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Leadership lessons from Shanghai

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Fresh from Shanghai’s World Expo, I’ve returned home inspired by the Aussie entrepreneurs who are making their mark on the international stage.

I was only there for a week, but I garnered enough stories to last a lifetime. And among them, there were many business lessons to be learnt.

Before I share these with you, let’s stop and take stock.

We’re almost halfway through the year and chances are you’re busy working in your business – but are you working on it?

It’s easy to get tied up in the day-to-day running of your business, and to lose sight of the bigger picture.

It’s important you take the time to find out what those at the top of their field are doing to kick-start their own business. The best way to do this is to set time aside each week – even if it’s only ten minutes each morning – to read something that helps you think about your business. You’re already halfway there – after all, this blog is a must-read for those looking to up the business ante!

One Aussie I caught up with in Shanghai was Robert Dane – founder of Solar Sailor and a doctor by trade. He was on the ground in China building a solar-powered boat – his exclusive technology will be featured in a boat on the Huangpu River, before being commercially launched in early June.

The thing I love most about Dane’s story is he proves that it’s never too late to make your business dream a workable reality – after 20 years in medicine, he jumped ship to a career in boat construction!

Dane attributes the move not only to the salt in his blood, but also his passion for the business.

“My father and uncle were both in the navy. My uncle ran a shipping business between Melbourne and King Island. When I was 18, my mother said ‘For God’s sake, don’t do marine. If you get the marks, do medicine’.”

Mother, apparently, knew best until 1997 – it was then, at a solar boat race in Canberra, where Dane was struck by the idea to build a boat harnessing both solar and wind energy. Dane came up with a seaworthy solar-paneled sail, which could angle and rotate to face the sun and the wind. This design – Solar Sailor –was the first of its kind.

So, he had the bright idea – but how did he turn it into a business?

Initial investment hinged upon this concept and subsequent technology. Dane started the business part-time in 1997 and was full-time by 1999. The source of initial capital was from friends and family, which fuelled the primary development of the business.

“We had a three-stage business plan, which I wrote to the original shareholders,” he says. “It was about five pages.”

Stage one was to enter the following year’s solar boat race and win, which he did.

Stage two was to build a ferry for the Sydney Olympics, which he also did, despite initial funding dilemmas. To build the ferry, he needed $3 million. With only two-thirds of this, production began regardless. Lucky for Dane, he found the remaining funds in a donation from the government’s Australian Greenhouse office, which donated a $1 million grant and allowed Solar Sailor to complete the project.

But stage three was to prove tougher still – to get a contract. It took Dane five years, but in the end his persistence paid off, gaining a contract for unmanned ocean vehicles with the US military.

“[When we began], it was the beginning of people talking about environment, but I think now we’re seeing a real commitment,” he adds. “It’s not just words.

Since then, it’s proved full steam ahead for Dane, proving that a little Aussie innovation can go a long way.

So, if you’re looking to work on your business rather than being stuck in it, book in for a complimentary business assessment today with Switzer Business Coaching

Important information: This content has been prepared without taking account of the objectives, financial situation or needs of any particular individual. It does not constitute formal advice. For this reason, any individual should, before acting, consider the appropriateness of the information, having regard to the individual’s objectives, financial situation and needs and, if necessary, seek appropriate professional advice.


Published on: Monday, May 31, 2010

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