James McMahon

Class of 1981

James McMahon’s passage through life was not smooth.

True, he finished the year of 1981 as a Prefect, with wins in the Alcock Cup and the Slazenger Cup for AFL and Tennis respectively. He was also a Cadet Under Officer. But turbulence caused by a death in his family became the backdrop for a period of soul searching. An Old Aquinian friend helped him find work on the roads while he tried to figure what his path would be.

In time, James found that the answer was military service.

The army echoed the structure given to him by school and he found it to be “an easy step” up. James emerged 20 years later, highly decorated, as the Commanding Officer of the elite SAS Regiment and a veteran of conflicts in East Timor, Iraq and Afghanistan. His performance in the field won him both the Distinguished Service Medal and the Distinguished Service Cross. As SAS Squadron Commander, James’ squadron was awarded the Meritorious Unit Citation for exemplary performance in East Timor. As SAS Commanding Officer, the unit was again awarded the Meritorious Unit Citation for exemplary performance in Afghanistan. Although typically modestly, James attributes his personal awards, the Distinguished Service Medal and the
Distinguished Service Cross to the men and women on the ground.

The pressures of service finally took a high toll on family life, which for James could not be more important. He particularly remembers being “picked up” from a family holiday on Rottnest and waving his family good-bye to lead a deployment with the SAS.

On returning from operations in 2007, he studied and successfully completed an MBA before turning to the private sector and built up a career in financial services as probably the first person to do so having led the SAS. Financial services proved to be a day job that was easier on the family. He served as Chief Operating Officer (COO) at Azure Capital, a corporate financial advisory firm specialising in mergers and acquisitions, for five years and then with an Azure-backed management consultancy, Chauvel Group.

He also spent time with another of his passions, the West Coast Eagles (2007- 2015) to support some “leadership and cultural programs” before being recruited to their board. He later became Deputy Chair. James subsequently continued his public service with the Department of Corrective Services as the Commissioner where he introduced key performance improvements. Always in demand and multi-talented, James is currently the COO for Australian Capital Equity. He acts as an ambassador to the Fathering Project, a Trustee on the SAS Resources Fund Board, is a member of the investment committee for RSL WA and is on the boards of St John of God Healthcare and the Australian War Memorial.

James is keen to stress that “there is no cookie-cutter life” waiting for anyone. Be positive and make your way. None of his achievements came easily. The three things he carries with him every day: “Be the best person you can be – treat yourself and others with respect; always have a go and lastly do your best.”

He learned these foundations on the fields and in the classrooms of Aquinas College.