Big city bosses sent outback
CITY executives will be banging in steel pickets and drafting cattle in dusty yards as part of the Outback School of Business.
Based on Withywine Station, a 13,300ha property outside of Longreach, the school gives participants unique team-building experiences as well as expert advice for business planning.
Founder of the school and station owner Andrew Poots said the most important thing, however, was his property was free from "distractions”.
A lack of mobile reception (and a wi-fi network only he has the password to) means the daily onslaught of phone calls, emails, texts and office interruptions are non-existent.
"People in businesses need time and space to consider the bigger decisions,” he said.
"People are making smaller decisions on an hourly basis, every 10 minutes they are getting requests from a client or a staff member.
"It's very hard to make the bigger decisions when you are in an operational environment. You need to get out there - you need to work on your business, not in it.”
Andrew, a Clermont-born accountant now based in Mackay, has spent about 25 years running his own companies and advising other businesses.
His reasoning for starting a school in the bush was simple: it worked for him.
He bought Withywine as an investment but soon noticed his other ventures prospered when he was on the land.
"Just having that time away helped me process things,” he said.
"So I started getting the staff to come out to Withywine, and they loved it too.
"It's become standard now, we come out twice a year for about three of four days and map out what the business will be doing for the next six or 12 months - everyone started saying this was a good way to do it.”
While guests are fed wholesome country meals and have views of western Queensland's sprawling afternoon sunsets, the school isn't for those seeking a holiday.
"The first thing we do is take them out fencing,” he said.
"We take them out into the bush and we have them banging in start pickets with a jackhammer. It's dusty and in the middle of nowhere.
"It's about them working together. There is a sequence of events that has to happen when you build a fence - everyone has to work as a team.
"That's the same as a small business, everyone has to work together.”
Andrew said none of the executives had complained about getting hands-on.
"The business planning process is pretty intense... so when they get to put their pens down and put their hat and boots on, they love it,” he said.
The hard slog of physical labour also ensured they "slept well at night”.
Solicitor Stuart Bell completed a pilot program at the Outback School of Business and said it was unlike anything he had experienced.
"It's like nothing I would do in my business but it forced me to see the value of teamwork through a totally different lens. I wasn't the boss out there - I was one of the team doing my bit to get the job done and that really gave me a new perspective,” he said.
Generally, the in-depth business planning sessions happen in the morning and after lunch the guests are out and about working on the station.
Mr Poots teamed up with software developer Paul Valentine to use the Naverix business planning system for the school.
"The new Naverix platform cuts through the complexity and provides a simple, effective framework for businesses that takes them from the strategic planning phase to a detailed action plan and then tracks their progress,” Mr Valentine said.
"All you need to do once you get back to your business or boardroom is put your plan into action.”
The school is also available as a venue for larger companies that want their planning meetings to remain private.
Longreach deputy mayor Leonie Nunn said the new venture showcased that skills involved in traditional work on the land translated to city boardrooms, regardless of industry or sector.
"Business out here is often sealed with a handshake,” Mrs Nunn said.
"The work ethos of those who work on the land is unquestionable and teamwork is paramount - these are country-style skills that translate to any successful business.”
Mrs Nunn also said the Outback School of Business opened the Longreach region to a new market who otherwise may never have experienced the Australian outback.
"Businesses out here are beginning to bounce back from the drought and confidence is starting to return, so this exciting new business initiative is coming at an opportune time,” she said.
The Outback School of Business targets SMEs across the trade, industrial services, manufacturing and professional services sectors with up to 100 staff and a turnover of $2 million to $40 million.
Courses start from April 2017.
More information at outbackschoolofbusiness.com.au.