In the service of others

Dr Brendan Nelson has chosen the vessels that Australian sailors would sail in to defend our borders, determined policy that would change the course of the nation, and joined the international stage as Australia’s ambassador to NATO.

The first in his family to attend university, progeny of a mother and father who had struggled to make ends meet, they pinned their hopes for their son on education.

‘I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, but I did a lot of thinking about it and came to the conclusion then that people who end their lives with the greatest sense of satisfaction are people who spend their lives in the service of others,’ says Dr Nelson (BMBS ’83).

‘I applied for medicine at Flinders University and it changed my life.’

Dr Nelson began his career in 1985 as a medical practitioner before going on to lead the Australian Medical Association (AMA).

In 1996, he was elected to the Federal Parliament of Australia where he went on to serve five years as Minister for Education, Science and Training followed by two years as Minister for Defence.

He was elected leader of Australia’s Liberal Party in 2007 and led the Opposition until 2008. After an extensive career in Federal Parliament, Dr Nelson served for three years as Australia’s ambassador to Belgium, Luxembourg, the European Union and NATO.

He then discovered the job of Director of the Australian War Memorial was to become available and for the first time in many years, sat down and wrote a job application letter.

After seven years of service, driving much reform and securing a $550 million redevelopment, Dr Nelson left the National War Memorial and was appointed as Country Vice President of Boeing Australia, New Zealand and South Pacific and Chairman of the board for Boeing Australia Holdings at the start of 2020.

Now based in London, Dr Nelson was appointed President of Boeing Global in late 2022. In his current role, Dr Nelson oversees Boeing’s global operations outside the US consisting of 30,000 employees across 50 countries generating $25 Billion in revenue.

‘Whatever I have been able to do and achieve I attribute to my parents, the Jesuits and Flinders University,’ says Dr Nelson.

‘I didn’t realise how privileged and fortunate I was to have the education I had received at Flinders University until I had left. In hindsight, I was so fortunate; I got the right lottery ticket.’

This strong connection was recognised when Dr Nelson received an honorary doctorate from Finders in 2011.

Dr Nelson has gone on to publish his memoirs in 2022, titled Of Life and of Leadership.


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College of Medicine and Public Health Defence and national security Medicine Stories

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