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Australian Business Culture and Leadership

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In recent Blogs I hypothesised that Australian business culture was too focused on lifestyle. In some ways we are more interested in lifestyle than business or work!
(“The lifestyle country” May 2014 and
One day we will wake up” 29th January 2015 )

In reflecting on Australian business culture, it is worth considering the key elements and or symbols of that culture:

1. The nature and type of Industry in which Australia engages.
2. The break-up of different businesses – Public Companies –Private Companies and the different variations within them – Family Businesses etc
3. The scale of businesses – Small, Medium, Large
4. The ASX
5. The nature of the structures around business – Industry Associations AIG, BBCA, COSBA and many others.
6. The Industrial Relations Systems –including awards, commissions and unions

Each of these elements plays a role in contributing to and defining the sort of business culture we have in Australia. If we look back to the initial politics of Australia, the great political divide at Federation was free trade v. protection. The political parties of the day actually lined up around these issues. These issues remain today – the debates around the car industry – submarines – the free trade agreements currently being negotiated?

Australia as a country has been endowed with an abundance of natural resources. In the early days primary industry underwrote our “success” and following that our mineral resources have continued to underwrite our prosperity. Over this extended period we have developed a robust and stable business system. As we move to the future, it requires courageous forethought and a focus that is uncommon in this country. We are very comfortable with our “lifestyle”.

All sectors and segments of society are important and no one sector or segment can do without the other. BUT the one sector that must lead and be highly relevant and productive is the business sector. The business sector is the only economic wealth creation sector in our society.

Without an outstanding successful business sector there are NO PRODUCTS AND SERVICES OF ANY SUBSTANCE, NO JOBS, NO TAXES, and VERY LITTLE WEALTH – ultimately a very poor society!

When I think about Australian business culture, it is easy to identify the symbols and signs of the culture – articulated above. It is much tougher to identify the “iconic” leaders in Australian business – those who not only lead or have led their businesses but those who provide leadership to the country.

One way of identifying how we see business in Australia is to review the Australian of the Year awards – awarded on Australia Day each year.
They first started in 1960 so there have been 55 awards. These awards are our most visible recognition of leading Australians.
An analysis over time shows these awards by “industry category ‘”
• Science /Health (11)
• The Arts (11)
• Sport (13)
• Business (4)– Alan Bond 1978, Dick Smith 1986, Simon McKeon 2011 and Ita Buttrose 2013.

In summary there are:

24 Awards for The Arts and Sport (lifestyle – culture)
11 for science and health (lifestyle related)
The other outstanding contributions in Australia are for Public Service/Military Service (7), the Clergy (2), Community Service/Environment (5) Indigenous leadership (4) Academe(1)

What a revelation! While I have no doubt all the recipients are outstanding Australians and worthy recipients, where are the business leaders – only 4!
It is easy to understand why health is at the top of the list. The Arts? Certainly a major cultural activity! And sport – that’s because ‘we punch above our weight”? Lifestyle wins by a mile!!

Business barely gets a mention – the one sector of society which loosely speaking FUNDS it all.Is it that there are no leaders or that we are not able to recognize them?

How is it that business (entrepreneurship) is not our national sport?

From my perspective there is a need to move the focus of debate in this country to wealth creation as the source of prosperity!

There is no doubt Australia deserves a leading edge /world class education system, a healthcare system, NDIS, NBN, a robust defence system etc. but none of it will exist without a business system which is a model for the world.

In the 1980’s/90’s some outstanding work was done to position Australia for the 21st Century and because of it we were able to manage the GFC.

So what is happening now? We have now had a succession of governments who are a captive of the ‘here and now” and appear to be unable to lead a genuine conversation about the future?

Maybe one day we will wake up!!

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