Insights from 2017 National Telstra Business Woman of the Year – Violet Roumeliotis

Violet Roumeliotis’ humble beginnings, being raised by Greek migrant parents who owned a local ‘corner shop’ in Western Sydney, has instilled Violet with a strong set of guiding values, incredible resilience and unstoppable passion to help others.

When she was selected out of 4000 entrants as the National Telstra Business Woman of the Year Award late in 2017, CMO at Telstra and panel judge Joe Pollard said:

“She is not only a fantastic businesswoman proven over thirty years, but she is doing things her way through innovative thinking, determination and a willingness to help people that truly in our society need help.”

After accepting this revered award, Violet told SmartCompany it is proof that “You can bring heart to a business and still get great results”.

What does Violet mean by “bringing heart to business”?


1. Focus on Values Over Financial Outcomes


Violet says “I’ve always approached business with integrity, focusing on values, rather than financial outcomes.” Alignment in values is non-negotiable for all great relationships in Violet’s world – both as an individual and for SSI as an organisation.

Violet suggests that when attempting to overcome roadblocks, leaders should refer back to the values of the organisation for guidance.
Her professional and voluntary work has always been embedded in working with people who the system has left behind or added barriers, that can at times feel insurmountable, yet she never despairs – instead, she’s fueled by an optimism and belief that people don’t want to purposely harm others and want to see others do well.

Violet sets out to find the best in people, she backs them in providing tools, resources and encouragement for people to thrive. She puts people first. She looks beyond the immediate needs of individuals and communities and invests in their aspirations. Violet creates solutions to build value and a sense of belonging to members of our community.

It’s Violet’s belief that bringing about change and making a difference can only be achieved by maintaining honest and trusting relationships with others who are like minded – even if they aren’t working in the same kind of organisation or sector. She believes this is a critical element of genuine success.

Personal courage and vision move Violet out of her comfort zone – which while not easy at times, has demonstrated something the world needs – strong women in leadership. Violet takes her responsibility as a leader in the field seriously.

Her success builds on a foundation of trust, active listening and engagement with individuals, families, members, stakeholders and the wider community. She has learnt what works well and embraced an appetite for continuous improvement and innovation to meet emerging needs. Violet believes that it is a journey, and one we are all on together, and one that no-one can do alone. Together, through the integration of diverse expertise, customisation and shared goals, Violet has set out to transform lives and achieve the most profound impact.


2. Grow Business Through Collaboration, Not Competition


Are you a honey bee or a locust*?

In Violet’s own words, honey bees, “collaborate and generate value for themselves, their communities and their environment. Locusts serve their own interests, consuming whatever lies in their paths. I like to think that as a person who has led teams in successful organisations, we have employed honey-bee-type practices that have seeded fruitful, sustainable organisations with positive outcomes for its employees and the communities they work with.”

Collaboration is also a strategy that Violet employs on a personal leadership level. She’s always open to meeting new people over coffee because, “you never know what you might hear or learn! I’m naturally a curious person and this has been a benefit. I surround myself with a wide range of people but also take time professionally to hear people out that might offer a new perspective.”


3. Embrace Cultural Diversity


At SSI , they very much ‘walk the walk’ on their value to support migrant families. Over 90 percent of employees are from culturally diverse communities and about a third of people who have had refugee experiences. SSI also enables greater cultural diversity in other organisations through its internship and youth employment programs for refugees.

Organisations like Allianz, Woolworths and Service NSW have already taken part on these programs, with Allianz being awarded the 2017 Australian Human Rights Business Award back in December as a consequence. Violet says that Allianz received the award they said “Of course its been great for our refugee employees, but it’s also been fantastic for our staff because they feel this is such a great thing. They love Alliance doing this and they are proud of their organisation.”

Over the past 5 years that Violet has been CEO of SSI, they have diversified their revenue sources and offerings tremendously, increased revenue by 1100 percent and employed 10 times as many people as they were previously.

* Avery, A., 2011. Sustainable Leadership: Honeybee and Locust Approaches. Taylor & Francis

Violet will be sharing more on how to bring heart back to business – as well as insights into her own incredible leadership journey and perspectives – at The Thriving Workplace Event 2-3 August 2018.

You can get your tickets here.

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