South Australian business leader, board adviser and former NAB and Westpac state manager Richard Hockney has enjoyed offices around the nation and across the globe but, he says, Adelaide is now the place to do business.
Lee Nicholson: You are Adelaide born and raised, left SA to work in Melbourne, UK, Sydney and back to Melbourne for the National Australia Bank. You returned to Adelaide in 2002 as general manager of NAB’s SA and NT business centre then moved to Westpac as state manager. Adelaide is where you have chosen to stay, why?
Richard Hockney: I love the adventure and the challenge of being away. But the family loved it here.
Our [extended] families are obviously here, but I looked at the opportunities, I looked at the life that we had, and I still to this day think there are incredible opportunities in Adelaide.
LN: You now run your own advisory business. During the past 14 years since you returned to South Australia, how has the state changed over that period?
RH: I’ve seen a younger generation coming through with more of an entrepreneurial spirit who want to see things changed.
I look at the Adelaide Oval, for example – people thought that would never change. Eighty per cent of conservative members had to vote for it and that happened and it’s fantastic.
To me that’s a symbol of the positive change that can happen in Adelaide.
On the other side there’s there still a conservative element to Adelaide that probably tries to hold that back.
LN: You’ve just mentioned the entrepreneur spirit which is in Adelaide. In the BRW’s latest Top 100 young entrepreneurs, we had just one [Tammy May, founder of MyBudget]. Do you think Adelaide provides the right level of nurturing for young entrepreneurs and new business?
RH: It’s interesting we only had one [in the top 100]. I think about Darren Thomas from Thomas Foods, Yasser Shahin from On The Run, Jamie McClurg from Commercial and General, I could probably run through a number.
There are a lot more [young] entrepreneurs out there in South Australia who are performing brilliantly in business. And having said that, I think people appreciate the need for entrepreneurship and the need for business to get the state going and therefore there’s more openness and there’s more nurturing of successful people.
There are examples of organisations in South Australia designed to nurture entrepreneurs and one of those is, what I’ve just become involved with, is SA Leaders which is all about putting people and business together and helping them grow the state.
LN: You mentioned the resistance to change. That’s an interesting trait of Adelaide which business say they come up against.
RH: I read InDaily and then I read the comments at the end and then I read the opposition … but I think they’re in the minority.
Most people love living in Adelaide and want it to grow. People like me want Adelaide to grow and want my kids to grow up in it and their kids and want to be successful in it.
Yes there’s a bit of the past, and sometimes that’s good but there’s got to be balance.
The one thing I have to say about the world today is your iPhone, well, that’s NASA in your pocket.
The younger generation have every piece of data and every piece of information and they know what’s going on in the world everywhere so they can make decisions.
They can go wherever they like and do whatever they want. They know what’s out there and I think they’ll use it to help grow the place.
We are almost losing that identity of the conservative old – it’s great.
LN: Speaking of growth, what do you consider are Adelaide’s growth areas and opportunities?
RH: The first thing we talked about was innovation and entrepreneurship and there are a number of startups – there are a lot more than you think.
I’ve started to delve into that world and I’m dealing with groups like Fusion who are involved in all these different businesses, things I never knew about, so there’s a thriving sector.
Traditional businesses who are doing really well are Coopers, Haighs, Gemtree Wines – they’re all in the food and alcohol sector.
Then you’ve got companies like SeaLink, CMV Group, Lucas Total Contract Solutions.
Adelaide Brighton just announced its results. There are manufacturers like Revolution Roofing, MSP Group. It’s quite incredible when you look at the number of successful businesses we have around the place.
I think there’s growth in education. I’m convinced we should be the Boston of Australia or the Boston of the southern hemisphere. Education is the highest export service sector for the state generating $1.06 billion in 2014. There’s a huge opportunity to grow there. Thirty thousand international students coming in, I see opportunities there. That is a great sector.
There’s growth and opportunities in health. You’ve just got to look at our aging population. I think the government has done well and that helps entrepreneurship and innovation.
Food and agriculture. I talked about Thomas foods before. We’re clean and we’re green in South Australia. We can be the food bowl here.
Don’t forget manufacturing. I have a number of clients who are in manufacturing and they are going really well. Everyone writes manufacturing off and I like manufacturing because they’re getting smarter.
The super sector, the self managed super fund sector. I think we have a great opportunities for Adelaide to be a hub for that.
There are lots of sectors out there. Government has just done the nuclear review.
I think it was a smart thing to do. I’m really positive.
LN: There’s a feeling the other states tend to write off South Australia. Where do you think the challenges from SA to other states lie and where can we be most competitive?
RH: I like it that other states write us off. I think we’ve got to ignore that and find our own place.
All the industries I talked about present opportunities. Other states will do that as well but we can do them really well.
I think the key for us is we’re small. We need to be nimble, we need to be easy to do business with and the cost of doing business needs to be low.
LN: You are a big sport fan. How important is sport in your work-life balance?
RH: You absolutely need a balance in life. You need to keep moving. Health is really important.
You need to have the ability to switch off from one thing and switch on to another.
I grew up playing cricket. I love cricket. My son plays it and I coach his team. I love watching footy. I love hitting a golf ball. I think it’s that ability to switch off, concentrate on something else and have fun.
One of the things in business is I’ve always enjoyed what I do. I’ve always loved seeing things grow and loved being part of a team and in sport you get that great team environment. It’s the same in business.
LN: You’ve seen some changes in Adelaide over the past 14 years, what do you think Adelaide will look like when we reach 2020?
RH: I see the whole of south bank [Riverbank] having changed, more open and I see it thriving. I see the laneways booming.
The laneways have brought a vibrancy to the city which is fantastic. I think about when I was young and how conservative it was.
Even when you park your car to go to footy and you walk down those lanes – it’s brilliant.
I think that people and confidence are the most important thing to the place and I think in 2020 we’ll be this thriving city with people who are going about trying to grow the place.
There’s such a good foundation that in 2020 people everywhere will be looking at Adelaide and South Australia and saying ‘that’s a great place to live and a great place where I will grow, my kids will grow and my business will grow’.