An enviable track record in business and a deeply personal appreciation of the tragic nature of childhood cancer drove Doug Cunningham into the role of Chair of The Kids’ Cancer Project Board.
On the wall of Doug Cunningham’s Sydney home is a large painting of an elephant called Faraja, a grand creature that lives happily and healthily in Kenya, in a wildlife protection facility enabled by donors. The picture embodies so much of what drives Doug today, and so much of what he and his family have lost.
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Doug and his family - wife Jay, daughters Phoebe and Stella and young son Murray - travelled to Nairobi and made the five-hour drive south to visit Faraja during the last few months of Murray’s life. He was five years old and 12 months earlier had been diagnosed with ependymoma, a rare form of brain cancer.
After an operation, cranial radiotherapy and further treatment, and a few positive months when tests showed Murray was clear of cancer, the disease returned in 2016. Murray had been sponsoring Faraja, and one of his final wishes was to meet the elephant. So the family embarked on a great adventure.
“He was such a positive kid,” Doug says. “He was sporty and happy. And then he was just unlucky. Murray passed away in June, 2016.”
In fact, much of Murray’s short life had been an adventure. Thanks to his father’s career, he and his family had spent many years travelling the world.
Currently Managing Director of Kimberly-Clark Australia/New Zealand, Doug has held senior management roles with Johnson & Johnson in Singapore and the USA, where he was General Manager of Walmart. The family also spent almost four years in Cape Town, South Africa, as Doug served as the company’s Area Managing Director, with another three years as Managing Director of Johnson & Johnson Pacific, in Sydney, before accepting his current role with Kimberly-Clark.
It took a year or two to “recalibrate” his life, Doug says, after losing Murray. One thing he recognised was a strong urge to use his skills to give back to people going through what he’d suffered. And so, he made contact with The Kids’ Cancer Project.
“I think in some ways running a charity is very similar to running a business,” Doug says. “You’re still managing a team and motivating people, you still have financial responsibilities and must make sure the business is solvent and sound and has targets set.”
“There’s also a lot of dealing with different and wonderful, passionate personalities, and I’ve done that in my work around the globe, too.”
“But really I’m proud that I’ve been able to show my daughters how important it is to give back to the community. They have run several fundraisers, cupcake days, at school for The Kids’ Cancer Project. For me, those lessons for the kids are very important. Life is not just about getting a job and accumulating things, but also about giving back to the community and helping people.”
The big challenge for the future, Doug says, is not only navigating through the challenges of the COVID-19 period but also driving awareness of what The Kids’ Cancer Project does.
“The more we can do that, the more people will buy into the philosophy around the science that drives solutions, which in turn drives survival,” he says. “This is a long-term play – it has been running for over 26 years and has funded over $50 million of research, with lots of wins along the way. Now we need to showcase what we have achieved.”