With Alex Malley, CEO – CPA Australia, Author of The Naked CEO: The Truth You Need to Build a Big Life
As part of Steve’s ongoing series to help millennials with their finances, Steve speaks with Alex Malley. Alex is the CEO of the global accounting body, CPA Australia, and author of The Naked CEO: The Truth You Need to Build a Big Life.
His book, The Naked CEO, is geared toward workplace truths for millennials, first-time job seekers, and those wanting to change careers. In it, Alex attempts to tell the truth about what leadership is all about, what your first job might entail, and how people can learn from other’s mistakes to live successful lives.
Learn From Other’s Mistakes
Alex recounts how he, as a young man, was hurting himself. He lacked discipline and was suspended from school. Later, he had grand ambitions but did not know how to achieve them. Alex laments that he wasted the first seven years of his adult life and wishes he could go back and change the past, based on the lessons he has learned.
Gain Exposure Early In Life
In The Naked CEO, Alex urges youngsters to lower their expectations and gain as much positive exposure as they can. He recommends being adventurous. Have an open mind, take on a job—any job—volunteer, and get involved in good causes to learn how to deal with people from different backgrounds and perspectives. In doing so, you will get to know your own likes and dislikes and develop your natural instincts through exposure and experience. At every stage in life, broaden your exposure by speaking with different people.
Bad Experiences Provide The Best Lessons
Alex notes that the best lessons are learned from the worst of times. This is when people have no control of the situation they are in and truly grow from negative experiences. At such times, it’s important to not get angry. Instead, steel yourself for the worst because such moments will teach you life’s most valuable lessons and move you a step closer to living the big life you want.
Dealing With Fear And Embarrassment
In The Naked CEO, Alex writes that “fear” and “embarrassment” are two words he’d most like to take out of people’s heads. If you want to do something that’s positive for you and others around you, you must first overcome your fears and inhibitions. Look at it this way. If you succeed, it will spur you on to live the big life you imagined. If you fail, you will still feel fulfilled because at least you made a sincere effort. Success and failure will also help you overcome your fears and strive for more in life. So, get over your fears.
Embarrassment, Alex believes, is a superficial feeling. Don’t let what others think get in the way of your achievements. Live your life with arms open and embrace every opportunity. Don’t fold your arms and lock them out.
Steve notes that Steve Jobs’ biggest regret was that his fear did not allow him to do more.
Accounting Drives Investment Success
Investment great, Warren Buffett, said understanding accounting was key to becoming a good investor and businessman. Alex says he got into accounting on a whim, goaded on by his sister. Later, he really got to respect the subject and has relied on accounting to help him make important decisions.
Neil Armstrong Changed His Life
In The Naked CEO, Alex writes that his interview with Neil Armstrong was life-changing. At first, Neil did not want to do the interview. Neil relented on Alex’s urging that Neil needed to tell young people about how fantastic life was. Back then, the world had 90% vision and 10% risk management (aka fear). Today, life is lived fearfully, with 90% risk management and 10% vision.
To live your big life, focus on what’s right and throw fear and embarrassment out the window. And share The Naked CEO’s learnings with young adults, children, and grandchildren, so they can realize their dreams, take risks, succeed, and live a big life.
Disclosure: The opinions expressed are those of the interviewee and not necessarily United Capital. Interviewee is not a representative of United Capital. Investing involves risk and investors should carefully consider their own investment objectives and never rely on any single chart, graph or marketing piece to make decisions. Content provided is intended for informational purposes only, is not a recommendation to buy or sell any securities, and should not be considered tax, legal, investment advice. Please contact your tax, legal, financial professional with questions about your specific needs and circumstances. The information contained herein was obtained from sources believed to be reliable, however their accuracy and completeness cannot be guaranteed. All data are driven from publicly available information and has not been independently verified by United Capital.
Steve Pomeranz: In our ongoing series to help millennials get on their feet, I’ve invited Alex Malley whose new book is an engaging how-to guide for students seeking their first job, professionals navigating their first workplaces, and the managers who hire them. It’s much more than that, Alex is a LinkedIn influencer, along with the likes of Richard Branson and Bill Gates, and other big thinkers. He’s CEO of global accounting body, CPA Australia, and those of the Australian television series The Bottom Line. Now Alex Malley has a new book. The title is The Naked CEO: The Truth You Need to Build a Big Life. Hey, Alex, welcome to the show. What a pleasure to have you.
Alex Malley: Thank you very much, Steve, and I’m fully clothed. The naked CEO is fully clothed.
Steve Pomeranz: We’ll get into that a little bit later, but actually why the title The Naked CEO? It’s a great title, gets your attention, but what were you trying to say?
Alex Malley: What we’re trying to say is we’re going to tell you the truth about what leadership looks like, what your first job might look like, and, ultimately, it’s about your journey and being the best you can be. After many years of mentoring and training young people and seeing your people make the same sorts of mistakes, this is about … this is the truth. This is how to do it.
Steve Pomeranz: Now, you, yourself, as you state in the book, didn’t really get off on the best foot when you were younger. Just give us a good idea of what your personal journey was like.
Alex Malley: Look, I was just a playful boy that became, probably, a too playful young man. I was suspended from school, and I’d become a disruptive CEO. It’s very much about the fact that I lacked that early discipline. I had an imagination; I was adventurous; I had a big thought of where I could go, but no idea how to do it. It was how you bridle this natural energy, this natural desire to influence, and to have a big life. It’s those first six or seven years that you really need to be disciplined and look for specific objectives. That’s something, if I had my time again, if I wrote this book to myself when I was 17, I’d get the early part right.
Steve Pomeranz: Yeah, I just wonder when you’re 17…you’re 17, and when you’re older, you’re older. Would you have read this book when you were 17, knowing the child you were?
Alex Malley: That’s a brilliant question, and that’s why I’ve written it the way I have. Suspended school boy to disruptive CEO is all about attracting that girl or boy that feels like…they’re not reading books— “There’s nothing I can learn from a book”— was to attract them. The inside cover has the original suspension letter from my headmaster in 1978, Todd Set. On the very next page is an email from him last year, commenting on how good I looked on television, but my grammar still needed work. It’s this lovely message about the mentor and about the journey.
Steve Pomeranz: Well, how does one figure out their own direction when they’re starting? I guess there’s a universe of possibilities, I guess one could put it that way. How does one decide which way to go? I think there’s a fear that once you make a decision, that you’re kind of stuck in that decision, so many times young people are afraid to make decisions.
Alex Malley: A very common question to me is, “Alex, if I make this decision, I think I’m locking out all these other things.” The first thing is to separate that, in fact, that’s not right. It is about exposure. That’s what your early stage—in fact, that’s what all of life’s about—so whatever that first job is, just take it. Learn some human movement, learn about what it’s like to live with people. Ultimately, that’s what you’re learning early on. It’s not just about exposure, Steve. It’s about volunteering on a weekend, it’s about getting involved clubs and activities, perhaps in public speaking groups, where you’re just simply allowing yourself to live with different tribes of people, who have different perspectives. If you keep doing that, as if you were an adventurer, secured by that sort of single job that’s giving you some basic discipline, you will very soon learn what skips a heartbeat, heart rate for you, or just gives you a little buzz a bit more than anything else, and soon you will discover where your natural instincts lie. My book’s very much about always listen to your instincts, but develop them through exposure and experience.
Steve Pomeranz: The book is The Naked CEO: The Truth You Need to Build a Big Life, and it is about such things as Alex Malley, the author to whom I’m speaking, is referring. You know, often you hear this idea of the catch 22, which, for I guess us and the older generation, was a wonderful book and a movie. The idea here is you can’t get a job unless you have experience, and you can’t have experience unless you get a job, so what am I supposed to do? I think you’re saying is, “Don’t worry about that. Just get out there and expose yourself.” Not, you know.
Alex Malley: In the best possible way, but you’re absolutely right. Every young person has this incredible youthful imagination about all of these ideas, but it’s about lowering your expectations early on. Just simply navigating life, building relationships with people. My mother passed away from Lou Gehrig’s disease, I think, as you call it in the US, and I got involved there in volunteering when I was younger. I sat with CEOs who I never would have sat with, whose relative had the same tragedy before them, and I learned to sort of speak to really senior people. They saw the merits of what I was trying to do. I saw them in a different light. That helped me in interviews because I had that little bit more of wider experience. The other thing, Steve, is that a lot of young people forget that while they’re at university and school, many of the kids at school and university have successful parents. Make sure you sit in a different seat at school and at university every day of your studies and build relationships, learn to speak to different people. They have parents, it’s all very important.
Steve Pomeranz: That’s very interesting. The issue, too, that I think comes up a lot, is that the journey isn’t always an easy one. Sometimes life can punch you in the nose. It happens to all of us. What advice can you give to young people when that happens?
Alex Malley: There the times, that at the time seem the worst, but you need to quietly celebrate because the only time—I don’t think I’m on my own in this—the only time I have grown as a person is when I had no control of the situation. I thought it was unfair, and the easy route is to just get angry, or you can sit back and say, “Well, whatever the circumstance is, I have made some percentage contribution here, and I am determined to learn from that, and I am determined to come back from that.” Coming back to that school suspension, Steve, that was the first time in my life I felt a level of isolation. I couldn’t go to school for a week or whatever it was, and everyone looked at me in a different way. I remember, I remember that as clear as day. Even though it’s 30+ years ago. What I say to people at all ages, particularly young people, almost look for those opportunities, for those tough times because, ultimately, they’re the moments that are going to teach you something and make you better and give you a step towards the big life you want.
Steve Pomeranz: Many of us are paralyzed by fear. The fear of being embarrassed, of being humiliated, public speaking is something that people always say is one of the most difficult things for them to do. What do you say to all of us, including the millennials, about dealing with this fear and dealing with this embarrassment?
Alex Malley: Steve, one of the most passionate responses to the book so far— and it has gone absolutely crazy, I have to say, and I’m really pleased because I think it’s good for young people—is when I say “if you can take two words out of your life, you will have a much bigger life than you think.” That is fear and embarrassment. I recount the fact that my mother had depression when I was young, and we faced some really difficult circumstances. I recall going to school from the night before being really difficult at home, and it just dawned on me through a couple of major mistakes and interviews for jobs, that, you know what, when I made that mistake in the interview and embarrassed myself, I walked towards the train station and thought my life was over. They were so busy rushing over me and getting past me to get on the train that no one knew about what I considered was a failure. No one cared because they had their own life to worry about. Understand that if you can begin to just take fear out, if there’s something you want to do, then try, and time it right, and go for it. If you don’t succeed, you will feel fulfilled because you have made what you consider as a great effort. It’s quite satisfying.
The alternative is to protect yourself and never try things and live your life with arms crossed, and you will never feel fulfilled. Embarrassment is a superficial feeling. I think too often these days, even in television for young people, it’s all about superficial beauty. Beauty is from the inside, strength is from the inside, and live your life with your arms open and embrace this opportunity. Don’t fold your arms and lock them out.
Steve Pomeranz: You know, I remember hearing a quote about Steve Jobs, that when he found out that he was going to lose his life, one of the things that he felt most sorry about was that his fear didn’t allow him to do more. Now, if you think of someone like Steve Jobs, you really don’t think of someone that hasn’t achieved things out of fear, but even…who knows what goes on in the hearts and mind…yet he even felt that same way. You know, I see you for the first time. I see you’ve got a television show. You’ve written a book. You’re very out-going, and yet you’ve picked a career that in a sense has a stereotype, you’re a CPA. Now I love CPAs. I’ll tell you why, because Warren Buffet says that accounting is the language of business, and if you don’t know that language, you shouldn’t be an investor, you shouldn’t invest in businesses. I respect accounting, but you’ve transcended all of that. Just tell us about that.
Alex Malley: That’s incredibly insightful. I have to tell you because the reason I studied accounting, and your listeners, I think, will appreciate this, was I had no clue. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I said to my darling older sister, “What do you think I should do at uni?”
She said, “I’d do accounting.” I said, “Okay, what’s that?”
She said, “I don’t know, but whoever does it seems to do well.”
Steve Pomeranz: It seems to work a lot right?
Alex Malley: Yeah, it was just whoever does it, does well. That was, luckily for me, enough of an image. The I went to uni and, as I sat through the lectures and perhaps not the most talented teachers of their time, thought what am I doing here? I don’t think this fits my personality, but what I’ve done over the years when I lectured at uni, I had lectures called “The Romance of Accounting.” People came to them, if for nothing else, then to find out whether it was a misprint. Then I began to talk about the fact that with that core skill, as Warren Buffet says is the language of business, you’re actually able to enter any sector in the world with something to offer. That’s the position I’ve taken. I’ve never worked specifically in a role called an accountant, but the skill set behind it is what I’ve used for many aspects.
I’ll tell you if you can imagine, I’ve gone to the number one television network in Australia, managed to organize a meeting in the board room with the top executives to tell them I had a television show and I was an accountant. I don’t think their anticipation was that they were going to give me a show, but we got there, and we got some wonderful guests. I was lucky enough to do the only interview in the whole of the life of your great American hero, Neil Armstrong. That will rest with me for the rest of my life as one of the great people I’ve ever met.
Steve Pomeranz: I’ve heard about that, and that’s really what kind of launched you into your next phase of life isn’t it?
Alex Malley: It began a whole series of experiences, Steve. I sat with him at lunch and talked to him about his life and asked him if I could do this interview. He said, “Look I don’t do interviews.”
I said, “I know, but when you were young, and when you did what you did with your colleagues, the world had 90% vision, 10% risk management. Today it’s 90% risk management, 10% vision. You need to tell young people about how fantastic the times were then.”
Steve Pomeranz: Wow, that’s pretty strong. My guest is Alex Malley. The book is The Naked CEO: The Truth You Need to Build a Big Life.” This is a book that you want to give to your children and your grandchildren. It’s written in a simplistic form, so they can understand it and they can get what they need to get from this book. Alex, unfortunately, we’re out of time, but one day I hope we can continue this and take it even further. Thank you so much for joining me.
Alex Malley: It was a real pleasure. Love to meet you one day.
Steve Pomeranz: Thanks. Same to you, take care.