The entrepreneurial mindset is nothing new to Brett, and it is not uncommon now for someone to own a business before their 21st birthday, but 20 years ago when Brett did it was more of an exception to the rules of the day.
How Brett came to be in that position goes back longer to that. In fact, Brett was too young to remember when he started his working life. The 2nd youngest of 6 children with only eight and a half years between them, Brett’s Mum would have to take him along when she would volunteer at the swimming pool canteen while the older kids were getting lessons. Brett’s first customer service exploits included toddler party tricks such as being able to give change from a dollar (notes back then) before he could count to 10. Learning to count to 10 by making up bags of lollies was his first experience with transactional management, as for every successful filled bag of 10 lollies he made up resulted in Brett’s choice of his own treat as payment.
Although this may be considered abuse by today’s standards and given the family history of type 2 diabetes (which Brett has managed to avoid thus far), this was Brett’s first introduction into the retail food industry, which continued throughout his childhood.
Walk before you crawl???
The idea that many Entrepreneurs have that you can walk without first learning to crawl was also demonstrated by Brett, as before his first birthday he was up on his feet after just a short transitional period of rolling around the floor. More than just a mindset, this early work experience allowed Brett to develop skills at a time that is likely to be considered illegal by today’s workplace standards but would prove to be a head start later in Brett’s professional life. LinkedIn Profile: Brett O’Connor
Moving onto his schooling years, and despite a lack of interest and attention (and undiagnosed Dyslexia), Brett decided that he would become a woodwork teacher as that was one of the few subjects that he excelled at; much to the confusion from Brett’s relatives, who were predominantly Teachers and Farmers.
Farming was not seen as an option to Brett, due to (amongst other things) a fear of spiders, that was compounded with the release of the movie Arachnophobia, so he went in search of a more metropolitan lifestyle and moved to Sydney after completing high school to attend university.
Entering the education sector was interrupted by Brett’s election onto the University student council. It was discovered that Brett had a flair for organising events in his role as the University’s social committee co-ordinator more so than academic endeavors. Developing project management skills to organise harbour cruises, Ski trips, and converting the Uni common area into a bar were valuable learning exercises, however, this set Brett off on a path that was unlikely to lead to the completion of a teaching degree. The events management experience did not go to waste, and Brett later went on to work for Perisher Blue, Hayman Island, Sofitel, plus organised conferences for the franchise groups he was later involved with
After a couple of years getting used to the “big smoke”, which Brett considered his Uni experience as his “Gap years”, Brett returned to what he knew best and got a job managing a retail food outlet.
Entering small business
This was Brett first foray into Small Business management and lead to him becoming one of Westfield’s youngest retailers purchasing a coffee shop in the Chatswood shoppingtown. Not a simple exercise, the retail giant insisted that the lease was co-signed by two of the directors of the Donut king/BB’s café franchise group that had mentored Brett.
With confidence in Brett’s ability to run the café (that he had been running for them for 6 months), the directors agreed to sign the lease with only one explicit condition… “just don’t f@#$ it up”. There were concerned about their reputation as one went on to become a director of the giant Retail Food Group (RFG), and the other was the national manager of Michel’s patisserie franchise (later purchased by RFG)
Brett saw out the end of the lease term and became known for innovative practices including roasting his own coffee instore which was almost unheard of at the time. During this time Brett received the Hills Shire Council’s excellence in Youth award for Business validating compliance with the extra condition imposed for the café lease agreement.
Moving on to work for the first Burger King franchise in Australia (Ironically owned by a man named “Fryer”), and was working on developing one of the first touchscreen point of sale systems in the country that is now the standard in every retail outlet. Brett then went on to learn the Hungry Jacks systems from another expert Mentor who had 20 years earlier been one of McDonald’s first franchisees in Australia.
Helping other small business owners
Answering a call for help from his former mentor, Brett joined the rapidly growing patisserie providing marketing and operational support. Brett was involved in the induction of over 50 new franchisees and store openings at a time when the franchise was awarded the FCA Australian franchise system of the year. Brett spent his last 6 months as a specialist with the franchise (which now had almost 200 outlets) working with the “problem” stores that needed support to improve cash flow and profitability.
After a few years in events and hospitality management, Brett returned to small business support with a concept café franchise. Although Brett was handed the Franchise Operations manual on the first day, it was done by the franchise directors to highlight the current situation the new franchise was in; the operations manual only contained a cover page and no systems.
18 months later that franchise was on BRW magazine’s “Fast 100” list as the fastest growing food franchise (2nd overall franchise), and Brett was promoted to group operations manage as tasked with opening the franchise in the Middle East. All of this without the assistance of a marketing department, or even a marketing manager for the franchisee marketing fund, so these tasks were also assigned to Brett by the directors.
With working on Hayman Island Brett’s only “overseas” travel experience, he naïvely took on the role to expand the franchise overseas without a real understanding of the expectations and cultural considerations. In fact, when Brett was asked by the French owner of the café franchise if he had any question about the Middle East appointment, Brett said “I’d better get a passport eh?”.
At the time Brett was working overseas, Alcohol abuse and depression were commonplace in the Middle East in the expat community, in many cases amplifying mental health issue without a support system to deal with them effectively. Even when money was in unlimited supply, Brett saw first hand the negative effects mental health issues can have on both the community and business development and burnout cycles measured in weeks (not months) were also common.
Although Brett made friends quickly, his hospitality background soon had him leading an unsustainable double work/social life, regularly skipping between countries for work and returning to his base country to help with major events that included Formula One Grand Prix after parties.
Although the franchise was successfully operating, Brett decided to return to Australia to a simpler life and found himself in a small town west of Sydney at a major tourist attraction; charged with the role of turning around the food service on the site after the family-owned business up to 7,500 visitors per day.
Brett was able to provide a level of customer service that not only kept customers and tour operators happy but also had many of the previous employees from the small country town re-applying for employment positions created.
Moving back up to Brisbane to be nearer to his family in Northern NSW, and returning to study (now to complete a Master’s in Business Administration), Brett took on a sales and marketing manager position with a gourmet food wholesaler, just as the GFC was coming into full effect. However, this did not stop Brett from doubling the Sales in the next year, completing subjects of his masters, and coordinating the café, commercial kitchen, and delivery operations on behalf of the owner who decided to take a step back from the business.
Back to education
Brett’s passion for coaching and mentoring small business owners had not gone away, and he decided to move it to the formal training system after a job offer came from a Registered Training Organisation (RTO) when Brett completed his MBA. Although the RTO had existing training material, Brett and the other two trainers started to rewrite the material to be more realistic than the current products. The result was almost instant, and student feedback not only help get referrals, but many students were unable to complete the course as the had secured a new job.
The rapid growth of the RTO of more than 1000% in 1 year also got the attention of the training industry regulators. The resources passed an audit, and a later audit as part of the VET FEE-HELP inquiry found that there we no issues with the RTO’s practices at the time of the rapid growth when Brett was working there.
Brett went on to be an Assessor and content developer with one of the four biggest RTOs in the country until he was offered a compliance manager position with a new RTO run by his former RTO’s general manager.
Training Industry reforms
When reports surfaced about “dodgy” operators in the training industry, Brett’s RTO was called upon to give evidence (as part of the ‘control group’ of RTOs) in a quality audit for the Senate inquiry into VET FEE-HELP providers as to what RTOs “should” be doing to provide better quality training.
Although the training and assessment resource submitted in the quality audit was validated by training professionals that combined had more than 75 years training experience, the auditor found the resources were non-compliant, and the RTO replaced these resources with ones that Brett had recently written.
After having his skills to develop quality training programs validated as part of the investigation, Brett worked for many RTOs and training industry consultants to rectify training resources, including re-writing whole courses for other RTOs involved in the Senate inquiry.
So what’s next?
Now known by training and education industry experts for his expertise in updating training resources to reflect the latest industry practices, Brett started networking with small businesses and start-ups to ensure he stays ahead of the game, even starting his own meetup groups to connect trainers and entrepreneurs.
Brett does more than just provide professional development for trainers and map industry courses to the formal system, he also develops courses for essential business skills that are in high demand by small businesses. Recognising the skills developed in industry workshops so they can be used to work towards a qualification has also been able to save people time and money when formalizing their experience. This includes recognising parenting skills for qualifications such as the diploma of Leadership and Management.
Brett’s extensive experience in training and small business makes him uniquely qualified to provide the support need to start a business, or even just return to work, and also set up a contractor and flexible work arrangements to allow more of a “Laptop lifestyle”.
Brett’s latest project to on-shore Virtual assistant jobs is only just starting, however, Brett was the support manager for the 2nd fastest growing franchisee in the country once before, so don’t delay if you want to be a part of it. Blink, and you could miss out.