After working for 35 employers in eight years, Mike O’Hagan became his own boss at 28. Now he is one of Queensland’s most innovative and influential entrepreneurs, writes Elisabeth Galvin.

The future of Australian business is fantastic but can only be realised by entrepreneurs believes Mike O’Hagan, who runs eight companies including Mini Movers – a short-distance removal company with a $30 million a year turnover, employing more than 500 people.

O’Hagan illustrates his point with Lang Hancock, who recognised the mining opportunities in Western Australia that led to the resource boom.

“It is guys like him who brought wealth into the country. But because of the bad entrepreneurs of the 1980s, enterprise has become a dirty word.”

Describing himself as a “serial entrepreneur”, O’Hagan is passionate about business.

He is the former director of the Australian Institute of Management in Queensland; he runs seminars on the topic; and in 2007 was a finalist in Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year Awards.

He immigrated to Brisbane from New Zealand when he was 18 with just a backpack and worked for 35 bosses in eight years.

“I got sacked a few times but each experience taught me a bit more,” says O’Hagan. “I finally got fed up and went out on my own.”

He was 28 and set up a second-hand furniture business “on a whim” in Chardons Corner, Annerley.

Within three years he was running three shops, formed the Queensland Second-Hand Dealer’s Guild and helped negotiate an act of Parliament to make it easier to deal in second-hand goods.

“I was working 90-hour weeks with two days off a year. I realised what I really wanted to do was to find something that I could duplicate and then reduce my time on the business.”

An opportunity arose when a customer came into his shop desperate for a removalist for a small job the same morning.

“I happened to have a ute and some mates so we did the move for her. I realised then and there a gap in the market for local moves and for charging by the hour.”

From that day with only $200 and a ute, Mini Movers now operates in five States.

“I won’t touch people with experience because they can’t be trained. We’re after young guys who haven’t had a good work history but who are capable and keen to learn. We give them good training and once they realise where they are going wrong, they do a good job.”

He offers everyone a cooked breakfast each morning.

“It’s a great way for the team to get together. I get asked all the time, ‘how do you get such good people to work with you?’ That gives me a lot of pride because we create them.”

O’Hagan’s latest project is the SeaLantern scuba diving light, developed by a father and son in Manly.

O’Hagan manufactures the lights in China and ‘dropships’ them in two days anywhere around the world thanks to an administration centre in the Philippines.

“Australia is only a small market and there are more opportunities outside of the country than there has ever been. It has never been easier to set up a business because of the internet.

“The mentality of keeping jobs in Australia is misguided. You can still help the economics of Brisbane by bringing back profit from manufacturing and selling internationally.

“The people who look internationally are those who are the most successful. The worst
mistake is to only serve locally.”