Garry Weaven is not your typical financial high flyer. For a start, he’s an ex-trade unionist. He’s also a former radical left-winger, having been a member of the Socialist Club during his time at La Trobe University in the early 1970s. Back then the campus was such a hotbed of Vietnam War protest and activist ideas, even the term “Labor Club” was considered right wing.

“They didn’t have a Labor Club back in those days,” Weaven tells The Power Index. “They were too idealistic for a Labor Club at La Trobe.”

He’s also an economics graduate who moved through the ranks of the union movement to become one of the most influential figures in Australia’s $1.4 trillion superannuation investment pool.

Weaven’s got a major say over the retirement savings of millions of people. As chairman of a multibillion-dollar super empire, he’s a big player in the ever-growing super funds network. And that makes him an increasingly powerful individual.

After all, he’s got plenty of credibility. Weaven was one of the architects of superannuation, having served time as assistant secretary at the ACTU not long after it signed the accord with the ALP (which kicked off super in the 1980s). Back then he teamed with secretary Bill Kelty to help build industry super funds for workers. In 1984, only 34% of Australians had super. Today that figure is closer to 80%.

Former Labor finance minister Lindsay Tanner says Weaven is an example of how people can “achieve major change” without having to be elected to parliament.

“There are very few former union officials who have contributed as much to the labour movement and the well being of working people over the past three decades as Garry Weaven,” Tanner told The Power Index.

Born and bred in working class Northcote, in Melbourne’s inner-north, Weaven followed in his truck-driving father’s footsteps and joined the old Municipal Officers Association straight out of university as a researcher, eventually becoming assistant secretary at the ACTU in 1986.

He credits his rapid rise through the unions as being a major factor in where he is today.

“You can develop quite a lot of influence in and authority pretty quickly coming up in the union movement,” said Weaven. “There were very few graduates in the ranks of the executive staff of the unions in those days, so you could acquire responsibility fairly rapidly.”

But that was only the start of it. Weaven’s career took a left turn when he left the ACTU to join Westpac as a financial consultant in 1990, before rejoining the union fray to set up Industry Funds Services in 1994.

*Read the full profile at The Power Index