Lord Mayor Basil Zempilas

7 principles for leadership success

From Broadcaster to Mayor - Basil Zempilas' inspiring career journey

Written by Emma Mason AIMM
8 minute read
Lord Mayor Basil Zempilas

Lord Mayor of the City of Perth, Basil Zempilas

There are few individuals in Perth, Western Australia who are unfamiliar with Basil Zempilas.

In fact, it would be safe to assume that most people in the state would readily recognise the 18th Lord Mayor of the City of Perth, simply by his first name.

With almost 30 years of experience as a reporter for Channel 7 and various contributions to the West Australian, Telethon and 882 6PR Perth, Basil has made an indelible mark on public life.

It came as no surprise when Basil made the decision to run for the position of Lord Mayor of Perth prior to the 2020 election. After all, Basil has spent most of his career traversing different job roles and opportunities.

At AIM WA's latest Inspirational Leaders Series event, Basil shared his remarkable journey and the leadership principles that have followed him, from a young and aspiring sports reporter to a beloved figure in Western Australian media and public life.

Sometimes all we need is a bit of luck and self-belief

Beginning his speech with a touch of nostalgia, Basil expressed gratitude for the ultimate privilege he experienced while entering people's homes night after night as a broadcaster.

Basil's love for his career is evident as he reflected, "I feel incredibly lucky to have ended up in a profession that I not only enjoy but also comes naturally to me. It has taken me to incredible places, and none of it has ever felt like work."

From his roles as a Channel 7 staple, footy show host and Australian Open tennis commentator, to his time as a Weekend Sunrise co-host and a headline presenter at the Olympics to name a few, Basil highlighted the pinch-yourself moments that shaped his career.

“When I was at high school in 1985, Rick Arden was joined by Susannah Carr from the ABC, presenting the weather was Jeff Newman and presenting the sport was Dennis Commeti,” Basil discussed.

“When I started doing the news on a regular basis, I sat next to Rick and Sue, with Jeff as the weather presenter and I took over from Dennis Commeti.

“We talked about pinch-yourself moments on your journey. That was the pinch yourself moment for me.”

Climbing the ranks so quickly in the media industry was something that Basil knew took some luck.

“I don't care who you are, how talented you are, how smart you are. You need a little bit of luck. Turns out you also need a little bit of self-belief,” he said.

1. Work hard

While acknowledging the role of luck, Basil emphasised the importance of commitment and hard work.

Drawing on the famous quote by South African golfer Gary Player, ‘the harder I work, the luckier I get’, Basil spoke about the non-negotiable of working hard to become successful.

“Those people that we think are remarkably lucky … were only lucky because they put themselves in the right position to be able to capitalise on that life when it presented itself,” he explained.

It becomes increasingly difficult to argue that Basil's success can be attributed solely to luck once gaining insight into a day in his life.

Rising promptly at 4:00 am every Thursday, he starts off with tasks at Channel 7 Sunrise, followed by writing his column for the Western Australian and dropping his children at school.

Remarkably, all of this is accomplished before he embarks on his duties as Mayor at his City of Perth office at 7:30 am.

“I wasn't the funniest … I wasn't the best looking and that could be important in television. But I tell you what, I worked hard. And I turned up again and again,” Basil said.

2. Be reliable

Basil reflected on why he received some of the broadcasting opportunities he did, as many of the broadcasting programs – such as Weekend Sunrise – were based over east.

“I lived in Perth and was travelling all over the country, it would have been far easier for the executives to ask someone in Sydney or Melbourne to do it,” he said.

“But why was I getting those opportunities? I think it comes back to one word. Executives want reliability.

“They want to know that when they pluck somebody out to do a job, that person is going to do the job.

“They're going to turn up, they're going to be prepared … They're not going to complain when it gets a bit tough and they're going to do it over and over again.

“Work hard. Most other things take care of themselves.”

3. Feedback is your friend

Some may assume that when it comes to Basil's life story, there may have been a fair level of planning and a methodical approach to it. For Basil, however, he stated that this couldn’t be further from the truth.

“As I reflect on my 30 years, I really wasn't one for staying in my specified lane. I was always keen to have a look at what was on the other side of the lane ropes,” he said.

“I wasn't doing that because of a plan of trying to get somewhere. It really was just the unbridled joy and enthusiasm for the space that I was in.”

Recounting the pivotal moment when the opportunity to run for Lord Mayor presented itself, Basil demonstrated his passion for Western Australia and his belief in the role he could play in shaping its future.

While acknowledging the scepticism of some who questioned his suitability, Basil spoke about how he approached the challenge with his characteristic positivity.

“I guess I also did it because there were people along the way trying to suggest to me that it can't be done, or that somebody from a broadcast background would not be well suited to life as the Lord Mayor of the City of Perth,” he said.

“Whenever those questions are asked of me, I'm always keen to see what the answer might be.

“I love the challenge of seeing where a career that hasn't been particularly well planned, might be able to take someone, and for me, that’s part of the joy.”

Inevitably, those that have had extensive careers in the public eye must come to terms with the fact that criticism from the public is an integral part of their journey.

Drawing from his own experiences, Basil shared how feedback, both positive and negative, can be a powerful tool for improvement.

“Feedback is your friend,” he said.

“It can be brutal … If you're in the leadership or management space, the faster you become accustomed to being able to handle feedback, the better.

“Don't listen to the rubbish, throw it - in the bin, but have a look. Take what you can take from it and learn because that's what feedback gives us the opportunity to do.”

4. Seek advice, but only from people you trust

While seeking advice is valuable, Basil advised against overwhelming oneself with too many opinions.

He stressed the significance of trusting a select group of individuals for guidance, as seeking input from too many sources can lead to confusion and conflicting advice.

“In the end, it all comes down to you anyway, you're going to get that feedback, and you have to decide how you're going to process it,” he said.

“Ask it, seek it. Have people you trust, but not too many.”

5. Fail fast

Another key principle Basil follows is giving things a wholehearted try, even if they may not succeed.

Rather than being discouraged by a potential failure, Basil encouraged a mindset of learning and growth.

“We learn by giving things a go, not timidly walking into the space, but going 100 per cent, trying our hardest,” he said.

“If it doesn't work, what have we got? Feedback on the platter. We learn from that.

“So, if you're going to fail, fail fast, give it a go.

“Don't be timid. If it doesn't work, we move on.”

6. Use nerves as an opportunity to perform at your best

Confidence and nerves are not mutually exclusive in Basil's perspective. Despite his natural confidence, Basil admitted that he still experiences nervousness before every speech.

For Basil, he expressed that confidence and nerves go hand in hand and believes that embracing them is essential for effective leadership and success in any role.

“If it's the Telethon Ball, the AFL Grand Final or the last 50 metres of Ariarne Titmus up against Katie Ledecky, get it right. Embrace the nerves … it is part of leadership,” he said.

7. The power of teams and the ability to laugh at yourself

Basil discussed the importance of teams in achieving success in any aspect of life, highlighting that no one can accomplish great things alone, regardless of their intelligence or abilities.

“A team is what enables us to achieve the things that we do,” he said.

“I was fortunate for 20 years to be a member of a four-person team that was invited into your households every night.

“I know without teams, nothing is achieved.

“Nothing good is achieved in this life, in this corporate space, in this leadership world, without harnessing the people and the team around you.”

When touching on the topic of vulnerability, Basil discussed how sharing these moments, partnered with a willingness to learn from mistakes, can earn the respect and support of others.

“There's nothing people like more than somebody who puts their hand up and says ‘I didn't get that right. I'm sorry. I could have done that better. I'm going to learn from my mistakes',” he said.

By embracing imperfections and maintaining a sense of humour, leaders can navigate challenges and inspire their teams.

Unyielding enthusiasm and infectious positivity

When asked about campaigning for the Lord Mayor City of Perth again, Basil stated, “My job right now is to represent the ratepayers in the City of Perth. It’s a job I love and it's a job I want to continue post-October.”

Basil's abundant wisdom, unwavering passion and unyielding enthusiasm for every career path he has crossed have undeniably positioned him as a prominent figure within the City of Perth.

However, amidst his notable confidence, Basil maintains a healthy dose of humility, and he brought his speech to a close with invaluable words of advice.

“Get in there and give it a go. Do your best, be confident,” he said.

“You know more than you think, you've done more than you think, you're in this position because of all those great things.

“… Embrace the challenge and love every single day. That's what I've done. It’s been the most incredible journey you could imagine.”