SIT NOW: Greg Welsh said his ‘profit for purpose’ business is designed to help young Indigenous people train and gain employment.GREG Welsh began his career as an air traffic controller and has founded and led many corporate firms since.
The Novocastrian,sonof late Lake Macquarie mayor Ivan Welsh, is now trying to give back as theco-founder of indigenous furniture company Winya.
“We are not a charity, we arehere to make money and we do, but you can do good along the way. It’s part of our DNA,” he says.
Meaning “sit now” in Wiradjuri dialect, Winya is the ‘profit for purpose’ business founded by Mr Welsh and Debbie Barwick, head of the NSW Indigenous Chamber of Commerce.
It makes office furniture for governmentand corporates including LendLease and the Commonwealth Bank, and in doing sosupports indigenous training and employment.
Itbegan when Mr Welsh left his role as CEO of Sebel Furniture in 2014, when a US firm bought Sebel and the indigenous jobsprogram he was setting up was shelved.
“There was such a need to get kids to do work in those areas and unless someone did something it wouldn’t happen,” he recalls.
Introduced to Mrs Barwick, who has experience in labour hire, the pair developed a business model that sees Winya staff design all of its furniture and contract manufacturers to both make the products and employ indigenous youth.
Winya pays for the recruitment fees and initial mentoring of these youthto ensure they remain employed.
“When we first started we had kids on government subsidies and there was 100 per cent turnover, so we changed our model to ensure we had heavy skin in the game by paying for recruitment – now we have a 70 per cent retention rate,” he says.
Mr Welsh recently flew to New York to acceptthe United Nation’sAward for global Leadership in the Economic Empowerment of Indigenous Peoples. The award is one of 10 givenannually under the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and is the only one ever won by an n business.
Winya haslaunched its E-Board brand, which recycles office furniture and re-engineers it as new.
Mr Welsh says Winya has grown 100 per cent each year and “makingenough to do what we do and reinvest back” into its indigenous employment program.
“There is a lot of stuff we do that takes extra time and effort which is uncaptured in dollar terms …[but] we have won a bucketload of awards and it’s nice to get recognition for that,” he says.
He iscritical of larger firmshe says are starting to “pretend that they are ‘Indigenous’ to emulate what we do” to win government contracts and exploit policy which assists indigenous business growth.