SEAANZ 30th Anniversary

It all started in the 1980s

Thirty years ago, in 1987 the Small Enterprise Association of Australia and New Zealand (SEAANZ) was born. The foundation of SEAANZ took place at a time when the digital economy was just emerging. In fact the laying of the first transatlantic optic fibre cable was being completed and personal computing was opening up new opportunities for small business and the home-based professional.

When the first SEAANZ conference took place in 1988, in Sydney, the very early work was being undertaken by scientists in Europe and the United States who we linking up their computers via the transatlantic cable. This was the start of what we now know as the Internet. The very next year the Australian Vice Chancellors’ Committee launched Australia’s Academic and Research Network, known popularly as the AARNet . Pioneered by academics and CSIRO scientists, the AARNet grew rapidly over the past 25 years into the global internet system we have today.

Although the pace of technological change has accelerated since  the 1980s, the computers are smaller, faster and more powerful, and the clothing has become less "Miami Vice", the purpose for which SEAANZ was founded has remained the same. Small firms remain the cornerstone of the world’s economies and the challenge of advancing and sharing knowledge and best practice in small enterprise research, education, policy and practice continues to be important.

The vision, mission and objectives of SEAANZ have not changed since its foundation in 1987. It is a key affiliate of the International Council of Small Business (ICSB), which now encompasses affiliates and chapters that represent over 80 nations. In 2013 SEAANZ became a foundation member of the Asia Council for Small Business (ACSB). This regional affiliate of the ICSB brings together representatives from China, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Singapore and Malaysia, as well as Australian and New Zealand.

Celebrating 30 years of supporting small enterprise

2017 marks the 30th Anniversary of SEAANZ and we would like to thank all our members, sponsors and supporters for sharing with us this journey. As part of this year of celebration we approached past presidents of SEAANZ for their memories of what were the key things that they recalled from their time. We asked them to address three questions:

  • Question 1: What contributions do you feel that SEAANZ has made to the advancement of small enterprise research, education, policy and practice over the past thirty years?
  • Question 2: What are the main highlights / achievements you can remember from your time as President?
  • Question 3: What do you think SEAANZ should be aiming to achieve over the next 30 years?

Their responses are summarised below.

Professor Scott Holmes, SEAANZ President (1993-1995)

What has SEAANZ contributed to the advancement of small enterprise?

When SEAANZ was first established it was mainly the emerging academic interest, with some additional interest from Vocational Education. It broadened fairly quickly to advisers, government and policy makers, academics etc. We had some pretty big conferences in the first 3-10 years, once we got the word out.

The establishment of the Journal provided an important outlet for Australian and New Zealand research and data, as it was somewhat difficult at times to get Australian/NZ focused research in the international journals. SEAANZ was also effective at encouraging research and the Federal government introduced the Small Business Research Award.

We were the key representatives on the longitudinal study. As the SME space became more popular it became more mainstream, which has impacted on SEAANZ membership etc. The CPAs for example have CPD and conferences with many streams in this space.

What are the main highlights from your time as President?

During my time as President there was growing tension between the research focus and a push for many for a broader policy and lobbying focus. I think we accommodated that very well and why State and Federal Ministers were regular participants at the conference. The journal was criticised for being too academic, which is something I didn’t budge on as Editor and so we introduced the Newsletter and other outlets for the other discussions that weren’t necessarily research or empirically based. We also had conference streams in advisory, Vocational ED and policy. I feel it was a time when we were growing and the membership broadened and we had to take active steps to accommodate this. 

What should SEAANZ aim to achive over the next 30 years?

Personally, I think it should focus on supporting a program of research, sponsored by key stakeholders with an interest in the sector – banks, Telcos, digital platforms (Google) etc. and we also seek to harness the big data held by many bodies and seek to bring them all together into the National SME Project. We need much much more qualitative data to understand these firms. So back to our roots, but in a much more cross-disciplinary cross-institutional way. 

Professor Michael Schaper, SEAANZ President (2004-2006)

What has SEAANZ contributed to the advancement of small enterprise?

Giving small business and entrepreneurship research and teaching a distinct identity of its own. When SEAANZ was founded, both of these disciplines barely existed in Australian universities, either as teaching areas or as recognized schools of academic enquiry. The world has changed a lot since then, but SEAANZ contribution has been significant. Another major achievement has been publishing the first dedicated journal in the field, Small Enterprise Research. Finally, the focus on more than just academics – the attempt to bring in businesspeople, government officials, small business advisers and the like – has been unique and important.

What are the main highlights from your time as President?

A major highlight for me was hosting the 2006 world conference in Melbourne. Also, delivering regular electronic newsletters and consolidating and updating the constitution and paperwork of the organization (not sexy, but necessary). Developing links to state and federal govt agencies.

What should SEAANZ aim to achive over the next 30 years?

The first is to consolidate its membership and identity. Small business and entrepreneurship remains a small field, but one today which is threatened by being overtaken and absorbed into the mainstream, so that scholars in this area will not be seen as any different to general management research and teaching. 

The second is to focus on research and teaching that is practical and applied. Far too many business schools are pre-occupied with publications in self-perceived significant journals that bear little, if any, relationship to what really happens out in the business world. We need to produce a unique breed of teacher-researchers who understand, help and actively engage with real business operators. 

Finally, as the support apparatus for the small business sector has grown – for example, by the creation in law of SME-specific roles such as Small Business Commissioners, the Australian Small Business & Family Enterprise Ombudsman, and the ACCC Deputy Chair (Small Business) roles – SEAANZ needs to work closely with such bodies.

Professor Claire Massey, SEAANZ President (2006-2007)

What has SEAANZ contributed to the advancement of small enterprise?

If we go back 30 years to the mid-80s, there was a hugely significant event; the share market crash. I’m not sure what the impact in Australia was, but in New Zealand it was huge as it came on top of our government’s deregulation agenda when there was already lot of adjustment going on as we transitioned from a highly protected economy (fortress NZ) to one that was one of the most deregulated in the world. The dynamics in the international and national economy meant that there was a focus on small business as a way of helping us get thru the massive structural adjustments that were underway.

Having SEAANZ gave all of us with an interest in SMEs an immediate network of people to talk to and share info with. In a time when the internet didn’t exist this was invaluable. At the same time having an association gave a validity to the work that we were all doing that was incredibly valuable. Within universities it made it possible for people to start focusing on this area of concern as a legitimate research programme and to go to conferences. In turn this created the opportunity for some of the most important research in this area to be done both in NZ and Australia.

To call this seminal is not an exaggeration, and I truly believe that SEAANZ played a pivotal role in enabling these researchers to focus on this area with the support of their home institution. It goes without saying that this research has had an major impact on the policy environment in both our countries – a fact that the millions of SMEs across both countries will be unaware of. I say this not because I believe it should be more well known, as I do think that good research should lead to good policy, and a good policy environment is likely going to be one that those working within it are largely unware of.

What are the main highlights from your time as President?

During my time as President we developed a very strong link with the ICSB, and through this with all of the other regional affiliates. For me it was especially a time in which we became more aware of our Asian colleagues – both in Korea and Taiwan. This was a real highlight – until then we had been oriented more towards the US (which of course is natural given that this was the origin of the international organisation). On a personal level I got a great deal out of broadening my perspective (and reassign) to take into account the research being done outside the US and UK.  

What should SEAANZ aim to achive over the next 30 years?

The internet and all the ways in which we can now connect with people means there is less need for the association to provide this as a core service. This means the organization has to think about what value it can deliver that the members can get in no other way. I don’t pretend that this is an easy challenge to solve at all, because there are no easy answers about where the gaps in the market are. 

Tony Clemenger, SEAANZ President (2007-2008)

What has SEAANZ contributed to the advancement of small enterprise?

SEAANZ is key to connecting all within the entrepreneurship sector: if the four pillars are not all working together we have a broken link and all will fail to achieve what others do globally. Global best practice is now a minimum all should seek and if Australia and New Zealand fail to achieve this minimum our society as a whole is detrimentally affected. 

If Australia and New Zealand are to continually improve then SEAANZ and the ongoing success of SEAANZ is key. SEAANZ enables the conversation, it enables local and global findings to be enacted within the sector and entrepreneurship is the engine room of future economic growth. SEAANZ success has enabled Australia and New Zealand to be a far more “entrepreneurial” society. This success is a personality trait we all possess. This is key to ongoing individual “self-actualization”.

What are the main highlights from your time as President?

SEAANZ had just hosted the Global Conference in Melbourne. We then had our Annual Conference in New Zealand; just South of Auckland. Around this time SEAANZ transformed; levering the digital age and the global village opportunities: it was vital at this time to strengthen the relationships and ensure we continued to deliver to all stakeholders. I am sure these investments and the success of the Global Conference are still key to SEAANZ’s ongoing success.

What should SEAANZ aim to achive over the next 30 years?

SEAANZ needs to connect with the media to ensure all understand the importance of entrepreneurship. Small business is an economy’s engine room and SEAANZ’s success would be greatly enhanced knowing the public are equally integrated into the pillars.

Professor Brian Gibson, SEAANZ President (2010-2012)

What has SEAANZ contributed to the advancement of small enterprise?

SEAANZ has been a focal point for researchers, educators and government since its inception. While direct involvement with practitioners (however defined) has fluctuated, the focus of the other groups has always been on improving internal and external environments for the advancement of small enterprises and their owners. SEAANZ through its conferences, journal and other activities including affiliation with ICSB has been a clearing house for ideas and discoveries that have facilitated that advancement in Australia and New Zealand.

What are the main highlights from your time as President?

When I became President in September 2010, SEAANZ had low membership and was facing a challenge from plans to introduce a competitor organization. I was glad to play a part in seeing that challenge off and strengthening the reputation of SEAANZ. We were also able to re-establish the SEAANZ conference in 2011 (which had effectively lapsed in 2010) even though numbers were small and it was early career research focused. This was followed by successful ICSB World Conference in Wellington New Zealand in June 2012.

While the aftermath of that conference presented some significant financial challenges, these were overcome through sponsorship arrangements that I and Claire Massey, as Conference Chair, were able to negotiate. The Board, during my Presidency, was also instrumental in implementing the transfer of the production of our journal Small Enterprise Research to a commercial operator, a process I had instigated as the Journal Editor in the preceding years. While that had some significant teething problems we were able to persevere and hopefully provided the basis for a smooth transition to the present publishing arrangement. 

What should SEAANZ aim to achive over the next 30 years?

More of the same. Compared to 30 years ago, small business and entrepreneurship are more widely recognized for their economic importance and receive much greater attention from researchers and government. However, there are still strong biases that work against small firms and favour large and the eradication of these will still require efforts in research, education, government and practice that SEAANZ can continue to facilitate especially if it is able to maintain a balance across those four pillars that are the foundation of its membership.

It needs to be reflective of its ever-changing environment and consider alternatives to its traditional facilitation through conferences and journals. Greater communication through digital media (eg webinars, online conferences) should possibly be considered to allow conferences to become less frequent (perhaps every two to three years). Publications other than the journal should continue to be offered to facilitate nonacademic knowledge dissemination. I also hope to see SEAANZ continue to work with international colleagues through the ICSB and the more recently established Asian grouping of ICSB affiliates (ACSB).