Kicked out of home after years of fighting with his single mother, and then reeling from her unexpected death and “eight years of wasted anger” towards one another, Bundjalung man and future entrepreneur Dwayne Good was running away.
“I one hundred percent was running,” he tells Kellie Riordan on the Curveball leadership podcast.
“I was going through a lot of grief… and just confusion. Still the lost puppy who just had no idea about what’s next. And so I decided to run from my mindset in Australia and try something new.”
He settled on the classic Aussie-rite-of-passage; to head to England on a working holiday via a pit-stop in Thailand to check out the beaches. But Dwayne Good never made it to London. It was 2004 and the Boxing Day tsunami ripped through Good’s hotel, waking him and his friend from a nasty hangover — but one he’s thankful for, because it’s the only reason he wasn’t on the beachfront that very morning.
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“We grabbed what possessions we could, which wasn’t much… Passport, phones… and opened the door. The water just bowled us over.”
Good and his travel partner quite literally swam their way out of the room and to safety, up a fortunately-placed staircase and onto the roof, where they spent the rest of the day grabbing whoever else they could and hoisting them up and out of danger.
Suddenly, the cocktail of grief, anger and trauma swirling around in Good’s mind multiplied. Knowing that carrying on with the England expedition might not be wise in such a state, Good returned home, into the arms of family and friends, and to the sport to which he credits no small amount of his business success today: boxing.
“It taught me a new level of discipline and commitment. It really challenges you, it’s an incredibly difficult sport,” he told Curveball. “It taught me a lot of great things about my character.”
Two years after returning home from Thailand and floating through a series of jobs he didn’t quite ‘gel’ with, Good found that same discipline and structure in a position at Flight Centre. It was in a passion area, and it was a big company, which meant plenty of room for progression.
But instead of staying on and climbing the corporate ladder, a decade later Good took a leap. He started his own travel consultancy, InTravel. This was more than a career decision — it was about character.
“I had a chance to rebuild my mindset and I chose to go down that road and rebuild and give it a go anyway,” he said.
“I just had to start building confidence, putting myself out of my comfort zone, doing things that are going to be really challenging.”
Echoing Theodore Roosevelt’s legendary ‘Man in the Arena’ address, Good mobilised the lessons boxing taught him during periods of grief and waywardness. He channeled it into a new business.
“Getting in the ring and doing boxing was the same sort of set of challenges, and putting myself in a company that’s as huge as Flight Centre and testing myself, they’re like these small challenges. Sure, I had some losses along the way and made some mistakes, but I also gathered momentum and I got to a point at my end of my career at Flight Centre where I thought to myself: this is my next challenge.”
Stepping into the arena meant establishing Australia’s first 100% Aboriginal-owned corporate travel firm, an achievement Good holds dear and hopes to see reflected in more businesses in the future.
“It’s pretty popular to say you’re supporting an Indigenous business, or you have an Indigenous engagement strategy, or you have a reconciliation action plan, but not all of those plans are necessarily genuine,” he said.
“If we have a think about what all this ‘closing the gap’ is about, it’s about social impact outcomes and community outcomes on the ground. So if you’re a company out there you should be reverse engineering and saying ‘we want to hang our hat on these community outcomes. How do we go and do it?’ Instead of writing the plan and saying, ‘look at what we just wrote,’ and putting that on the shelf,” he says.
“That type of approach is dangerous. It’s a false sense of success in closing the gap and making this world, this country better.”
With such lofty ambitions, and the experience to back them up, how does the man in the ring look back on that “lost puppy” from the beginning of 2005?
“I feel emotional thinking about it,” he says. “I’m proud of myself. I’m glad I made it. I’ve got a lot more work to do, but I’m just really happy that I’m happy.”
You can hear Kellie Riordan’s interview with Dwayne Good, founder of InTravel on the leadership podcast Curveball.