Melbourne-founded co-working space York Butter Factory has brought on its first chief executive, appointing ex-BP and GE executive Farley Blackman to lead its operations as the company looks to international expansion.
Blackman stepped into the role this week, and will also be taking up a position as a member of the York Butter Factory board.
Established in 2011, the co-working space was founded by Stuart Richardson and Darcy Naunton to run hackathons, startup incubator programs, and meetups to support the wider Melbourne startup community. In light of Blackman’s appointment, Richardson will now be leading York Butter Factory’s investor and investment efforts, and Naunton will take charge of the company’s portfolio of interests, with both founders remaining executive directors and serving on the board.
Blackman’s appointment came after both he and Richardson studied together in the US at Stanford University in 2009, remaining in contact over the subsequent eight years as Blackman worked as an executive at BP in London.
“I guess we’ve been waiting for the right opportunity to do something together — the timing and everything else worked out well,” Blackman tells StartupSmart.
It was Blackman’s experience working internationally that will now aid York Butter Factory in future global expansion efforts, according to Richardson.
“If York Butter Factory is going to be impactful domestically it’s going to be about how we connect globally and create those opportunities,” Richardson tells StartupSmart.
This global expansion will focus on establishing key partnerships with international stakeholders as the startup continues to expand its footprint, after partnering with property developer Mirvac to create the Hoist innovation hub at Australian Technology Park in Sydney earlier this year.
“We are certainly just looking at the right opportunities to take it to the next step and the right partnerships to do that,” Richardson says.
“The UK and Europe is where we will be building those networks.”
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While Blackman has worked for large corporates, he has also been involved in creating several boutique creative brands, such as founding the London-based company FARBLACK. The company provides a platform for awareness and education regarding historic holdings in Britain and North America, as well as a portfolio of brands in the creative world.
Blackman says these experiences have shown him that the overarching theme that drives innovation and entrepreneurial thinking in any organisation is risk-taking leadership.
“[In regards to] leadership from whatever level, it’s important that you take personal risks on behalf of shareholders,” Blackman says.
“If things stagnate, profitability goes down, and it’s up to the leader of any sized organisation to take personal risks to drive innovation.”
While Blackman concedes it can be “quite scary” at a big company to take personal risks that can be “quite counter cultural”, he says that as a leader, these personal risks are vital to driving innovation.
“If you can play to your strengths when doing this, the business case presents itself,” he adds.
Blackman has now flagged global growth as a key area York Butter Factory will be pursuing in future, while the co-working space and incubator also looks regionally to expand its offerings to more remote areas of Australia.
“It will be a combination of planned and opportunistic [expansion],” Blackman says, adding that supporting a flourishing startup ecosystem means incorporating perspectives from around the globe and across all walks of life.
“The larger we can make the ecosystem and the more people from diverse backgrounds and businesses the better,” he says.