In Summary

  • Geoff Harris addressed Swinburne’s inaugural AGSE Oration
  • Students and staff learnt about the triumphs and challenges of Mr Harris’ business ventures
  • Mr Harris spoke of his passion for working with social enterprises

The success of a business is dependent on having the right people in the right positions, the Australian Graduate School of Entrepreneurship (AGSE) Oration has heard.

Keynote speaker Geoff Harris, a widely successful entrepreneur, philanthropist, businessman and leader, addressed hundreds of Swinburne guests at the first Oration event since the AGSE’s relaunch in 2017.

Mr Harris shared his experiences that began more than 30 years ago as a founding partner of the then industry-disrupting company, Flight Centre.

Sharing the triumphs and challenges of his entrepreneurial journey, Mr Harris advised the crowd of budding innovators and entrepreneurs of the importance of doing things differently if you want to stand out in your field.

“Our point of difference to our competitors was that we only sold flights, unlike other travel agents who booked other forms of transport, accommodation and tours. We positioned ourselves as flight specialists with the best deals, selling only international flights,” he said.

Mr Harris’ belief that people are integral to the success of a business began in the early days of his Flight Centre venture.

“I’ve always firmly believed in the benefit of having ‘aces in places’. If you have the right people in the important roles in your organisation, you can’t go wrong,” he said.

Leading change at the Hawthorn Football Club

Mr Harris’ focus on people-led business success continued in his role as Vice-President of the Hawthorn Football Club from 2004-2013.

At a time when the club was close to financial collapse, Mr Harris and the board appointed new people into key roles, including a new senior coach, list manager, CEO, conditioning coach and president.

Seeing a need for the new, young club to be more united, Mr Harris suggested the team and its key staff complete the Kokoda Track – a challenge he had already undertaken and found highly valuable.

“Players were grouped into teams of six with a balance of experienced and less experienced players. It was an amazing bonding and morale-building exercise that really brought the team together and taught them the importance of cooperation,” he said.

Supporting social enterprises

Backed by years of entrepreneurial knowledge and skills, Mr Harris now works closely with Streat – a social enterprise in Melbourne supporting disadvantaged, unemployed and homeless youth.

A key business mentor and major impact investor of Streat, he strongly advocates for the value of contributing to social enterprise start-ups.

“Being able to contribute to the fantastic work done by social enterprises like Streat is truly rewarding. I have seen this business positively impact many young people’s lives and feel honoured to share my expertise to mentor the next generation.” Mr Harris said.

Director of the AGSE, Alexander Kaiser, says it is invaluable for students to hear from someone with such a wealth of experience in the field of entrepreneurship.

“We believe it is crucial that our students learn directly from those with a real-world understanding of the entrepreneurial business. Learning about Mr Harris’ years of knowledge and skill helps to position our students at the cutting-edge of their field,” Mr Kaiser said.