The Awards - an icon of the country’s small and medium business sector – celebrate their 25th anniversary this year. Back in 1992, the then government-owned Telecom collaborated with the States and the Commonwealth Government to set up the Awards in Victoria as a showcase of the best of Aussie business and to inspire others budding entrepreneurs. Even as Telecom transformed into Telstra, that commitment to championing small business never wavered. In fact, Telstra went on to expand the Awards, creating the state/territory and national awards that are now permanent and prestigious fixtures in the Australian business calendar. Meanwhile, the Awards have continued to develop alongside the sector they aim to recognise, most recently adding a new category for charities and not-for-profits in 2016.
As the Awards’ chief judge and Ambassador from 2012 to 2016, Will Irving, now Group Executive of Telstra Wholesale, has identified a handful of common traits among the winners. “Most (winners) did not set out to make millions,” he says. “They set out to produce a great product or turn around a family business, keep a local area alive (or) meet a customer need that they themselves had, or someone they knew had, or where they saw customers missing out on what could be.”
Renowned business journalist and founding editor of BRW Robert Gottliebsen was also heavily involved in the early years of the Awards’, While the finalists and winners naturally attract most of the attention, Gottliebsen believes the true legacy of the Awards is the vast number of businesses that benefited from taking part. “The most important thing about them is not so much who wins them, but the process of entering,” he says.
“(Entering) makes them think about their strategies (and) their weaknesses. I know a lot of them have been helped by…the process and being forced to sit down and say this is what we did, this is what we plan to do, is that good? (That has) been a tremendous contributor to the health of small business in Australia.”
Entrants to the Awards also receive a free Business Health Check which benchmarks their business against industry standards as well as the opportunity to network with like-minded business around Australia. The past two-and-a-half decades have also seen the rise of the internet, mobile technologies and software automation, creating a dramatic shift in the small business landscape. Not surprisingly, more than 80 per cent of Telstra Business Awards Alumni credit such technologies as critical or very important to their success.“
Smaller businesses can operate now in a way that was just so much more difficult back 25 years ago,” says Gottliebsen. “It's never going to be easy to run a small business – it's a really hard task – but it's been made just that little bit easier.”
The times are always a-changing. Over the next twenty-five years, technologies, trends and markets will continue to shift and evolve. Yet some things will always remain the same, as relevant tomorrow as they were yesterday. “What is undoubtedly true,” says Irving, “is that the same human qualities of determination, flexibility, care for staff and customers, eye to the short and the long term, passion…and an ability to pick good people – these things will be as true of winners in the 2040s as they are today and were in the past.”
As hundreds of Australian businesses begin planning their entries for the twenty-fifth Telstra Business Awards, will yours be among them? Could your story inspire the next generation of successful businesses?
Nominations and entries for the 2018 Telstra Business Awards are now open
Help us recognise outstanding Australian businesses and charities and nominate for the 2018 Awards program today.Find out more