Toowoomba's Power 100.
Toowoomba's Power 100.

POWER 100: Toowoomba's most influential people - #1-20

THESE are Toowoomba's most influential people - the men and women who make the list of movers and shakers, decision makers and shot callers.

You will know some, others you won't, but they wield the power in our city.

This week, The Chronicle will count down the 100 most powerful people - online and in print. The lists will also look at our Famous Faces, our Young Guns, and our powerful Families.

Power is a subjective beast, so how can you compile a list of the 100 most influential people in Toowoomba without upsetting anyone?

Simply put, you can't.

But we can have a conversation about it.

Email your contenders to news@thechronicle.com.au or comment below with why they should be on the list.

And don't miss our special Power 100 special publication inside The Chronicle today.

20. Dr Mark Copland

Dr Mark Copland.
Dr Mark Copland. Bev Lacey

TOOWOOMBA'S own social justice warrior, Dr Mark Copland is a voice of reason in a politically-charged era challenging cultural diversity and the role societies can play in resettling the world's most disadvantaged.

The Social Justice Commission executive officer under the Catholic Diocese of Toowoomba is a strong advocate for multiculturalism.

A founding member of the Toowoomba Refugee and Migrant Support Service, Dr Copland has written extensively on human rights issues advocating for compassion and empathy, understanding and respect as a regular columnist with The Chronicle.

His considered views are well-respected, and his columns well-read as they tackle everyday issues to major human rights violations, and the lessons to be learned on home shores.

He is a member of the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council and the lead contact for the Toowoomba region.

A former journalist and published historian, Dr Copland worked alongside Bishop Robert McGuckin on his Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Reference Group promoting the Reconciliation Action Plan across the diocese.

He has written extensively on indigenous history, the stolen generation of Aboriginal children in Australia's chequered history, and led the campaign for the Toowoomba Second Range Crossing to be named after Aboriginal warrior, Multuggerah.

Dr Copland was an instrumental figure in Toowoomba being declared a Refugee Welcome Zone and championing the diversity and potential multicultural populations such as the Garden City's can have on enhancing the social fabric.

19. Maryanne Walsh

Maryanne Walsh.
Maryanne Walsh. Bev Lacey

CENTENARY Heights State High School principal Maryanne Walsh is a leader far beyond the school gates.

By clearly outlining expectations for both her students and staff, Ms Walsh has raised the behaviour and education standards of one of Toowoomba's largest, and its most diverse, schools.

The school is proud of the cultural diversity among its ranks, with 60 nationalities working together in a model for harmony that transcends the school yard.

For 236 of the 1660 student cohort, English is a second language and 120 have a disability, diversity which is celebrated across the school's three campuses, including its vocational TAFE program and the award-winning program at Flexi School on Chalk Drive in the CBD.

Ms Walsh speaks with conviction when she abides by her and the school's core belief that every child deserves an education, regardless of cultural or socio-economic background, and it's a stance that has earned her acclaim.

Recognising the pervasiveness of domestic and family violence, and the impact it has on students and in the school yard, Ms Walsh has played a proactive role raising awareness and educating her students to never stay silent, and has taken part in multi-agency community programs to break the cycle of violence.

Ms Walsh was awarded the Queensland University of Technology's Outstanding Alumni Award for the Faculty of Education in 2016 which recognised her long-standing and leading commitment to education and engaging with the disenfranchised.

She engages directly with the disengaged and demonstrates on a personal and professional level the necessity to be part of a team to succeed, and fights for their place in society.

18. Peter Hauser

Peter Hauser.
Peter Hauser. Kevin Farmer

TOOWOOMBA Grammar School headmaster Peter Hauser knows the importance of students feeling valued and understood.

And with 1220 young adults under his care at the prestigious private school, he's in a significant position to not just recognise it, but encourage it throughout his teaching staff.

As one of the highest paid educators in the state, Mr Hauser heads up an institution with a payroll staff of 300, including more than 100 teachers at the Prep to Year 12 campus.

The well-credentialled educator and highly-regarded school leader has been headmaster since 2003.

He has overseen the start of the school's largest development project since it was founded in 1877 with the $14 million two-storey state-of-the-art gymnasium which is part of a bigger 10-year plan about shoring up facilities for future generations of students.

The school's pool on Herries St was this year re-named the PB Hauser Aquatic Centre in his honour.

Under his leadership, Toowoomba Grammar School recorded a staggering $4.5 million profit in 2017, the second highest among the state's grammar schools, and he is a regular feature on the list of high-paid educators, taking home $503,000 last year.

Before moving to Toowoomba 15 years ago, Mr Hauser taught at a number of prestigious private schools, worked part time as a sessional lecturer in teaching and curriculum at Deakin University, and was the Victorian President of the Australian Council for Education Leaders.

But student development and welfare remain a core concern for this dedicated educator who draws on that experience daily and instils in his charges the importance of community and integrity.

17. Stephen Angus

Inspector Stephen Angus.
Inspector Stephen Angus. Bev Lacey

CALM under pressure, patient with the community and passionate about where he serves, Queensland Police Service Inspector Stephen Angus has helped Toowoomba grow into a safe city that is prepared, and able, to work together.

As City Patrol Group Inspector, he is one of the top officers in the Southern police region which covers a land area of almost 33,500sq km, a police force of about 1280 police officers and about 270 unsworn staff supporting almost 785,000 members of the public.

In 2014, he was awarded the National Police Service Medal which recognises the special status officers have because of their role protecting the community.

The Queensland Police Service states it represents a police officer's past and future commitment to give ethical and diligent service, and can be awarded only to those with 15 years on the force.

And Inspector Angus is not one to have rested on that laurel. In the proceeding years he has championed his community with honesty and integrity.

When fractions emerged in Toowoomba following the alleged murder of a young mother, it was Inspector Angus, and the respected officers under his command, who laid the groundwork for families across the region to begin healing.

He has been on the front foot of the city's proactive policing strategy, engaging with the community and bolstering ties with various groups in pursuit of the greater good.

In a nod to his seniority and experience, Inspector Angus has acted up in the policing ranks including as Acting Darling Downs District Superintendent.

16. Shane Charles

Shane Charles.
Shane Charles. Bev Lacey

BIG business and development found a champion in Shane Charles, the inaugural CEO of Toowoomba and Surat Basin Enterprise.

From atop the Great Dividing Range to the halls of Canberra and every level of government in between, Mr Charles simply got things done, either through securing vital funding for major projects or connecting the right businesses with relevant industry heads.

Now general manager of strategy and development with construction giant Wagners, Mr Charles has left a legacy of historic firsts from his tenure at TSBE, leading Australia's largest international private business delegation from Toowoomba to Shanghai in 2016.

That one flight, the first international passenger flight from Wellcamp Airport, put Toowoomba under the national spotlight for its ability to achieve beyond expectations of a regional centre.

A key government agitator to secure funding for the Inland Rail, Mr Charles was a loud voice promoting Toowoomba and the Darling Downs region as a location for the Federal Government's decentralisation scheme and, together with Food Leaders Australia, TSBE's sister entity which he helped form, has pushed for greater export market access into Asia.

Under Mr Charles, TSBE came into its own as a member-driven entity that worked for the regional economy in which it operates.

His pre-TSBE days were spent in the legal sector, laying his foundations as a community leader which has continued through to today as the Sunrise Way chairman, Royal Agricultural Society of Queensland president, TSBE chairman, and non-executive director at Energy Resources of Australia.

15. Steve Etwell

Steve Etwell.
Steve Etwell. Kevin Farmer

STEVE Etwell has set the daily news agenda in the Darling Downs for the past 12 years.

Respecting the power of traditional media, The Chronicle editor-in-chief has championed the Toowoomba community's success in a way only a tangible news source can.

Celebrating its wins, mourning its losses and fighting always for a fair go, Mr Etwell and the team he leads have been there for the region.

With more than three decades of experience behind him, he leads one of regional Australia's largest newsrooms with 18 journalists, publishing the daily newspaper and website reaching two out of three people in the region.

He pressed hard for the Toowoomba Second Range Crossing and Inland Rail, backed pivotal infrastructure and development, and held the Federal Government to account on social issues such as the Oakey groundwater contamination scandal - and backed the Wagners in their Wellcamp airport efforts.

Going from print to digital and adapting to the changing media landscape, Mr Etwell has extended the reach and availability of the daily news source.

From print to online, he and his newsroom have won prestigious industry awards including PANPA, multiple Website of the Year gongs and being named Editor of the Year in 2014 - the second in his career.

Toowoomba's voice is amplified through his efforts, most notably - and controversially - when he called on the front page for the Yes vote during the same-sex marriage plebiscite.

He has been described as a courageous editor - one not afraid to expose wrong and point out injustice.

He was awarded News Corp's 2018 global news scholarship, recognising his success leading a changing digital landscape.

14. Barry O'Sullivan Jnr

Barry O'Sullivan (right)
Barry O'Sullivan (right) Jodie Williams

THE refurbishment of the historic Knight's Laundry at the northern end of Ruthven St triggered the start of the area's reinvigoration.

Just blocks away, towards the Toowoomba CBD heart, Walton Stores opened up new dining potential and brought about a shift in the city's foodie culture.

One common thread between the two: Barry O'Sullivan Jnr and Newlands Group.

Mr O'Sullivan, the son of Queensland Senator Barry O'Sullivan, has established a reputation for original and trend-setting developments across the district.

The founder of Town and Country Industries, the forerunner to Newlands Group, Mr O'Sullivan is well respected for his ability to develop innovative solutions to meet client needs throughout various projects.

As Newlands' director and business development manager, he has been at the company's helm during its period of growth and success on projects - big and small - across the region.

They include the construction of food precinct, The Intersection, and building the amenities extension at Bunkers Hill State School at Westbrook.

Newlands also secured work on the highly-anticipated Highfields Sports Park, and the demolition and refurbishment of the Knight's Laundry site on Ann St.

For its involvement with the Walton Stores project, Newlands Group, along with designers Aspect Architects, earned a swag of industry awards.

In just three years, Newlands delivered $92 million of projects, with 80 per cent of work from repeat business with clients - an impressive feat for the company since its inception in 2001.

13. Jo Sheppard

Jo Sheppard.
Jo Sheppard. Contributed

JO SHEPPARD has reinvigorated the Toowoomba Chamber of Commerce since taking over as CEO in March last year.

Coming into the top role after what appeared to be a turbulent time for the organisation, right as Toowoomba needed its advocacy the most, Ms Sheppard has righted the ship amid a rising tide of development and prosperity in the region.

By taking the almost-120 year old chamber back to its fundamentals focusing on small business, she has boosted its membership numbers, strengthened networks and partnerships, and advocated for the city at a local, state and federal level.

Ms Sheppard has managed the commendable feat drawing on her extensive experience in business and civic service, and her ties to the Toowoomba region gave her a well-respected platform to instigate change and activism.

A one-term Paroo Shire mayor after eight years as a councillor, Ms Sheppard commands respect in a room filled with industry heavyweights and politicians, to mum and dad business operators - the bread and butter of the small enterprise sector.

It is respect earned through the various roles she held since leaving the council in 2012, including an advisory board member for the Australian Agricultural College Corporation, Toowoomba and Surat Basin Enterprise board member and general manager of Food Leaders Australia, and a stint as Toowoomba Clubhouse acting CEO.

In her latest role, she has supported calls for national tax reform, reduction in energy prices, promoted the value of healthy workplaces and called for transparency on the Toowoomba Second Range Crossing toll price.

12. Bishop Robert McGuckin

Bishop Robert McGuckin.
Bishop Robert McGuckin. Photo April Hildred

BISHOP Robert McGuckin is the leader of the faith for more than 37,300 Catholics across the Diocese of Toowoomba.

An internationally respected canon law expert and director of the Australian Institute of Theological Education, Bishop McGuckin has a spiritual and religious influence which extends far beyond the borders of the Darling Downs.

With unwavering faith in his flock, this highly respected and credentialled shepherd has guided the diocese through a politically turbulent period since he was ordained in Toowoomba in 2012 after former Bishop William Morris was sacked by the Vatican more than 12 months prior.

In the six years since, amid declining rates of Catholicism globally and at the dawn of Australia's Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, Bishop McGuckin has acknowledged the church's failings and been a leader to bring about change, locally and nationally.

The vice-president of the Federation of Catholic Bishops' Conferences of Oceania, Bishop McGuckin has called for action on climate change to curb rising sea levels and mitigate unusual rainfall patterns, and spoke against the Federal Government's treason laws.

Forthright and honest, Bishop McGuckin has earned the respect of people from differing faiths and beliefs, and been a strong voice at the table promoting multi-faith events and harmony in Toowoomba.

He is a member of the national committee which encourages better communication between the Catholic and Uniting churches, and also chairs the Professional Standards Office for the Catholic Church in Queensland.

11. Derek Tuffield

Derek Tuffield
Derek Tuffield Kevin Farmer

THERE'S no easy way to count the number of lives Derek Tuffield has helped change.

The Lifeline Darling Downs and South-West CEO gave away a career in the banking sector before joining the organisation more than 30 years ago.

For the past 17 years he has been at the helm and overseen its growth to employ more than 140 staff and be supported by more than 350 dedicated volunteers.

Affectionately known as Tuffers, this community giant has dedicated his time and energy to helping the vulnerable and those in need.

The myriad of services Lifeline run include crisis support, suicide prevention programs and community services, all of which rely on support to keep open and operational.

And this is how Mr Tuffield shines, where his passion is undeniable and commitment unwavering to shore up continued funding and support from governments and businesses, and those whose lives he and Lifeline have helped when they have needed it most.

In each case it has been with dignity and respect, unashamedly beating away misconceptions about people's circumstances and adopting an empathetic approach to each.

And that has endeared Mr Tuffield to the wider community and extended his influence across the region.

In recognition of his lifetime of service, he was awarded an Order of Australia Medal this year.

In addition to his work for Lifeline, Mr Tuffield has served on a number of community boards and committees, and served as president and coach of the Willowburn Football Club, as well as volunteering at the Northern Brothers Cricket Club.

10. Dr John McVeigh

Dr John McVeigh.
Dr John McVeigh. Chris Ison ROK160318cpineapple3

GROOM MP John McVeigh has enjoyed a meteoric rise through the political ranks in just 10 years.

First elected to public office as a Toowoomba councillor in 2008, Dr McVeigh was sworn in less than a decade later as Minister for Regional Development, Territories and Local Government in 2017.

His path to the Federal Cabinet followed a four-year term as Member for Toowoomba South from 2012 to 2016 when he served as State Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.

Resigning and nominating for Groom after former member Ian Macfarlane resigned from politics, Dr McVeigh was elected to Federal Parliament in July 2016, with a 65 per cent majority but a 1.16 per cent swing against the party.

Dr McVeigh's conscience vote on the same-sex marriage debate went against the majority vote in Groom when he supported changing the legislation.

The next month he was moved from the backbench and is now the Minister for Regional Development, Territories and Local Government.

Against a turbulent Federal Government threatened by citizenship scandals and the spectacular downfall of former Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, Dr McVeigh has chartered a somewhat smoother path through his first term in the Lower House.

But it hasn't been without its controversies, most notably of which is potentially yet to emerge with rumblings his progressive conscience vote on gay marriage has divided his constituent base across the sprawling electorate.

He lives in Toowoomba with his wife Anita and has six children. Born in 1965, he is the son of former federal politician Tom McVeigh.

9. Prudence Melom

Prudence Melom.
Prudence Melom. Nev Madsen

WHEN Prudence Melom speaks, everyone listens.

A rising star of the state's multicultural community, Ms Melom has faced more adversity in her first 23 years than most will in a lifetime.

Fleeing with her family the ravages of war in her native Chad, Ms Melom sought refuge in Benin, living for seven years in a refugee camp with no access to proper education or the basic necessities of life: clean water and edible food.

Her life changed in 2007 for the better when she and her family were accepted into Australia and together they settled in Toowoomba.

Ms Melom gained national attention as the 2013 winner of ABC's Heywire competition where she told her story in its entirety for the first time.

It gave her a platform to fight for change, raise awareness of life after refugee camps and put a human face to Toowoomba's invaluable work with refugees and migrants.

In her 11 years in the Garden City, Ms Melom has not only learnt English but completed both primary and high school and is studying a Bachelor of Law at the University of Southern Queensland.

This inspirational young leader firmly believes storytelling can change lives and this year officially launched E-raced, a non-government organisation which seeks to erase racism by removing negative perceptions and stereotypes that arise through a lack of contact with immigrants - a pursuit she tackles with energy and enthusiasm that yields respect.

She was named Toowoomba's Young Citizen of the Year and the regional achiever award winner at the Queensland Young Achievers Awards this year.

8. Phil Coorey

Phil Coorey.
Phil Coorey. Nev Madsen

PUBLICAN turned developer, Phil Coorey's indefatigable spirit for live music, a great night out and a vision for dynamic venues has transformed the northern end of Ruthven St.

Not content with running the Spotted Cow, where he built on Toowoomba's reputation for hosting major touring musicians, Mr Coorey looked across the road and was the first to develop the former Defiance Mills precinct.

Enter Blank Space, the chameleon of venues fit for rustic weddings and large-scale events.

Further extending the city's bar and dining scene, Mr Coorey has built anticipation for his next project, a rooftop bar atop the historic Westpac Bank building on Margaret St.

Operating under the brand Cooreyosity, the popular publican has enlivened the night scene with a focus on festivals and world-class live music within the city's limits.

Mr Coorey was a foundation supporter of Brewoomba, the city's first festival dedicated to craft beer which formed a catalyst for a myriad of other events that have helped propel Toowoomba's reputation as an events destination.

Just as the Spotted Cow holds a special place in Toowoomba residents' minds, so does it for Mr Coorey who has been involved in its operation and expansion since his family took it over more than 20 years ago.

While bigger live acts have been moved, for the most part, to Blank Space, it's the Cow where Mr Coorey has thrilled thousands with big names like British India, Ball Park Music, The Smiths and Regurgitator, and the venue quality which has seen the corner pub nominated for a series of industry awards.

"Whenever we have live music, it is always an awesome night," the affable publican said.

7. Gary Gardner

Gary Gardner.
Gary Gardner. Nev Madsen

HISTORY is dotted with men and women who capitalised on any opportunity presented to them.

In the latest pages of Toowoomba's history, and indeed in its promising future, one of the pivotal figures is FKG Group's Gary Gardner.

The company's executive chairman - a carpenter by trade - has helped deliver some of the most transformative projects in the city which have cemented its emerging reputation as a technological trend-setter.

The $40 million Pulse Data Centre has been built under his watch and anchors the Toowoomba Technology Park at Charlton where FKG is developing an Australian-first hybrid gas and solar microgrid power plant.

It's a landmark project that has caught the eye of investors across the country who now regard the Garden City as a major player in the tech space; a feat which is a credit to Mr Gardner's entrepreneurial ability to look at the larger picture.

And he's an affable boss, crediting his skilled team with investigating the viability of projects which have dramatically advanced the region.

Mr Gardner is among the second generation to steer the company through its impressive expansion in its 41-year history after his father, Francis Gardner, laid its foundations in Brookstead in 1977. A third generation is now involved in its operations.

With a buy local policy where possible, the company is held in high esteem and holds regular free lunches for staff, paid parental leave plans, and its Toowoomba headquarters is fitted with its own early learning centre for staff's children, as well as a swimming pool and gym.

Mr Gardner, who survived prostate cancer, helped found the It's A Bloke Thing Foundation which raises funds for cancer research.

6. Kerry Betros

Kerry Betros.
Kerry Betros. Bev Lacey

AS HERITAGE Bank chairman of the board, Kerry Betros oversees Australia's largest mutual bank and one of Toowoomba's most successful businesses.

Under his leadership, the bank returned a $56 million profit in 2017, has rolled out innovative technologies to meet changing consumer demands, and maintained its strong record of supporting the Toowoomba community.

Mr Betros is also the managing director of Betros Bros Holdings, the Darling Downs-based wholesalers and retailers chain which was established by the Betros family in 1938.

That enterprise in itself has earned Mr Betros a well-respected position in Toowoomba and this year he was on deck to mark his family's 80 years of operation in the region.

For his long commitment to the wider region and its people, Mr Betros was awarded the Centenary of Federation Medal for his distinguished service to the community. He has previously served on various boards and organisations.

He was inaugural chairman of Heritage Bank's Finance Committee and has been a director of the institution since 1991.

He was appointed to his current role as Chairman of Directors on June 21, 2012, and has been with Heritage for 27 years.

Mr Betros is well-regarded beyond the banking industry through the ongoing support for Toowoomba, its events and activities.

As the head of the bank, Heritage is an icon on the city's skyline, serving the region since 1875 and maintaining that same ''people first'' philosophy that has focused on delivering value to its customers.

And it's a tradition Mr Betros has never taken for granted, instead developing strategies to ensure the people are heard.

5. Geraldine Mackenzie

Geraldine Mackenzie.
Geraldine Mackenzie. Bev Lacey

THE futures of University of Southern Queensland's students are bright under the leadership of Vice-Chancellor Professor Geraldine Mackenzie.

Appointed to the role in 2017 after an extensive recruitment process, it was Professor Mackenzie's extensive organisational and academic leadership experience, and her international reputation, that saw her return to the campus where she was the foundation head of the USQ Law School.

Her commitment to higher education has been recognised through honours grants, awards and appointments throughout her career during which she has held senior executive positions at some of Queensland's most prestigious universities.

Professor Mackenzie is the former Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) of Southern Cross University where she established the office of Research and the Graduate School, and the centre for Organics Research.

Under her leadership in 2017, USQ generated revenue in excess of $320 million which has allowed the university to reshape its operations to address looming challenges of the Federal Government's university funding freeze which is predicted to strip $29 million from its coffers by 2021.

Appointed to a four-year term, Professor Mackenzie has set about ensuring that students at the Toowoomba, Ipswich and Springfield campuses continue to access the services and staff needed to pursue careers across the myriad study areas the university offers.

She is the Regional Universities Network Executive Women Group chair and non-executive director and acting chair of the PACT Foundation.

4. Clive Berghofer

Clive Berghofer.
Clive Berghofer.

CLIVE Berghofer is a man who has overcome adversity to make it to the top and, after 54 years in real estate and land development, he's opening his cheque book in a record-setting generous way.

The real estate magnate, property developer, philanthropist, former mayor and councillor has spent his life changing Toowoomba.

With an estimated worth of $374 million in 2017, and more than $200 million worth of undeveloped land in Toowoomba, Mr Berghofer still has plenty of influence and input left to wield across the city.

His influence these days tends to come more from giving money, rather than making it, and he does a lot of both.

His philanthropic pursuits have inspired other wealthy Australians to support valuable causes and, over the years, he's donated close to $100 million, including the single biggest charitable gift in Queensland history when he gave $50.1 million to fund the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute adjacent to the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital in 2013.

In 2016, he pledged $2.8 million to the Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children and last year was named a Queensland Great by Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk.

In recognition of his foundation support, RACQ CareFlight (now LifeFlight) named a helicopter in his honour in 2014.

Toowoomba is immensely proud of its home-grown icon who overcame dyslexia at a young age to rise to the top, generously giving back to his city.

Simply put, there are many charitable endeavours Mr Berghofer has backed during his life, but there is little doubt of the cherished place he holds in Toowoomba.

3. John Wagner

John Wagner
John Wagner

FEW modern-day pioneers can boast a legacy to match John Wagner's.

The eldest of the four Wagners brothers, he has been the face of the company in its proud Toowoomba region.

He is regarded as a pillar of that community, a captain of industry, a straight-talker with firm expectations of his workers, but a loyal boss and hard worker in return.

Mr Wagner's legacy will be Wellcamp Airport, the $250 million privately funded commercial enterprise that went from a few domestic flights to international cargo jumbos in just a matter of years.

It is the cornerstone of the Wellcamp Industrial Park, the under-developed precinct that was originally overlooked by investors who failed to see how businesses or industry could thrive in regional Toowoomba without greater transport connectivity.

Since developing the airport, Mr Wagner has helped transform Toowoomba's economy.

It was the flagship project for the company, the rest of which isn't as glamorous but by all means profitable.

While his brothers run the other branches, he runs the airport arm while remaining engaged as non-executive director.

It's a behemoth corporate climb for the man once kicked out of uni and who started in the company working for his dad driving a bulldozer.

Turning his influence to tourism, Mr Wagner helped form Tourism Darling Downs to boost visitor numbers, and revealed plans for a world-class motorsport park at Charlton.

After a prostate cancer diagnosis, Mr Wagner joined three of his business mates and founded the hugely successful It's A Bloke Thing Foundation in 2014.

2. Paul Antonio

Paul Antonio.
Paul Antonio. Bev Lacey

NO ONE could dispute Paul Antonio loves the Toowoomba region.

The two-term mayor and veteran local politician has become a key figurehead in a city experiencing unprecedented growth.

Charismatic, controversial and never without an opinion, Cr Antonio has built a media and public personality around hard yakka and community passion.

Yet he has also become known as a divisive and combative political opponent, who throws his political clout around with ease.

A former councillor and mayor in the old Millmerran Shire Council, he became a central figure in the fight against amalgamation in 2008 and, so strong was his presence during what was Queensland local government's greatest shake-up in decades, it helped get him elected on a newly-formed Toowoomba Regional Council.

He defeated the incumbent mayor Peter Taylor in 2012, and his standing as one of Queensland's most popular mayors has only increased since then.

During his tenure, the Toowoomba region has enjoyed incredible economic development, particularly in construction, health, education and transport/logistics.

A vocal advocate for the Inland Rail project, he rejoiced when the Federal Government finally funded the legacy project last year yet faced criticism when it was revealed he developed a map showing an alternative route for the rail, which ran right past a quarry he owned that could provide materials during construction.

Cr Antonio is a strong supporter of refugee resettlement in the Toowoomba region, declaring the TRC area as a "refugee welcome zone".

1. Denis Wagner

Denis Wagner.
Denis Wagner.

IF EVER a champion of regional investment was crowned, a hard hat bearing his family's name would be bestowed upon Denis Wagner.

A man with vision, tenacity, resolve and determination, the Wagners non-executive chairman is a clear champion of industry and the key influential figure of our region.

Mr Wagner is one to fight for fair, be that as a defender of his family business's reputation or as an industry leader chasing an equal infrastructure charges schedule.

The respected boss of hundreds of local workers, Mr Wagner heads the business which he and his three brothers John, Neill and Joe, and their father Henry, started in 1989.

As the public figure heading the company which has morphed into a national building and constructions materials giant, Mr Wagner wields considerable influence beyond the borders of the Darling Downs.

He is the driving force behind the company's continued success from its foundations as a maker of concrete, transport and logistics business, and heavy construction materials manufacturer.

It has built a wharf and developed the world- first low-emissions Earth Friendly Concrete.

It has opened offices around the world, securing lucrative contracts on far remote international projects.

It has been floated on the Australian Stock Exchange, sparking industry and market excitement.

It has built Wellcamp Airport, and is in the running to build two more, in Sydney and Central Queensland.

Mr Wagner has ridden the expansions with the company all the way as it has, in a very real sense, built Toowoomba.

But it remains a family enterprise and, working with his three brothers and the next generation of Wagners - which will be the third - the second eldest son is steering it well on the rising tide of development in the region.

He is fighting for fair, unafraid to take a stand against development charges that put some on an uneven level and sparked a chorus of other industry and business heavyweights to speak out.

That is the influence of Denis Wagner.

A powerful voice, but a considered one, and a business leader prepared to do what is needed to ensure regional cities, like his Toowoomba home, get their share.


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