The University of Newcastle, Australia

Engaging local business to enhance student learning

Monday, 18 June 2018

Bachelor of Social Science students on the Central Coast have been given the gift of first-hand experience to enhance their understanding, thanks to Scott and Catherine Bourne, owners of a local Central Coast business—Coastal Rural Traders (CRT) Ourimbah.

Stephen Smith with CRT's Scott and Catherine Bourne

As part of the Organisational Management and Social Behaviour course, co-ordinator Dr Stephen Smith approached the small business owners, whose premises are located very near the University’s Ourimbah campus, to share insights into their experiences as owners, managers and operators and to answer student questions.

“This was a great opportunity to provide the students with insight into the lived experience to enhance their theoretical knowledge,” Stephen said.

“Approaching the local business owners to be part of the student experience was also a really positive way to engage with the community and local industry, which is an important priority for UON,” Stephen said.

The Bournes, who left managerial roles in large corporations to pursue business ownership, bought the business in 2015. They jumped at the chance to share their challenges (largely due to inexperience), the challenges of balancing work and life, particularly in a family business and their views on leadership.

“A leader needs to be insightful, adaptable, visionary and future-oriented, someone who takes others along ‘on the journey’ in the organisation and encourages employees or members to work and to follow the ‘direction’ established to achieve both short-term and long-term outcomes and goals of the organisation,” Catherine said.

According to Scott, a good leader will be prepared to take ‘educated risks’ and make decisions in the best interests of the ongoing success of the business or organisation.

“Those decisions may not always be right but over an extended period of time, if a leader makes up to 80% of ‘right’ decisions, then that is better for the organisation than someone who might be paralysed into inaction unless he or she can be guaranteed a 100% success rate in their decision making,” Scott said.

Students were interested in knowing more about the changing role of women in business.  As implied by the original slogan of the CRT network (‘We’re your local bloke’), rural merchandise supply businesses such as Coastal Rural Traders Ourimbah, have been dominated by males.

“With women increasingly taking professional roles in agriculture, the executive management of CRT have taken the opportunity to acknowledge those women’s roles to be as significant as ‘blokes’ by officially dropping the slogan from its corporate advertising and triangular logo,” Catherine said.

“It’s fair to say, however, that attitudes towards a female owner-operator have been quite derisive at times,” Catherine said, adding that she’s had to learn to ‘speak the language’ and ‘play the game’ to receive acceptance.

“We need to challenge the stereotypes and expectations of males and the best way to do that is to demonstrate our capacity to perform to the same degree as our male counterparts,” Catherine said.

“Thanks to their willingness to be candid about their experience, Catherine and Scott created an extremely valuable session for the students,” Stephen said.

“They gave a balanced and informed view of being a business owner – the challenges were not hidden but neither were ultimate rewards,” Stephen said.

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