My Say

May 2015

How many times have you had to reinvent yourself or your business?

When we hear the word reinvent, it conjures up all sorts of thoughts and emotions and sometimes we might even think it means we need to completely change who we are, what we look like and what we do.
In some situations all of these things will need to change, but the real meaning of reinvention is not to start again but to create a new version of something.

I can think of a big business that has had to reinvent themselves, amongst others.

McDonalds. After a public outcry regarding the health risks associated with eating their high fat food, they went about reinventing themselves. They didn’t stop what they were doing, but instead they created a line of healthy foods. It has been one of the most successful marketing reinventions.

One business that didn’t reinvent themselves was Kodak. They refused to reinvent themselves into the digital age, still offering services in film production when consumers were heading in droves to buy digital cameras and iphones.

So whilst there are positive stories in reinvention there are unfortunately many more stories relating to people and organisations that were not prepared to adapt. Rather they dug their heals in, believing that what worked in the past would continue to work in the future.

Recently I have had to look into one of my business roles with fresh eyes, following a disappointing outcome. I had to think about changing myself and the business as I could not come out looking the same as I went in.
To do this I had to be a bit entrepreneurial. To think about the business and try to get it ahead of the pack and to remain relevant with clients.

I also had to start with the idea of reinvention in my mind. If I wasn’t thinking change, and the Committee wasn’t thinking of change, then the whole process would not be as fruitful.
There are also two types of reinvention.

Survival reinvention, which is introducing just enough change to get us through. The second type of reinvention is growth reinvention. When we actively seek better ways to do things, even in the good times.

And the most interesting thing is that on most occasions it is a combination of both. To only have survival strategies will not keep us alive and to be constantly changing will be wearing customers out.

I am currently in the throws of the first stages of reinvention – the thought process and starting to put a mixture of survival and growth strategies into the business. And there is still a long way to go but I am glad this process has been forced unto myself and the Committee.

Reinvention is simply a way of thinking. It is about wanting to create something better and doing it.

February 2015

Keeping our young people!

This week there were two events that had great similarities for me.

Last Wednesday, Merredin College hosted a Wheatbelt Business Network Business After Hours to discuss education, career development and workforce placements with local businesses.

The night was well attended and discussion focused on strategies that the school, businesses and community could do to keep our young people in Merredin and the surrounding district.

The night highlighted the important relationship between local education facilities and businesses – after all our schools are training the next generation of entrepreneurs and local employees.

On Tuesday I attended a seminar in Northam with Kim Huston, author of “Small Town Sexy” which was hosted by the Wheatbelt Development Commission.

The title of her presentation made us a bit baffled.

Small town sexy? What does sexy mean? Kim explained small towns are sexy because they are seductively charming and they are endearing.

She lives in Bardstown, a small American town in Kentucky (pop 14,000) which has been voted in the top 10 small towns of America, amongst the most beautiful places and top places to retire.

Whilst 14,000 people is larger than our Wheatbelt towns, she did emphasise the importance of working collectively together to make an impact and of course Bardstown was much smaller a decade ago.

Kim’s presentation reminded those present why we like living in small towns.

We can walk or ride to work, we feel safe, we have amazing landscapes, we know our neighbours and it is cheaper than living in the city, to name a few reasons.

Plus we can have the opportunity to make and see change first hand.

How many times would those in the cities be offered leadership positions on Councils, on health advisory boards, progress associations, as sporting coaches, Presidents, advisors to the local School and how many times could you be the owner of your own business, with your own premises?

It is for these reasons that we like living in small towns and it is these reasons we should share with our young people to encourage them to stay or return to their home town.

Kim said our young people often can’t wait to get out of their small town when they have graduated from high school. Or if they have gone to boarding school, how many return?

A lot of our young people head off to their dream jobs in the cities not knowing what their own home town can offer for their chosen profession.

If these young people do want to return to their home town, sometimes we make the assumption “Oh you didn’t make it in the big city?”

Our businesses are an integral part in our community and we should be encouraging our businesses to showcase the diverse career opportunities available to our primary and secondary students before they head off to boarding school, choose their subjects or choice of tertiary education.

Our small towns should also highlight the many opportunities where you can be your own boss, where you can be creative and make an indelible mark on change.

Kim also touted the saying “Main street vs Wall St”, where you can do the same business on the main street of a small town as you would do on Wall street, thanks to a little thing called the internet.

Recently she has observed a number of families moving to her small home town of Bardstown, to escape the busy cities and hiding in small cafes in her home town, doing their Wall St business.

I am sure we can also say this of the Wheatbelt.

At both events this last week, we addressed the same issue: how do we keep our young people in our Wheatbelt towns? Discussing the issue is the first step, it is now up to us as parents, educators and businesses to help make the change.

October 2012

SME’s are good for our communities.

When our communities small to medium enterprises (SME’s) prosper, it multiplies in the community. It’s one of the beliefs I have and that of the Wheatbelt Business Network.

Baylor University, in the USA, looked at the effects of SME’s on their local community. Their research showed that more locally orientated business establishments are statistically experiencing;

  • Higher average income levels,
  • Less income equality,
  • Lower unemployment, and
  • Less crime and delinquency.

Baylor University also went on to say that business owners are vested in the locality, embedded in the community and have a long term role in it. They tend to contribute more business to business sales by supporting other local businesses.

Interestingly, it also found that SME owners may also be experiencing better health outcomes when compared to workers who are doing a 9-5pm role.

Over history, our community entrepreneurs from a variety of industries, have donated time and money to buildings, services and events that bind our communities together. Businesses donate sponsorship dollars to our Recreation Centres, Hospitals, youth programs, sporting competitions and community gatherings to name a few.

Today, our businesses are offering more than sponsorship and employment. In Quairading, businesses are about to adopt a shopping bag free business precinct. It expects to reduce land fill in the Shire, bringing a positive effect on the environment.

There are also many businesses who invest in apprentices and trainees, providing training opportunities as well as employment, in turn having a long term investment in the future of the community.

There are also studies being conducted on resident spending. In particular, looking at how residents spend their dollars, either locally or online. With a move either way, resulting in large community expansion or contraction, respectively.

We are coming towards the end of the year, with the celebration of Christmas and onset of Summer holidays. It is a great opportunity to think local first, before you click the mouse or drive out of town.

Our businesses have helped shape and grow our communities and if we keep investing our dollars into them, we hope, they will continue to invest in our youth, buildings, services and events.

No one can tell you where to spend your hard earned money.

However if it is going locally and you feel in return you are not getting the service or price you want, then ask the business why. In addition, don’t forget to ask the owner to get products in for you, if they don’t have it, they should get it.

The Wheatbelt Business Network will be promoting businesses across the central and eastern Wheatbelt. We are offering shop local competitions in Merredin, Narembeen and Hyden, so look out for the entries forms in store, listen to RadioWest, watch GWN7 and read the Merredin Mercury for more details.

When our entrepreneurs prosper, our communities do too.

August 2012

According to the 2011 Census, by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the Western Australian suburb of Bentley had the highest proportion of eligible bachelors (24-35yrs), whilst Ellenbrook had the highest proportion of eligible women (24–35yrs).

Perhaps a useful piece of information, if you are looking for a partner or if you missed out on the recent tv auditions of a ‘Farmer Wants a Wife’.

Bernard Salt, a well known demographer with KPMG, spent a considerable amount of time working this out.

He also spent time on the Census data posing the question; Is there a skills shortage in Australia and if there is, why can’t it be easily fixed?

According to Salt, in the last 30yrs of WA’s history, only 10% of those who migrated to our state for employment were from over east. The majority were from overseas.

This directly supports the recent announcements by Gina Rinehart to import 1700 foreign workers and the Australian Hotels Association visiting Ireland in October in a bid to recruit 5000 hospitality workers to Western Australia. The comment, if you are looking for workers don’t look east, look west, certainly applies in these situations.

Salt also discovered that housing affordability and lifestyle is a significant attraction for potential employees. It is a serious issue in WA and even here in the Wheatbelt. On average, since the 1970’s there has been approximately 150,000 dwellings built each year and this is likely to continue in the future.

Perhaps in the Wheatbelt it is not so much to do with housing affordability, but housing availability which is effecting our workforce attraction and retention.

With the increasing population and apparent decrease in housing affordability, there are some significant issues emerging for WA industry.

In the next decade we are likely to see an increase in baby boomers retiring. These retirees will be highly skilled professionals with plenty of time of their hands. The question is, how do we, as businesses and communities, continue to harness their skills and experiences in retirement and engage them in the workforce, to potentially fill any shortages we may have?

Likewise, there is a growing group of unskilled and disengaged 15 – 64yr olds in our communities who are being left behind. It will be up to our training bodies, governments and industry to work on how we get them back into the workforce.

Salt argues that we need a fundamental shift in the way our leaders and industries address the skill shortages, and I tend to agree with him.

We certainly need to look at how we design our jobs and workplaces, encourage investment into our cities and towns that make it attractive for workers across the board and not only in high population areas, providing a good quality of life, investing in the next generation (our current primary and secondary school students) and rethinking some of our ‘popular’ government policies.

May 2012

Gravitational Forces

What ‘pulls’ you in to live, work and visit the Wheatbelt?

For me, it is my family, friends, challenging and diverse work, opportunities and overall a lifestyle that I haven’t found anywhere else.

These pull factors that attract me to the region, to live, work and play here. So what ‘pulls’ you to do what you do in the Wheatbelt?

Today, communities, clubs, sporting teams, communities, not for profit organisations, businesses, charities and other such organisations are finding it important to pull people towards their products, services, teams, causes etc. These pull factors are a gravitational force used for many purposes.

These pulling factors can create a mass of people that create an identity, that others WANT to be part of, that they feel ‘left out’ if they aren’t part of it.

Success can be determined by your followers. By followers I mean the number of people ‘liking’ your product, service, club or business on face book, returning to buy your product / service over and over again, living in your community, tweeting your name, playing in your team, cheering your name, attending your events, donating to your cause and so forth.

Coke is an excellent example, with the mantra of being ‘in arms length of desire’. Coke has recognised it needs to be close to their consumer base, through various mediums that often go beyond their actual beverage.

Supermarket chains have also recognised that followers come with proximity. Across the majority of urban centres, Woolworths and Coles are generally within a 5km radius of their consumer. They are close to their consumer, physically, to pull them in, without any choice.

So how do we, the Wheatbelt, increase our pull factors and ultimately our critical mass to achieve advantage and to keep us succeeding?

With the Wheatbelt in mind, it comes through partnerships and networks. Our local governments working together, businesses tendering together to achieve competitive advantage, innovating and creating unique public and private partnerships and using our people of all ages – working with them, for them, educating and developing them.

It’s also about marketing the Wheatbelt’s proximity. We may be highly dispersed geographically but we are still close enough to the urban centres and Asian marketplace to pull people and businesses in.

We can also develop and align ourselves with the unique Wheatbelt identity that each of us contribute to. We can market this to the wider population, at every opportunity, from when we travel, speak to our family and friends across the state, country and world, in media, through our interaction with visitors to our region and of course online. Pulling people into our story.

We have very unique towns, communities, clubs, businesses and more. These make us all different BUT we are all pulled to the Wheatbelt – we live, work and play here. It’s up to us in our various capacities and environments to find out what pulls us to the region and from there, work together to promote it, advocate for it and identify with it, to everyone we come in contact with.

March 2012

Thinking Ahead

How far ahead into the future do our Wheatbelt, Western Australian and Australian sectors look when considering matters that require strategic planning?

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) predicts population until the end of the 21st Century and the WA Planning Commission up to 2026.

The ABS Census completed in 2011 is due to be released shortly. The Census plays an important role for WA local governments, Government departments and industry sectors in strategic planning.

One means to determine strategic planning is scenario planning. I conducted a session with the Council of Kondinin on ‘future scenarios’. Together we mapped out possible shifts in population, industry, the environment and local government structure over a 20 year timeframe.

It produced some ‘outside of the box’ thinking by Councillors but it made sense. Not only did it help Council see their current and future role in the community but it allowed them to consider risk. Risk should always add value to an organisation, not detract value. The scenario planning by the Council of Kondinin provided an opportunity to consider risk and how to best manage it.

Local government across Western Australia is undergoing what is called Integrated Planning at present, which includes strategic planning and looking ahead at asset management, financial planning and infrastructure management and development for the next 5yrs, 10yrs and 20yrs.

Some WA government departments are also planning ahead, such as the Department of Agriculture and Food which has recently released a strategic program called Agri 2025+, looking ahead at what the agricultural industry will look like in year 2025.

Community Resource Centres (CRC’s) are also doing a considerable level of planning ahead. Of the CRC’s that I have worked with in the central eastern Wheatbelt, I have been impressed with their level of entrepreneurship, flexibility and responsiveness to the world around them.

Unfortunately generally, businesses in the Wheatbelt, unless they have gone under a strategic planning process, look ahead for only 12months, maximum.

Wheatbelt businesses are currently experiencing skilled labour shortages, expensive labour costs, a declining client base, increasing financial costs and competition online, however what other business isn’t?

Australian corporations are currently looking at 10yr plans, with particular focus on the 3-5yr timeline, to combat these issues and to capture opportunities in our fast changing world.

Wheatbelt businesses, across all industries need to do the same. They should invest in planning for today, tomorrow and the future. Consideration should be given to the business life, beyond current staff and transcend beyond the boss.

Business in our region, experience similar issues to businesses across Australia. We should be taking a lead role in responding to our changing environment in a strategic manner and think outside the square, be more enterprising and embrace our challenges, for a positive future.

January 2012

Australia’s long history is linked to the land. Our nation rode on the sheep’s back for decades and our vast land was opened up by pioneers.

Today the reality is that we rely on a number of other industries such as service related industry, construction, tourism, education and mining. Our population has also concentrated their investments, income, education and time in our cities and now there is a significant disconnect between our cities and rural communities.

I have been guilty of this. I grew up in Perth and did not have a real connection or understanding of the country. My father worked in farm mechanisation and I developed some understanding of the country as I would accompany him during my school holidays, when he drove out to visit farm machinery dealers.

I also grew an understanding when I attended Perth College as a day bug. I often wished I could be a border and had a few border friends. They had the best holiday stories, their comradeship was infectious plus they could sleep in as it was only a 2minute walk to school.

Since marrying into a farming family I have a greater respect for the role and hard work of our farmers, their families and the communities around them. Being part of a farming family and rural community is starting to get into my blood, but sadly this is not running through many others.

Australia and many other countries are facing a decline in farmers and rural communities. A family friend recently travelled into the rural areas of China and came home with stories, not unlike our own. People not attracted to agriculture, 7th generation rice farms being sold as families moved to the city for cheaper housing, education and city life.

It’s not that city life was that appealing, it was the fact that farming was not returning a viable income. Heard of that story?  Like here in WA, the industry is not appealing when compared to other industries, input prices are simply scary and unfortunately even our governments are not supportive. Particular examples include the cut to live trade and our Wheatbelt Tier 3 railway lines that are due to be closed (

2012 is the Year of the Australian Farmer, and whilst it is highly unlikely this terrific initiative will return more income to farmers and impact world commodity prices, it will however aim to bridge the divide between city Australians and our country cousins.

Over the year education programs for city schools will be rolled out, a coin and country shopping card will be released plus plenty more! Ambassadors including Glen McGrath and even myself will be promoting the year and importantly making a presence in the media.

I encourage you to go online ( and get on twitter (@AYOF2012), show your children and spread the word, particularly to our city friends, one small step to help our industry and communities.



Contact Details

Caroline Robinson
Director of Solum Wheatbelt Business Solutions

PO Box 309, Narembeen WA 6369

Phone: (08) 9880 8035
Mobile: 0403 225 900

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