The best lessons don’t always come from the top

I’m a fat banker in my mid-50s. I don’t let this hold me back however.

I constantly look for ways to challenge myself both in and out of the office. There’s nothing quite as satisfying as setting a goal, understanding your purpose and working hard to achieve it – especially if you’re surrounded by likeminded people who inspire you to keep striving. 

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Here at ANZ, our purpose is to help shape a world where people and communities thrive. What does that mean in practice? There is no simple answer but for me, for about six years now, I’ve been trying to play my own part in the community - and it’s taught me a lot about myself, a lot about the community and a lot about leadership.

"The ability to encourage other people to perform at their best is critical in making a great leader.”

I’ve been lucky to learn from some of our greatest sporting captains and our best captains of industry and the key message is the ability to encourage other people to perform at their best is critical in making a great leader. 

A ride

I’ve long been a fan of Australian cricket captain Steve Waugh, who through his foundation has supported over 600 families since 2005 and in 2009 I became a Governor of the foundation.

Inspired by Steve, in 2011 two friends and I decided to cycle from Sydney to Byron Bay to raise money for the Steve Waugh Foundation to support children with rare diseases.

That first ride took three of us – who had never clipped into a bike before - six days to cover the 900 kilometres. We had no expectation of how far we could ride each day so we had no accommodation booked– but we raised $A40,000 and were pretty chuffed.

Naturally we decided we wanted to do the ride again - this time with Steve involved. It was clear with such a drawcard we could turn this into a real event.

It took us three years to convince him but the event has now become one of the core annual events on the Steve Waugh Foundation fundraising calendar. 

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Perseverance pays off and we’re proud of how this event now contributes a vital injection of funds to the Foundation.  

The broader insight for me is that it was our personal and professional networks which really helped grow participation and interest. Through Steve’s profile, not only as a sportsman and renowned leader but also his passion for the wider good, we could create a significant charity event. 

We asked leaders in finance and industry to contribute financially and gave them the option of joining the ride themselves. The “sell” was clear: it would not only serve to push them out of their comfort zone but also engage them with other inspirational people across business, sport and the supporting community.

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Where lessons come from

Each evening during the ride becomes an informal “off-site”, a chance for leaders from all areas of industry, sports and the community to share their stories and lessons on leadership, resilience and motivation.

Our greatest inspiration during the bike ride is the children. Many of the kids we support turn out enroute and send videos which add real meaning to what we are trying to achieve. Rooms full of hardened country folk, professionals and elite sportspeople are regularly reduced to tears.

Seeing some of the kids the foundation supports gives you perspective in spades. There are families who would be house bound if the foundation didn’t supply them with portable oxygen cylinders or wheelchairs; parents who haven’t slept more than three hours in a row or had a single night away from their child in more than 10 years.

These really put the achievements of leaders in their respective field into true perspective.

The challenge of the ride pushes people to do things they never thought possible and push beyond boundaries that haven’t been passed before.

We had people riding with broken hands, pushing each other up massive hills, going up some of the steepest climbs in Australia with only three months riding experience under their belts. There was a constant refrain of, “Remember the kids from last night? Now tell me you can’t keep going”. And we’d just keep going.

Being surrounded by such an impressive group, all totally outside of their comfort zone, is always a learning experience. Not just about corporate life – and cycling - but life in general, the universe and everything. We often share our personal and professional life rollercoasters.

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Last year the Captain’s Ride involved 70 riders and raised just over $A1 million for kids who really need our help. It was such a success we had no choice but to go again this year.

This year we are planning a ‘Lap of Tassie’, covering 860km of Tasmanian scenery  in six days. We are 80 riders this year including Steve Waugh, Cadel Evans, Adam Goodes, Mark Webber, Shane Gould, Ritchie Porte and Dailey Thompson to name just a few.

Each evening during the ride one of the riders talks about their achievements overcoming difficulties and leadership.

Last year many of the kids we support turned or sent videos which added real meaning to what we were trying to achieve.

I can safely say everyone who finished the trip, exhausted but in one piece, felt it was one of their greatest personal achievements. You can read more about supporting the event here.


I know it’s going to sound like a cliché but the Captains Ride really is a life-changing event. I am now a convert to the riding scene, a dedicated ‘mamil’ (middle aged man in lycra ) and spend lycra-clad Sunday mornings over a coffee with fellow Captains Riders who have become lifelong friends.

Being able to contribute to a worthwhile cause has been the glue which brought us all together.

There’s really not greater privilege than the opportunity to be involved in a unique cause where you are surrounded by people who dedicate their lives to the betterment of others and where the outcomes are real, measurable, life-changing and often life-saving.

Andrew Palmer is Head of FIG Australia at ANZ. Learn more about the Steve Waugh Foundation here.

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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