Since his early days as a ‘nipper’ on Sydney’s iconic North Bondi Beach, UTS alumnus Peter Agnew has made an incredible contribution to surf lifesaving.
Inspired to following in the swim-strokes of his parents, both long-time members of the North Bondi Surf Life Saving Club, and his father a champion Australian paddle boarder, Agnew joined the club at age 11. It was the beginning of a long involvement with the organisation, culminating in a five-year term as General Manager (Chief Operating Officer) of Surf Life Saving Australia.
Agnew reflects on his time with the much-loved organisation as highly rewarding – as General Manager, he was responsible for the organisation’s strategic direction, growth and development, an impressive feat in working with 311 individual ‘business units’, or surf clubs. He achieved a great deal in the role, and says there are many things of which he is proud, including the organisation’s global work with the World Health Organisation.
"UTS armed me with a wide range of models and theories to give meaning to many workplace dilemmas that I’m faced with on a day-to-day basis."
“On a personal level, it has been any time I have pulled someone from the surf and potentially saved their life,” he says. “On a professional level, it was the release of the first World Drowning Report as part of my role with the WHO and the International Lifesaving Federation. The report brought attention to the drowning epidemic in developing nations.”
Agnew has been instrumental in a number of other key policy-shaping publications, including the National Coast Safety Report, the Australian Coastal Public Safety Guidelines, the Australian Coastal Public Safety Guidelines, and an award-winning training publication, Surf Life Saving First Aid and Emergency Care. Earlier this year, Agnew’s incredible impact was recognised with the Emergency Services Medal as part of the Queen’s Birthday Honours, adding to a National Medal in 2005 and an Australian Sports Medal in 2000.
He left his management role at Surf Lifesaving Australia in 2010 to start up his own corporate development business, People Development Australia. Bringing with him the learnings of his executive career, he works with major clients across the business and government sectors to deliver learning programs that help them to transform their productivity.
His passion lies in taking the ‘fluffy’ out of the soft-skill area while getting people out of their comfort zone to explore how they interact, engage and lead their people. “I started teaching as a 16 year-old within Surf Life Saving; I love to see people learn new skills and gain new knowledge,” he says.
“To see one of your learners surf down the face of a large wave on a rescue board for the first time, after overcoming the fear of the surf, was extremely rewarding. To sit opposite from a managing director or a group of executives and see them have ‘ah-ha’ moments when it comes to how they behave or act as a leader, or for a team to realise an important key attribute gap in their own behaviours, is the same reward I now get in my own business.”
Agnew credits his UTS studies – a Master of Business Administration (1999) and a Master of Education in Adult Education (2001) – with giving him a solid base for his career, and subsequently his business. “Human behaviour is complex; while models do not explain every part of this complexity, they do provide you with ways of breaking down complexity to understand and give meaning to behaviour, culture, and why things happen the way they do,” he explains. “UTS armed me with a wide range of models and theories to give meaning to many workplace dilemmas that I’m faced with on a day-to-day basis.”
His approach is proving successful, both for himself and his clients: with the business growing by 10 to 20 per cent annually since launching five years ago. Agnew has three five-year blocks envisioned for the business, and is now emerging from the first period as a sole trader into the second phase: growing the business through building a team. “The third block will be to have others manage the business, and for me to make a difference in other areas while exploring other ambitions.”
While his company now takes up much of his focus, Agnew maintains his strong ties with surf lifesaving as Deputy Chair of Surf Life Saving Sydney, and still gets to the beach when he can. Unsurprisingly, he enjoys most things outdoors. “I like to try a new skill each year to stretch my existing life; last year was the motorbike,” he says.
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