Michael Crouch AC

A titan of Australian business, Michael Crouch AC died earlier this year. 

We all have so much to gain from embracing Crouch’s legacy. 

Crouch quietly, generously supported many great and important causes while running a pioneering Australian manufacturing company, Zip Industries. 

Today we take instant access to hot water for coffee, tea and soup in offices and homes for granted. 

Yet before Michael Crouch acquired a small Sydney heating company Zip in 1962, waiting for kettles to boil before having a cuppa was the standard. 

Crouch led an innovative company which pioneered the boiling water tap through advanced manufacturing.

He told the Australianin 2010 his company would reach for the sky: "By the mid-80s we were in a lot of places in Sydney. We said if we can do that in Sydney we can do it in a lot of places around Australia, and if we can do it in other cities around Australia we can do it around the world – maybe.”

The result – a presence in 77 nations. 

Obituaries have recorded his enormous contribution to the Duke of Edinburgh Award, the Michael Crouch Innovation Centre at UNSW, Royal Flying Doctors Service and the Menzies Research Centre.

Over many cups of coffee courtesy of his boiling water innovation, I learned first hand two great lessons from Crouch. 

One paved the way for his commercial success and the second was his contribution to his nation.

“You have to improve your communication Andrew”. This was one of Michael’s favourites. It was true. There was no point having the best ideas if you couldn’t communicate them clearly. 

He understood better than most people that complicated messages, especially about public policy, would not work. 

He bemoaned how business leaders often had complicated messages or we not prepared to get out and make a simple public case which advanced a policy agenda. 

We often discussed how lethal the anti business forces such as militant unions had become with their underhanded untruths about tax, regulation, trade and investment. 

His view was they were the consummate communicators and even if everything they said were lies, they were winning because they had mastered simple public communication.

I once received a note from him which said: “What you sent me, and the work that will flow from it will, I believe, be of great interest to university dons and, hopefully, some bureaucrats.”

And: “I’m no good on long documents – there’s far too many of them streaming in every day.  I like short, punchy statements illustrated by fact, easily readable and very penetrating.”  

He knew there was no point talking to the insiders without having a simple message for the masses.

Michael invested heavily in communication to get his innovative hot water taps accepted by building designers, office managers and households. No easy feat.

In an era where the policy settings that delivered decades of growth are more contested than ever, we ought to take on Crouch’s challenge to get our facts from university “dons” but unleash simple, direct communication to the people.

Of course this formula will only work if business leaders are prepared to enter the public arena as they should. 

The second big lesson from Crouch was: make time to improve the world around you. 

He had a vast array of projects which supported people and causes: the innovation centre at UNSW which takes his name, the Duke of Edinburgh awards which he ran from his private office, Symphony Australia, where he was chairman and the Menzies Research Centre to name a few.

He was genuinely interested in the affairs and standing of the nation. 

His contributions to Menzies and innovation at UNSW were serious efforts to advance the cause of liberalism and enterprise: bedrocks of his and Australia’s success. 

It was emblematic of a leader who took nothing for granted. He knew the values of liberalism and enterprise were contested and needed to be nurtured. 

He committed time, money and prodigious energy to these causes. He did not do so after he left full time executive life. In the mid 1970s he was Honorary Treasurer of the NSW Division of the Liberal Party. 

Few executives are prepared to donate their own money or that of their companies to support democracy these days – whether it be Liberal or Labor. Even fewer would be prepared to take on a demanding role within a political organisation mid-career. 

The net result of less civic engagement from business leaders is simply poorer public policy and a poorer nation. The void will always be filled by people that do not understand how an economy works and what creates jobs and national prosperity. 

That is why Crouch’s time and effort on his causes was so valuable. He knew how to do it. He walked the walk.

Long may we remember Michael Crouch, he was a great Australian.