And the winner is…

The winner of the SmartCompany Idol 2007 is Michael Malone from ISP firm iiNet (pictured above). AMANDA GOME reports on how entrepreneurship has become an enviable career and what makes an entreprepreneurial idol.

By Amanda Gome

Michael Malone SmartCompany Idol 2007 This year’s SmartCompany Idol is Michael Malone from iiNet. Selected from dozens of nominations from SmartCompany readers, he epitomises what it takes to be an entrepreneurial idol. We list the Top 10 attributes of the entreprenuers you admire and 50 of the best nominations – as well as who wins the prize.


Five years ago I was berated by a mother for patting her child on the head and saying with admiration: “You’re going to grow up and be an entrepreneur.”

She winced and expressed the sentiment at the time: “No, he’s not. He’s going to grow up and be a professional.”

How things are changing. Entrepreneurship is fast becoming an enviable career. The boom of the last 15 years has resulted in entrepreneurs amassing great wealth. As their profile has increased, more stories are being told of their success and increasingly people want to emulate this success. Technology, easier access to money and even the cultural influence of the US have all resulted in entrepreneurship booming.

It is now commonplace for people to leave prestigious and lucrative professions such as neurosurgery or share broking to use their savings, raise some capital and open up for business.

It’s not that the tall poppy syndrome in Australia is dead. In fact entrepreneurs report that they still feel isolated and sometimes are the object of envy from staff, friends and the wider business community.

But there is no doubt that the atmosphere is changing. This is reflected in the SmartCompany Idol Awards, held for the first time this year. We asked the SmartCompany community to name an entrepreneur they held in high esteem.

What to expect? We had no idea. But when we worked our way through the nominations it was clear that the perception of hero entrepreneur is changing – no one named Richard Branson or Rupert Murdoch.

Instead, respondents nominated some national Aussie heroes but also many local ones – the so-called unsung heroes that quietly make a huge difference to their industry and community.

But there was one outstanding entry. The winner of the SmartCompany Idol Award for 2007 is the founder of iiNet, Michael Malone. Malone set up iiNet from his Perth garage in 1993, which is now the third largest ISP in Australia.

Malone, according to his nominating entry, encapsulates many of the attributes that people admire.

He is described by his nominator, who is another Perth entrepreneur, as courageous. He presides over a very fast growing company, is innovative, has integrity and is widely known for changing and challenging his industry.

“Best of all he is softly spoken and not one of those ‘show pony’ entrepreneurs,” says his nominator. Malone also has personal challenges in his life, including a son with autism. The nominee, who wishes to remain anonymous, wins the Optus BlackBerry.

Your answers told us what you value in an entrepreneur. We have selected 10 key attributes. Some of the entrepreneurs from the more-than-50 who were nominated embody these values, talents and entrepreneurial spirit.

  1. Young go getter: Ben Keighran is 25 and runs the mobile application business Bluepulse. Keighran represents the young buck, who never went to university, but has the guts and know-how to raise millions of dollars and launch a global company.
  2. Innovator: Dean Coates (Fleetwork) and Louise Broekman (HR Coach) were both nominated for challenging and transforming tired old industries.
  3. Networker and community builder: Many entrepreneurs are also heavily involved in their community. Emma Brown has used her networking events to raise a lot of money and awareness of Kids Help Line.
  4. Fast growth: Building a business from scratch to revenues of tens or hundreds of millions of dollars is a highly admirable trait mentioned by many of the nominators. Frank Colli at Leading Solutions has grown the business from a small HP dealership to being listed on the stock exchange with revenues of $300 million plus.
  5. Humility: The humble entrepreneur. Sounds like an oxymoron, but a number of nominators mentioned that their idol had humility and empathy. Nick Verykios from the Distribution Centre was nominated for also having the rare gift of listening and always seeing the best in everything.
  6. Rags-to-riches battler: Fellow entrepreneurs love the rags-to-riches stories of those who overcome hardship to succeed. Kirsty Dunphy was nominated by an entrepreneur who had also come from a bankrupt family, being driven by this trauma to seek financial success.
  7. Flare: What a show off. Kym Ilman from Messages on Hold is well known for theatrical ambush marketing tactics. But his flare and extrovert behaviour has helped build his business and his marketing flare has drawn admiration.
  8. Good exit: Choosing the right time to sell was also cause for admiration. Ralph Edwards at Bright Eyes was commended for buying and turning around a struggling sunglasses retail franchising chain, expanding it rapidly, keeping franchisees happy and then selling out earlier this year for a huge profit, remaining CEO without any work-out obligations.
  9. Giving back: Setting up your own business is empowering. It is also challenging as it challenges the entrepreneur to examine and reveal their weaknesses. Vickie Burkinshaw from coaching firm Changemaker won accoladdes for empowering groups of women to turn negatives into positives, and never laughing or mocking ideas. (Aunty B; take note.)
  10. Inspiration: Many of the nominators say they admire those entrepreneurs who personally inspired them. Entrepreneurship is a lonely journey, and entrepreneurs often comment that no one else really understands how hard it is except for fellow entrepreneurs. The messages from those who do build large companies inspire others. Naomi Simson who runs gift-giving company Red Balloon Days, and has also written a book this year I Want What She’s Having, was commended for being an inspiration, especially for those jumping off a cliff to start their own business.




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