Tony Charalambides

tony charalambides

We were delighted to speak to Tony Charalambides. He is an inspirational leader with a clear social and environmental conscience. Tony is a mission driven entrepreneur who has spent the majority of his career in the charity sector. This includes 9 years as Founder CEO of Listen, an award-winning fundraising agency that raised over £300m for charities in the UK and abroad. He is currently COO at Asset Tribe, holds several Trustee and NED positions, including with NewLeaf and is due to join the Carbon13 climate venture program in March 2023. Knowing him from a distance all these years it’s been fascinating to finally spend some quality time getting to know each other these last couple of years. Clearly we share the same values and vision for businesses to do good and we wish you well in your portfolio of ventures.


What is the book (or books) you’ve given most as a gift, and why? Or what are one to three books that have greatly influenced your life?

I’m not an avid book reader, I prefer to read websites and news articles about politics, news, sport, music and business. But I have found a great book called You Are Awesome by Matthew Syed. It’s for young kids and focuses on building their self-worth and confidence. It demonstrates the behaviours needed to be the best version of themselves. I’ve recommended this book more than any other to parents that I know, and have read it with my kids.


What purchase of £100 or less has most positively impacted your life in the last six months (or in recent memory)? (Brand and mode and where you found it?)

The massive chillies water bottle for £35. We haven’t bought plastic bottles for a long time. This one is robust and all members of the family have them. Likewise reusable coffee cups for the adults.


How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Do you have a “favourite failure” of yours?

When I played wheelchair tennis I had to move up lots of different levels to become a professional. I always played above my skill to try and improve, which meant I learnt and improved faster despite losing matches along the way. However I believe this made me a better player as I moved quickly up the levels, I accepted this was part of my preparation to get where I wanted to go. It was a trajectory I was willing to accept.


If you could have a gigantic billboard anywhere with anything on it —metaphorically speaking, getting a message out to millions or billions — what would it say and why? It could be a few words or a paragraph. (If helpful, it can be someone else’s quote: Are there any quotes you think of often or live your life by?)

“Live and let live.”

This is a message I used a lot when I was a teenager in a wheelchair. Accept others and don’t put them in boxes.

Or a slightly cheesy work related one would be…

“Work hard and be nice to people.”


What is one of the best or most worthwhile investments you’ve ever made? (Could be an investment of money, time, energy, etc.)

I think it’s important to invest time in the formative experiences that are important to you. My parents are first generation immigrants. Greek Father and Chinese Malaysian Mother. I’ve always had an international outlook and a keen interest in other cultures and other ways of living. After university I didn’t rush straight into a job as I knew I wanted more experiences before committing to a specific career, so I travelled and worked for three years. The first year, I became a wheelchair tennis professional to try to get into the  British Paralympic team, very narrowly missing out. The second year I went to Canada to spend time with my Chinese family, helping them launch a medical start up treating people with spinal injuries. In the third year I travelled the world whilst also volunteering on various environmental, educational and refugee projects. All these experiences benefited me and set me up for the rest of my life, from getting married, having kids and setting up my business. I could never travel like that now but back then I had the freedom to do that. This time was essential for me to grow up and further develop my world view.


What advice would you give to a smart, driven student about to enter the “real world”?

You’ll never maximise potential if you are risk averse. Sometimes you have to take risks in life. Do so with a clear rationale, a hypothesis, always be open to try new things.


What annoys you most about your industry and the way companies/organisations are run in it?

In the charity sector there is a slower pace to innovation than in other sectors due to decision making often being too risk averse and bureaucratic. I completely appreciate the necessity for a sensible framework and due diligence but a greater acceptance of qualified risk would help encourage dynamism and urgency, both of which are essential if charities are going to best perform their critical role in civil society.


When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, or have lost your focus temporarily, what do you do?

First thing I tend to do is take some time to reflect, away from the noise. Then my next step is to speak to friends, family and colleagues to talk it through and to seek other people’s opinions before coming to a final view about what to do. This is my thought process. This is how I reach solutions. It’s a pragmatic approach. I don’t let problems overwhelm me too much. I’ve always been like that. Being in a wheelchair, focused my mind on solutions. Luckily, I could rehabilitate and walk again. It was a profoundly positive experience in my life.


What does leadership mean to you?

Lots of things. I think the most important objective is creating an environment where everyone is motivated by and given the tools to achieve collective success.

Leadership styles are personal but I strongly believe that they should be principles based. Fairness, bravery, tenacity, diligence and leading by example are principles that have underpinned my approach to leadership. It is also important to lead with humility and provide clarity whilst being approachable, adaptable and agile.


If you had the forum to speak to 50 leaders, what question would you pose to them, to get them thinking about and being a better leader?

What one piece of advice would you have given to yourself when you started your current leadership position?


Which people have most inspired you in your life and why?

Nearly everyone involved in or playing wheelchair tennis was a positive role mode for me. They had all faced adversity but overcame it with a fearless, can-do, determined, solution-focussed attitude. These are traits I respect hugely and I have all of those people to thank for their inspiration.

Topic: 50 in 50