Surprise exit

Why has Jaye Radisich left COSBOA? And what will she do now? This is the question swirling through the small business community after the surprising news this morning that she will leave her CEO post on May 21.

Radisich was forthright, outspoken and knew how to play the political game and fight for a cause. Her cause for the last 15 months has been to lobby for small business as head of COSBOA.

And boy, the sector needed it whether they knew it or not. The small business community in Australia has always struggled to find a coherent voice, unlike the US which has a strong and powerful lobby group.

One of our problems is the dominance of duopolies in Australian industry means many companies end up selling out before they achieve scale. In the US a small company has up to 500 employees. Get enough companies ofthat size together and thier owners can make a lot of loud noise.

But in Australia a small business has less than 20 employees. A medium-sized business has less than 200. Most of those business owners are too busy and lacking the power to make a lot of noise.

And don’t forget a lot of Australian small businesses are tiny, buy-yourself-a-job type affairs and their owners do not see themselves as part of any small business community.

Add to that the crazy tall poppy syndrome that seems to afflict many of Australia’s entrepreneurs and we know that the lobbying is never going to come from the business owners themselves.

Neither has there been a strong lobby group acting on behalf of this sector. For 25 years I have watched as various organisations  claim to be the voice of small buusiness. I have seen a few crooks come in, usually from right wing organsiations who quickly got short shrift – usually after I or other journalists – dug into their past and exposed them.

There are also lots of good organsiations that claim to also represent the views of small business. But they are hopelessly conflicted: many of their members are large corporates and of course they pay very large fees.

And there has been COSBOA, a toothless tiger that for as long as I remember, ran more like some gentleman’s club, full of blokes who liked the association with a prestige board and who sometimes had several agendas. I never took much notice of anything COSBOA said, although the last CEO Tony Stevens began to get a little bit of traction.

Then Radisich came along. Radisich knew she had a big challenge on her hands. She was a young female, fronting up to a board with different ideas on what she should be doing and how things should be run.

Radisich began to get noticed. She had some clear wins for the sector on issues like stopping the Do Not Call Register being extended to business numbers and pushing the Government for action on improving SME access to finance.

But she also began to ruffle feathers and there were some members of her board who felt the organisation would be better off without her.

Time will tell if they can do a better job without her. But don’t expect Radisich to go quietly. Apparently her supporters are urging her to start a rival organisation, something she may well consider doing. Radisich isn’t talking about her future pams, but watch this space. Things suddenly got interesting in small business lobby land.

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