A few weeks ago, I gave the address at the UWA graduation, 18 years after I had graduated there in the same hall. Here’s my speech… and here’s a link to watch (from the 16 minute mark of the night)
Well, what an occasion.
For those of you graduating tonight, smile, take selfies in your gown and finetune your snapchat stories.
You deserve it, it’s your night. Well done.
Parents and friends, you should feel justifiably proud of your charges spread out in their finery before us.
For UWA is a top university, already firmly placed in the top 100 globally, and as if that is not enough, has set out its stall to break into the top 50.
No one will be able to take away this degree they have earned, and strived for, and shed frustrating tears for.
It’s there, letters after their name, forever. Well done.
And for those of you robed professors behind me, I haven’t forgotten about you either.
I know you’ve sat through these interminable things for more years than you dare to count.
You deserve a self-satisfied Cheshire cat smile, and so please, in your amazing extravagant felt & silly hats borne of a different era, sit back, kick off and relax, because I will only be 7 minutes.
If there’s a theme for my brief talk this evening, it’s go jump off a ledge.
Every now and again I implore you to look about, smell the air, nod knowingly to the safe well-trodden path and simply go jump off a ledge.
Not in actuality, just figuratively. I have only once (actually) jumped off a ledge.
It was many years ago. 1981.
I was painting the roof on my parent’s 2-storey house back in the west of England where I grew up.
I was 18, between school and university, what I laughingly referred to as my gap year.
The Ashes was on the radio, Ian Botham was singlehandedly toying with the Australian cricket team, and I was somewhat distracted.
Balancing on the moss-covered tiles, I felt myself slowly slipping downwards and had but a few seconds to examine my predicament.
As my feet came to the edge of the building, I leapt and somehow made it onto the driveway without injury.
So NO, dear parents and friends, I am not urging your newly bestowed to throw themselves off the nearest actual ledge they can find, but I am asking them to have a think about doing so, when, metaphorically, they have a choice.
Leap at certain times in your life, and often when you feel most comfortable. In fact, especially when you feel most comfortable.
It’s perhaps the best advice I can give you.
For it’s when you push yourself that you perform at your best, discover what’s new, achieve the most and have more fun.
In Easter 1999 I was sitting where you are today, a freshly minted graduate, top of my class indeed, with an MBA from this very university.
I’d never topped anything in my life, as my Dad seemed amused enough to remind me on countless occasions.
A few weeks later I was walking down a beach in Esperance with my wife Lisa. I had been quiet for a few days, something you may gather is rare for me, so Lisa knew something was up.
I’d been thinking.
I stopped in the pristine white sand, turned to her and said: “I know I have to use this MBA. I have to use this and do something else, but the trouble is, I have no idea what I should do. I’m a school teacher, I’ve never been in business…”
Before I had barely said any of that, Lisa said “Go for it.”
You know you’ve married the right person when you get a response like that. Well of course I knew that many years before, but you know what I mean.
I was Head of Commerce at Hale School, and had an MBA.
Now I was arguing to throw that all away, and for what? To do what?
I had no clue. Should I leap out in management consulting as so many MBA grads do? How could I do that, without any business experience? Should I start up a company? How is that possible? Get a job – if so what? What jobs are there for ex school teachers?
All these things ran around my troubled mind for many weeks after.
Then, the idea that became aussiehome.com appeared. The world’s first map-based real estate website, launched here in Nedlands, a stone’s throw from this very hall, by 2 UWA grads.
It was very tough convincing real estate agents to post properties on our website back in 1999, let alone keep them updated and then pay for the privilege.
I know you don’t remember 1999, most of you were not even 5 years old, but stay with me.
Over time, our little internet business grew. Real estate agents were getting enquiries, and after a few years, we were profitable, paying dividends to our plucky shareholders and then after 10 years, we sold the business, lock stock and barrel, to REIWA.
REIWA took on all our staff as employees, and shareholders received a cash exit.
None of this would have happened without me jumping off that comfortable ledge I had at Hale School.
After 3 years at REIWA, I jumped again, this time into Business News to help them with their digital transformation. A few years later I was made CEO.
After 4 more years and just a few WEEKS ago, I jumped yet again, and finally I did get to set up my own consulting business.
I simply don’t know this will go, I’m only in week two, but have already secured my first paying customer, which has me flying to Cambodia next week, and a second client as of this morning.
So, you get the picture.
Your 20s are for experimentation – with your career I mean – you may move a few times and that’s fine. You have bucket loads of time on your side.
Even if a few moves don’t work out, you have plenty of time to recover. You may be embarking on a 50-year career.
So don’t settle, keep moving forward.
And when a ledge presents itself, take a leap.
If it does not appear, create one, and jump anyway.
Because that’s how WA built its sizeable resources industry, through a pioneering spirit, and that’s how we will build our future economy, in health, tourism, education, agriculture, technology and all the rest.
In fact, with the rapid rate of change these days, we don’t even have an option. UWA should be handing out parachutes with those fancy gowns you’re all wearing, or maybe they really are a parachute after all?
When I was a kid, a favourite west country insult was: “Go take a long walk off a short pier”.
In other words, UWA graduates, go jump off a ledge!