The CEO Series: Leadership Observations From The Front Line
Interviews with CEO'S from the For-Purpose sector with Liska Turner
For-Purpose leaders are as diverse as the organisations that they lead. Every couple of months I sit down with a CEO where they share their experiences and thoughts on leading a for-purpose organisation. This month I had the pleasure of talking to Alexis Apostolellis, CEO at ASHM.
Alexis Apostolellis, CEO at ASHM
Alexis has worked in the health sector (both private and public) in Australia for the last 10 years, prior to that in South Africa also in the health and finance sectors for a further 10 years. He holds a degree in Chemical Engineering and an MBA with prior experience in finance and risk modelling. Alexis believes in the concept of a social business model, where good business principles are applied to maximise social dividends.
ASHM is a peak body (not for profit) representing health professionals in the sectors of HIV, Viral Hepatitis, other BBV’s and sexual health. ASHM is part funded by state and federal government with further reliance on in kind time donated by expert clinicians and community financial donations to develop and maintain resources, guidelines and tailored training packages for the clinical workforce.
CEO’s lead from the front. What are the most important decisions you make as a leader of your organisation?
My approach has always been to trust first and give the benefit of doubt to my team. It’s important to let your team know that you believe in them. Added to this, a transparent and open management style that understands and cares about grass root problems.
I am really fortunate that in my current and past CEO roles I have led really passionate teams who whole heartedly believe in the mission and purpose of the organisation. I believe that leadership in this environment often just means a gentle nudge in the right direction in helping to direct the passion to align with our strategy. For this to work, it is paramount that your key executive team are supportive and aligned to the same principles.
Culture was identified as a priority for 2018 in the 2017 AICD NFP Governance and Performance Study. How do you help a new employee understand the culture of your organisation?
I believe this should really start at the first interview. Everyone should be clear about why we exist, what we do and what we plan to do. Embedded into this process is how we do it and how we operate as a team in order to achieve our mission and objectives.
Team meetings, transparency, openness and regular townhall updates along with the core beliefs embedded are all key. Here at ASHM, we are very much a values driven organisation and rely heavily on the goodwill of many expert clinicians who donate their time and resources, so our culture needs to be experienced at all touchpoints.
No business operates in isolation. When you’re considering partnering with another person or business, what factors are deal-breakers for you?
My approach is always looking for a partnership approach – how can we both benefit and in turn help each other. Deal breakers for me are dishonesty and manipulation. Be upfront and open, this saves us all time. We work in a sector where the underserved need us, so anything that compromises this mission in my view is unforgiveable.
Succession planning is key to building a sustainable organisation. How do you choose who to promote?
I look for the following when identifying staff as part of our succession planning. Alignment of values, positive behaviour, walking the talk and dedication to trying to make things work even when the odds are stacked against us. Asking for help is a strength.
The role of CEO is quite unique. What advice would you give someone going into a CEO leadership position for the first time?
CEO roles can be very lonely at times. Find a mentor to bounce around ideas and also perhaps a leader who has been in a similar position to allow yourself to vent external to the organisation or the board.
You will make mistakes. If you don’t then you are not really being innovative enough and will not enable the organisation to reach its full potential.
Question the status quo when moving into a new organisation – be prepared for pushback on why change is needed, but work hard on bringing the senior leadership team on the journey – you need the buy in. Change is good but unfortunately all of us feel uncomfortable with change and instinctively resist without even realising.
What leadership decision are you most proud of?
I once respectfully withdrew from a bid after being down to the final two and invited to negotiate. The price difference was massive (ours was indicatively double that of the competitor). This was a major event and wining the work could have been a landmark make/break deal for the organisation. The work involved a large-scale study which required university ethics approval and, in my view, essential quality control steps to be meaningful.
Declining to compromise on quality and walking away proved to be the best decision. It resulted in us winning the work and maintaining our reputation because we refused to compromise on quality.
See all the latest updates from ASHM from their socials below:
ASHM is on LinkedIn here: https://www.linkedin.com/company/australasian-society-for-hiv-medicine/
On Twitter as @ASHMMedia (https://twitter.com/ASHMMedia)
And on Facebook as Australasian Society for HIV, Viral Hepatitis and Sexual Health Medicine (https://www.facebook.com/australasiansocietyforhivmedicine)
Liska Turner is an executive recruiter that specialises in the For-Purpose Sector. She works with Boards and CEO’s to build sustainable organisations through connecting people and ideas. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 02 9279 2777.