Bell Shakespeare and La Trobe Financial share the spirit of ‘others before self’

Bell Shakespeare Artistic Director Peter Evans and La Trobe Financial President & CEO Greg O’Neill OAM reflect on their shared mission to make a positive difference in the community.

By Andy McLean

It may not be obvious at first glance, but Bell Shakespeare and La Trobe Financial have a great deal in common.

Bell Shakespeare performs and shares William Shakespeare’s works with audiences in theatres, schools and communities across Australia. La Trobe Financial is Australia’s $9 billion Assets under Manager diversified wealth manager.

On the surface, they may sound like very different organisations, but dig a little deeper and the commonalities are striking. Both are long-established institutions founded by visionaries. Both embody a spirit of ‘others before self’. And both are led today by individuals who believe that theatre can have a profound impact on people from all walks of life.

(It’s also fair to say that both those individuals – Bell Shakespeare Artistic Director Peter Evans and La Trobe Financial CEO Greg O’Neill OAM – share an ardent love of William Shakespeare’s plays.)

‘We really felt like it was a natural fit when La Trobe Financial agreed to support us as a Premium Company Partner,’ says Bell Shakespeare Artistic Director Peter Evans. ‘The relationship goes far beyond financial sponsorship, because there’s a deep personal commitment from Greg and his colleagues. They support us, encourage us, and really believe in the work we do.’

So how does ‘others before self’ really work in practice? And what’s the secret to a successful partnership between a business and a theatre company? We spoke to Peter and Greg to find out.

How does the motto of ‘others before self’ permeate through La Trobe Financial and Bell Shakespeare?

Greg O’Neill OAM: My father was an army veteran who believed in the ANZAC tradition where ‘others before self’ was the motto. In 1952, he started La Trobe Financial and he put ‘others before self’ at the centre of his vision, where it has remained to this day. It’s tied to our belief that home ownership is a great enabler of financial independence and wealth creation for individuals. We see it as our duty to serve clients who are overlooked by the major players for borrowing and/or wealth management services. Through our work, we are enabling wealth creation for our countrymen and women. We are helping newly-arrived migrants and many other under-served people to achieve financial independence. And we also contribute to creating safer communities and generating direct and indirect employment.

Peter Evans: It’s interesting that you have that focus on access and inclusivity because that’s at the heart of what Bell Shakespeare does too. We believe that Shakespeare should be accessible to everyone, everywhere. When I think of the phrase ‘others before self’ it reminds me that we always put the audience first, whether that’s in schoolsjuvenile justicecommunity outreachmainstage plays or elsewhere. We feel very strongly that Shakespeare’s work has to be experienced live, and the only way to make that accessible to everyone is to get out on the road. So that’s what we do.

How does the principle of ‘others before self’ guide La Trobe Financials’ philanthropic activities?

GO: Since 1978, we have given back over $13 million through the La Trobe Financial Foundation, which provides aid to various healthcare, education, cultural and sporting initiatives. Additionally, we have our “La Trobe Lend A Hand Day”, where more than 400 of our staff are encouraged to volunteer with community organisations of their choice for one day a year, and their time is fully paid for by the company.

PE: La Trobe Financial’s support for Bell Shakespeare makes a tremendous difference too. We could never hope to deliver all our community and education work, and cover all our costs, through box office and government funding alone. The financial backing from La Trobe Financial allows us to take Shakespeare to more people in more ways and in more places. Greg believes passionately in Shakespeare and how theatre can enrich people’s lives. It makes it easier to go to work each day when you know people like him are in your corner.

What advice would you share with leaders who want to instil this sense of ‘others before self’ in their organisations?

GO: Shakespeare put it best: ‘This above all, to thine own self be true, do not engage in self-deception’ (Hamlet Act I Scene III). In other words, the best leaders are authentic. When it comes to ‘others before self’, you can’t fake it till you make it. For many organisations, the global financial crisis was a wake-up call to greed and mismanagement. It separated the good companies from bad and real leaders stood up and placed customers’ needs first. We had a head start there, as we’d been doing that for decades.

PE: That line from Hamlet is great isn’t it. And the way Greg and La Trobe Financial have engaged with Bell Shakespeare absolutely speaks to that. It’s an authentic commitment and belief in what we do. And that’s what you need for a partnership like this to really work.

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