Dick Smith. Essay 3

The third essay we had to submit asked us to find an Innovative thinker who has influenced our lives. I chose for my subject Dick Smith (The Australian Philanthropist and adventurer, not the Hollywood make-up artist). I hope you enjoy this essay. He is a truly remarkable man.

Dick Smith is one of Australia’s most popular businessmen and philanthropists. He is consistently in the top 20 of most trusted Australians .He is a staunch nationalist, believing that Australians should support Australians and the Australian way of life. Smith is also a great believer in Social Justice and possesses a deep-held conviction that everybody deserves a fair go. He was awarded Australian of the Year in 1986 and was made a Member of the Order of Australia (A.O.) in 1999.

Smith likes to challenge the status quo. He is not content with people telling him, ‘That’s just the way it is’. It is for this reason I believe he is an innovative thinker and a person whose actions and attitudes constantly challenge me to do the same. He inspires me to always look for a way forward, never to accept inaction on the basis of ‘that’s the way we do things’.

Smith seems to want to do things to the best of his ability. He has been involved in many areas of business, social justice and philanthropy including:

  • Dick Smith Electronics (1968)
  • Dick Smith Foods
  • Australian Geographic (1986)
  • AustGrow
  • Civil Aviation Safety Board (1997-1999 & 1990-1992)
  • National Council for the Centenary of Federation (1996- 2000)
  • Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation (1998)
  • Population Sustainability.

Each of the above endeavours serves to demonstrate Smith’s own approach to life and living.

Smith was born in 1944 at Roseville and grew up in the northern suburbs of Sydney. His father and uncle were away at war when he was born.  Smith’s uncle never returned.

At age eight, he was given a key to his uncle’s room to discover his uncle was a radio enthusiast.  This led to Dick’s passion for all things electronic. Dick received his amateur radio license at 17 and seven years later, started Dick Smith Electronics with a start-up capital of $610.

Growing up, his family was not in a good financial position and in fact in 1964, the business owned by Smith’s father failed, and the family was rendered bankrupt.

Although he is a risk-taker in his personal life, the opposite is true in his business career. He has never taken out a business loan, and states that he only takes on a business which he knows can be successful. “There’s a formula for being successful in business. That’s a simple formula. Copy the success of others”. (Smith, 2007).

When he started Dick Smith Electronics in 1968, Smith could see that the Electronics industry in Australia was not serving the needs of ordinary Australians. While in Britain he noticed how a popular electronics company was doing things and decided to emulate its model; right down to copying the catalogue.

Australian Geographic followed the pattern set by National Geographic and Dick Smith Foods was developed on the same framework as Paul Newman Foods.

As an Aviator and adventurer, Smith witnessed how the aviation industry, in different countries he visited, had adopted important air traffic control and safety measures. He lobbied to have similar policies implemented within Australia when he chaired the Civil Aviation Authority and the Civil Aviation Safety Board. This was without success. Australia is highly regarded in terms of aviation safety in the world, but the Boards would not be swayed by Smith’s arguments for further improvement.

As an adventurer however, the appeal for Smith was not in doing things others had done before, but to go beyond. He has flown around the world, equatorially and from pole to pole and describes himself as a responsible risk-taker. Smith is known for his helicopter flights. He flew over Everest and K2. More recently he has flown hot air balloons from New Zealand to Australia, a feat not before attempted due to the strong head winds.

Smith credits his 14 years in the scouting movement to his adventurous spirit. During his time in scouting he achieved the Baden Powell Award in 1966. “I owe a lot to Scouting. It had to be the most fantastic influence on my life. It taught me responsible risk-taking.” (Smith, n.d.) He also states that scouting taught him organisational skills and how to motivate people.

The foundations of Smith’s deep sense of patriotism and support of local industry is evidenced in his outrage when, in 1987, he discovered that the Australian Encyclopaedia was not owned by Australians, but an American company. He purchased the company and the rights and sold it on to the Australian owned Fairfax Media Group in 1995. It was during this period also that he began Australian Geographic with the aim of showcasing Australia to the world, and to highlight Australians achieving remarkable things throughout the world.

Similarly Smith was angry that Australian companies were being bought out by multinational companies with bases mostly in the USA and China. He is passionate that Australian farmers should prosper and that Australian companies should remain owned and operated by Australians. Hence he started Dick Smith foods in 1999 and is Patron of AustGrow.

Smith has a proven commitment to philanthropy and a sense of compassion, which is demonstrated in many events across his life.   Smith credits Paul Newman and his food company “Newman’s Own” for his motivation for starting Dick Smith foods in 1999 with the aim not just of giving Australian farmers a way to sell their produce at a profit, but also to give something back to charity. In the beginning most of the profits (approximately 90%) went to charity and the rest to establishing and maintaining the business. These days 100% of the profit is returned to various Australian charities.

Smith has no prejudice when it comes to generosity. He receives hundreds of letters per week asking for assistance. With his wife Pip, they carefully decide which causes to support not only with money, but at times to provide support by way of his name and reputation.

Smith encourages others in the same financial position to be socially responsible. He credits Dame Elizabeth Murdock as an inspiration when it comes to philanthropy, and calls for her son Rupert to return to Australia to “Give something back”. (Smith, 1986)

Smith is constantly named in the top 20 of Readers Digest of Australia’s 100 most trusted people. “Trust is being able to believe in what a person says. Trust is developed from experience, from knowing a person over a long period of time. Trust is the most important part of human relationships.”(Smith, 2010).  Like Smith I believe honesty is of paramount importance in all relationships, business and personal.

Most recently Smith has been studying population sustainability which illustrates his continued efforts to tackle big issues which he believes he can play an important role in effecting change. Smith believes perpetual growth in the use of resources and energy, is not sustainable. At our current rate of growth, our resources will not last for long into the next generation. ”Some time in the next few months, the world’s population clock will tick over 7 billion people. Global population has tripled in my lifetime, and is continuing to rise. The United Nations has just predicted we face a world of 10 billion in 2100. This has immense implications for all of us, and Australia will not be immune from the impacts.” (Smith, 2011)

Smith is supported in this belief by Bill Clinton and other leading thinkers who argue for population control strategies Statistics show Australia’s birth rate is 1.98 per woman. The Population Referencing Bureau Report of 2010 highlighted the difference in the population growth rate of Germany (1.3 births per woman) and Ethiopia (5.4). (PRB, 2010). Australia benefits from immigration as its birth rate is low. We should open our borders to those from developing countries where the birth rate is high and unsustainable.

Smith received the honour of being the Australian of the year in 1986. Smith was nominated for the award by Labor MP John Brown, who wrote that Smith’s talents derived from ‘an unfettered need to explore and understand.’ (Brown, 1986).

Smith is passionate about Social Justice and the right of all persons to a fair go. He paid $60,000 towards costs to free David Hicks from Guantanamo Bay. It wasn’t Smith’s belief that David Hicks was innocent, but that like anybody else, he deserved a fair go.

Peter Qasim, a refugee, was held in detention from 1998 to 2005 making him the longest serving refugee in detention because he couldn’t prove who he was and where he came from.  In 2003, he decided to give up his fight for citizenship and return home to India. The Indian government identified that he was from the Kashmir region on the basis of voice patterning, but refused to take him back. Dick Smith chose to support his cause and lobbied the Minister for Immigration to release him from detention.

‘If my profile can be used to help just one or two people get a “fair go”, I’m well pleased and I don’t care about the flack I get. ”. (Smith, 2010)

“My father fought in the Second World War so we could have certain freedoms and one of those freedoms is that you are going to have a fair go.” (Smith, 2010)

Dick Smith has been a source of inspiration to me as an innovative thinker in so many areas of my life. He has inspired me to be adventurous, but also to be a responsible risk taker. It is because of my national pride that I have chosen to concentrate my artistic pursuits on Australian Native Birds, however it is Smith’s influence that has motivated me to narrow my focus to those that are considered endangered; with some of the profits to go to Australian Geographic, the magazine founded by Smith, and which he remains a patron.

I continue to explore Australia with thoughts of Smith and others who have been before me, and to bring beauty back to those who can’t see it for themselves through my art and photography.  Smith showed me some of the beauty of Australia through Australian Geographic. It is this reason, and the further inspiration of the Leyland brothers that leads me to explore our great land, to photograph and paint it, documenting the beauty that others can’t see up close.

Smith’s core beliefs resonate with my sense of compassion and social justice and remind me that compassion is not limited to those with resources; that one needs to stand beside others who are being unfairly treated or even abused by those in higher authority.  I add my voice to Smith’s by demanding a ‘fair go’ for everyone, especially those incapable of voicing it themselves.

I share Smith’s passion to give people a fair go and to not be judgemental. My viewpoint is that I know that I too have my faults and failures. If people have seen fit to give me a fair go, what right have I not to give others the same?

Similarly my generosity and compassion are without prejudice and are not limited by borders, skin colour, race or religion. In 1981 I read the quote “I cried because I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet” (attributed to many). It was then that I began to do charitable works and to think of those less fortunate.

In 1993 I served as a missionary to the Philippines. In 1999, I was asked to sing in Indonesia to raise funds, sending doctors to outlying villages to perform eye surgery. I have worked with abused children, teenagers, underage prostitutes and drug addicts in Kings Cross. Although I am unable to undertake those roles now, Smith is a constant reminder keeping compassion and empathy in the forefront of my thoughts.

I share Smith’s concern that Australia is not immune to population sustainability issues. The bureau of statistics states that the majority of our immigrants come from the UK (21%) and New Zealand (9.1%) While I can see the benefits of having people of similar cultures come into Australia, it’s my opinion that we should reduce immigration from these countries and increase or sustain our immigration from developing countries, or countries in conflict, on humanitarian grounds.

In conclusion, it is obvious that Dick Smith operates from the soul. He is motivated by compassion, empathy, social justice and has an adventurous spirit. I believe his Myers Briggs profile would be similar to mine; INFJ which represents those who act from the primary traits of introversion, intuition, feeling and judging.

Smith recognises the plight of people less fortunate than himself, listens and empathises with their situations, then finds a solution and acts upon it; whether this is a systemic solution or one where his finances or reputation could be used for the betterment of others.

Smith is an innovative thinker in the true sense of the term as he often discovers solutions which are not obvious to others; thinking outside the box. Dick Smith inspires me to be a compassionate, non judgemental human always looking for ways I can help others. He will continue to inspire for many years to come.

Smith, D. 2010. Australia’s most trusted people 2010. Retrieved from http://www.readersdigest.com.au/australias-most-trusted-people-2010

http://www.dicksmithfoods.com.au/dick-smiths-bio

Gott, R. (1998). Dick Smith: entrepreneur and adventurer. Port Melbourne: Heinemann.

http://www.australiaonnet.com/about-australia/famous-australians/dick-smith.html

Brown, J. 2010 retrieved from  http://www.australianoftheyear.org.au/honour-roll/?view=fullView&recipientID=90

http://www.scouts.com.au/main.asp?iStoryID=848 (n.d)

Smith,D (2010) retrieved from www.readersdigest.com.au/dick-smith-interview

http://www.abc.net.au/sundayprofile/stories/s1416294.htm July 2005

Smith, D. (1986). 1960-2010 Australian of the Year. Sydney: Murdoch Books.

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-04-27/dick-smith-takes-aim-at-rupert-murdochs-philanthropy-record/4655184 April 2013

http://www.thebottomlinetv.com.au/interview/dick-smith-ao/?actscript=transcript 2013

http://www.smh.com.au/world/hostage-experts-should-have-been-called-dick-smith-20091127-jwz6.html  November 2009.

http://www.abc.net.au/talkingheads/txt/s1913699.htm May 2007.

Smith, D (2011) retrieved from http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/society-and-culture/the-idiocy-of-endless-growth-20110529-1fata.html

Clinton, B (2009) Lateline. Retrieved from http://www.abc.net.au/environment/articles/2011/04/01/3179045.htm

http://www.prb.org/Publications/Datasheets/2010/2010wpds.aspx

Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), 2011, Reflecting a Nation: Stories from the 2011 Census, 2012-13, (cat. no. 2071.0). retrieved from  http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/Lookup/2071.0Main+Features902012–201


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  1. Pingback: Share Your World – 2015 Week #3 | Dave Z'Art

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