If you ask John Karagounis, CEO and Managing Director of The CEO Circle, what motivates him to return each year as a judge for the Executive of the Year Awards, he’ll admit that “no one does it better than The CEO Magazine in terms of acknowledging excellence in Australia, in terms of leadership resilience and just the tenacity to actually take a business to the next level.”
Now in his 12th year as a judge for the awards, Karagounis is well-versed in knowing how to spot outstanding leadership at a time when the Australian business community needs it most.
“It’s been an MBA on steroids over the last two years, going through the COVID-19 pandemic,” he remarks.
For more than a decade Karagounis has been at the helm of Australia’s most exclusive membership organisation, having acquired it at the height of the global financial crisis.
Rather than continue building on a fruitful career in the financial services industry, he chose to embark down a path of greater risk. At the time, his membership base was threatened by companies cutting back on staff at the top of the corporate ladder.
Fast-forward to 2022 and Karagounis is grappling with a new set of challenges.
“We’ve expanded the way that we go about doing things and we’ve become much more nimble and much more flexible around just adapting to whatever gets thrown our way,” he explains.
In light of this, Karagounis believes that there’s always opportunity in chaos.
“I’m looking forward to seeing resilience, innovation and people striving to succeed in spite of all the noise and chaos happening out there,” he shares.
As a passionate keynote speaker, author and leader, Karagounis’ definition of learning boils down to sharing stories and listening more than he talks – a quality that is particularly relevant this year.
“I’m looking forward to seeing resilience, innovation and people striving to succeed in spite of all the noise and chaos happening out there.”
“Leaders have to realise that how they define flexibility and how the employee now defines flexibility could be two different things,” he reflects.
A true optimist, he affirms that while the Australian business community is cautious, the most successful organisations are seeking potential opportunities and are, in fact, investing more money into areas like marketing and social media in an attempt to increase their presence in the marketplace.
“The leaders and the organisations that have been able to adapt to the new environment and think laterally, think outside the square, are the ones that have thrived during this process and have come out the other end in a stronger position,” he says.
The other trend that Karagounis has noticed is that communities are being increasingly redefined; a reality that his organisation has been forced to navigate, as its core function is to bring its members together to achieve personal and professional growth.
“Leaders benefit incredibly by being part of a community, but the way that we get communities together is going to have to be a mix of face-to-face as well as remote,” he explains.
Reflecting on what it’s like to be a leader today, Karagounis doesn’t feel the need to sugar-coat the truth. “It can be a very thankless role,” he says.
“It’s even more challenging to actually succeed during these times. And the awards go a long way to actually acknowledge outstanding leadership, but also go a long way in terms of acknowledging the team behind that leader.”
Arguably, the biggest gain for leaders looking to apply is the chance to be acknowledged in order to achieve greater things in the world.
“It’s integral that people apply and actually put their best foot forward because they deserve the recognition that they receive and they deserve their teams to be recognised as part of that process,” Karagounis concludes.