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Lifeline Macarthur CEO says it’s all about making a difference

Two years into the job as chief executive officer of Lifeline Macarthur, Brad Hannagan sounds like a man who has finally found his true calling in life.

“I wake up every morning feeling I’m making a difference,’’ he says when we sit down for an interview at Smeaton Grange recently.

“I spent a lot of my early career working for US multinationals, putting money in shareholders’ pockets.

“And now I am doing something where actually I am making a difference and it makes me feel really good knowing we’ve helped some Australians through a crisis,’’ Mr Hannagan tells me.

He was on the Lifeline Macarthur board from October 2013 and served as deputy chair and chairman.

Mr Hannagan was appointed CEO in July of 2018, which means he held the reins for a little over 18 months before the Covid tsunami changed everything for everyone.

But it’s obvious this CEO has been around the block a few times and sees the pandemic both us a challenge and an opportunity for Lifeline.

We’re here to help: Lifeline Macarthur CEO Brad Hannagan at right with shift supervisor Glenn Cossar.

“The call volume’s up by around 25 percent, quite significant, and the most recent data says 48 percent of all these people mention Covid,’’ he says.

“A lot of it is isolation – people who may have been struggling with their mental health and have now been forced to be in isolation and can’t connect – Covid’s made it more difficult for them to connect.

“We obviously have a vision of an Australia free of suicide, but failing that our job is to help as many people as we can,’’ says Mr Hannagan.

 “I think we have been very successful at doing that here in Lifeline Macarthur.

“We refer to our calls or call answer rate as our currency for non for profit, and if you look back three or four years ago we were answering 40,000 calls a year.

“Now we will in this next phase be answering 100,000, 120,000.’’

Mr Hannagan says Covid forced many organisations, including Lifeline Macarthur, to change for the better and that’s only the start.

 “A lot of our training was done face to face, and we didn’t believe it could be done successfully any other way, but Covid’s forced us down that way and it’s been very successful,’’ he says.

“We do a very good job and we punch above our weight in terms of the amount of calls we are answering and our financial counselling and our stores, but I’d love us to be more – to fund more feet on the street – talk to people more directly, and that’s our long term strategy to get involved in things like that.

“We’ll need to respond to technology more, as more people want to use text and chat rather than speak to people on the phone, so we’re seeing volumes in those areas grow.

“Longer term, it’s about responding to gaps in community services and while we’re a non clinical service now I’d like to see if we can provide some of those services to people who need them.

“But that’s a little way off just yet.’’

Brad Hannagan grew up in in Milperra but he is now an entrenched Macarthur region resident. He lives with his wife and four daughters at Mt Annan, a stone’s throw from the office at Smeaton Grange.

Lifeline Macarthur has experienced significant growth over the last couple of years, including in the number of volunteers with almost 400 currently in the books.

“In the last two to three years we’ve evolved more here in Lifeline Macarthur that we did in the previous 30 years,’’ he says.

“We generate 60 to 70 percent of our own income out of our shops, and the other 40 percent comes from government grants.

“We’re quite proud of the revenue we generate ourselves, because it enable us to fund all administration and back office,’’ says Mr Hannagan.

“When a donor or a philanthropist comes to me I can look him in the eye and say 100 percent of what you give us will be spent on the mission because we’ve covered our admin costs already.

“I think that’s where people get not for profits mixed up – your job is not to make money; your job is to make as much as you can and then spend it all on helping people.’’

My final question to Brad Hannagan is one everyone I interview gets asked: What did you want to be when you were growing up and is Lifeline Macarthur CEO it?

“It’s one of those things where I have reached that stage in life where you look back,’’ he replies.

“I never had any finite aspirations while growing up.

“I just want someone to write on my epitaph: Here lies Brad Hannagan – he gave his best.’’

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