with greg layton

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In this Best of Series episode, we hear from the aspirational Geoff Lloyd, former CEO of MLC Australia and Perpetual Limited, on being a guide not a guru, clarity and focus, and having curiosity in your life.

We interviewed Geoff in early 2018 when he was the CEO of Perpetual Limited, a position he had held since 2012. Later that year he went on to become the CEO of MLC Australia, which was formerly a subsidiary of National Australia Bank and one of Australia’s largest wealth management companies.

Geoff joined Perpetual in August 2010 as a Group Executive tasked with leading the development and implementation of their growth strategy.

He was previously a General Manager at BT Financial Group following the Westpac Group merger with St.George Bank, and held many senior positions during his career, including Chief Legal Counsel.

Geoff was also the Chairman of the Financial Services Council and an Advisory board member of The Big Issue. He is now an investor both in Australia and abroad, and also the Chairman of The Fathering Project.

In this episode, you’re going to hear Geoff talk about:

  • Lessons from an early career in the police force;
  • What drives his ambition and using curiosity to create change;
  • The hallmarks of his leadership, namely being a guide not a guru, and having courage and conviction; and
  • Why complexity kills businesses, but can be avoided by creating clarity and focus.

Connecting with Geoff Lloyd

You can connect with Geoff via LinkedIn.

Books and resources


“High performers create a track record and they can leave the room and it speaks for itself. Think about how the story would tell itself, not the way you would tell the story.”


On what he learnt from the police force

  • In the police force, I got to learn a lot about people and what I still take with me is that you don’t judge too quickly. Take the time to step back and see what else might be going on, what’s driving an outcome, because what you see is normally just the surface of a thing.
  • When it involves people in complex environments, there’s always emotion. So just ask questions and observe.

On taking a risk and moving interstate

  • It was the first time I learned about stretching myself out of my comfort zone, and how it can lead to just so many unforeseen, unplanned, unexpected outcomes.
  • That was probably the first time I’ve learned that as you actually stretch yourself and take real risk, it is not just a little bit that comes from that. It is quite amazing and you really don’t know what you can achieve until you’ve tried.

On what drives him internally to be so aspirational

  • I’ve learned for a long time that there’s always evidence of how you can keep getting better and you just don’t know what you can achieve. And so having that mindset, of being curious…if you aren’t finding evidence and keep getting better, then you’re going to plateau. For me it’s about looking forward, being curious. 
  • If I don’t have a 110 percent passion and energy for something, it becomes 50 percent and so I need to be operating at that level to truly find rewarding outcomes, whether it’s philanthropic, social, business or family.

On imposter syndrome

  • Yeah, I do. If you can’t look in the mirror and get a bit paranoid, then you’re probably not able to really find evidence of how to keep getting better. I’ve tried to find different times in my career where I’ve hit inflection points and probably the most successful times, the more paranoid I get.
  • You’ve got to have enough confidence to know you’re going to be able to follow on to what the next challenge is… I get energy from others. So, getting access to and making sure I’ve got the right network, that’s really important.
  • I’ve always had this philosophy that you’ve got to hire the best people you can, and listen to them, trust them, invest in them and then make sure you’re having some fun along the way, you know, because it's a very serious game that we play.
  • If you can get that sort of talent around you then your job as a leader is really about being their guide rather than do or carry out the activity. Great leaders are able to step back and be able to motivate people through how they give them that guidance and help set direction and boundaries.

On switching into more broader roles with a view to becoming a CEO

  • I actually started to think differently about my career and stretch myself beyond being tall and skinny in a career or a profession, to being broad, hence the General Counsel role I took.
  • I realised that the goal was to grow skills and experience over the next three to five years rather than obtain a particular job. If you just go off the job titles, you might never know how good you can be and how different the work that you can do will be.
  • The step up to CEO was quite different because, as much as I’ve worked in large organisations and ran much bigger teams in the past than at Perpetual, when you become the CEO, there’s nobody else that’s coming. It’s words that we’ve used around the executive team: “Nobody’s coming. It’s us.” You run two and a half thousand people in a bank, there’s always somebody else who you can ask or who the decision can go to. So the big gap is…Nobody’s coming.

On some tough feedback that really rang true

  • BT was a very driven meritocracy with an enormous amount of opportunity. So running too fast can happen and it happened for me. And so learning about not stepping on others around you, but picking others up around you is what you’re going to be judged for.
  • And it takes time. Actually, there’s no shortcuts to hard work. I’ve tried lots of them but it’s just about hard work. It’s actually about focus and it’s about making sure that you’re true to yourself.
  • Don’t try to be somebody else. I’ve worked for some great leaders and I’ve picked up their characteristics and often said, “Oh, well, I can be like that”. And you can’t be, you can pick up those characteristics and learn from them. But then you have got to be you again. Today we would talk about authentic leadership. You just have to be, you.

On the principle ‘Ownership Precedes Victory’

  • You’ve got to have courage otherwise you’re not going to keep challenging yourself. If you don’t, you’re not going to keep challenging your team, you’re not going to take the right amount of risk and you won’t see the other sides of the benefit that can come with that risk.
  • So make sure you’ve got the courage and conviction of something you’ve started to create change.

On how he stays focused

  • I suspect that at Perpetual I will be remembered for at least two words: “clarity” and “focus.”
  • I believe complexity kills businesses. I’m a big believer that quality businesses can’t do lots of things. What are the few things that you can do incredibly well and be the leader at?
  • And then once you become a leader at anything, it’s very hard to stay there. Everyone’s coming after you.
  • For us at Perpetual and for me it’s about clarity on a few things. Do them really well and then move to the next few things. Try not to be distracted by a long list; we try to prioritise on what we can do and then draw a line under number three. And you know, often the team will hear me say, just tell me the top two. Actually, I’m not even interested in the third.
  • We also had to try to focus on what we’re not going to do and write that down because a lot of businesses are good at telling you what they do, but if you can articulate what you’re not going to do, it brings more clarity to that focus around what you’re going to do.

On where middle and senior management waste time and effort

  • Getting too much into the detail. If you’re a leader, you’ve got to have three hats. You’ve got to do work, improve your work and lead your team. And you’ve got to have, at least a third of each of those….So you’ve got to dedicate time and focus to leadership, not just doing. It’s easy to go back to the doing. You know, I had somebody put it in my mind a long time ago, the phrase, “Being a guide, not a guru.”
  • As you become more of a leader, your sole job is leading, not doing. So the job is to guide people not to be the technical guru. It took me a long time to learn that. As a lawyer, you want to be the smartest person in the room when it comes to the topic on ‘x of the law’. And that’s not your job, even as the General Counsel, because my job was to hire the smartest people in the room, trust them, invest them, listen to them, guide them as it was their job to be smart, not mine.

On the importance of having a network

  • It’s vital. I also chair the Financial Services Council now, a leading industry body and one of the things we’ve reintroduced is a group called ‘The Circuit’. I call it the 30-somethings and it’s actually about bringing interesting topics to a forum of 40 to 100 of all of our members’ staff.

On the most important thing he learned at Harvard

  • How bad Australians are at negotiation. That was a really big part of that program and just seeing our cultural norms. We are ranked in the bottom five countries in the world in negotiation!

On seeing his company’s share price go from $19 to $50 and building a track record

  • I’ve worked with a gentleman named Andy Meikle who has left a couple of thoughts with me over the years and one was that high performers create a track record that you can leave on the table and they can leave the room and it speaks for itself.
  • It is important to be able to think about how the story would tell itself, not the way you would tell the story. And that doesn’t have to be about share price growth.

On the difference between Change and Transformation

  • Change is what happens to you, but Transformation is what you do to yourself.
  • So with Change, you react to your competitor. They put out a new product, you react.
  • Transformations are where you have that honest, courageous look and say we’re going to go from x to y and it’s going to be tough and we’re going to have to have clarity, courage, and control, which are three words we used a lot. Clarity of what we would or wouldn’t do, control because the market is going to tell us what’s wrong, and we also needed to keep the courage to hold the course because we couldn’t possibly plan for everything to that level of detail.

On defining a GREAT Chief

  • It’s someone who is able to bring passion and energy to the way they communicate to people and the way they support and develop and grow everyone around them. It means you’re able to motivate, support and nourish people in your community.

Final message of wisdom and hope for future leaders 

  • I still believe that there are no shortcuts, it’s all about hard work.
  • But remain really very curious, have curiosity in your life and you can define what that means and make sure you’ve got the courage.

Stay epic,