robyn Norton for the last 19 years, Kristina McDaid has had a unique perspective on the growth of the organisation.

Kristina joined the Institute in 2000 following a meeting in a café with Robyn, which set events in motion that would determine her career for the next two decades, and counting.

“I remember feeling very comfortable chatting with Robyn,” she recalls. “She had such a calm and gentle manner. I don’t really remember what we talked about – it was such a long time ago – but I remember being very excited about joining an organisation involved in medical research, a totally unfamiliar area to me.”

When Kristina came on board there were just 12 staff and three research programs at The George Institute: Heart & Vascular Diseases, Injury and Biostatistics. The organisation was based in a small office in the Royal North Shore Hospital, with not a great deal of room.

“We all squeezed into that space, Robyn and I shared an office – she sat at one end and I sat at the other,” Kristina says.

The Institute grew rapidly. A year after Kristina joined, it numbered 50 staff and moved to a “quirky” two-storey building at the University of Sydney, where Kristina says the beginnings of the Institute’s unique workplace culture began to evolve.

“Two new programs had been added – Policy & Practice and Mental Health – and we started having regular staff meetings, which everyone took turns chairing. Each meeting ended with a quiz, and a prize was given to the winner,” Kristina says.

“Already we had staff from quite a few different countries and we organised multi-cultural lunches to get to know one another, with everyone bringing a dish from their home countries.”

During those days, it was a small organisation on the rise where everyone knew each other’s names. Today, with more than 700 people across six different offices in four countries, it can be a challenge to keep up with all the rapid changes across an organisation that has become truly global in nature. 

“It has been incredibly exciting to be a part of it all,” Kristina says. “The growth in staff and diversity in research programs has been amazing, and it has all happened so quickly. From that one small office in Sydney to what we have today is remarkable.”

There’s never a dull moment providing crucial day-to-day support for Robyn, who travels constantly and works across multiple time zones to fulfil her complex responsibilities at the Institute.

“There’s a lot of variety and a lot of challenges in what I do,” Kristina explains. “It is never boring, that’s for sure and I never know what to expect as no day is like any other – it certainly keeps me on my toes!”

So what has kept Kristina at the Institute for so long? She says it’s all down to the inspiring people and brilliant work being done, with Robyn of course getting a special mention.

“Robyn is such an incredible person and so wonderful to work for – I couldn’t ask for a better boss!” she says. “But, everyone is so passionate, enthusiastic and committed to what they’re doing here. To be surrounded by such bright, dedicated and motivated people doing such great work is such a privilege.”

At this stage, Kristina has no plans to step back from her frenetic role and responsibilities anytime soon, as she continues to enjoy helping build on the Institute’s achievements.

“There’s no doubt the Institute has made a real difference around the world and that is a pretty special thing to be a part of,” she explains. “I am just so proud of Robyn and Stephen for following their dreams and turning their vision into reality.”

Celebrating 20 years: Kristina’s Top Moments

  • Being inspired: “I am assistant to the most amazing and inspiring woman, who is just fantastic to work for, and I am so proud to be supporting her, which I have done for the last 19 years!”
  • Sense of comraderie: “Over the years, I have found everyone to be very pleasant and helpful, which makes the Institute an exceptional and enjoyable organisation to be a part of.”
  • Women’s health: “It is great to see the Global Women’s Health Program starting to take off because I know that Robyn has had a long-standing commitment to improving women’s health.”