Time to drop the Dick

Ideas@TheCentre – The CIS newsletter (Sydney), 3 February 2012

Flanked by five busty blondes and a Chihuahua dog, ex-entrepreneur Dick Smith created a media stir in August 2010 when he announced an award of $1 million for the brightest idea to stop population growth and find an alternative to economic growth. The competition was open to anyone under the age of 30 and due to be awarded within 12 months.

A year and a half later, Smith still has not proclaimed the winner of this ‘Wilberforce Award,’ perversely named after the British leader of the anti-slavery movement and philanthropist William Wilberforce. However, 28-year-old North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un may emerge as a serious contender if he continues his father’s achievements against any kind of growth.

A special notice on Smith’s website says until a suitable winner can be found, the withheld prize money would accrue compound interest and added to the final award amount.

The sweet irony of a prize against endless growth sitting in a bank account accruing compound interest probably does not occur to Smith. And it is not the only irony he does not get.

Way back in 1982, Smith had sold his chain of Dick Smith Electronics (DSE) stores to retail giant Woolworths. Now that Woolworths wants to sell it, Smith announced he would do everything in his power to stop DSE from falling into foreign ownership. ‘I’ll rubbish them the whole time … I’m a proud Australian and … all the wealth is going overseas and damaging our country,’ he said.

On the other hand, he agrees that Woolworths is doing the ‘sensible’ thing by selling DSE. ‘Once the growth is gone, which I think it has in [traditional electronics retailing], I can understand them selling it. I’m amazed that they’ve kept it for so long.’

So the anti-growth campaigner Smith agrees with selling a poorly performing company, while the nationalist Smith insists that only Australians should be allowed to own such a low profitability business. How this would benefit Australia remains his secret.

This is such complete and utter nonsense that no media outlet would have bothered to report had it not come from Dick Smith AO, a former Australian of the Year (which, by the way, makes you wonder whether this honour has lost its way). At this rate, even the media may soon lose patience with Smith, rendering him as irrelevant as he is.

Smith may have been a brilliant entrepreneur, but his past achievements sadly do not give his present utterances any credibility. His parochial, irrational and uneconomic drivel actually makes one wonder how he ever built his business in the first place.

To the prospective new owners of DSE, drop ‘Dick Smith’ from the business name. Any association with him and his ranting is a liability. Maybe the chain would become profitable once more if customers were not greeted by his face at the stores.