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Bond University Graduation Ceremony Speech By Pavan Bhatia, BA (hons), GMP (Cornell), MBA (BOND)

Good afternoon to Chancellor Rowe, Vice Chancellor Stable, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

And of course a very good afternoon to those we are here to honour, the Bond University graduates of June 2007.

Let me tell each of you that I am sincerely pleased to be a part of your graduating ceremony this afternoon, as I stand before you a Bond University MBA graduate, circa 1995.

We are linked you and I, through a choice we made many years ago.

I came to Bond University because it offered me the opportunity of exploring paradigm shifts, strategic engagement, and of course “bringing ambition to life”.

I should say also that it created a special bond with the Gold Coast that later influenced my career and has brought me back these years later.

Similarly, your choice to attend Bond University has shaped you and will continue to be an influence on your life. Such is the consequence of our decisions.

Today you will leave this institution, and you will move into your chosen professions. I have no doubt you will take a great sense of excitement and enthusiasm into those industries.

I urge you now not to loose that enthusiasm - it will be of great benefit to you throughout your careers.

Stand up. Make change. Question why things are as they are.

What do you have that no one in today’s work force has? A fresh perspective – you see things as an outsider, and the minute you refuse to speak up or help instigate change then you lose your special gift.

Parents don’t be alarmed, I am not suggesting rebellion, I am encouraging innovation.

I want these graduates to hit the world with a vigour and interest that frightens those above them like a car alarm in the middle of the night – a warning to those complacent enough to sleep.

  • How can we do this better?
  • Why are we limited to that?
  • What is another way to do this?
  • Where can we improve on that?

In my experience it is often more difficult to pose these questions than it is to answer them. Questioning is not easy, and pioneering is a long and difficult task.

I had thought to discuss here Socrates, father of the ‘Question and Answer’ method and pioneering thinker of his time, of all time really.

But instead this morning I saw on the news evidence of the Socratic method in full affect. Have you heard of Ayesha, Skye and Caitlin.

These three teenage girls from Port Stephens New South Wales, have raised funds, gathered 40,000 signatures and have travelled to the International Whaling Convention meeting in Anchorage, Alaska.

They begun by questioning why developed nations need to continue whaling, and when they didn’t get the answers that made sense, they kept questioning.

Now this trio have taken their questions to the IWC meeting in an attempt to affect change.

They have made international news and created more interest on the topic than has been seen in years.

That is the power of not being complacent – I am certain Socrates would approve.

Recently Gold Coast Tourism hosted a conference here on the Gold Coast for pioneering thinkers of international business, it was called VeryGC Global Business Insights 2007.

One of the key speakers at that event was Ricardo Semler.

Ricardo became CEO of a rather large South American company in 1982, within just a handful of years he changed the concept of company management so greatly that he was soon referred to as The Maverick – this is also the name of his best selling book.

For 25 years now, Ricardo’s company has experienced growth of over 20% per year.

In 1982 annual revenue was around US$4 million, today it is around US$250 million.

However, even after 25 years of record profits, historic production efficiencies and unparalleled employee retention Ricardo Semler is still considered, The Maverick.

And his concepts will be laughed out of most corporate boardrooms.

You need to maintain enthusiasm because pioneering is a long and difficult task

I returned to the Gold Coast in 2005, and found myself in an industry that was still hung over from the successful 1980’s and 1990’s, when tourists came no matter what we did.

And fair enough I suppose, apparently tourism in our country is all about beaches, rainforests and catchy slogans. Throw in a gold bikini, a thrill ride and a car race and you have a winning formula for eternal success as a tourism destination.

We were so happy to be ranked as a destination international visitors wanted to visit before they die, that no one was thinking, well how do we get them here now?

Some also believed that a campaign was successful if website visitation increased, not actual visitation to the country.

Australia receives less than 1% of all international tourists currently travelling around the world.

Let me put that into context, the entire country of Australia, with our cities, our beaches, our rainforests, our reef, and all of our other natural and man made assets; gets substantially less visitors than the tiny island of Singapore.

So my team at Gold Coast Tourism started asking the obvious questions?

* How can we do this better?
* Why are we limited to that?
* What is another way to do this?
* Where can we improve on that?

Now the conference that I mentioned earlier is a product of this process.

We worked through a simple problem, how do we get an extra 2 million visitors to the Gold Coast every year?

Let’s turn Australia’s holiday and leisure capital into Asia Pacific’s top meeting and conference resort destination.

The Gold Coast can be a king of leisure tourism, and a dominant business destination.

That was the answer that nearly got me thrown out of the city. It seemed to push the Gold Coast paradigm too far, and those who liked to abide by the paradigms pushed back.

However, to my new team it was logical, and recent numbers have encouraged our belief.

A 19% increase in business related tourists to the Gold Coast.

A 36% increase in the number of days business tourists spend on the Gold Coast.

Our city has become a significant player to seize our share of the $17 billion industry within 12 months of implementing an innovative strategy.

Pioneering is difficult, but the outcomes are unique and rewarding.

Remember that choices made years ago have led us all here today.

The consequence of a decision you made years ago and your commitment to that decision is the reward of graduation.

I will tell you now that the opportunity to affect unique outcomes will come around again and again. It is the nature of things.

I urge you not to let them pass by too often.

I challenge you to think big.

Think big, and act small. Piece by piece, you can influence global policy like Ayesha, Skye and Caitlin.

Or, you can change the fortunes of a destination, as Gold Coast Tourism has sought to do.

Thank you.

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