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Who are the 100 most influential business people in Australia? No one I'd rate.

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It’s probably the many hours I’ve spent over the past week researching (and rabble rousing) in aid of our annual Dumb Report, but I couldn’t help reading Fairfax’s Top 100 Most Influential People with more than the usual requisite amount of cynicism.

In past years, I have scoffed, finished my latte then got on with the rest of my Sunday morning. (Yes, I too am a slave to print when it comes to the weekend papers.)

But this year I felt compelled to sacrifice a lazy morning of more reading and further caffeine consumption to write this post.

What I’m talking about is the annual, state-based list that appears in each of Fairfax’s glossy monthly newspaper supplements under various mastheads, such as The Age (Melbourne) Magazine, The SMH (Sydney) Magazine, etc.

Described (depending on where you live) as Melbourne’s/Sydney’s/Brisbane’s “most inspirational, influential, powerful and creative people”, the list is assembled by a combination of Fairfax journalists, industry representatives and then some more Fairfax journalists.

At least, that was the case with respect to the panel assembled for The Age (Melbourne) Magazine for the purpose of rating ‘Power: Sports, Law, Business and Government’. (Unfortunately, being Melbourne-based, I don’t have access to the other state-based alternatives… feel free to contribute with comments from your neck of the woods.)

Of the 12 panellists selected to do the judging for Melbourne’s Top 10 of Business segment, eight are identified as journalists or editors for The Age or BRW. The remaining three represent two legal bodies and Bruce McAvaney (who could perhaps be accepted as a category unto his own).

And who were selected as the Top 10 most influential people from the realm of business? Without going into too much detail, the list included the Managing Director of Tiger Airways, the CEO of JB Hi-Fi, the CEO of Myer, the Pratt heir-apparent and some other very successful management types representing household brands.

Wealthy? Yes. Successful? No doubt. Influential?

Well… unless you’re talking about the three times when Tiger stuffed around Anthill event speakers this year (ruining the days of many), I think it’s fair to say that none of these people influenced any business I am personally associated with, except perhaps as a model to aspire to (in the case of JB Hi-Fi) or as a place to shop.

So, if I were given a deciding position on the ‘panel of power’, could I do any better?

I suggest that any of Anthill’s readers could provide a more insightful perspective than simply copying and pasting names from one of BRW’s many ‘rich’ lists.

For example, off the top of my head…

New Media

If you’re an under 30 business owner in Victoria and haven’t crossed paths with new media maven Ross Hill, you aren’t getting out enough. Founder of uber-cool young entrepreneurs’ networking group TheHive.com.au, the 26 22 (!!!) year-old is a consultant to Deloitte (working alongside another digital influencer, Peter Williams, who is arguably also worthy of a spot on the list). Ross is founder and board member of a number of new media startups, including Steve Sammartino‘s Rentoid.com – deserving of mention given Sammartino’s equally substantial new media cred. There’re three names that, I believe, would rate above any of the Fairfax options on its influence index.

Innovation

It takes a pig-headed zealot or a complete idealist to attempt to consolidate over 500 innovation related events every year to create the Australian Innovation Festival. That is the claim to fame of Peter Westfield, who has spent seven years, each year, assembling Australia’s largest innovation festival. Is he influential? A wise business owner once told me, “It’s not who you know. It’s who knows you.” Westfield is a fixture of the Victoria innovation industry despite the ebb and tide of state and federal innovation policy, a stayer in a market constantly in flux. He is among a small but dedicated infantry of innovation advocates, defined as much by their high pain thresholds as by their shared passion for assisting new businesses and industries.

Policy & Politics

In the realm of politics, Melbourne is also home to a small army of movers and shapers who prefer to stay out of the lime-light but should be equally acknowledged for their influence. On the corner of Collins and Spring Street there is a discreet office, aptly occupying a room originally employed by the early Prime Ministers of Australia to decide policy on the thorny issue of war, where any wayward tourist can find the headquarters of htt, the equally discreet name of Helene Teichmann‘s lobbying outfit. The various projects managed within the organisation’s historic walls are always mysterious but never dubious. The number of growing Victorian businesses that have discreetly been aided by Helene and her team may never be known, which is perhaps why you will never see this highly influential outfit on any published list of influencers.

I’m sure that other Anthillians, from other states and territories, who also read Fairfax’s various lists, will hold their own views about who and whom should have been rated but weren’t – people who rarely, if ever, get their name and achievements recognised by the mainstream media.

Unfortunately, this short deviation from my Sunday routine is limited to influencers from my own local surrounds. If you would like to put forward a name, worthy of recognition, from your neck of the woods, please don’t hold back.

I’m personally sick of hearing the wealthy described as influencers simply because of their wealth.

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