October is Small Business Month. What a great opportunity to talk to someone with a diverse business background but who now uses those skills to coach others. Let me introduce Michael Hilsden, Senior Business Mentor at The Business Centre.
Mike, tell us about your early years.
I grew up in London, four years after WWII; most of our street was bombed and in ruins, but a great place to play … and many of my friends didn’t have dads anymore. But we were taught to survive and like me, many of us got jobs at age seven – my first two jobs were back to back paper rounds, and I did this until I was 18 to bring the money in … so a really good start to business life. No regrets.
What was it you wanted to do as a career?
I wanted to be a bus or train driver like the rest of the streets kids, but I also loved to break algorithms and codes.
At age 15 I was lucky enough to be awarded first in Britain in Arithmetic, and was so embarrassed, but, it got me my first job at ICL – the biggest computer company in Europe at that time. A really good start from a working-class background and no chance of going to uni.
So, it was computers for me – not a bus driver.
What was it that led to you relocating to Australia?
After losing both of my parents at age 14 and 21, but with a great job, I met a wonderful Aussie girl and decided to emigrate to Oz as a $10 Pound Pom. Australia didn’t have the class distinction, and I really wanted my children to grow up in this wonderful country, not as Poms. I never went back to live, but have worked back in England and the US many times since, but Australia has always been my home. I am the ONLY Pom left in the family – all my children are proud Aussies. My entire career I owe to Australia.
Tell us about your career up until now. As you said, it started early in life at ICL in the UK, but where to from there in Australia?
I was very fortunate as a computer nerd; back in 1973, it was easy to get a job and build a career here back then. For the next 40 years I led many Australian companies, both large and small, but owe all of this to my first Aussie employer, who gave me the break. For 12 years they grew from a small company to being in the top four in the country.
From their training and mentoring and many takeovers, I became a CEO and have been involved in the Telecoms, IT, manufacturing, and Venture Capital sectors and start ups ever since. So, a lot of international experience and representing Aussie companies throughout my work life. I decided to semi-retire 10 years ago to move to my beloved beach house in Forster.
You’re now coaching and mentoring at The Business Centre. Tell us what benefits this has for local small business owners.
Yes Jeremy, a great question. I started my semi-retirement in corporate training up here for local business owners, and volunteering as a local DJ. I hosted the Baby Boomers segment every week for GLFM, our local radio station.
In 2009 I was asked to build and support the local business economy by the State Government and the Business Centre who represents them in our region. This led to me being the local Business Mentor, and I have transformed into being a coach, not a leader of businesses – my goal now is to build local businesses and help them with survival, funding, growth and start ups which are our new employers in five years’ time.
How do feel your background can benefit local business people?
My main goal is to create regional jobs, regional economies and help our business owners in any way we can. In my nine years here, I’ve dealt with a wide range of
businesses, from dairy farmers, to retailers, manufacturers and even medical practitioners. I love them all!
In the last few years we’ve helped create over 500 new jobs, from our 600 client base in our region. I think the main benefit most get is getting funding, market access and talking to someone about their issues. My background in funding, international, govt agencies contacts and an extensive network of local legal, accounting and marketing firms does help in some way.
Most of our business clients need help with these issues – we are merely the conduit to everything they need to prosper, and someone to talk to about confidential issues.
How is the Business Centre promoting Small Business Month, and what can we do to get involved?
The State Government’s Business Connect programme, which we represent, is planning a major Small Business Promotion during October for all regions in NSW. Keep an eye out for more information at https://www.businesscentre.com.au
Also, MidCoast Council are planning two Master Class workshops with interactive elements for customer appeal and promotion.
For you personally and away from work, where is your favorite local haunt and pastime?
My favourite place to go as a Baby Boomer is to watch the Big Fins band at Great Lakes Winery. Don’t miss them; they are simply superb. My favourite pastime is woodworking and gardening and of course, rock music. Just love Zepp, Floyd, The Stones, The Who, The Kinks and miss so much presenting the Baby Boomers show.
For you, what is the best part about doing and being in business in the Manning- Great Lakes?
I love this region so much – where else can you live with the cleanest oceans, lakes and rivers in the world, and at the same time be involved in such a wide range of businesses! I wake up looking at dolphins and whales at One Mile, and then deal with issues across the world.