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Senior student embarks on PhD at Bond University

If anyone exemplifies the concept of ‘life-long learning’, it’s Bruce Dwyer. The soon-to-be Bond graduate completed his bachelor's degree at age 50; his master's at 65 and, now in his late 70s, he is about to submit his thesis for his PhD.

“Education has definitely been a lifetime exercise for me,” said Mr Dwyer, a private equity specialist who runs a successful investment and venture capital consultancy on the Gold Coast.

“It was built up over the years, based on the qualifications I needed at different stages of my business life.

“Each time I enrolled in a degree program, I had a fair amount of practical experience in the field – I’d set up and run two or three businesses when I decided to do my first degree in Economics; and I had another business venture under my belt and was doing accounting work part-time when I went back to do my Master's in Accounting – all of which brings a very different dynamic to the learning experience.

“From tax accounting I gradually moved into finance – helping people source funding for business development, putting together IPOs for emerging companies – so my PhD research draws on my skills and experience investing in these smaller listed companies.”

It is quite a success story – and a life story – for a young bloke who was brought up on a dairy farm in Victoria’s Gippsland region and didn’t finish high school.

“I left the farm when I was about 17 and got a job in Melbourne as a salesman in the furniture department at Myer – I think I was one of the youngest sales people they’d ever put on at that time,” said Bruce.

“I did pretty well and became second in charge of the department after three or four years but I wanted to learn more about how the business actually worked so I signed up for a correspondence course in accounting. I guess that was the start of my ‘addiction’ to education.

“I was still in my 20s when I went into a small printing business with my brother-in-law. We built that into a hugely successful enterprise that sold for $55million a decade later.

“I then got into the aircraft business – I had my pilot’s licence by that stage – and was importing small aircraft from the United States.

“We got hit by the first fuel crisis in the late 1970s and I realised I couldn’t keep living on my wits; I needed some serious, recognised qualifications to fall back on – so I enrolled at La Trobe University and did my Bachelor of Economics.”

Another foray into the business world saw Bruce capitalising on Australia’s booming meat export industry by converting an old Streets ice-cream factory into a cold storage facility.

“That ultimately came to an end when the meatworkers’ wages went through the roof,” said Bruce.

“In the aftermath, I found myself doing bookwork for other people’s businesses so, once again, I looked at education and enrolled to do a Masters of Accounting that would allow me to do big contract accounting and tax work.”

Over the years, Bruce has also dabbled in complementary fields including two years of a psychology degree which ended when his night classes were discontinued, and a few years of law studies.

“It’s interesting how all of these strands – finance, law, behavioural science – are now integrated in my PhD,” he said.

“The area I’m researching is known as ‘behavioural finance’. It recognises that psychology has a significant input in driving share prices because those prices go up or down based on how investors think the company will perform.

“With smaller and emerging companies, the factors that predict the performance of the big cap companies listed on the All Ordinaries Index simply don’t apply, so my research is looking at what factors do apply, with the idea of developing an algorithm that will help investors predict which of these smaller listed companies are most likely to generate share price growth.”

Bruce’s PhD research represents the culmination of six years of study, starting with the Master of Philosophy (MPhil) he completed by distance education.

“It was very disjointed – I would only visit the campus and spend time with my supervisor once a year, but I had a couple of journal articles published and was invited to present at conferences.

“My experience at Bond has been very different – I’m on campus every week and my supervisors want to review every sentence almost before it’s written! With this level of academic input, I’m confident that the finished submission will stand any scrutiny.”

While his PhD might represent the pinnacle of his education achievements, Bruce has no thoughts of slowing down.

“There’ll be a lot of articles, papers and books to come out of this research,” he said.

“I’m also planning to put the theory into practice by forming a high level brokerage focussed on funding and selling businesses, particularly for older people who want to run or invest in their own businesses rather than other people’s.” 
Bruce’s supervisors, Professor Keith Duncan and Dr Colette Southam, of Bond Business School also hope he will be available to share his expertise with students in Bond’s Transformer program which was launched earlier this year.

“Bruce brings such a wealth of industry experience to his research and has continued to run a successful business while undertaking his doctoral studies,” said Associate Professor of Finance, Dr Colette Southam.

“We often compare completing a PhD to a marathon but Bruce’s speed makes it look more like a sprint. His energy for this work is simply unparalleled and there is so much that our Transformer students can learn from him on both a practical and academic level,” she said.

Professor of Accounting and Finance, Dr Keith Duncan, said “Bruce embodies the mission of the university sector to foster lifelong learning along with the Bond Business School flavour of ‘one-by-one, focused learning.”

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