The former chief executive and managing director of iconic Australian footwear brand RM Williams has joined the Queensland University of Technology’s Creative Enterprise Australia (CEA) startup hub, where he hopes to help fill the gaps for young entrepreneurs breaking into the creative tech and fashion space.
Hamish Turner headed up RM Williams as its managing director and chief executive from 2000 to 2014, seeing the company through a number of expansions, and left shortly after the business was sold to the private equity fund backed by fashion giant LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton, in a deal reportedly worth around $100 million.
Turner was drawn into the startup space after seeing Brett Chenoweth appointed chairman of CEA in May earlier this year, telling StartupSmart that after their paths crossed some months later, he congratulated Chenoweth on the role. Turner had also been a long time fan of CEA’s work supporting for entrepreneurs in creative industries.
“Lo and behold, a few months after talking to Brett he got in touch and asked me if I’d be interested in providing some more ongoing support and assistance. I’m an ex-Queenslander and I grew up in Brisbane, and I was very fortunate to have a lot of mentoring back then, so I wanted to give back any way I could,” Turner told StartupSmart.
QUT’s creative entrepreneurship hub and incubator has been around since 2008, ushering more than 4000 entrepreneurs through its doors and helping their startups raise more than $65 million. The program’s Fashion360 accelerator is one of Australia’s largest and most-prominent fashion-focused accelerators, having sprouted a number of success stories.
Joining the CEA board and advising eager young entrepreneurs might seem like a big change from leading a famous Australian luxury footwear brand, but Turner assures his time at RM Williams also involved providing guidance to other businesses, feeling it was “very much part of my role”. Advising entrepreneurs doesn’t seem like something new or unusual, he says.
“I worked with a range of businesses at RM Williams that were proudly Australian, and this is more of a position for me to help young people in a more direct way, and use my contacts and connections while doing so,” Turner says.
He describes the CEA program as “exactly what’s been missing” from a lot of startup industries, not just the creative space. Access to things like new technology, mentoring, facilities, and potential funding are filling gaps for startups in the space, and this is something Turner wants to keep doing.
“A lot of entrepreneurial young men and women come out of school or uni and get experience in the industry only with time. They might know someone in the industry to get some advice from, but they’d never have access to a structured program like this. And accessing business people who were looking at investment opportunities were a whole lot of other bridges to cross,” he says.
“These programs let them showcase their products or services, they let them network, they give them access to investment, and they put them into a supportive environment and give them the best opportunities to grow.”
Drawing on his time at RM Williams, Turner says the primary issue he sees with entrepreneurs and startups in the creative and fashion space is a lack of clarity when developing and explaining their products.
He says the makers of new creative tech products should be clear on what they are offering, and where they fit in the market. Entrepreneurs in fashion can often “take an interpretation of something that already exists rather than being truly creative,” he says.
“When you’re truly creative, that’s when wonderful opportunities arise,” he says.
Corporate partnerships a necessary part of startups’ lives
There’s been an ongoing call for more startups to cooperate with corporate players in recent times, with CEA’s entrepreneur-in-residence Alan Jones telling StartupSmart last month that Aussie startups should “get real” about corporate partnerships.
Turner shares similar views. He believes corporate partnerships are a necessary part of life for startups looking for significant growth.
“In a lot of cases, they have to take place, especially in terms of distribution. The world’s a lot smaller place then it was 10-15 years ago,” he says.
Turner describes Louis Vuitton’s acquisition of RM Williams as a continuation of the company’s original vision to see the brand on a global scale — something that could only be done with help from a globally positioned partner.
“Those sort of decisions have to be made in every business, and for [RM Williams owner] Ken Cowley, well, at some point everyone’s allowed to retire,” Turner says.
But corporate partnerships should not be the be-all-and-end-all for startups, says Turner, who believes having a smaller successful business you love to be part of every day is being “successful in its own right”. However, there comes a time when companies that want to grow their product delivery to a global scale have to make an important decision.
“To have an investor or corporate partner, there’s going to be more governance and compliance issues taking place. Startups need to be educated and prepared for what that means, and accelerator programs go a long way towards preparing entrepreneurs for that,” he says.