Gumbaynggirr man Dr Dean Jarrett has been awarded a doctorate from the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) Business School for his thesis on growing the Indigenous business sector.

Only the second Indigenous person and first Indigenous male to receive a doctorate from UTS Business School, Dr Jarrett’s thesis examines factors that can help develop the Indigenous business sector.

As an Indigenous business owner himself, Dr Jarrett wanted to understand factors that could help Indigenous businesses work successfully with large government and corporate organisations, as well as provide a voice for Indigenous business owners.

After a five-year academic journey, which included a stint as a Fulbright Scholar in the US, Dr Jarrett has discovered mainstream business has much to learn from Indigenous business.

In particular, he identified the strength of the cultural value system that underpins Indigenous business practice – an approach established over many thousands of years.

Dr Jarrett said there needs to be a shift from traditional methods of engagement in business.

“There is a need to move away from a transactional way of engagement to a relational way of engagement,” Dr Jarrett said.

Dr Jarrett said focusing on the development of trusting, equal and reciprocal relationships can minimise business transaction costs and deliver positive social and commercial outcomes.

His thesis also revealed unique insights into the relational factors that underpin economic transactions between Indigenous suppliers and the large organisations that purchase their goods and services.

He found the top five challenges confronting Indigenous businesses were:

  • Business size and capacity
  • Tokenism or perfunctory compliance from large purchaser organisations
  • Negative buyer perceptions
  • Perceived racism
  • Power inequality.

However, the top five factors underpinning positive commercial relationships for Indigenous businesses were strong personal relationships, trust and reciprocity, collaboration, information sharing, and similar values, ethics and principles.

UTS Associate Professor Bronwen Dalton, who co-supervised Dr Jarrett’s doctoral thesis said there was a need for ongoing relationships in mainstream business.

“Mainstream business models often see buyers and sellers transacting at arm’s length, in a supply chain where participants never meet, and without developing the trust necessary to ensure an ongoing relationship,” Associate Professor Dalton said.

“On the other hand, Indigenous approaches to managing relationships are built around developing trust, power-sharing and reciprocity – approaches that reduce transaction costs from trust breakdowns.”

Principles governing Indigenous businesses have more in common with values-driven social enterprise business models where there’s a greater balance between profit and purpose, according to UTS Jumbunna Director of Research Distinguished Professor Larissa Behrendt, a Eualeyai Kamillaroi woman.

“As the oldest living culture, Indigenous trade and business practice was sophisticated and extensive, from the Gunditjmara eel farms to trade with Indonesia,” Professor Behrendt said.

“Aboriginal cultural stories and traditions include valuable messages and wisdom around business practice, including the importance of sharing resources and the consequences of selfishness.”

Dr Jarrett said all the Indigenous business owners he spoke to were primarily focused on helping community, providing role models and creating employment opportunities. Individual financial gain was a secondary focus.

These findings revealed that greater appreciation and adoption of Indigenous business values and practices can help build respectful, collaborative and strategic business partnerships with Indigenous suppliers as well as across all commercial relationships.