Does it take a business degree to start or manage a company? According to this inspirational list of La Trobe University alumni, not necessarily. As founders and current executives of some of Australia’s most well-known brands, at least half boast backgrounds in arts, science and even social work.
What is clear is that La Trobe provides alumni with the skills to not only obtain a degree, but also to achieve in whatever path they choose. Here’s 12 who’ve walked a significantly successful path.
1. The Barefoot Investor – Scott Pape, Founder
The New York Times’ Amelia Lester began a profile piece on Scott Pape with the headline “Australians Can’t Get Enough of the Barefoot Investor,” and that couldn’t be more accurate. Selling over a million copies of his book The Barefoot Investor: The Only Money Guide You’ll Ever Need, Scott’s financial advice has had significant reach throughout Australia.
The Barefoot Investor title was attached quite early in Scott’s journey to becoming a trusted financial expert. “It was ‘kick off your shoes and tread your own path’ and that was written at the end of my first column,” Scott said in a Herald Sun article in 2018.
After leaving his first full-time job after university at the Australian Stock Exchange, Scott developed the Barefoot Investor brand on a SYN Radio program of the same name in 2003. He then began writing regular financial columns in the Herald Sun.
Today, Scott continues to write across the entire News Corppublication roster and has also appeared on Triple M, ABC Radio and on TV through CNBC, Channel 10 and SBS, among others. His latest book, The Barefoot Investor For Families: The Only Kids’ Money Guide You’ll Ever Need arrived last year.
Scott graduated from La Trobe with a Bachelor of Business in 2001.
2. Bendigo Bank – Marnie Baker, Managing Director
Marnie is a testament to loyalty within a company. She has worked with the Bendigo and Adelaide Bank Group throughout her 30-year career, starting with Sandhurst Trustees, Bendigo Building Society and Bendigo Bank, which is now known as Bendigo and Adelaide Bank.
Marnie started as a Lending Secretary with Sandhurst Trustees and advanced her career working in many roles, including Group Treasurer, CEO Sandhurst Trustees, Executive – Banking and Wealth, and Chief Customer Officer, all the way to her current role as Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director of Bendigo and Adelaide Bank.
Marnie graduated with a Bachelor of Business at our Bendigo campus in 1994.
3. Aesop – Michael O’Keeffe, CEO
A La Trobe University engineering graduate at the helm of a skincare brand probably isn’t what you expected to read on this list. But for Aesop CEO Michael O’Keeffe, the combination has worked to perfection.
After graduating from La Trobe, Michael kickstarted his successful career by becoming a senior engineer at Telstra in 1992, and then with Philips. In 1998, he began his management career with Accenture. He then worked as Senior Manager of Corporate Finance for N M Rothschild & Sons until he accepted his current role at Aesop.
Michael joined the boutique cosmetic brand in 2003. In a recent interview, he says he was attracted to Aesop because of the research and development and attention to detail in their products.
On his watch, Aesop has transformed from a local wholesaler to a global brand with more than 165 stand-alone stores world-wide. Anywhere you travel, an Aesop store or stockist will be nearby. In 2016, the company’s revenue was estimated to be around $250 million a year.
Michael graduated from La Trobe with a Bachelor of Electronic Engineering/Bachelor of Science (Honours) in 1993.
4. Lonely Planet – Maureen Wheeler AO, Co-Founder
It feels like everyone is a travel blogger nowadays, but Maureen Wheeler can lay claim to being the original travel blogger. Following a trip that saw her travel from London through Europe, Asia and then to Australia with her husband Tony Wheeler, she co-authored Across Asia on the Cheap in 1973 – the first Lonely Planet book and the start of a business with unimaginable success.
Not sold on the viability of her fledgling business, Maureen took up study at La Trobe in 1976 and completed a Bachelor of Social Work in 1980. After graduating, she committed her energy to Lonely Planet full-time, which paid off immediately. In 1981, the then 10-person team released the instant best-seller Lonely Planet India.
By 1984, an office was established in the USA, setting up a strong period growth for Lonely Planet in subsequent years. In 1994, the Lonely Planet TV show aired and just a year later, the brand’s website went live along with the Thorn Tree travel forum. After more than 30 years building Lonely Planet, the Wheelers sold a 75 per cent stake to BBC Worldwide, worth an estimated $116 million.
Maureen graduated from La Trobe with a Bachelor of Social Work in 1980.
5. Carsales.com.au – Cameron McIntyre, CEO
A business that has dominated the car sales landscape since its inception in 1997, carsales.com.au is now led by La Trobe alumnus Cameron McIntyre. Taking over from founder Greg Roebuck, Cameron has been CEO of carsales since 2017, after joining in 2007 as Chief Financial Officer and Company Secretary, then in 2014 was promoted to Chief Operating Officer.
Cameron describes his business philosophy as the three Ps: paranoia, perseverance and passion. He has implemented these values to continually grow carsales, which increased revenue by 17 per cent from 2017 to 2018 – and now has revenue of $444 million per year. Cameron’s most ambitious business effort will play out over the next few years, as he pushes to take the carsales brand from Australian success to international powerhouse.
Cameron’s personal journey is one of constant growth. He has worked for L’Oreal and Sensis, and prior to carsales, he broadened his skills at Harvard Business School.
Cameron graduated from La Trobe with a Bachelor of Economics in 1993, and has been a La Trobe Business School Advisory Board Member since 2013.
6. Bakers Delight – Roger Gillespie OAM, Co-Founder
Roger Gillespie has taken his humble bakery and developed it into an Australian economic driver and international business. In 1980, Roger and his wife Leslie founded Bakers Delight with just one store in Hawthorn. By 1988, the Gillespies had grown Bakers Delight to 15 stores in Victoria, but that was just the start.
At the same time, they decided to put an effort into considerable franchising. “We implemented basic training systems, recruitment strategies and legal agreements. It has been constant refinement since,” Roger told Business First Magazine. It’s not only been constant refinement for Bakers Delight, but also constant development. In five years, the business went from a bakery with a handful of stores, to a franchise of 200 stores around Australia. Today, Bakers Delight boasts more than 700 stores across Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the US, with net worth sales of approximately $650 million per annum.
Roger studied subjects in Arts at La Trobe from 1974 to 1976.
7. The Good Guys – Andrew Muir, Founder
Andrew Muir could’ve continued the work his father applied when he took over as CEO of The Mighty Muirs, a family business founded in 1952. But, determined not to become complacent, Andrew developed on the company’s success by rebranding and renaming the business The Good Guys in 1993. Which is to say, he definitely founded The Good Guys brand.
During his 12 years as CEO and then 11 further years as Executive Chair, Andrew led The Good Guys through a period of rapid growth, characterised by their famous slogan, ‘Pay Less, Pay Cash’. By 2009, Andrew had grown the franchise to 89 stores around Australia. The company was rewarded for their excellence in retail when it received the Choice Award for Best Retailer in 2010.
In 2016, Andrew’s reign of The Good Guys came to an end when the business was bought by JB Hi-Fi for $870 million. Since then, Andrew has continued his successful career, founding Momatu, The Good Foundation and co-founding Best Friends Pet Care.
Andrew graduated from La Trobe with a Bachelor of Economics in 1983.
8. Holden – Dave Buttner, Managing Director and Chair
Dave Buttner is yet another success story to come from La Trobe’s highly-ranked economics department. Graduating in 1981, Dave began his career in the automotive business within Australia’s arm of the Ford Motor Company, where he held various roles over his 11 years at the company. He then crossed over to Toyota in 1987, again working across multiple areas for 30 years – including four years as President.
In his time at Toyota, Dave witnessed and contributed to the company’s significant growth, represented by the brand’s 13 consecutive years atop the registered passenger vehicles list according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
In August 2018, Dave opened a new chapter of his career when he was announced as the new Chair and Managing Director of Holden. As a driver who describes growing up ‘in a Holden family’ – Dave remembers the numberplates of each Holden car from his childhood – this career move may be his best yet. At Holden, he hopes to emulate his previous accomplishments in the automotive industry, by leveraging the company’s strongest ever vehicle portfolio.
Dave graduated from La Trobe with a Bachelor of Economics in 1981.
9. PageUp – Karen Cariss, Founder and CEO
Karen Cariss has taken her degree in science and turned it into an entrepreneurial career in the HR industry. In 1997 – with her husband Simon – Karen co-founded PageUp, a world-class Software as a Service talent management system that helps organisations find and retain their best employees.
From its humble beginnings, Karen has poured her heart and soul into PageUp to drive the company to where it’s placed today. Initially developed as a recruitment platform, PageUp now covers onboarding, performance management, learning and development and succession planning.
With customers including Sony, BP and Commonwealth Bank among many others, PageUp made over $31 million in 2015-16, and in 2016-17, the company’s share of revenue outside Australia surpassed 50 per cent for the first time.
Karen graduated from La Trobe with a Bachelor of Science (Honours) in 1997.
10. Moonlight Cinema – James Tutton, Founder
While still in the process of completing his philosophy degree at La Trobe, James Tutton pitched an idea to the Royal Botanic Gardens combining film, food and the outdoors. That idea became Moonlight Cinema – a roaring success on its inception in 1996.
In the days before the internet, James and his team had no other choice but to take to the streets to promote his ambitious idea, distributing 300,000 post cards and plastering posters around Melbourne. It resulted in Moonlight Cinema being sold out by just its third night in operation, with that popularity continuing today.
In late 2004, James sold Moonlight Cinema to entertainment group Becker for $8.5 million. Since then, James has continued his entrepreneurial career. He co-founded mediation app Smiling Mind in 2011 and a new business school The Plato Project in 2016 and is a director of property company Neometro.
James graduated from La Trobe with a Bachelor of Arts (Philosophy & Politics) in 1996.
11. Thankyou – Jarryd Burns, Co-Founder
In 2008, Thankyou began as a bottled water company. That doesn’t sound like a unique business proposition, but what set Thankyou apart was its commitment to give 100 per cent of its profits to end global poverty.
Jarryd Burns, along with his friends Daniel and Justine Flynn, were the people behind Thankyou. At the time Jarryd co-founded the social enterprise, he was in his first year of studies at La Trobe. “The skills I learnt at La Trobe were extremely useful in starting the business,” Jarryd said. “It wasn’t ever going to be just a bottled water company – it was an idea we were launching. Could we challenge the way business operates and give money to these crazy circumstances?”
Fast forward to today, and Jarryd has helped propel the business from its beginnings in bottled water and now into a personal care range and a baby care range. Thankyou’s products can now be found in over 5,500 outlets in Australia and New Zealand, including all major supermarkets. Delivering on its promise, the company has now donated over $6 million and helped more than 800,000 people in need.
Jarryd's latest business venture is Narrative Lab, which offers fragrance fans a customisable scent delivered in perfumes and aftershaves that are solid, not sprayed. A new brand to watch in 2019!
Jarryd graduated from La Trobe with a Bachelor of Business (Finance) in 2010.
12. NGV – Tony Ellwood AM, Director
The National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) is Australia’s oldest, largest and most visited art museum. Founded in 1861, the gallery’s rich history and reputation has been added to since the appointment of La Trobe alumnus Tony Ellwood as director in 2012.
Tony’s passion for the arts has taken him all around Australia. He began his career at Warringarri Aboriginal Arts in Western Australia, before his first stint at the NGV as a curator. He then returned to his hometown as director of the Bendigo Art Gallery. He was lured back to the NGV as Deputy Director of International Art and then moved to the Queensland Art Gallery as Director.
Now, back at the NGV, Tony is championing community access, engaging regional and culturally diverse audiences, and increasing what’s on offer for children and families. Under his reign, the NGV’s audience has tripled in a six year period, with over 3.3 million people visiting the gallery in 2017-18 – a record attendance over a year, edging out the previous best of 2.6 million in 2016. Those audiences have been captivated by the NGV’s most popular exhibitions in its history: 2018’s MoMa: 130 Years of Modern and Contemporary Art (404,000), 2017’s Van Gogh and the Seasons (462,000 viewers), 2013-14’s Melbourne Now (753,000) and 2017-18’s NGV Triennial (1.3 million).
Tony graduated from La Trobe’s Bendigo campus with a Bachelor of Fine Art in 1988.