Geelong Business Connect with its Community
Mark [0:00] I’d like to welcome Ben Flynn to the Heart of Connection Podcast. Ben is the CEO of the Geelong Chamber of Commerce and has a background in marketing, accounting, and finance and has worked in many places across the world. And most recently here at Gen U in Geelong. He lives in Ocean Grove, with his wife and two kids. Ben and I have a bit of a connection together being old Hamiltonians from that wonderful little place in the southwest. Is that right? We call it southwest of Victoria or Western District?
Connection to Hamilton
Ben [0:34] Yeah, the Merino Capital of the World – Wool Capital of the world we had on the sign as you drove in.
Mark [0:40] That’s right and one of the Prime Minister’s was not far from Hamilton?
Ben [0:47] Malcolm Fraser was from Merino. Steve, not Steve Brack’s was it Steve Brack’s – one of the Premier was from Coleraine as well – John Brumby.
Growing up in the Western District
Mark [1:01] Okay I didn’t know that. The old Western District – we’ve got some good football is too. We got the boy Jeremy Cameron up in Sydney with Greater Sydney he’s from Dartmoor or Coleraine somewhere like that. Also Phillip Walsh former coach of Adelaide. He was St. Mary’s boys.
Ben [1:22] We knew Phil Walsh really well in the family. There are other names Billy Picken came out of there. He’s one of the notables. So it’s got a pretty good sporting history down.
Mark [1:36] It has.
Ben [1:37] There’s not much to do in town actually.
Country Towns strong Sporting Communities
Mark [1:39] Play football. If you weren’t an ‘A’ grade footballer or ‘A’ grade cricketer. If you played another sport, it wasn’t the ideal thing to do.
Ben [1:46] Yeah, I think there might have been a marching band or something for those people (Laughter).
Mark [1:51] March you out of town. So thank you, Ben, for being a guest on the podcast. This podcast is about a conversation for about 30 minutes roughly. It is on connection to Self, Others and ‘All That Is’ and whatever that all that is is to you. It could be a God, it could be the trees, the ocean could be the universe, it doesn’t matter – it is what it is. In terms of connection, how did you get connected to marketing and accounting? What led you to that connection?
Respected Teacher-led me to Accounting
Ben [2:24] Wow. Accounting was my Year 12 school teacher. He was my accounting teacher who had a lot of respect for. I went into University here at Deakin and actually from Hamilton. I did commerce arts and always lead to accounting. I was lucky enough after university to be one of the few graduates that’s able to go into one of the big four firms. I and went into KPMG. Like a lot of people around the age of 24 & 25 years after a few years working. The urge to go overseas was too strong. Or more the point that I was getting emails every morning from mates overseas having a very good time. So I packed up my backpack and started on sort of six years overseas and as part of that journey, I was in London. In London, I fell into marketing and for me, that was a breath of fresh air it – I suppose suited my personality better and really enjoyed that. This took me around the world and also took me – brought me back to Geelong and probably was largely responsible for me being here sitting next year speaking today.
My Connection to Marketing 101
Mark [3:38] The connection to marketing. What is it in marketing that drew you to it? What’s the connection there? What do you like about it?
Ben [3:49] I think connections the big key. I’ve always enjoyed meeting people. As you said, I’ve enjoyed playing footy. We’ve enjoyed going to parties. I’ve enjoyed backpacking around the world and learning how to communicate and understand the channels of how to connect with different people in different markets. I have found it really fascinating and I’m talking strategic marketing. Like really looking at integrated marketing campaigns that drive results and measuring those results and understanding really small well often seemingly small insights that can have a big impact on your results. So I think to lead with the fact that marketing is so much about people. Whether it’s understanding the consumer or trying to connect with different groups. Yeah, that’s probably what appealed to me. It’s probably more free tickets and social events in marketing than what there is an accounting. Lots more corporate lunches and so on, and that’s probably pretty appealing too.
Monty Python and Accountants
Mark [4:59] The accounting reminds me of the Fawlty Towers version of accounting with the bowler hats on. I don’t know whether you use to watch Monty Python? Yeah, Monty Python uses to take the…
Ben [5:09] Was that on one of the two channels that we had in Hamilton.
Mark [5:11] It wasn’t on BTV6 BBC, it was actually on the ABC and I used to hate watching it because my father used to watch it. But yeah, that was back in the day, sort of black and white television. Through the connection into marketing, is there much connection to yourself that you need to tune into to help you in the connection in marketing?
Ben [5:36] Yeah, that’s a really good question.
Enjoying Connections With People
Ben [5:40] It’s something I actually talk to people a lot. If you work in marketing, or if you work in senior leadership roles, or you representing a company and trying to sell a message, there’s no better way of doing that than connecting with people one on one. You can spend all the money in the world, on advertising and radio, and so on. We’re humans and nothing will ever beat having a personal connection with someone in a positive impact at that one-on-one level.
Ben [6:07] So, for me that’s what kind of drives me in my work. When you say connecting to myself, I actually genuinely enjoy meeting new people. When I’m at functions for marketing or for my work, it doesn’t feel like work and that’s why I can do it. I’ve been able to do it for so long because I just like hearing stories. At the moment I love hearing stories of our members or businesses that are just doing great stuff. I love hearing stories about businesses that are branching out and becoming more diverse. Or social enterprises that are delivering for the community and making the business so much about people now. I think that’s a very Geelong story as well. I don’t think it’s about making it quid. I think most people in Geelong recognize we’re part of a community and there’s a lot more to what we do. So when you ask how I connect to myself, I suppose it’s just the realization that I’m doing, what I enjoy doing? I’m not a round peg in a square hole. I like making those connections and listening to what people are up to and so.
Mark [7:22] When you take time out from the hustle and bustle of work, what do you do for you to recharge your batteries? How do you connect yourself to recharge your batteries? To fill your tank back up to come back in for the following week?
Connecting to Nature ~ Outback
Ben [7:38] Yeah, I really like ideally, I’d love to be just in the outback around Lake Eyre or out in the bush somewhere. These days it is with my family. Just having that solace of being away from everything. I’m lucky living in Ocean Grove that – now that can be a surf. I do a lot of running and run every second day. Don’t run far enough at the moment. I used to do a lot of fishing and a lot of hiking and a lot of canoeing as well as kayaking. So I’ve always made the time, to find time for myself. Although it gets harder, you can still do it.
Mark [8:26] That connection to yourself as you’re sharing that. I wonder whether that connection to the bush has come from your childhood experiences of growing up in the country town, Hamilton?
Childhood Connections to the Bush
Ben [8:40] Yeah, no doubt we were camping every second weekend. When I was old enough, from the age of about 14, I was gathering of friends every second weekend and parents would dropping us out of remote locations. We had fishing rods and tents and no mobile phone. They would come back three days later and pick us up hoping we were okay. Yeah, so many positive experiences as a kid camping with my parents and my friends. That’s so many positive experiences all through life doing and that I think that’s been a constant in my life. I still camp a lot of the kids in fact with camp the last two weekends and the kids love it. In fact, we camp for five weeks over summer every year. And the connection you get from spending time one-on-one with the kids over that period is really quite extraordinary. By the end of those five weeks, they just totally different kids. I know these other factors they probably tired from school and so at the start. Having no T.V and largely no mobile phones over and so on. You know that personal connection really comes through.
Mark [9:10] Does the personal connection come through the simplicity of camping? It’s just simple – it’s just there. There are no economic or digital distractions in that simplicity. Do you notice yours connect better to yourself and to your children and to your wife and to nature?
Connecting to the Simplicity of Nature
Ben [10:20] Yeah, absolutely and you hit the nail on the head with nature it’s amazing when you just having a beer at 5:30 pm at night and the sun starting to go down over the mountains or across the lake. All the birds are going crazy and it’s – you tend to, if you do it for long enough rather than just the two days – if you do it for a few weeks you really do connect with the weather and, and what’s going on around you.
Mark [10:51] Sometimes in sessions, working with men I use the ‘back of the boat’ analogy to describe mindfulness to them. Mindfulness, not an easy concept to sometimes get across – but I say, “well, what happens when you go to the back of the boat?” When you’re in nature is there a spiritual component for you in nature? And the connection to just nature – what it provides those “Aha moments” of the sun setting?
Experiences of Nature feeds My Resilience
Ben [11:25] Yeah. I don’t know if I’ve ever considered being something spiritual, but it’s just something that’s kind of its like values, isn’t it? Because of your upbringing and because of a lot of things you’ve been exposed to. It’s something that I value. And you know, I’ve had so many amazing experiences whether it’s hiking or camping around the world. I don’t know but feeds into a little bit of who I am. Whether that feeds into resilience or creativity or some of those things as well. You certainly can’t get all your jollies just from work. You need to have some interest outside work to keep you up and about.
Mark [12:03] When you have those moments – the sunset over the Grampians it’s just gone down pass Mount Abrupt. Are you an ‘Aha moment’ when you see something like? Everything’s clear all works gone out of the mind?
Connecting to My ‘Aha Moments’
Ben [12:23] I have a lot of ‘Aha moments’ these days. I used to be – I don’t know what the word is intense or driven. Not that I’m not anymore. It was always around what am I doing next week – next year, next three years – what’s my plan you know? I just have – I have ‘Aha moments’ these days if I’m 15 minutes early for a meeting. And I’ve got like 10 minutes to myself that I can just sit in the car and look at over the Bay in Geelong. Or just people watch for a little bit and so. Those ‘Aha moments’ are probably coming from the fact that I’m a lot keener now to enjoy the moment, rather than wishing time away. You know, I feel like I in one of those great spaces, I enjoy my work and my kids are the ages of eight and five and it just so much fun 90% of the time. Why would I want to wish that away? So I have allowed myself to really take pleasure in those moments now. But I’ve needed to train myself a little bit too.
Mark [13:40] What created the change? What was it in life that facilitated that change that you’re very driven? Using your words ‘intensity driven’ at one point? I think I recall in the conversation last, when we met last week, you said about work – work’s work. Can we put too much value in our working life and the drivenness of it? What created that change for you?
Being in the Present Moment
Ben [14:16] Look, I think it’s still healthy to put your energies into work. Working relationships are still healthy relationships. I certainly don’t have any negative thoughts around work and I think that’s important. But what created the change for me, I think – I don’t know if there’s anyone idea behind it, but I think I just turned 40. I realized – I had a 40th birthday party, we got married around the same time too, and we had a lot of families. 150 people sort of at the wedding. It was just kind of like – just I allowed myself to sit back and say well – in some ways and that’s not being negative – life’s not going to get better than this. I still got all my family around and a great bunch of friends from different parts of my life. Great kids and so on. I don’t know, I think it was just understanding that it was okay to be happy with the moment. Happiness is not something in the future, it’s today.
Well-Being Connection Message for Men
Mark [15:29] Well done. How do we get that message across to men? If we were to market that because men’s well-being – this is Movember. Man’s well-being is not notoriously great at the moment. It’s okay but it’s suicide rates are up, depression rates up, alcoholism and all those sorts of things are up. If men could take a leaf out of your book, how would you market that and how can we get men to connect to that message that you’ve just shared?
Men Connecting to Simplicity of Nature
Ben [16:03] I wow, just a camping trip once or twice a year for a bunch of blokes and campfire would go a long way. Taking people away from those distractions and they do say that men need something to communicate like fishing or doing something active. So, I think and this is I know it’s harder for women and I know it’s harder for everyone. Life because life seems to get busier. But certainly you asked the question about men, and I think it – there is always a lot to do and it’s easy not to give yourself time, to enjoy time with your friends or to enjoy, you know, things that make you happy. So I don’t know if that answers the question.
Mark [16:54] I’m just wondering as I have watched over the years men’s connection is through doing. Bring the car home and put it in the garage and have the father help fix the car, there’s a connection. Hand me the hammer that forms of connection. Sporting clubs, a real bastion for male connection. Once they hit 35, and they can’t run out on that football pitch anymore, they lose that community connection. And I’m wondering whether that’s when things start to change for men?
Men Disconnecting from their Communities
That they’ve lost that and how do we help them keep those connections, yeah – the enjoyment of long term friendships? How do we help educate them to take the moment out – take the time out, to keep those connections going because they really important to their well-being? How do we market and could organizations and businesses be stepping in there to help along that line? Social Enterprises there are lots of them here in Geelong. How do we – could we market something like that to men to try and lift men’s well-being and mental health and well-being up a level.
Ben [17:02] I think there’s a couple of questions there. I think it you kind of touched on a point that’s a really interesting conversation around workplaces actually having an obligation to ensure the best health and well-being of their employees and that’s growing. You even see laws coming in now with industrial manslaughter laws and so on their proposed before parliament. It’s not the distinction between home and the office is becoming less clear. And so you’re right when you say that businesses should be promoting this sort of stuff. I don’t know if it’s a men and women sort of thing or whether it’s just generally just well-being in that circumstance. But it’s an important consideration.
Learning from Women’s Connections?
Mark [18:33] When we look at women, women do it much better. That connection and well-being that stuff. And can we men take and can organizations take a leaf out of their book? Because it goes across genders, connections – it’s a human thing connection. Can we – how do we encourage businesses – it’s for the benefit of the business. If you’ve got a healthy working, if you’ve got a good healthy connection in your workplace, that’s going to be productive for business I would imagine?
Ben [19:55] Definitely. Even from a personal level, you need to be sustainable in your own work-life balance. See so many people come in like a bull at a gate and after two years I’ve been out and move on and that’s not good for the business either. So that’s an important consideration.
Mark [20:12] Are you finding corporations businesses are accepting this change? That’s gone – the legislation that is going through? It’s going through Parliament are businesses becoming more accepting more mindful about it?
Companies Connecting to their Employees
Ben [20:27] Yeah, I think so. I think there’s already for a long time being a knowledge that business is responsible for their employees far beyond just paying their wages and giving them a job for a long time. That’s been in certain practices in law as well. This new law is really just coming over the top of that and hopefully making it a bit clearer. I haven’t seen the detail. I think it’s not going to be implemented to maybe July 1 next year. So there’s still a bit of too-ing and throwing going on. I think businesses have and will be required to, so its a fact that they’ll have to be supportive.
Mark [21:10] One of the things I’ve talk about a lot in this – the heart of connection, a connection is at one level an intellectual connection that we can have. There’s that heart connection and when there’s joy, and happiness the heart does liven up. Is there more heart coming into businesses connected to their employees, to the customers, consumers? If that connection was deepened, would we find more customer loyalty coming back to corporations and to businesses through that connection?
My Connection to Branding 101
Ben [21:53] I’ve done a lot of work in this space. This branding 1-on-1. It’s called brand warmth. You know, that brand warmth. If you do it well and you make sure that the customers recognize you’re about the community or about people your about your customers, then they will choose you over someone else. The marketers are about pumping that message out finding stories to support that narrative and so on. So yeah, I think that’s very true.
Mark [22:22] Can I just be – are they doing it authentically brand warmth – or are they just doing it too – is there sincerity in that process?
Ben [22:33] I think the majority would be. You’d have strategies and values and, and plans behind it that supports that. Because it’s so true that customers respect authenticity and brands and if you’re not supporting it with real action, then I think that you know, people have realized pretty quickly. So that’s not to say that there are not people who have spent a lot of money on branding and they’ve not supported that. No doubt that happens a lot but I think authenticity is a really key point.
Social Media check on in Authenticity of Brand Warmth
Mark [23:11] Will see more connection to authenticity in the coming years than we have in the past?
Ben [23:17] Yes.
Mark [23:19] What do you believe is created that? In the world it’s becoming – there’s more heart coming? More heart seems to be coming back that – warmth, that branding warmth – What’s created that shift do you think?
Ben [23:37] I’d like to say that it’s just the clients or the consumers are just so aware. There are no rocks to hide under anymore if you’re not an authentic business, social media will tear you apart in about two seconds. Your customers will make their decisions walking. So and you’ll realize that really quickly and I think it’s just the empowerment of the customer that will drive that authenticity.
Staff connecting to Purpose-Driven Businesses
Ben [24:07] There are probably other things as well, it’s getting harder and harder to attract good staff and retain good staff. Good staff, you know, there’s a lot of surveys out at the moment or research out suggesting that stuff will take less money to work for a purpose-driven organization. Where they feel like they are contributing to the community and making a difference. Businesses are reforming themselves to be for profit, but also for a purpose. It creates a much more fulfilling environment for staff but it no doubts leads to more profit because they’re authentic and they’re connecting with their customers who really respect what they’re doing.
Mark [24:50] And from the outside, I wonder whether we are seeing a lot of that happening here in Geelong. That sense of community – yes, there are businesses for profit and you need to be there for profit. But is there a sort of – Geelong’s a big country town. It reminds me of Hamilton but just on a larger scale and I wonder whether that gives it the nature of more authenticity, more connection, more social responsibility, just to care for those in the community like the Gen U’s, the Bethany’s, the Community Foundation that’s here in Geelong. I wonder whether we’re going to see – and are we needing to see more of that – on a larger level by larger organizations within our communities?
Larger Companies Connecting Back to Communities
Ben [25:48] The larger organizations are really involved as well. The other day I was at Westpac bank, and as part of the Westpac Foundation, they gave away three or four big cheques to local charities as part of that. So they’re doing it too. It comes back to that as I said, there are no rocks to hide under anymore. You can’t kind of use marketing to portray an image that’s not authentic. And when you’re in somewhere like Geelong – how could you not give back to the community? How could you be a successful business that’s not each year giving a little bit of money to the sporting clubs or local charities? It is deeper than that. I think that business owners, actually, there more – they do. I’m amazed every day, to be honest, this really strikes a chord with me. They do more than just hand over cheques, they are really involved. Whether it’s committees and they put a lot of their own time and effort into supporting this stuff in Geelong. It really does amaze me, even the Geelong Chamber of Commerce, to be honest, we’re not for profit, we’re a membership organization. I’m surprised every day at the generosity of our members because they just want the Chamber to do well. A good Chamber of Commerce is good for everyone I suppose. This generosity comes from right at the top – right down to micro-businesses and social enterprises that we represent. It’s probably in my first six months at the Chamber of Commerce being the most amazing learning experience just understanding just how supportive and how generous our members are to us and I didn’t expect it coming in.
The uniqueness of Geelong Business Community Connection
Mark [27:31] Oh that’s wonderful to really see. As you were sharing it, there’s a lot of passion in your voice, there’s a lot of passion of the connection – the connection to that generosity that companies are having and businesses are having in Geelong. Have you seen that elsewhere in your travels?
Ben [27:52] I probably haven’t been – I’ve had probably been to transient to notice in the past. And that’s probably the difference as well – I’ve got two feet on the ground now. In the past, I was lucky to have one foot on the ground and my head was in the clouds and or I was on an airplane going somewhere. I probably didn’t notice it and I probably lived in big cities, Melbourne, Miami, London – places like that. So it was probably a bit more difficult to notice.
Mark [28:24] Okay. In drawing it to a conclusion – what advice would you give young people, young men, young women walking through following your footsteps coming behind you in terms of connection to themselves, Others and ‘All That Is’?
Connect and Enjoy the Relationship You Have
Ben [28:50] Enjoy the relationship you have. Make time for yourself but also consider that your career is important as well. A fulfilling career is part of a happy balance. I suppose to try and find moments that you find nice or moments that you find funny and enjoy having a bit of a laugh at things and try not to take things too seriously. Which is hard to do sometimes and everyone’s different, but I highly recommend it.
Mark [29:32] Also get out in nature. Yes, but be a significant key for you and your well-being is and connect to it. Thank you for your passion. It is lovely to have met you through the Chamber of Commerce and it’s great to see someone for Hamilton, leading the organization. It’s really wonderful to have this opportunity to get to hear from the business world on how the businesses are connecting to the community that’s really important.
There are a few Hamilton People in Geelong
Ben [30:07] Thank you very much, Mark. It’s been a pleasure and there’s certainly a pretty active Hamilton community in Geelong. I know Jim Reardon from Riordan Gain he is a really successful local leader. He went to my school and bumped into Stuart Christie Development Manager from the Victorian Channels Regional Authority the other days and he’s a Hamilton boys – so there’s certainly few of us around.
Mark [30:30] That’s great. The heart always back there for me. We were so lucky as kids to have the Grampians we lived – they were our backyard those mountains. The number of times you know just small tents of you go. Just that simplicity of life and I think it’s ingrained in the soul somewhere.
Ben [30:55] Well, it’s funny we used to go on school camps ways to go pitching tents in the Grampians. And now, kids get together Fiji and places like that on school camp – haven’t things changed. We just have to cook around meals and sit around a fire (Laughter).
Mark [31:11] Things have changed and times moved on. Alright mate, thank you very much for the opportunity to have a conversation with you. Appreciate it.
Ben [31:18] Good on you Mark.
Mark [31:19] Namaste.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai