What’s next? – the future of business

NEXT? began with a question at UQ Business School. What if we gathered the brightest future-thinkers and discussed what’s next for business?

The result was five panellists, five questions and an audience of 1,500. The topic: What’s NEXT for business? On 9 May, UQ Business School hosted a lunch that brought together experts in all facets of business: entrepreneurs, academics, and corporate goliaths. Everyone at the event was also a stakeholder in the future, there for insights into how business would play a role as shaper and facilitator of opportunity.

The audience was eager to learn from the business leaders and thinkers gathered together. On the panel sat Sir Richard Branson, UQ Business School Dean Professor Andrew Griffiths, Futurist Tim Longhurst, and Rockcote Director and 2012 Australian Financial Review Top 100 Women of Influence awards winner Chris Cameron. The fifth panellist, Mick Spencer, Founder and CEO of OnTheGo, was selected via an open nomination process held in collaboration with LinkedIn – a first for Australia.

Ahead of the lunch, UQ Business School asked business people, students and alumni to submit the question they wanted to hear discussed. Over 1,000 insightful and challenging questions were whittled down to the five key issues that all businesses need to think about.

After the event, Sir Richard Branson gave an exclusive interview to Momentum.

Sir Richard Branson usually hits the headlines for his publicity stunts: dressing up as an air hostess, driving a Sherman tank through the streets of New York, or bungee jumping in a tuxedo from the top of a Las Vegas hotel.

Less well publicised is his work with The Elders, a group of former world leaders selected for their integrity and their reputation for inclusive, progressive leadership. They share a commitment to peace and universal human rights, and have deep and diverse expertise and experience in creating change under extreme circumstances.

Chaired by Desmond Tutu since 2007, who was recently superseded by Kofi Anan, The Elders are hand picked by honorary member Nelson Mandela. Its members no longer hold public office and are independent of government or other vested interest.

By opening doors, taking an independent position and listening to all sides in any conflict, they aim to be bold, inclusive and, above all, create change that leads to peace. It is one of several initiatives, which includes Virgin Unite, that is determined to challenge business as usual and to shape business as a force for good.

“It is an amazing experience sitting at the feet of these people,” says Branson. “Between them they have enough experience and exposure and understanding to take the high moral ground on most issues. And they argue – they are capable of debating and disagreeing like anyone. But there is always enormous respect in the room.”

The idea was originally conceived in a chat between Branson and musician Peter Gabriel. It paid off. “As we speak, The Elders are meeting in Ireland, to make a contribution to resolving the Syrian conflict,” says Branson. “I wanted so much to be there.”

Branson might now be passionate about world peace and human rights, but it is his extraordinary success as an entrepreneur in fields as diverse as music, telecommunications, airlines and even space travel that has attracted the audience to the recent UQ Business School event.

Before lunch, a quick straw poll of the audience (why are you here, and given the chance, what one thing would you like to learn from Sir Richard Branson?) revealed a common theme. There is a ‘secret’, a ‘recipe’, a ‘formula’ or a ‘blue print’ for success the Branson way, and people wanted to glimpse it, touch it, bottle it, and take it away with them if they could.

“He’s made so much money,” exclaimed one year 12 high school student on an excursion of lucky students selected by their principal to attend the event.

“How does he know which industries to enter, what trends to punt on?” wondered a business owner sitting down to the entrée. “I just want to take a little insight, one lesson, away with me. Just a grain of understanding.”

Asked what advice he would give the Queensland Premier about kick starting the state’s engine of growth and realising its full economic potential, Branson says it’s not just the government’s responsibility to grow the economy.

Founder of the Virgin Group of more than 400 companies, Sir Richard is also well known for his exploits as a fearless adventurer and his many philanthropic endeavours.

“It’s everyone’s responsibility, and up to every single person who works in a business to improve it. We spend 80 per cent of our time working. We should be engaged in satisfying and rewarding activities. Companies must listen to their people, get feedback, make work more enjoyable,” he says.

“If someone asks for flexible work give them flexible work. If they want to come in without a tie, let them. Treat your people like human beings. Then they will enjoy their work. Business also can be a force for good. If staff are proud, are tackling local issues – local to the company, local to the state – they’ll be proud of the company, and they can get Queensland to sing again.”

What Sir Richard Branson sees as success has evolved over the years and extended beyond the achievements for which he is most commonly celebrated. He has taken on the Goliath incumbents in many industries, turning the status quo upside down again and again, and redefined the nature of competition. It is, he says, where his legacy will lie.

The Virgin brand has put ‘what the customer wants’ at the centre of competitive strategy so firmly that it is hard to believe that it hasn’t always been so.

“What I have done is create competition. That is my legacy. It’s good for consumers and it’s good for business. I hope this is what Virgin has brought to business, and what we have changed the most,” Branson says.

Over a thousand questions were submitted to nextquestion.business.uq.edu.au as part of UQ Business School’s competition. They covered everything: healthcare, travel, social media, the euro, rising sea levels, and even whether there’s life on Mars.

Branson knows that success as an entrepreneur in so many fields comes with an enormous pressure to deliver. “People pay a decent amount of money to come along and hear me speak. (It all goes to charity, of course.) They expect to walk away with something that can help them or add to their business. I owe them that. And I want them to leave satisfied,” he says.

“But in the end, what do I know? I am a guy who left school at fifteen and I have learnt what I have learnt by travelling the world, and by giving things a go. I am happy to share my experience and my positive ideas, hopefully without offending.”

Sir Richard Branson is a charming man. And he is knowledgeable. He doesn’t disappoint when talking about business. His insights flow with clarity and sincerity, but there is a sense that he’s shared all this before.

Making money and adding to his empire is not what lights his entrepreneurial fire these days. It’s hard to hold the man’s attention unless he’s talking about world peace, reversing climate change or conquering space.

It’s clearly Branson the entrepreneur that the audience has come to learn from. But these days, buy the business man and the agent of social change comes as part of the package. No extra charge.


Researching business strategy, climate change, corporate sustainability strategy and risk and crisis management, Andrew has worked with leading organisations to develop and implement climate change responses and integrated sustainability strategies.


As Director of Rockcote, a leading manufacturer of premixed coloured renders, textures and environmentally friendly paints, Chris champions sustainable development and business practices. In 25 years she has grown Rockcote from a back yard operation into a multi-million dollar, multi-award winning national company.


One of the world’s leading authorities and speakers on innovation and corporate strategy, Tim uses the latest data and powerful case studies to bring the future to life and inspire change within business.


At age 18, Mick had a vision of building a brand that could change the way people moved. Mick backed himself with the $150 to his name and formed OnTheGo – Australia’s fastest growing active lifestyle brand.

NEXT? began with a question. What if UQ Business School gathered the brightest future-thinkers and discussed what’s next for business? Answer: great idea. May 2013 saw the idea come to fruition in Brisbane with Sir Richard Branson leading a five-strong panel of some the best future thinkers at UQ Business School’s ‘NEXT? The Future of Business Q&A’.

UQ Business School is committed to ‘Challenging the Future’ and NEXT? took us on another stage of this journey. We started with a teaser campaign to introduce NEXT?, followed by a big reveal that launched the whole idea and the Future of Business Q&A website – nextquestion.business.uq.edu.au

Over 1,000 questions about the future of business were asked by business people, students and alumni. Many found their way into advertising campaigns, and the top five questions took centre stage at the NEXT? event. In an Australian first, UQ Business School joined forces with LinkedIn to find the 5th panellist to tackle these big questions.

The event was informative, entertaining and even surprising. And the future will be even more eye opening as questions from the NEXT? event are channelled into research undertaken by UQ Business School.

NEXT? The Future of Business Q&A offered members of the business community a chance to secure a position on stage by nominating themselves on LinkedIn. The search to find a 5th panellist was the first initiative of its type conducted through LinkedIn in Australia. It resulted in dozens of responses from individuals, ranging from CEOs to retired business people, entrepreneurs, students and stay-at-home dads.

The search began in March, when business professionals and students were invited to nominate either themselves or a LinkedIn connection to join the panel. They were asked to submit a 25-word statement on the event website nextquestion.business.uq.edu.au explaining why they would be the perfect choice to appear alongside Sir Richard Branson and other panellists answering questions about the future of business.

The winner, Mick Spencer, Founder and Managing Director of OnTheGo, was chosen by a judging panel from UQ Business School.

Matt Tindale, Director of Marketing Solutions at LinkedIn, said, “We were excited to be the facilitator of this innovative program. By leveraging the LinkedIn platform, UQ Business School was able to engage with an audience of more than three million professionals and students in Australia, ultimately enabling the audience to interact with today’s thought leaders, gain insights and become even more successful at what they do.”

LinkedIn operates the world’s largest professional network on the internet, in more than 200 countries and territories.

To view Sky News Business’ coverage of NEXT? The Future of Business Q&A or the full photo gallery, visit nextquestion.business.uq.edu.au

Last updated:
24 March 2021