MY COUN­TRY CHILD­HOOD

THE LEAD­ING TECH EN­TRE­PRE­NEUR FROM CHAN­NEL 10’S SHARK TANK RE­FLECTS ON HIS EARLY DAYS IN CEN­TRAL QUEENS­LAND, WRITES CLAIRE MACTAGGART.

Country Style - - CONTRIBUTORS - EN­TRE­PRE­NEUR AND IN­VESTOR

Tech­nol­ogy en­tre­pre­neur and mil­lion­aire in­vestor on Chan­nel 10’s Shark Tank, Steve Bax­ter re­calls his hum­ble be­gin­nings in re­gional Queens­land.

WHEN THE FIRST Dick Smith store opened on Mus­grave Street in Rock­hamp­ton, a young Steve Bax­ter asked his fa­ther to buy a $2 cat­a­logue so that he could study its con­tents. “I had a love of elec­tron­ics and the cat­a­logues were like an en­cy­clopae­dia and that gave me a real in­ter­est,” the 47-year-old says. “Late last year I talked at an avi­a­tion con­fer­ence about tech­nol­ogy and Dick Smith was there and af­ter­wards I thanked him as it was that ex­pe­ri­ence that set me off on the path I was lucky enough to land in.” As one of the na­tion’s most suc­cess­ful tech­nol­ogy en­trepreneurs, Steve en­joys shar­ing his knowl­edge and ex­pe­ri­ence and has been an early stage in­vestor of start-ups for the past eight years. In 2012, he es­tab­lished River City Labs in Bris­bane — a co-work­ing space for start-ups in the in­ter­net, mo­bile, telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions and tech­nol­ogy fields. Steve was born in Clon­curry where his fa­ther Noel, who worked on rail­ways, was based for four years. Af­ter that stint, the fam­ily — in­clud­ing Steve’s mum San­dra, older si­b­lings Phillip and Ali­son, and younger sis­ter Roslyn — moved to Emer­ald, where they lived for seven years. How­ever, Steve’s par­ents were orig­i­nally from Rock­hamp­ton and they de­cided to re­turn there when Steve was in Year 6. He left school af­ter Year 11 and joined the Aus­tralian Army in its ap­pren­tice­ship pro­gram and worked as a tech­ni­cian in tele­coms, elec­tron­ics and guided weapons sys­tems. “I did most of my grow­ing up as a reg­u­lar sol­dier and I am a very proud digger,” he says. In 1994, he in­vested his life sav­ings of $11,000 and launched the in­ter­net ser­vice provider SE Net. Seven years later, he joined with a friend for his sec­ond start-up, PIPE Net­works, which later sold for $373 mil­lion. In 2008, Steve spent a year with Google in the US, work­ing on a project to de­liver high-speed telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions sys­tems. Now Steve lives in Bris­bane with wife Emily and daugh­ters Olivia, four, and one-year-old twins Nina and Kara. For the past three sea­sons, Steve has been a judge on Chan­nel 10’s Shark Tank, with sea­son four airing this year. Mean­while, he con­tin­ues to work on projects such as the re­gional fi­bre telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions net­work with the Queens­land Gov­ern­ment. “If we can build that, it will be a last­ing legacy in re­gional Queens­land and the big­gest game-chang­ing piece of in­fra­struc­ture in re­gional Aus­tralia since paved roads.” Re­gional Aus­tralia is close to his heart. “It means ‘Aus­tralia’ to me far more than the city. I get asked a lot about what we can do to make our kids more re­silient. We are Aus­tralians, aren’t we re­silient? We’re the peo­ple from the tough land and the fact that we’ve thrived here is a mir­a­cle. We have to look at what’s made us re­silient and those who aren’t fac­ing a bit of self-im­posed ad­ver­sity to im­prove them­selves ev­ery day need to have a hard think about that. The more we chal­lenge our­selves the more we im­prove and to me, re­gional Aus­tralia typ­i­fies re­silience,” he says. For more in­for­ma­tion, visit steve­bax­ter.com.au

We played a lot of sport — soc­cer and a bit of cricket and we swam a lot — Emer­ald is as hot as hell! We would make cubby houses and forts and that type of thing. A lot of re­gional towns like Emer­ald are very sport- and ser­vice-ori­ented so there was al­ways some­thing go­ing on. We re­ally en­joyed the com­mu­nity and Mum and Dad were in the lo­cal Lions club and in­volved in all sorts of com­mu­nity ac­tiv­i­ties. There was an ex­tra­or­di­nary amount of Lions so­cial events — bar­be­cues and fundrais­ers and fetes, which were al­ways a lot of fun. Our fam­ily val­ues were hon­esty and hard work; Dad was a clerk in Queens­land Rail and Mum was a home­maker.

Mum did her se­nior stud­ies while she was rais­ing us and in our early days back in Rock­hamp­ton she grad­u­ated, got her se­nior cer­tifi­cate and ap­plied to univer­sity. She went on and got a de­gree in so­cial work, then got a job — that def­i­nitely gives you an un­der­stand­ing of what hard work is. My dad is one of eight si­b­lings so when we went back to Rock­hamp­ton for hol­i­days there were about 30 cousins to play around with in the back­yard. With Dad in the rail­way we’d get an amaz­ing dis­count so we could go to Rock­hamp­ton, but it was five hours in the car or eight hours on the train and we’d al­ways take the train! In Emer­ald, many week­ends were spent at the Fair­bairn Dam, swim­ming and fish­ing. I’m quite im­pressed my dad gave me that fish­ing bug. There wasn’t much to catch in the Fair­bairn, just in the lower reaches of the No­goa [River], and when we came to Rock­hamp­ton we would go to the Cause­way Lake or the beaches at­tached there to fish and pump for yab­bies and that was a lot of fun. Our friends, the Fletch­ers, were prom­i­nent farm­ers in the dis­trict up the road and their son Pe­ter was a good mate of mine and we used to go to the shed on their prop­erty and play on the cot­ton bales and do a bit of ir­ri­ga­tion si­phon­ing and make other sorts of trou­ble. I did en­joy school and did quite well in Year 10, but in Year 11 I turned into a hor­ri­ble kid. I fin­ished school af­ter Year 11 and was pretty lucky the army took me. I didn’t en­joy my last year of school. I grew up in the Aus­tralian Army, I left home at 15, joined as a boy sol­dier and grew up there. That’s where a lot of my at­ti­tudes were formed and a lot of my ap­proaches to work and other peo­ple — friends and peo­ple that aren’t friends — that’s where those at­ti­tudes were set. I al­ways wanted to be a sol­dier for as a long as I can re­mem­ber. The one thing grow­ing up in Emer­ald taught me is that re­gional Aus­tralia is not re­spected by the rest of Aus­tralia. It’s crazy to think of the things we didn’t have ac­cess to; the things we had to ride on a train from Emer­ald to the city to get ac­cess to — and that gave me an iden­tity of be­ing from re­gional Aus­tralia.

“We re­ally en­joyed the com­mu­nity and Mum and Dad were in the lo­cal Lions club and in­volved in all sorts of com­mu­nity ac­tiv­i­ties.”

FROM LEFT Steve with his si­b­lings at Coober­rie Park Wildlife Sanc­tu­ary near Rock­hamp­ton; a four-year-old Steve (left) with his fam­ily; Steve as a 15-year-old.

FROM ABOVE A 16-year-old Steve; meet­ing a koala with his older brother Phillip; Steve (top right) joined the army as a teenager and en­tered an ap­pren­tice­ship work­ing as a tech­ni­cian in tele­coms, elec­tron­ics and guided weapons sys­tems.

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