Why business leaders should get out more; lessons from the outer suburbs
With all of the shenanigans that have been going on in Canberra in recent times you could easily be excused for ‘switching off’ at the mere mention of any of our political leaders. This is totally understandable but also a shame because sometimes we can throw the baby out with the bathwater. Take for example the PM’s visit to Western Sydney, it’s easy to be cynical about the politics of this but the principle of leaders listening first-hand to people in these often overlooked communities is a good one. And here’s something you may not have considered: Leaders of Australian Corporations would do well to follow the PM’s example and spend some time in the outer suburbs of our cities. This would bring insights to businesses and opportunities to provide support to communities grappling with significant social and economic challenges.
As a resident of a suburb on the fringe of south western Sydney, I travel every day to the CBD and know only too well the tremendous potential in these communities. In many ways they represent the future Australia – in 2010/11 the ABS found that the outer suburbs represented two thirds of the growth in the Australian population. These suburbs are characterised by many young families settling for greater housing affordability, young adults choosing to stay close to home and start their careers and new migrants investing their skills and capabilities in the local economies. All of this is borne out in the entrepreneurial energy of these communities which are the heartland for business in Australia.
Corporate leaders would do well to take notice of the opportunities these communities present to Australia because it’s in the outer suburbs that they will find their future customers with their increased discretionary income, their future skilled workforce will the have the luxury of choice in a labour market fighting for the right skills and a growing group of small businesses ready to compete as suppliers.
Of course the picture in the outer suburbs of our cities isn’t all rosy. As we keep hearing, there are significant infrastructure challenges that make it difficult for residents in outer suburbs to access goods and services and to commute to work every day- and they’re just a few of the challenges! A good number of these communities would be classified as disadvantaged and we know that only 43 per cent of kids from disadvantaged communities will continue into higher education. One in three will leave school without any career prospects. If the new frontier in our national economic debate is going to focus on improving productivity then here’s the low hanging fruit.
Australia is surprisingly one of the most urbanised communities in the world. Focusing on our outer suburbs will be critical to strengthening the social and economic capital of our cities. These issues are not solely the domain of our political leaders but require the attention and commitment of corporate leaders. Why? Because you can’t operate a successful business in a failed community. I’m sure most of our corporate leaders know all this but seeing the potential and the challenges of our outer suburbs is a different thing altogether. You could do this by having your next executive retreat in one of these communities, commuting with some of your employees one day to work or getting to know your future workforce through one of the local high schools. Perhaps the PM’s onto something in getting first-hand experience in the Rooty Hill’s of Australian cities.
Doug Taylor – CEO, United Way Australia