City Leaders: Tim Brailsford’s vision for Bond University

Bond University, Gold Coast
Business & Invest
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For Bond University Vice Chancellor and President Tim Brailsford, the real test of an individual comes when the going is tough, and that is evident in the approach that the university takes with its students.

Even as Bond strives to stay ahead of the technological curve, Brailsford maintains that it is more important to develop the student as a person.

“We think about transforming peoples’ lives, and not only so they are different people in terms of what they know, but in terms of who they are,” he says. “It is not just about giving you a degree in subject X, it is much more than that.”

Australia has enjoyed a period of prosperity since World War Two and Brailsford believes that perhaps the generations since have not been properly tested. That frames Bond’s focus on teaching the skills and personal qualities needed to respond to adversity.

“The great challenge we have for businesses generally in Australia at the moment is about individuals and extrapolating their value into the organisation as a whole,” he says.

“After all, organisations are really just an extension of a group of individuals.

“When things get really tough, how are we going to react? How are we going to make decisions? That test is yet to come.”

Brailsford, who as a child dreamed of playing cricket for Australia, says of his career, “There’s been a lot of luck; being in the right place at the right time. It is a journey that is ongoing. I never set off to have a particular career.”

But there’s been much more than luck involved. His academic career speaks for itself – after receiving his PhD in economics, Brailsford has held senior positions at some of Australia’s most prestigious universities.

He was the first Australian to be appointed to the board of US-based Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (ASCSB), and has also held board positions at the European Foundation for Management Development (EFMD), Queensland Rugby Union and a number of private investment companies.

Brailsford shared his thoughts on leadership, higher education, business and entrepreneurship with More Gold Coast.

Who has been your biggest influence in business?

No one individual that stands out, but I would say that what I am influenced by are leaders who have seen their businesses and organisations through the full gamut of the economic and business cycle.

By that I mean, there is quite a few people you look at and say they are extraordinarily successful but it becomes a real challenge to see a business through the troughs as well as the peaks, and so I admire people that are not just swimming with the tide. You look at people who actually see businesses and take them through quite difficult periods and then emerge the other side and they are adaptable enough to manage both the upside and the downside.

Look at someone like Alex Ferguson at Manchester United Football Club – he was there for a long period of time and Manchester United were not always the club right up there, but he managed different playing groups in and out, he managed that club through the whole gigantic success which is now the English Premier League, he managed Russian money and in the end Manchester United ended up being bought by some Americans.

Manchester United is an absolute global business and you look at how he has managed across such a wide diversity of challenges and a lot of people would think, ‘it is just what he did on the sports field’, but it is actually off the sports field as well. That is an example

He faced a whole host of internal and external change, and all his competitors basically came and said we are going to challenge him and they all failed.

What is your favourite quote and how has it influenced you?

There is a poem called If, written by Rudyard Kipling and there is a line that says, “If you can meet triumph and disaster and treat those two impostors just the same.”

It is about not getting too far ahead of yourself; and when you think the world is about to end the sun will still rise tomorrow.

You have got to celebrate successes but recognise that there is a time to celebrate, and then you have got to park that success and you have got to move on and you have got to do that quite quickly.

Equally, you can’t get too down when things don’t go right for you.  Particularly, when you are part of the leadership group for an organisation, you have a responsibility to say, I may be feeling some things inside, but on the outside we have got to just take all that in our stride and move on.

Jack Welsh, who ran General Electric for 20 years, had this saying, “Even an ostrich can fly with the wind behind them.” That sort of stuck with me. If you think about that, some people, when everything is going right for them, they look like a superstar, but it is how they react, respond and behave when things are not going so well that is really the true test of them as an individual.

I look to people through how they handle adversity probably more so than by how they handle success, because success is like riding a crest of a wave, some are incredibly popular, they can’t do a thing wrong, but it doesn’t really tell you too much about them. As a society, we don’t tend to see the world through the same lenses that perhaps our generations before went through. We have never been through two world wars, for example. We are meant to have had a depression here, around the time of the GFC, but really, Australia was pretty well protected from any global effects of the depression, so we have had a pretty easy here for a long time.

What have you learned about leadership in your career and has your style changed over time?

I don’t think there is any book that gives you all the answers and I don’t think there is any single course that will provide you with the tool kit that you need. So, part of it is learning and learning from others. You learn from experience and certainly what I have observed is that great leaders and those qualities and attributes generally fit the organisation in a set of circumstances which is right for the time. That leader and that set of circumstances are not necessarily translatable into another completely different scenario. In a way, there is no single definition as to what successful leadership is about.

In that regard, it is always an interesting debate as to what makes a successful leader and what makes a successful organisation, because they are not necessarily the same thing. Personally, one thing that I have learned over the years is that I have learned to listen a bit more. Sometimes, when you don’t listen and you make a poor decision you learn from that much more than making good decisions. It is what you learn on the down side which I think is really important.

What has been the biggest challenge in your career to date?

The technology challenge and understanding the impact of technology. It is not so much about understanding the technology itself – you can always find people, particularly in a university, who can do that and do that very well. It is understanding the potential impact of that technology and trying to get ahead of the curve. So, for instance, what the impact of the current speed of generational change of mobile technology is going to mean in the next four or five years.

At Bond, we try and get on the front of technological change. People talk about what will happen 5-10 years from now, but what about the next two or three. The ability of you to transact to communicate, to have social relationships all in the palm of your hand, and what that means for the sorts of products and services that people want and what will be offered going forward, it is question that is not easily answered.

It is really interesting to think about how businesses are going to place themselves in terms of adding value within that societal construct. University is much more than what happens in the classroom. Universities are social beings, with tentacles that reach out to all aspects of the community. Bond puts a lot of emphasis on the development of the individual, building the sorts of personal skills and attributes you need to sit alongside your technical trade. We think about transforming peoples’ lives, and not only so they are different people in terms of what they know, but in terms of who they are.

That is one way in which we are positioning ourselves, by adding programs and activities that are commensurate with that way of thinking. It is not just about giving you a degree in subject X, it is much more than that.

The Gold Coast is developing a reputation as an entrepreneurial hub. Bond offers a degree in entrepreneurship and also recently made Blue Sky Alternative Investments founder, and Queensland’s Chief Entrepreneur, Mark Sowerby, an Honorary Adjunct Professor. Is entrepreneurship important to teach, and how do you do that?

Definitely. There is a set of skills and attributes that most people need to be a successful business person, and what then takes you from a successful business person is to successful entrepreneur – some might refer to an ‘x-factor’ – I am not sure that can be successfully taught. You can educate people so that they have an understanding of the processes that people need to take, and the sorts of innovation journeys students need to go on so that students can comprehend when to identify potentially successful business opportunities and how to take advantage of those business opportunities. That is the key for me.

We observe all the time in this world, not just through observation in eyes, but through what happens in our daily lives. Everyone probably has at least one idea a day in terms of how things can be different. Most of us, 99.9 per cent of us, will park that idea and not do anything with it, or at best talk to mates about it over a coffee or beer. Very few of us look at that idea and think about how we can make that into a business opportunity. That is where we are trying to equip our students with the confidence and the skills and the toolkit so that they can take that idea and translate that into a genuine opportunity.

What you can do is teach people where to look for ideas and you can do that by exposing them to a range of knowledge across different industries because people get really insular and most of the breakthrough ideas are ones that come out of a different industry, or even a different country.

International students contribute $20 billion to the Australian economy. Is the Gold Coast getting its fair share of that?

Actually, the state of Queensland, in a relative sense, has lost market share to Victoria and New South Wales over the last decade. Our percentage of the international student market has gone backwards. While the whole of the market has gotten bigger in absolute dollars, Victoria and NSW have done better.

When you start talking about $20 billion dollars, five per cent is $1 billion, so your market share doesn’t have to drop that much and you are talking about a big number. As a state, we clearly should have been doing better in the last decade clearly, and as a local community we can also improve.

We don’t have great policy coordination across the various departments in Queensland. In Victoria, they have been able to establish an agency to work across public transport, accommodation, education, and general social services, so whenever a new student comes to town, they see this whole suite of services and offerings and it is all seamless to them. They don’t have one portfolio working against another portfolio in that regard.

What makes the Gold Coast a great place to do business?

Our message is that you can have the best of both worlds – you can come here for a high quality educational environment, and you can do that living in place where lifestyle is clearly superior to a lot of other places in the world. You can have it both ways. You will see a student finish an exam, go to their room, grab a surfboard, catch a bus to Burleigh and you ask them, “how was the exam”, and they say, “great but I’m going for a surf to take my mind off it”.

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