Empowering people with Chris Wilson
Chris Wilson is the kind of person you instantly like. His positive attitude and passion for what he does immediately shines through. And as a Philanthropy and Social Capital Partner at Koda Capital and the Chairman of the Reach Foundation it's easy to understand why.
Growing up by the beach in Jan Juc, Chris enjoyed all the benefits of a small-town upbringing. He was instilled early on with a sense of social responsibility by his parents and surrounding community. However at 18, Chris decided to make the move to Melbourne to pursue tertiary studies and was quickly drawn to RMIT’s Bachelor of Business because of its third year Work Integrated Learning placement.
“As a young person who was not really sure what I wanted to do, that was quite appealing … being able to go out and get industry experience,” says Chris. “I completed my placement year at a boutique finance firm and met some brilliant people who I’m still friends with today. [But] most importantly, from a career perspective, I started to work out what I wanted in a career and what I didn’t want in a career.
After graduating Chris obtained a position with Goldman Sachs JBWere and, as luck would have it, found himself sitting next to the corporate social responsibility and philanthropy team. Chris was immediately captivated by what they were doing. “They were combining finance with community spirit … and I thought ‘that’s something that I’d like in my career’ – to be able to draw on my education in finance but give back to society.”
A few years went by and during that time Chris made the effort to connect with the team so that when a job did become available he could apply for it with confidence – which is exactly what he did. However, when that role came up it was still a big decision for Chris. At that time philanthropy as a profession existed in pockets throughout the finance sector but it was still a niche path to go down. Although he was nervous about future career options he made the leap anyway; it’s a decision he doesn’t regret. By specialising in something Chris found that he was able “to take some big leaps forward” in his career. “I think when you find something you’re passionate about then going to work becomes very easy … and when that happens good things start happening in your career.”
In today’s work landscape so many people are still trying to figure out what they’re truly passionate about, so Chris considers himself very lucky that he was able to discover that interest so early on. “I think there’s a big movement now, particularly with millennials, around embedding purpose in what [you] do … and I think that’s what was driving me, even though I didn’t know it at the time,” says Chris. However, although Chris had found his passion it was his positive attitude and desire to “jump into the deep end” that really propelled him forward. “When I joined the philanthropy team I was acutely aware that I needed to scale-up my learning … so the thing I did the most was put my hand up for absolutely everything. I saw that as a great way to learn,” says Chris. “Anything I thought that would put me out of my comfort zone and force me to learn more … that’s the attitude I took.”
In 2014 Chris had the opportunity to join a new start-up that, if he took the position, would be a career leap that would again take him out of his comfort zone. But staying true to his love of challenges, Chris decided to go for it. Koda Capital is now one of the fastest growing finance firms in Australia, and philanthropy is one of their four key business pillars. “The biggest component for me was Koda’s independence,” says Chris. “It really allows us to be on the same side of the table as our clients and have their interests completely at heart. That was really important to me, particularly when dealing with the clients that I deal with, which is the charities and philanthropic organisations … because if we have their interests at heart we have the community’s interest at heart.”
Chris’ approach of putting himself out there has allowed him to create a network of people who have similar values and goals to him, and it was while building this network that he became a Founding Committee Member of an incredible initiative called Impact100 Melbourne. A sub-fund of the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation, Impact100 acts as a giving circle that collects $1000 from 100 members and then donates that accumulated $100,000 to a local charitable organisation that they believe will have the most impact on Melbourne.
It was through his work with Impact100 that Chris found out about an opening on the board of the Reach Foundation and, after meeting with the then CEO and Chairman, soon found himself so intrinsically involved with the organisation and became the Chairman only three years later. “Reach has been one of the best things I’ve done in my life,” says Chris. ”I’m constantly inspired by the young people and our facilitators. I think our facilitators are the most talented in the country – and they’re dedicating their lives to supporting their peers and the next generation.”
“I’m obviously passionate about young people and their potential – that’s why I’m involved with Reach. We need to set up the right environment and give them the skills to enable them to thrive, and then we kind of just need to get out of the way and let them get on with it,” says Chris. “At Reach we’ve been doing a camp for a number of years where we send 20 young people off with 20 corporate leaders. I did the camp in 2015, and you go away on the Friday thinking about all the knowledge you’re going to impart and by 2.00am on Saturday these young people have shared so many stories of their lives, challenges they’ve faced, dreams and aspirations … and it’s incredibly uplifting, confronting and humbling and at the end of it you just think ‘we need to let these young people create the world that they want to create'.”
Although Chris loves what he does he admits that it’s a tough balancing act. He credits his ability to “have it all” to a combination of things including having a supportive and flexible workplace, as well as making sure he takes time out to recharge (via exercise and reading) and spend time with his family. “It’s a craft that I’m learning … but you have to take the time out to reflect,” says Chris. “I think [doing that] actually makes you better at your profession.”
Having been involved in Koda from the ground floor when it was just a start-up and working with young people through the Reach Foundation Chris has some deeply informed insight on the future of work and how it’s evolving. “I think the finance industry, like any industry, is undergoing and an enormous amount of change and will continue to go through an enormous amount of change,” says Chris.
Chris is a big believer in soft skills (or as he likes to call them ‘real skills'), "…and that comes back to my placement year at RMIT. It took you out of the lecture hall and actually put you out there where you had to have real conversations with people, you had to apply what you’d learnt, you had to build relationships, and you had to have tough conversations. Those are the things that make you nimble enough to evolve as the industry evolves.”
“I think there’s going to be a lot more freelancing in the future,” Chris continues. “I think young people are really driving entrepreneurship – we see it at Reach, there’s this real drive to own their own destiny. I also think there’s a flattening of knowledge hierarchy in all organisations. It used to be that if you wanted an answer you’d look up [to senior management], but now the people above are having to look down for the answers. Knowledge doesn’t just lie within certain levels any more … and companies that are embracing that are benefiting and companies that aren’t are disenfranchising their young talent… True leaders empower those around them.”
Chris Wilson completed an RMIT Bachelor of Business (Economics and Finance) in 2007.