Captain, commander and CPA: a meeting of business and military

Captain John Stavridis CPA combines business acumen with military expertise on board HMAS Hobart, thanks to his CPA Australia designation. Photo by Leading Seaman Imagery Specialist Nicolas Gonzalez.

John Stavridis CPA is a captain and commander with the Royal Australian Navy, with years of service and military training. Why then did he choose to complete the CPA Program?

When he was a teenager, John Stavridis CPA was fascinated by warships and would imagine himself a naval captain sailing the seas. Today, he is both the captain and commander of HMAS Hobart, and boasts nearly three decades in the Royal Australian Navy. He has seen active service in the Middle East for the enforcement of UN sanctions. He has also completed three master’s degrees and qualified as a CPA – a move he says makes him more effective in his naval role.

Entering commission in September 2017, the Hobart is the first of three new guided-missile destroyers to be added to the Royal Australian Navy’s fleet. The vessel is huge: at 147 metres long, close to 20 metres wide, 50 metres high and 7000 tonnes, it’s a commanding presence at the Garden Island berth in Sydney. Stavridis is responsible for the whole ship and its 186 crew. 

“As a surface combatant, HMAS Hobart is capable of achieving the entire spectrum of naval operations: military, constabulary and diplomatic … but our primary role is air defence for the fleet, providing protection from hostile aircraft and missiles,” he says.

HMAS Hobart is not the first vessel Stavridis has commanded, but it’s the one he is most in awe of. 

“As far as warships go – surface combatants – we are the best,” he says with a broad smile. “We are the most potent and powerful ship ever operated in our navy. She really packs a punch.”

“I love working in the navy … You get to have many careers within the one career.”

Stavridis grew up in Sydney – the son of Greek migrants – and his father had served in the Greek military. The young Stavridis’s yearning to captain a warship was so strong he pushed aside thoughts of becoming an accountant or engineer to pursue a science degree in oceanography at the Australian Defence Force Academy in Canberra.

As he worked towards gaining his captain’s rank, Stavridis spent years in training, with specialisations in anti-submarine warfare and military communications. In 2010, after 20 years in the navy, he was handed the command of his first ship, a frigate called the HMAS Arunta. 

“It is one of those ‘wow’ moments that you hope you can live up to,” says Stavridis of gaining his first command. 

“You are competing against your peers, who are all very capable, but there is only limited opportunity. When you are selected you feel very blessed – then the incredible responsibility hits you. However, the navy trains people very well, so you remember you are working with very self-motivated people.”

In 2011, he took command of another frigate, HMAS Anzac. The vessel patrolled the Arabian Sea and elsewhere from July 2012 to January 2013 as part of the International Coalition Against Terror. Stavridis earned the Commendation for Distinguished Service for his performance.

Along with his extensive military training, which included postings to the US and Singapore, Stavridis has master’s degrees in science (information technology) from the University of New South Wales, commerce (accounting) from Deakin University, and an MBA through Salve Regina University in the US.

Why then, would a principal warfare officer in the navy become a CPA? Stavridis says the advantages are significant.

To rise to the rank of captain, Stavridis had to know navigation, logistics, weapons, electrical, communications and how everything on board works. However, as his responsibilities grew, Stavridis felt he needed more business acumen.

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“When we are ashore, I’m involved in a lot of project management roles, so the good governance and financial reporting [units in the CPA Program] all help with that,” he explains. 

“Something I hadn’t expected was how helpful it is to be able to speak the financial language.When I speak with the experts now, I have a much better understanding, and I’ve also found it really builds that rapport.”  

After completing the CPA Program in 2015, Stavridis has a different perspective on areas such as strategic leadership, management and ethics

“We do a lot of strategy training in the navy – it is outstanding – but you don’t get it from how the business approaches it,” he says. “I wanted the CPA lens of how to apply strategy to a business.”

He says gaining a CPA designation later in his career has enabled him to immediately apply that knowledge to his strategic planning and leadership as ship’s captain. 

Stavridis is also tasked with establishing the culture of the ship. As he gives INTHEBLACK a tour of his vessel, it is obvious the captain is respected by his crew, but they are cheerful, not intimidated.

“They are all volunteers with a strong sense of service prepared to put their life on the line, so they have a right to enjoy their job,” he says. “It’s not just about strategies; I have to think ‘How do I lead my team so the crew can achieve that mission?”

Stavridis is yet to tire of life at sea, but it’s more challenging now he has a wife and two daughters.

“I love working in the navy,” he says. “The most rewarding part has been the range of opportunities ... along with a focus on personal and professional development.

“You get to have many careers within the one career.” 

Read next: Australia's defence boom: accountants are needed


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