Why the small business owner is the bravest of them all



I was born in South East England, into a family where my parents ran a small business. My father was a paper merchant and he sourced goods from mills in Europe to sell in the UK.

Memories of my childhood are heavily tied to this business being a core part of our family. I remember answering the business phone during the school holidays and trying to sound far wiser than my 14 years would suggest. We would drive through Europe on school holidays, and stop to visit paper mills in Switzerland en route.

A vivid memory of my childhood is watching my mother type letters for the company in the evening, copies created by carbon paper in the manual typewriter.

When things were difficult, we all felt it in some way. As much as Dad would look to protect us and put on a brave face, I reflect back on periods where the man I remember was challenged and stressed, nothing like the relaxed retiree I get to hang out with now.

And, when things were going well, there was a palpable lightness in our family and a collective sense of success- laughter and joy as a deal got signed.

I wouldn’t swap those highs or lows now, or ever.

It is these experiences that have given me the skills I believe have helped me in my own corporate career. Skills like resilience and a strong work ethic. Skills that enable me to comfortably interact with all types of people, having learnt the art of listening and empathy all those years ago as a teenager on the telephone to my dad’s customers.

But the greatest skill of all- or perhaps not so much a skill, a learned understanding- is that there is always a way to achieve mutual success in business, large and small.

Winning for my dad meant a result where both parties transacting succeed. Winning for me means a relationship where our customers feel that NAB is a true partner on their journey, as they bravely navigate their way to small business success.

Their success is our success.

As so it is for this reason I am personally driven to do what I can to contribute to the success of small business in Australia. Having experienced the richness of this small business life growing up in England, I believe that others should to be able to do the same.

At NAB, we are focused on becoming Australia and New Zealand’s most respected bank. At the heart of that strategy, is supporting our small business customers. It’s about empowering our customers to succeed and to remain sustainable.

And the success of this sector is vital to the economic growth of Australia.  Small business is a leading source of employment growth in Australia – it produces a staggering $330bn of economic output per annum and 97% of all Australian businesses are small businesses.

In my job, I am honoured to meet a whole range of small business customers every day.   Spending time with customers, I get to meet a community of Australians, driven and passionate.

Customers just like my mum and dad, where the business permeates into the family home and into the family psyche. Customers just like my mum and dad, where the pursuit of excellence drives them each and every day to deliver products and services.

In life we are all terrified and we are all brave. In my experience small business owners are some of the bravest.


Leigh O’Neill is the Executive General Manager Business Direct and Small Business and this piece first appeared on LinkedIn on September 4th, 2016.



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