AMP CEO Alexis George on authentic and adaptable leadership
AMP CEO Alexis George emphasises that effective leadership hinges less on ambition and more on adaptability, consistent actions, and communication to navigate business challenges
In the ever-evolving business landscape, AMP CEO Alexis George is a role model for authentic, consistent, and adaptable leadership. Since 2021, she has led AMP with strategic vision and dynamic decision-making. Shaped by her upbringing in the small country town of Bega and an extensive career at the helm of some of the world’s leading financial services organisations, Ms George's experience and lessons in leadership bring a unique perspective to current and aspiring business leaders.
As a UNSW Business School alumna, having graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Commerce and Accounting, Ms George was recently interviewed by Ellen Derek, Managing Partner of Deloitte Consulting Australia and distinguished UNSW Business School Alumni Leader and Business Advisory Council member, as part of UNSW Business School’s Meet the CEO event.
In their conversation, Ms George spoke about the significance of personal and professional growth, focusing on taking risks and making bold career choices. Her leadership style, rooted in resilience and a commitment to excellence, also emphasises the value of continuous learning, authenticity, and forming strong connections with others.
Navigating uncertainty: the power of adaptability
Growing up in the small, green, pastured country town of Bega, in the South Coast region of New South Wales, Ms George brings a fresh perspective rooted in a passion for continuous learning, hard work, and curiosity about the world – qualities that have significantly influenced her leadership style. This influence emphasises authenticity, practicality, and adaptability.
Speaking to Ms Derek during the interview, she said: “I remember sitting outside the counsellor’s office in school going, well, I’m good at maths and economics, and then I saw something in one of those books that said, interestingly, you can work at Deloitte and go to part-time university, work full time, and then you'll get free education at the end. And I thought that sounds like a good idea. I'll apply for that.”
Inspired to further her studies at UNSW Sydney, where she studied accounting and worked part-time at Deloitte, she later landed her first role at PwC through the network she had built, where she stayed for six years working out of Sydney and London. Reflecting on her bold decision to eventually resign from PwC and embark on a year-long backpacking journey instead, she said she was more interested in travelling and finding a role with more direct influence. “I just wanted to be somewhere where I could have a direct influence rather than an indirect influence,” she said.
Returning to Australia after 10 months of backpacking in South America after leaving PwC, Ms George's career path took her to various roles worldwide, including BT, BNP, and ING, where she overcame significant leadership hurdles and challenges. Addressing some of these hurdles, she emphasised the need to be authentic while understanding and adapting to one's surroundings.
For example, reflecting on her time in Prague as CEO of Insurance and Direct Banking at ING Insurance Czech Republic and Slovakia, she led the development of a five-year strategy for the company: "We regained the top three market position through the launch of new products for new channels, increased our market share, and reduced our operating expenses.”
She lived through the global financial crisis in Europe with ING during this time. During her time there, Ms George again highlighted the importance of broadening horizons and understanding adaptability. “I think you've got to be your authentic self, but you've got to understand your surroundings and adapt to them as well,” she said.
“Someone will go, there's this problem… and then I realise I know nothing about it, but I will figure it out. So, I think having a bit of confidence that you're going to figure it out, you find the right people to help you figure it out. And you go on your journey,” she said. “I've been lucky enough to live in London, Prague, and Hong Kong. And I would say it was very important to broaden my horizons to understand adaptability.”
Acknowledging the uncertainties in the current business landscape, Ms George also highlighted the need for consistency. “You have to be nimble about what's happening, either economically or with technology," she said. "The world is very uncertain. We've got inflation… we're dealing with the past, we've got a strategy, you must be agile about what's happening, either economically or with technology, etc.”
Why doing your best matters more than ambition
Ms George also spoke about the rewards of being a risk taker, having confidence in one's ability to learn and adapt, and the importance of seeking help from others to pursue personal and professional growth. “I don't think I'm naturally ambitious… I'm competitive, but I'm not naturally ambitious. But I am a bit of a risk-taker,” she said.
According to Ms George, the importance of doing one's best consistently outweighs the role of ambition. She emphasises the significance of personal growth, continuous learning, and being the best one can be every day. “I try to be the best I can at what I'm doing all the time. Because I think that's important. You can destroy your own personal brand if you don't,” she said. “Some days, we're not all 100 per cent. Other things are going on in our lives. But I think just doing your best is really important.”
But you can only do your best with a strong support system. “You need people who believe in you and support you. And when you're thinking, maybe I can't do this, [they] will push you forward and encourage you to have a go. We all believe we can do it by ourselves, but we can't. We need to have people around us who support us, give us help and advice, and don't always have to take it. But at least listen. And I think that's important.”
Establishing trust: consistency and asking for help
Ms George also spoke about the critical elements of building a good reputation. It is very easy to lose your reputation, and it is very, very hard to rebuild it, she said. Reflecting on the role of trust at both personal and organisational levels, she emphasised, “That is one of the biggest things we have been working on at AMP over the last years.”
As part of building a good reputation, Ms George stressed the significance of making and keeping promises, noting, “It is about making promises that you intend to keep.”
Here, she highlighted the importance of transparency, urging individuals to be consistent and admit mistakes when they happen. “When we make mistakes, and we always do, admit to making those mistakes, own up to them, and try to do better going forward.”
In this way, conscious and intentional behaviour emerged as a key theme, with Ms George advising individuals to be mindful of their actions. “Being conscious of the way you behave when you start, when you come to work and when you leave is important. And just being an authentic person,” she reiterated.
Drawing from her experience as a CEO, Ms George also emphasised the importance of leadership consistency, stating, “You're being watched all the time to make sure that what comes out of your mouth is consistent with what you're doing.” Humility and seeking help were portrayed as essential traits, challenging the notion that leaders must navigate their journey alone.
“I'd like to leave the place a better place than when I started. That makes me return to work daily: seeing people develop and thrive and learn and progress,” she said.
Finally, Ms George's advice for emerging leaders focused on continuous learning and curiosity: “Being genuinely curious about what's happening and being constantly learning, I think that is incredibly important.” She discouraged an obsession with upward trajectories, encouraging individuals to instead take risks and diversify their skill sets.