Andrew Baxter delivers Occasional Address at University of Sydney graduation ceremony

Andrew was invited by the University of Sydney to deliver the Occasional Address at the Business School's graduation ceremony on October 12th. His address covered his reflections on how marketing and business had changed over the past 25 years, and how the students graduating today should embrace the inevitable change for the better over the next 25 years. He also reminded the students to never forget the fundamentals, and to also make the most of the opportunities that the business world can provide.

"Thanks for the kind introduction, and I’m very honoured to be here, at the University of Sydney, on the land of the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation. I did want to acknowledge the Pro Chancellor, the Presiding Officer, Faculty Deans, academic staff, distinguished guests, and of course the graduates (a big congratulations to you all), as well as their families and friends. 

Whilst an alumni of Monash University, and a Chair of Deakin Business School, I have had many strong ties to the University of Sydney for over twenty years. Quite a few of my high school peers went through this University. Many of the AFL (Australian Rules Football) team mates I played with over the years had played for Sydney University. Many of my work colleagues, very bright colleagues, have graduated from the University. I have been a regular Guest Lecturer over the past 5 years. And of course, now, my wife Angela, as mentioned, works here at the University and has taught some of you.

It struck me on the way over here today that there was a great analogy between my AFL connection with the University, and the business world that all of you are about to enter into. And that was around two things - “change for the better”, and “not forgetting the fundamentals”.

A little known fact is that I actually played one game of AFL for this University in the early 1990’s, whilst on a weekend’s holiday in Sydney! I lasted 10 minutes before I tore my hamstring! It was a poorly executed entrepreneurial idea! But the point I wanted to make was that back then the AFL had a very traditional football structure and framework, which had existed for 100 years, with little change or innovation. For example, it had always been 18 men against 18 men. And then a few months ago I came back here to watch Sydney University play a game on the No 1 Oval. I came with my 10yo daughter. With her pink AFL ball. To watch her 19yo female AFL coach, a student here at the University, play in the AFL Sydney Women’s competition. And what a great game it was. Sydney Uni won convincingly. And it struck me - what an incredible change for the better in just 25 years.

And the business world has gone through similar change. When I graduated 26 years ago, there were no smartphones or even mobile phones, computers were more like word processors and sophisticated calculators, there was no such thing as e-commerce, bitcoin, virtual reality, Diagous, data lakes, blockchain, Alibaba, We Chat, wifi, behavioural economics, beacons, widespread electronic stock trading, Google and Bluetooth. But what an incredible era to work in! What an incredible era to embrace and evolve with! I’ve loved waking up everyday and wondering what’s next. What new invention, new innovation, new theory, new technology or new creative thought could power the successful growth of a brand or organisation I was working with.

And for all of you, the next 25 years in business will have even more “change for the better”. I’d encourage you all to embrace it. I’d encourage you all to remain constantly curious. To never stop learning. To think creatively. To find solutions for problems. To innovate. To lead the next generation through it.

But you should also never lose sight of the fundamentals, many of which you have learned here at the University over the past 3 to 4 years. Because as much as some things change, many others provide the bedrock for success.

For example, as a marketer, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come back to the 4P’s. Or David Aaker’s Brand Theory - of differentiation, relevance, esteem and knowledge. Or to the principles of consumer behaviour and how we convince people to consider buying something, or do something.

And as an advertising guy, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come back to the fact that all we have ever done is three things – develop and manage brands, understand and engage consumers, and help clients navigate through times of change (GFC’s, World Wars, Competition, Digital Era). Brands, consumers, and change. Or how emotional, famous advertising works best, because 95% of consumer decisions are made emotionally, not rationally.

As a leader I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come back to ensuring we have a vision, a big hairy audacious goal, a strong business plan, and a detailed but easy to understand blueprint to execute it. And to making sure we have a strong set of values across the organisation - and then deciding on how we are going to behave around those values, how we set up systems and processes around the values, and how we communicate them. So I implore you to not ever lose sight of the fundamentals. Just like the AFL have never forgotten theirs – a game played on an oval, 18 people per side, 6 points for a goal, the mark, the kick, the handball, the tackle.

The last thing I want to leave you with is that the business world, in whatever discipline you are graduating in, it can provide incredible opportunity. Opportunity for yourself to continue to grow and learn as a person, specialist, manager, leader. Opportunity to work with, and meet, incredible people - I still love that one minute I can be in a meeting with a Premier, Attorney General, Lord Mayor, CEO, CMO, CIO, Founder of a Start-Up, Vice Chancellor, and then next minute having a coffee meeting with a University student. The opportunity to travel all around Australia and the globe, and the opportunity to be yourself. In business one of the best bits of advice I can give is to be yourself, and believe in your true self.

In closing, it’s an exciting time for you all to be graduating. As I’ve said, the business environment is a fast changing one, and you should all look forward to understanding and embracing that change for the better. But don’t lose sight of the fundamentals; those building blocks that will hold you in good stead for the future. And also make sure you make the most of the opportunities that lie ahead in the business world.

You should all be very proud to be here today. Dedicating 3 to 4 years of your lives to complete your degrees is quite an achievement, particularly at this time of your lives when there are so many things to do, explore, and get distracted by! So well done one and all. And well done to the many family and friends that have supported all of the graduates over that journey. And finally, I look forward to hearing the many success stories from this graduating group, that will no doubt happen over the next 25 years."