Speaking at the Brisbane Business Hub’s latest On The Couch session, Lord Mayor Adrian Schrinner told journalist Sofie Formica how growing up in a small business family shaped the person he had become, and discussed his vision for Brisbane businesses over the next decade.
It was an opportunity for Brisbane’s business leaders and rising stars to hear directly from the man who has been at the helm of Australia’s largest local government since becoming one of Brisbane’s youngest ever Lord Mayors in 2019.
Learning to fly
The Lord Mayor recalled his early years growing up in Brisbane’s eastern suburbs and the time he spent working in the family business to fund his flying lessons. By the time he was 16, he was flying solo, and even taking passengers up with him. It was a passion that led to a life in politics – the long way around.
“It wasn’t that I always wanted to be in politics,” he recalled. “What I’d always wanted to do was to be a pilot in the Air Force. The military path attracted me because it was one of service to the country.
“I guess it goes back to my father. He arrived here from Germany to build a new life in Australia, and he always instilled in me a gratefulness for this country that had given him an opportunity. So for me, being in the Defence Force was a way to combine service to my country with the chance to fly a fighter jet, which is what I’d always aspired to do.
“One of the subjects I was studying at ADFA was Politics, so I thought I better go along and see Question Time in the Australian Parliament. I’ll never forget watching the big-name politicians of the day hold a debate and pursue an issue, and that really sparked my interest in politics.”
Despite leaving the Defence Force for a life in politics, the Lord Mayor said he has carried the lessons he learned at ADFA with him.
“Some people say leaders are natural-born and I don’t agree with that at all,” he said. “In the military, it’s very clear that leaders are built. That’s the whole process of officer training – you build leadership skills and you learn how to do it.
“Some people are born with confidence and some people are born with a great ability to communicate, but that doesn’t necessarily equate to leadership. There may be some born leaders, but I think most leaders are made through a combination of experience and mentoring.”
Taking care of business
Those early years working in his family’s small business didn’t just help the Lord Mayor fund his passion for flying – they also gave him an innate understanding of the challenges that local business owners face.
“It’s hard to think of anyone that works harder than those in small business,” he said. “My parents had a suburban cleaning business. It was a partnership – Mum did all the administration and the financial side of things and Dad was out in the field. And if one of them got sick, there was no one else to do it. It was just the two of them.
“I distinctly remember when Dad fell off a ladder and dislocated his shoulder and couldn’t work for a period. There was no money coming in. Nothing. It’s tough in small business, because there is no fallback.
“Having said that, on the other side of the coin, there’s something incredibly special about starting an enterprise and driving it and creating something and being your own boss. So there are definitely pros and cons, but it’s a hard road.”
It was that understanding of the entrepreneurial mindset that led the Lord Mayor to spearhead the creation of the Brisbane Business Hub. Originally intended to help local businesses survive the coronavirus pandemic, Brisbane Business Hub has evolved into a resource hub and growth incubator that has held hundreds of events and mentoring sessions, and forged connections between approximately 56,000 businesses.
“Small business owners are generally not looking for handouts, but they are looking for advice and mentors and understanding,” the Lord Mayor said.
“You can’t put a dollar figure on what comes out of a place like the Brisbane Business Hub and you’ll never really know the impact it has. But you can hear it in the stories people tell about their experiences here and you can hear it in the advocacy… it has incredible value.
“Just look at our Women in Business grants, which are a relatively new initiative. They’re aimed at supporting female business people and female founders. We’ve had a couple of grant rounds already and while the money is great and it’s helpful, what happens here at the Hub is just as important… it’s the opportunity to make connections with other businesses; it’s the mentoring opportunities; it’s the network that comes out of it. And it’s really hard to quantify that.”
The road to 2032
In his inaugural speech in 2019, the Lord Mayor said his goal was simple – “to make sure the Brisbane of tomorrow is even better than the Brisbane of today”.
While the journey since then has been anything but smooth with COVID and natural disasters, he told the audience at the Brisbane Business Hub that he stands by that mission statement.
“For sure, you want to make that contribution so things get better each day,” he said. “But we’ve been through a lot since 2019. I could see a very clear path to the future at that point, but that path didn’t involve a pandemic or another flood and it didn’t necessarily involve the Olympics being a reality. We’d talked about it, we’d done some groundwork, but it was not at the point then where we could say yes, it’s definitely going to happen.
“So a lot has happened since then, including a global pandemic that has turned into a global inflation crisis. There have been many different ebbs and flows for business in our city.”
Looking ahead to 2032, the Lord Mayor said it’s crucial that local businesses benefit from Brisbane’s Olympic opportunity.
“All stakeholders and all levels of government are determined to make sure local business is part of the Olympic experience,” he said. “The procurement opportunity is massive. One thing that came out of the Sydney Olympics was the establishment of businesses that effectively got their start at the Olympics and have since gone on to supply cities around the world. There are so many amazing stories of local businesses going global because of the Sydney Olympics and we can see that happening [for Brisbane].
“We can also see huge opportunities for First Nations businesses as well. Engaging with our First Nations people and businesses to create job opportunities and grow businesses is a massive opportunity.”
Ultimately, he expects the runway to the Olympics to have a transformative effect on the city over the next decade.
“There are so many different aspects we can use the Olympics to leverage,” he said. “Accelerating plans for the transition to a more sustainable city is one of them. Improving infrastructure and transport. You think about the business and tourism opportunities and they’re endless.
“The critical thing is, we’re a midsize city at the moment and there are hundreds and hundreds of midsize cities across the world, all competing for a global market. But there are only a fraction of these cities which ever host the Olympics and doing so makes you a global city.
“Vancouver is a great example – Vancouver is actually smaller than Brisbane, yet they’re now known around the world. They leveraged that opportunity to transform their city. Barcelona did the same thing. That’s another smaller or mid-tier city where the legacy keeps on delivering, the benefits keep on delivering, even all of this time after the Olympics.
“Having a global identity brings so many opportunities. It brings investment. It brings tourists. And it brings other businesses, as well. Businesses want to be here. They’re already relocating from other parts of Australia and the world to Brisbane and that will just snowball from here.
“We’re already seeing the numbers of visitors starting to grow and TIME Magazine recently listed Brisbane as one of The World’s Greatest Places… people are already starting to talk about Brisbane around the world.”