Therese Rein attributes her business success to an "inadequate sense of the impossible".
In receiving an honorary doctorate from Griffith University on Thursday night, the founding director of international employment services agency Ingeus, delivered a moving speech to a cohort of business school graduates, imploring them to see the possible in the impossible.
She recalled her father telling her "not to tell myself that I couldn't; always to tell myself that yes, I could".
The mantra has stayed with her throughout her career.
Ms Rein started the company in 1989 with $13,000, working in what she described as a small attic office in South Brisbane, on the site where the new Mater Children's Hospital is now under construction.
Ms Rein's personal wealth is now estimated at $210 million, with Ingeus offices in Britain, France, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland, Poland and also Saudi Arabia.
"If you asked me, 'Could this ever be something that you were doing on the other side of the world in so many different languages, in so many different cultures?' I probably wouldn't have thought that was possible," she said.
"What happened along the way, though, was we would work and achieve and get to a certain point and think 'oh that's good', and then we'd look up and see another vista and another sense of the possible and on we'd go."
Ms Rein described herself as a bowerbird of sorts. In her words, "a collector of strange and apparently unconnected points of excellence and ideas".
"I think I've majored in connecting those to solve problems that haven't otherwise been solved," she said.
She thanked her husband, former prime minister Kevin Rudd, for his encouragement.
"I had just resigned on principal from another company ... I went home and said to Kevin, 'By the way I've resigned today and I thought I might start a company, and I thought we might help people who are injured to get back to work so they experience less damage in their lives'.
"He said, 'I think you'd be good at this'.
"I'm deeply grateful for that Kevin."
Yet Ms Rein dedicated the honorary doctorate to her 86-year-old mother who sat in the audience last night.
"She taught me to believe in something bigger than I am and to have the courage to commit my whole and best self to doing something about that," she said.
Earlier in the evening, Ms Rein said she hoped to impart a sense of courage among the graduates.
"I hope people have courage and courage to hold true to themselves; to find something that really matters that they want to make a difference in in the world and the courage to use all of their energy to follow that dream," she said.