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What can you learn from Sydney’s most powerful people?

Peter Switzer
11 February 2022

Today the Daily Tele looked at Sydney’s most influential powerbrokers in the country’s biggest capital city, and business owners, CEOs and entrepreneurs occupied 16 out of the top 40 positions.

My colleague at 2GB Ben Fordham asked me to look at the big hitters from business and when I get these kinds of tasks, I like to look for patterns that tell me and others, some things important about success.

Each week I do a podcast and it’s called Learning from Legends. I called it that because many years ago when I was interviewing a legend — ex-Wallaby captain, John Eales, for my old Talking Business program on Qantas, he said to me “ legends leave clues”. I’ve never forgotten that.

Before making observations about why these business leaders are seen as powerful, let me give you my break down of the top 16 in the first 40 powerful people in Sydney, according to the Daily Telegraph.

The highest-ranked was Gerry Harvey and Katie Page at number six. Mel Perkins and Cliff Obrecht, founders of Canva are in at number eight. This shows being billionaire entrepreneurs brings a fair bit of clout in Sydney, and anywhere for that matter.

Let me give you the top business influencers in the list and how they ranked. Then I’ll draw out the big takeout lessons in case you want to accumulate some power in future years!

Here goes:

10. Matt Comyn, CEO of CBA.

11. Tony Shepherd, now Chair of Venues NSW, GWS Giants and a lot more.

12. Brad Banducci, CEO of Woolworths.

14. Alan Joyce, CEO of Qantas.

20. Patrick Delaney, CEO of Foxtel.

21. Shemara Wikramanayake, CEO of Macquarie Group.

22. Nick Politis, Chairman of Sydney Roosters, founder of City Ford, which rolled into A.P.Eagers, which has had listed company blockbusting success.

23. Richard White, founder and CEO of Wisetech — a global tech/logistics company.

24. Sam Prince, founder of Zambrero.

26. Jessica Sepel & Dean Steingold of JSHealth.

27. Justin Hemmes, pub baron famous for The Ivy and Mr Wong.

29. Mike Cannon-Brookes & Scott Farquhar, founders and CEOs of Atlassian.

31. Robyn Denholm, chair of Tesla — Elon Musk’s boss!

34. Anthony Eisen & Nick Molner, founders of Afterpay.

That’s the list and while there are some individual differences that explain why these business people have become big news in Australia’s ‘Big Apple’, there are also common traits that explain success and standing out from the crowd.

Over the years, from my early days as the editor of Australian Small Business magazine to becoming the first Small Business Editor for The Australian, and as an owner of a business that employs over 30 staff, which has given birth to a listed fund on the stock market — the Switzer Dividend Growth Fund — I know business winners develop a competitive advantage.

For example, Tony Shepherd is a master networker, which explains why he ended up President of the Business Council of Australia.

Anthony Eisen, who incidentally I taught years ago, and his partner Nick Molnar, understood the young cohort of consumers, but importantly they understood how technology could create a new payments system that has taken off worldwide.

CEO’s like Alan Joyce, Matt Comyn and Brad Banducci have mastered climbing the corporate ladder, which is no mean feat, as many try but most fail to get to become a CEO of listed juggernauts such as CBA, Qantas or Woolies.

Justin Hemmes has looked at the successful models of pubs and other hospitality operations and has simply set the highest of standards that most publicans never even dream of!

I could go on about the individual skills that explain these high achievers’ results in business, which has then underpinned their influence in Sydney and the country for that matter, but what are their common characteristics?

Here's the list that explains their success:

  1. They are maniacally focused on the main game – their business’s success.
  2. They go all in and avoid diversification, which is a safe strategy, as it can distract success-oriented people from the main game.
  3. They conceive a competitive advantage that explains their ultimate success.
  4. They are always innovating to grow or to maintain their competitive advantage.
  5. They learn from legends and can seek expert insights, but they don’t like to copy, though some do and seldom admit it!
  6. They are constantly doing a SWOT and consequently setting their strategies from knowing their Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.
  7. They have an overwhelming supply of self-belief.

I could go on but I think these seven success traits go a long way to explain why all the people on this list of the top 100 most powerful people in Sydney have created their power.

In case you’re interested, the number one mover and shaker is Premier Dominic Perrottet. PM Scott Morrison is number two, followed by RBA Governor Dr Phil Lowe.

I learnt from one of the world’s most influential thinkers — Edward DeBono — when I interviewed him a number of times over a decade ago — that successful people think outside the square. He calls it lateral thinking and it is this that creates their competitive advantage. You see it in Scott Morrison, as you’re starting to see it in the new and improved, and totally remade Anthony Albanese, all ready for the May election.

The starting point for success is thinking outside the square, but ultimately it will be your focus and how badly you want it that will explain a lot about how successful you become.

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