On paper, George Savvides, freshly awarded an AM (Member of the Order of Australia) looks like many other business recipients of high honours.
He’s been successful in business (he led the turn-around of a major listed company, Medibank Private) and active in charities (in his case, the board of World Vision Australia).
A key question to Savvides from a bold interviewer might be “has being a Christian made you do those things differently from how a non-Christian George might have done it?”
And his answer would be “Yes.”
His “go to” Bible passage is Luke 5. “The fishermen were busy repairing nets, there was no catch that day, they didn’t have time to sit idly and listen to this new young religious leader. Faith and work were separate, often as we experience Sunday and Monday today.
“Towards the end of that narrative, Jesus borrows the boat to do his preaching at the edge and then, having understood obviously the frustration of the workers, even borrowing their asset – which was fruitless the night before – he doesn’t leave them. He engages [with] the world of work and sends them out and instructs them as to where to cast their net. And so, we know the outcome.”
From that story, Savvides derives a deep conviction that our faith IS relevant in the world of work – that it’s more about what we do and not so much about attaching labels or particular words to it.
“It is actually connected and it’s really about who do you take in your boat, in your work,” he says. According to Savvides, striving to emulate Jesus and his example has been a better way to pursue work and life. He believes it ensures you are not serving your own ambition but remaining faithful to the mission and the team you lead.
George’s leadership journey has been to discover and hold on to the belief that when leaders genuinely care for the people and teams they are given to lead, serving and supporting them rather than forcing a top-down agenda, that leadership has the power to unlock transformation and high performance.
Savvides demurs about getting credit for the Medibank turnaround. Instead, he wants to share it with thousands of staff.
It’s common for business leaders to take a lot of the credit for the success of businesses they run. But Savvides demurs about getting credit for the Medibank turnaround. Instead, he wants to share it with thousands of staff.
“The ability to establish values and principles with your people, and trust that they are gifted, that through inviting collaboration and creativity you can solve problems that seemingly are not solvable.
“They’re all principles that are a mirror of what I understand my faith to be about.”
Savvides started as an engineer and evolved his leadership ethos through leadership assignments in organisations that were in crisis.
“Rather than relying on a hierarchical structure that is often far too slow and doesn’t really build trust, my style as an engineer was to do my work on the factory floor where I could directly engage people.
“I found a way of engaging the staff in a personal way, identifying with their concerns about ‘will the organisation survive’, ‘will their job survive’, ‘how can we work together to contribute to new ideas, to remedy the situation?’” he explains.
Savvides credits the Greek Orthodox upbringing from his parents for laying a good foundation. Savvides, 63, says he came to active faith through religious education classes at Mosman High School, New South Wales. He shares a high school Scripture teacher, Glenda Weldon, with Christian speaker and writer John Dickson, who led both of them, and many others, to a personal faith in Christ.
George and his wife Vivian are long time members of the New Peninsula Baptist church on Mount Martha, Victoria, where he served for a time as board chair.