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- Issue 81: April 2009
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- Issue 78: December 2008
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The Dawning of a New Era

Barry Urquhart
International Conference Keynote Speaker

Issue 78: December 2008
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Well, the Melbourne Cup is over for another year, (the race stopped a nation but not the world!). Australia beat England in the Rugby League World Cup, the Aussie cricketers salvaged a draw in the Test match in India and the Irish taught us a little about the hybrid International Rules football.
Above all else, the sun has continued to rise in the east and set in the west, the United States of America has a new President-elect and some 96% of the Australian workforce is still employed.

Perhaps now we can get back to work, to create opportunities, to satisfy customers and to provide continuing employment and a better quality of life.
Too many distractions can and often does lead to inertia.
Consider this casual personal observation: the most negative people have ceased making contact and are not responding to letters, telephone calls or emails.
I, for one, have been gladdened and, reassured by the fact that I am surrounded by, working with and am enjoying a host of positive people.


A recent survey of Australian supermarket prices by the current affairs program “Today Tonight” on the 7 Network, revealed that increases in retail prices during the past year more than doubled the inflation rate of 5%.

I was asked to analyse the data and was interviewed for the segment. More interesting than the overall increases in prices was the fact that price variations between supermarkets narrowed to being insignificant. For a basket of food totalling marginally more than $120.00 in cost, the difference in retail prices between the cheapest and the sixth cheapest supermarket was just 52 cents.

With the price of petrol above $1.35 cents per litre, any suggestion of selective comparative shopping for individual items is ill founded and illogical. The message is that to save money, shop local.

Furthermore, of the 16 supermarkets surveyed, 14 displayed the same price for the breakfast cereal “Weetbix”. Moreover, the variation in prices between tins of Kit-e-Kat cat food was just 2 cents. The latter point is relevant because Australians spend more money per capita each year on their pets than they do on personal grooming. That says something about Australians, and their love of pets!

The bottom line is that as competition has increased during the current turmoil, prices have increased overall (justifiably so in many instances) but little advantage is enjoyed by any one outlet or business on price alone.

Ambience, the shopping experience and great customer service wins and holds custom.


The following text is not a new or original train of thought. However, the essential message on the importance and role of training in the near future is, we believe on track. Enjoy, and share it with those who matter most to you.

Permanent structural change

These three words contain the essence of a timely, salutary call-to-action. They also herald the dawning of a new economic and business era. Disturbingly, many business people have not appreciated nor comprehended the message.

Like a tsunami, the current economic/credit/financial turmoil has impacted on the world in three waves. Tragically, with the tsunami of Boxing Day 2004, many people in the Indian Ocean region did not read the signs, analyse the causal factors and did not prepare for the consequences. Many villagers in Indonesia, the Maldives, Bangladesh and Malaysia rushed to the waterfront to collect the readily available dead fish which had been washed ashore. Disturbingly, the parallels with commerce in the recent and current marketplace are strikingly similar.

The number of casualties from the second wave in 2004 were immense. In 2008 we are only now just starting to add up the numbers. The economic story began to unfold when the first signs of the sub-prime loans crisis emerged in the United States of America and consumer buying patterns changed during August 2007.

The continuing rush to quick sales and profits, financed by low interest rates, lax lending standards and the availability of easy credit (including up to 5 years interest free purchase offers) was omnipotent. Shades of the primitive villagers collecting easy seafood on the shores.

Largely ignored was the substantial correction of the London Stock Exchange on Monday, 21 January, 2008, when indexes fell by as much as 24% in a single day. That was in reality a manifestation of the major banks deciding the risk of lending to each other was too high.

Much of the world continued on as before. At the time a real estate industry spokesman in Western Australia confidently forecast house prices to increase during the year by an average of not less than 15%. Sadly, no mass media channel demanded justification of such an outrageous claim.

Then in September, with the collapse of the international investment bank Lehmann Brothers, the sky literally fell in. The phrase “margin call” became familiar to taxi drivers and school children. Those who had knowingly or unknowingly availed themselves of this financial instrument soon found out to their very great cost that there was little or no margin for error or margin for time.


The true lessons which have been learnt lay not in the billions, and nationally or internationally, with the trillions of dollars that were lost, albeit that in each case it will be a lifelong learning experience.

No. The compelling takeout from margin calls and finance derivatives was the importance of product knowledge. Put simply, the stockbrokers, financiers, bankers, accountants and supposed property developers had little product knowledge about the financial instruments they were, to put it in common vernacular, spruiking. Disturbingly, many still do not comprehend the true nature of the products/services nor their short-term, intermediate term and long-term implications.

So, one will be inclined to declare, what is new? Nothing!


During these moments of reflection, many people will be refining the position titles on business cards. Regardless of the words displayed, merchant bankers, stockbrokers, and investment property spruikers will be perceived by the marketplace as commission sales people. Rightly so, will contend many who have borne the costs of dealing with people who possessed little or marginal product knowledge.


A new era presents interesting, rewarding and new challenges. Suggestions of and projections for structural change imply a measure of significant variance and some degree of permanence. To fully capture the advantages the answer lies in training, formal and informal, on-the-job and off-site.

Benefits for investments in such activities extend to the nation, the industry sector, employers and employees and to future recruits. However, aside from the need to invest money, people and resources in training, there is also a need to invest time.

The learning process is gradual and progressive. Skills training, apprecenticeships, university degrees and higher education diplomas typically involve 12, 18, 24 and 36 months for completion and graduation.

Astute business owners and leaders are now undertaking initiatives to keep ahead of, or at least abreast of the trends. The concept of lifetime continuous learning is being “dusted down” and retrieved from the corporate cupboard. It is a sobering and appropriate recognition that the future will not be a lineal progression of the past. That is the nature of permanent structure change. Emphasis needs to be given to the word change.


Business entities which wish to ensure a measure of stability and growth in the future for revenue, margins, profits and, above all else, stability among team members, will need to commit to a comprehensive schedule of training, retraining and upgraded skills training.

Conversely, (and complementary) team members who wish to enhance their prospects for employment stability will be seeking out and embracing every opportunity to supplement their existing skills, regardless or rank, income level or tenure in a position or within a company.


These are exciting times.
Opportunities are seemingly boundless. Those who will win most will be those who train most.

For some, who have previously dismissed the need for and benefits of lifetime, ongoing training because there was no time available, well, their time has come. With any degree of seasonal, cyclical or economic slowdown, the resultant available time represents a potential bonanza which should be reaped.


Barry Urquhart is Managing Director of Marketing Focus, Perth.

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