Rebooting Down Under
Ivan Deveson was a classmate of mine at Stanford Business School in 1976-77. He has a inspiring life and rebooting story, which we are pleased to share here. – Lee Callaway
Ivan was at Stanford in the Sloan Program on a GM Scholarship. A native of Australia, he was an executive with General Motors Corporation at that time. After graduation, he returned to Detroit and was appointed General Director, International Purchasing, for General Motors Corporation.
Subsequently, he was assigned to General Motors in Australia, and in 1987, after 37 years with GM, he was appointed CEO of Nissan, Australia.
He retired from the auto industry in 1991 having lived and worked in five countries.
His journey in the corporate world was long. He started with GM as a manufacturing cadet, and in 1957, GM awarded him with a scholarship to study at the General Motors Institute in Flint, Michigan, and to work in the Chevrolet Engine Plant. In hindsight, Ivan believes that the USA and GM were at their peak in those years. Some would say that it was downhill from there. Ivan and his American wife, Mary Ellen, and family remain appreciative of the opportunities he was given in America.
The title of his biography is “Whatever You Do In Life, Don’t Do It All Your Life”.
In the final 20 years of his professional life, he was appointed chairman or director of 14 companies — including The Seven Television Network, Mount Isa Mines, the Commonwealth Bank, the St. James Ethics Centre, and the Committee for Economic Development of Australia (Chairman for seven years). Ivan had extensive leadership positions involved in microeconomic reform, education, training, transport community, and government.
In 1997, he was elected Lord Mayor of Melbourne and awarded an Order of Australia for his contributions to business. The Order of Australia (AO) is conferred on individuals by the Australian Prime Minister for “for distinguished service of a high degree to Australia or to humanity at large.”
His book analyzes what he calls the “effective life cycle” of an executive — staying too long in a job results in more “outside interests” — losing focus on the job.
Ivan’s transition to retirement was built around three initiatives, all reboots:
The first was the professional speaking circuit, which took him around Australia, focusing on local government, ethics, and leadership. He quickly learned the key to success was to be passionate about your story, be informative and entertaining. Ivan focused on his career wins and losses. He admits that he didn’t get paid as much as the Clintons, but he has no complaints.
The second reboot came after he had spent many years coaching chief executives from major companies (in groups of 6-8 known as the CEO Circle). He decided to get involved with several small business startups, to bring some “gray hair thinking” to their plans. “A big challenge,” he says, “but I quickly realized that many entrepreneurs, nerds, and geeks do their best work around midnight, and are averse to some prescribed operating policies and procedures.”
Ivan’s third initiative (or reboot) is now in its sixth year. The Probus Organisation consists of retired professionals —judges, lawyers, surgeons, accountants (fountains of wisdom), ranging in age from 65 to 96. Ivan formed two discussion groups of 25 each — to meet monthly over three hours. The focus is on intellectual stimulation — he is adamant that this retards aging. As Chairman, Ivan picks the subject and requests one of the group to do the research and present a 15-20-minute paper to start the ball rolling.
Some recent subjects:
a. Understanding Islam in Australia
c. The four legal systems in Australia (International Australian, Aboriginal and Canon)
d. Australia’s Alliance with the USA
e. Understanding China
f. Abortion, Suicide and Voluntary Euthanasia
Ivan remembers cautiously asking a 96-year-old to lead a discussion. He called to ask Ivan to review his paper —Ivan replied, “I don’t need to see it — I have faith in you” He said he would put it in Ivan’s mailbox the night before the presentation. Again, Ivan resisted: “I don’t want a 96-year-old driving around at night.” The reply — “I’m taking my girlfriend to the movies.”
“Following treacherous bushfires, Australia has, like others, had to deal with the virus and lockdown,” Ivan says. “Intellectual stimulation has never been in greater demand.”