Category Archives: Business

The Business of Governing


The common statement “the business of governing” is detrimental, as the focus should be upon providing government with the best efficiencies private business experience, and expertise, has to offer.

The statement should read “business within government”, providing a completely different mindset.

This involves implementing within government the best efficiencies of business by identifying process improvements, removing duplication of effort, improving inter-departmental coordination, reviewing and assessing key personnel (always with the goal of ‘best fit’) with positions allocated by merit, and producing budget savings through operational efficiencies, all with a focus on customer (public) outcomes and improved service.

Quantifiable achievements would include;

  1. Designate and decide on all areas of Departmental and Ministerial responsibility so no-one can “pass the buck”.
  2. Allocate responsibilities and targets to ensure the desired and clearly stated outcomes are achieved within set time-frames.
  3. Ensure all cost savings achieved are ongoing, no one-off savings included in targets, by implementing guidelines, overseeing their implementation and educating management.
  4. Allocation of necessary resources (from those existing within government), setting applicable Key Performance Levels (KPL) and managing staff to complete set objectives and achieve all desired outcomes.
  5. All reports produced to be concise and written in plain English, with detailed analysis provided only when requested.
  6. The emphasis will be on outcomes, results, savings, improved service and efficiency not on unnecessary documentation, sub-committees or meetings.

This proposal would require minimal personnel for it would allocate additional resources from other Departments (not exceeding an agreed limit), and investigate and set goals, priorities and outcomes in simple terms.

Initial targets would be;

  1. Documented ongoing budgetary savings through reduced red tape via improved coordination, demarcation and processes.
  2. Improved accountability within government departments creating efficiencies and gains in timelines and processes.
  3. Improved ‘connection’ between wants and needs of the public and what government provides.
  4. Improved public service in all areas, with all agreed objectives (including time-frames) being met.
  5. Overall improved perception of government efficiency, thereby attracting a higher class of personnel and additional budget savings through their specialist knowledge and experience.
  6. Improved performance measurement and ongoing guidance to ensure operational efficiencies are maintained.

Is the above business-like approach really outside the capabilities of our elected officials? When every vote counts, decisions can be compromised.

This is an unfortunate fact since Democracy (or what we now know as Democracy) began.

It would therefore be prudent to appoint a successful business person to head such a Department with powers level with that of a Minister, to ensure success.

The saving of hundreds of thousands of dollars would result, if expedited correctly, an amount equal to hundreds of people not having to pay tax for a year. As the appointee would be on a contract they would have no fear of losing votes, leading to decisive and correct decisions being made.

Surely a winner for everyone, especially as the above savings figure is extremely conservative. In fact, savings of millions of dollars would be the set target, anything less being regarded as a failure, over the term of implementation (years).

But would politicians have the courage to give someone the power and authority to achieve this? Unfortunately I fear not, for once again they would wonder if introducing such a system might anger some minority groups and lose them votes. Or potentially cause disgruntled public servants to voice discontent. The right person for this role would take note of any such discontent and target them for removal.

Change is far easier to implement when you have new employees, who are unaware of ‘old’ procedures and are more willing to accept new ways of thinking.

The Decaying Morality of Big Business in Australia


Once upon a time…yes I am using a fairytale opening, because big business and morals in this country has now become a fairytale concept.

With the Royal Commission into Banks, who would be naive enough to think that all the other big publicly listed businesses actually do the right thing?

Why would they?

Their advertising says that you, the customer, are the most important thing to them when in fact it is hitting targets to gain bonuses. They couldn’t care less how they achieve their bonuses just as long as they receive them.

When was the last time you heard of a major Australian public company contributing to a crowdfunding campaign for someone in desperate need? I cannot remember one.

Small businesses have, however, and enjoy a far better image as a result.

The four major banks should have an ‘Humanitarian Budget’ which is allocated to the worthiest causes as judged by senior, or even middle management (remember them?). They can, and should, by any moral or ethical argument put some of the Billions of dollars in profit they make each year towards dozens, perhaps hundreds, of worthy causes. Their bottom line would barely be affected.

The one stupid, contrary argument (and unfortunately it is law) is that as publicly listed companies they must put shareholders interests first. In other words they must maximise shareholders’ dividend payments.

As mentioned they could easily give away $10M each and split it up into hundreds of worthy causes. However their shareholders would rightly ask “Hey, by law you have to put us first and by giving that money away I got $10 less in dividend income!”

With the law on their side unfortunately it is a circular argument, a Catch 22.

As long as that law remains as it stands, profits will always be put before helping people where public companies are concerned. Perhaps a ‘tweaking’ of the law is required?

Many large private companies (but still too few) are well known for their generosity. I argue it is because they decide what to spend their profits on, not a horde of needy shareholders.

At this stage I must put my own hand up, and reveal that I have owned shares and as a shareholder I lived for those dividends. Yes, I am two faced but at least I admit it and am ready to discuss badly needed change.

The big four banks might point to a number of charitable donations, but they seem to only contribute if they can place a huge logo on it, in order to achieve a return on investment for their marketing dollars. Yes, they call helping people in need “Marketing”.

Westpac used to have a lovely rescue helicopter flying around but only because it was saturated with their logo. Then they did some analysis and ROI (return on investment) calculations and ceased funding this rescue helicopter. Not because they couldn’t afford it, but because they need to put shareholders first followed closely by their bonuses (or is it the other way around?).

Putting bonuses ahead of helping people is disgusting and definitely unAustralian. Which is ironic because had they helped more families they would have received more favourable media coverage and may not be facing a damaging Royal Commission right now. It would definitely would change our perception of them.

But there is one final problem, and this is the biggest and by far the most difficult to understand. Almost everyone hates the big four banks, and will complain about them ad nauseum but they will not close their accounts and take their business elsewhere! The big four easily have 85% of the total market, so there is no incentive on them, at all, to change their ways. In fact it encourages them to behave badly because their customers do not leave them.

So, in the end, it is your own apathy and unwillingness to follow through on your complaints that makes them so comfortable. It also creates the perfect environment for corruption, because they know that no matter what they do their customers, by and large, will stay with them. So up go fees, down goes quality of service and contributing to the community.

Well done Australians, you reep what you sow.

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Build it…and they will NOT come


Before 2003 when Steve Blank wrote his now famous best seller, The Four Steps to the Epiphany, the dot com bust need not have happened.

His book became the basis of Lean Startups with his Customer Focused model. Before then it was all Product Focused, in that startups planned their product or service to the nth degree and ignored customers because “If you build it they would come.”

They didn’t.

Unfortunately their budgets went into developing and producing the best, shiniest widget they could possibly make.

There was just one problem – no customers. Their product was either too expensive, or didn’t have enough features or had too many.

It wasn’t their fault, this is the way they, and every other startup, were taught.

A precious few identified the one great but simple flaw in this way of thinking, in that the customer had not been consulted before the product had been produced. Until this ‘epiphany’ no-one had thought to ask the potential customer whether what they were building actually solved a problem for them, at a price they would be willing to pay.

One of the notable exceptions is Steve Jobs, who produced products we didn’t know we wanted until we saw them, and then we had to have them!

Until Steve Blank wrote his book pointing out this simple error, hundreds of millions of dollars had been wasted. True, some of them had successful IPO’s where the clever investors took their profit and ran before debtors came calling, but it was only a matter of time before the bust came after the emotionally charged boom finished.

Ignore potential customers at your peril.

And they did…and closed their doors.

Eric Reis wrote an excellent book nearly ten years later when the term ‘Lean Startup’ was born. He directly credits Steve Blank’s book as having been the catalyst for this.

Today one of the very first questions asked by potential investors, and on shows such as ‘Shark Tank’ is, “How many have you sold?” and “Have you researched the market to see if people want this and will buy it?”.

Strange as it may seem, but these questions are relatively new concepts to startups… except for the successful ones.

The idea of living on baked beans for six months to a year validating that your market exists, finding out what your customers want your widget to look like and how much they were prepared to pay for one (hopefully at a price point sufficient to make a profit), had only occasionally been considered.

Until Steve Blank wrote his book and out of it came the term ‘Lean Startup’.

It may seem obvious now that you must obtain customer validation before spending a fortune on manufacturing your goods and marketing them, but at the time of the dot com boom all investors wanted to know was; do you have a website and does it have ecommerce? That is, can customers buy online.

If the answers to both questions was yes then you received a rather large mountain of cash.

And ran out of it a year or so later.

So, if you are a budding entrepreneur, talk to potential customers before you build anything. Preferably, obtain contracts from one or three saying that if you make this product, and it does what they want it too at their acceptable price point, they would buy it. This way your first customer/s are already ‘in the bag’ and they can provide you with essential feedback as you make changes, fine tuning your product.

Knowing who your customers are, where they are and how you can reach them is critical these days. The dot com bust hurt a lot of people, thankfully most have learned from their mistakes and will not give you one cent if you cannot answer those simple questions regarding your customers. It also helps if you are already working with several customers, so you can receive their feedback and fine tune your product to make sure that when it is released it is successful.

Listen more than you talk, and do not spend copious amounts of money on your product until you know everything about your target customers.

Now we call this a Lean Startup, however I call it common sense.

Good luck to entrepreneurs everywhere, may your customers be eternally happy and grateful that you solved a real headache and seemingly insurmountable problem for them.

Or if you are Steve Jobs, or know where his crystal ball is, please ignore me entirely.

Craig Pickering, 31st March 2018

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A certain percentage of young people will always leave South Australia


It stinks, but it’s true.

Steven Marshall campaigned hard on this issue in the recent SA State election (which he won) and I for one am glad that fresh eyes are looking at this problem. However he will never be completely successful.

It remains a fact that 90+ percent of head offices are in either Sydney or Melbourne, and unless we want to double our size (in people, infrastructure etc) we will never attract more than one or two big businesses here, compared to the dozens interstate.

Of course it is worth trying but ANZ, Telstra, Panasonic and the very large organisations will never move here.

I myself spent four years in Sydney because I wanted to see how high I could go, and to enjoy the variety and challenge of working for a major corporation. I ended up as National Product Manager for IT Products for Panasonic Australia, a position I loved and never would have achieved had I remained in SA.

Mind you four years was enough (I spent over three hours a day commuting, thankfully in a company car), and family circumstances necessitated that I return to SA.

I came back to a position as a Corporate Salesperson for Ericsson. This was a big step down from travelling around Australia every few months, demonstrating the latest IT products and teaching distributors and major retail outlets how to sell them. I also gained valuable experience in presenting to the top buyers in Harvey Norman, Myers and so on, negotiating floor space and pricing.

I never would have had that experience here in Adelaide, where the biggest employer is the State Government.

I much prefer working in Adelaide to the traffic, congestion, polluted air and high cost of living in Sydney. However the upsides of working interstate, if you have ambition, far outweigh the negatives.

The attitude interstate is also much closer to the US and Silicon Valley. There, if you have started a business and failed they are actually impressed by your initiative and know that you learned some hard lessons. In Adelaide you are more likely to be shunned.

This attitude within our beautiful State will not change until the current ‘startup generation’ are well into their forties. Unfortunately this is a hard fact that we must face head-on.

So how do we keep young people from leaving SA? By being more forgiving of their mistakes and encouraging them to try again. By recognising that a certain percentage will move interstate no matter what you do, and helping the rest to make the move back ‘home’ an easy one.

You can accomplish this by having a small department that keeps in contact with these talented and adventurous young people, encouraging them to explore outside SA (they will anyway) and yet also ehticing them to return by offering a more welcoming attitude. This same small department could assist them in their transition back to SA, without them having to go backwards in their careers, by facilitating them to find a relevant position here that is of sufficient interest to them.

This small (keep it simple and focused!) government department could help them find interesting roles by assisting local businesses here to create them. This can be achieved by finding the already successful small businesses in SA (of which there are many) and assisting them, without mountains of red tape, to grow.

Up until now most of the emphasis has been on opening startup hubs and announcing unrealistic figures on how many jobs they will create. Yes we need to foster our local startup community but it needs to be coordinated and supported properly. This would involve assisting them by providing long term mentoring, cheap access to accountants, lawyers and investors to steer them in the right direction. Also vital is utilising the founders of already successful startups in SA, by encouraging them to introduce local business people to respected contacts they never would have met otherwise.

All this needs to be done in conjunction with identifying small businesses that could easily become large businesses with the right backing and support.

Such a coordinated effort would make it more attractive for our young people to stay here, and for those that leave it would encourage the talented ones to return. That involves keeping track of them and using a CRM (customer relationship management) system within government, to keep in touch and to entice them back.

This means it would be essential for this arm of government to be run like a business.

I, for one, have hope.

Who needs politicians??


People keep leaving Adelaide for better jobs in other States.

It’s been this way for decades yet no politician has taken it seriously. It’s all up to us to do it ourselves, and to volunteer to help people who need it.

The government does nothing but produce reports and spend our money like they’d won the lottery.

Without the people nothing would get done, and without the politicians MORE would get done!

A benevolent dictatorship looks better every day… 😁

$Billion Bank Profits yet they sack workers!


So NAB announce a full year $5.3bn profit and at the same time the sacking of 6,000 staff.

Absolutely disgusting! With the $5.3b profit they should be hiring people to take care of the community, not firing 6,000 and potentially destroying 6,000 lives!

I know legally they have to put shareholders first, but surely the time has come for social responsibility to outweigh and extra couple of cents dividend per share! Oh, and I am sure executive bonuses will go up as people are shown the door carrying their careers in cardboard boxes.

We desperately need a change in corporate focus!

Constantly Working Long Hours? Maybe You’re The Problem.


I’ve always thought that if you’re constantly having to work long hours (the exception being if it’s your business, then it’s your choice and sometimes a necessity) then you are not efficient and don’t use your time as productively as possible.

In the past I’ve heard many people spend an hour a day, or more, complaining that they don’t have enough time to do their job!

A person working long hours more often than not demonstrates a lack of ability or of support, both are toxic in any organisation.

Go home, spend time with family or on yourself, because you’ll never be paid for those extra hours and your boss won’t appreciate it, she/he will just get used to it and soon expect it as your normal day.

Do yourself a favour and GO HOME!