ABW originated in mid-1992, when a question was posed at the Parramatta Chamber of Commerce, asking how the business community could help young people gain a better appreciation of business. The answer, as proposed by the late Norman Owens, who passed away earlier this year, was to have them run a model business. By 1999, all the states and territories in Australia were participating in the simulation, and eventually the program went international, being recognised in 2009 when it won the Global Best Award in Helsinki.
ABW’s global enterprise education programs incorporate computer simulated business environments, allowing participants to assume management roles in businesses and make decision which affect that businesses performance, from within the safety of a virtual world. In a school environment, the program replaces the usual learning curriculum for a week as they immerse themselves in the usual business world.
As the CEO of Pendragon Management, I have been involved in ABW at the Hills Grammar School for the past eight years. The ABW program gives the students the opportunity to run the business under a simulation, from its start up to two and half years of trading. We have even had the pleasure of Norman Owens visiting the school in years past, in order to discuss how the event was being run. He was very impressed and excited at how we were adapting it so well.
It gives them real life experience – they have to come up with a name, marketing collateral, finance and operations understanding. They have to work as a team, delegating and recognising the strengths of each individual as they choose a team leader, the head of the complete company/ business, then heads of departments: marketing, operations and finance… just like in the real world.
This year, Hills Grammar ran the café simulation which sees students take over a virtual café with the intention of turning over a profit whilst balancing the operational needs of the business. Participants learnt about seasonal market demand, the impact of location, day to day operations, staff training, pricing, financials and advertising.
Then they have to compete against rival cafes, which in the case of a school based situation, consisting of other Year Ten students. This year at Hills Grammar, there were thirteen of them, creating a more volatile market as all the cafes compete against each other and also bid to get the stock they want.
At the end of the week they have to produce a written report and present to the three mentors, trying to demonstrate why they should invest in their café, dragon’s den/shark tank style. They are also required to produce adverts, websites and Facebook pages.
Throughout the whole week they are mentored, by a team of local business people, such as myself, on how to think , make decisions and work it out for themselves. They learn the hard way by making mistakes and working out the solutions to the challenges they face. By the end of the week they have thoroughly enjoyed the experience and have learnt a great lesson on running a café, and by extension a company. In the past I wrote what I called ‘The Coffee Shop Theology’, about how the essential aspects of running a café are applicable across all business ventures, regardless of size.
The students are thrown in cold on the Monday and have to hit the ground running from scratch. At the end of the week they have to set up a mock cafe and sell their wares to their parents and friends for charity this year was beyondblue.
In all the years I’ve been involved, I thoroughly enjoy both the concept and the fantastic outcomes that they produce. It’s great to have the students exposed to business at such a young age and realise how hard it is to get the correct stock in sell it at the right price, to track customers, to develop adverts and marketing collateral in order to bring the business in, all in a safe environment, where they can fail and learn from it. It’s an excellent week and I would recommend to all business people to look at supporting an ABW program at your local school.