Debby Blakey has been named the 17th annual Fund Executives Association Ltd Fund Executive of the Year.

Blakey, who has been chief executive of HESTA since March 2015, said she was “so pleased, honoured and humbled to accept the award and join the past recipients I have long admired and respected”.

Blakey paid homage to the HESTA members, the majority of whom are women.

“There’s unfinished business,” she said. “Women retire on half the super of men, and we have an enormous responsibility to make a real difference and change policy.

“This award ultimately belongs to the HESTA members. Everyone in this room knows them. You meet them in your life: they are nurses, childcare workers or aged-care workers. You meet them on the best day of your life or the worst day of your life. As a fund, we know that as they are being that rock for you, we have the privilege of looking after their super. Their story is our inspiration.”

Blakey also acknowledged the value of leadership and teamwork, especially in times of difficulty, such as super funds are facing now with increased regulatory scrutiny.

“We have had to have strong alignment across the leadership team, challenge groupthink and at the same time work collaboratively,” she said.

In reference to the HESTA leadership team and the goals it has achieved, Blakey quoted an African proverb.

“If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

Blakey joined the $43 billion fund in 2008 as an executive leading the member advice unit and became deputy chief executive in 2012. She is a director of FEAL.

FEAL chair Jane Perry said the Fund Executive of the Year was assessed across five criteria: innovation, leadership, response to challenges, development of strategic planning and contribution to the marketplace.

Perry said Blakey was “a great example of a true, authentic values-driven leader”.

Tim Nation, head of institutional business at AMP Capital, which sponsors the award, said Blakey was a model for excellence, and that among other things she was being recognised for commitment and advocacy on diversity.

The award includes a $25,000 education scholarship.

The FEAL annual members’ dinner, where the award was announced, also granted two scholarships for the upcoming module at INSEAD in Singapore. These were received by Carly Carroll from VicSuper and Wayne Davy from Tasplan.

The evening also recognised a number of graduates from Melbourne Business School programs, undertaken through FEAL.

FEAL chief executive Joanna Davison joined Justin McMinn from HESTA and David Fraser from T. Rowe Price in receiving a graduate certificate in organisational leadership. Brnic van Wyk from QSuper and Michael Hegan from Maritime Super received a graduate diploma in organisational leadership, and Liz Brunetto from UniSuper graduated with a master’s degree in organisational leadership.