In the time before COVID-19, Michael Waite lived in the United States and managed the finance and accounting departments of firms Bentall Kennedy and Cascade Investment, owned by Microsoft founder Bill Gates.
He also played professional tennis on the International Tennis Federation tour and ran an 11-month campaign as a progressive Republican for Washington State Treasurer in 2016.
But most recently Waite has been at the helm of a regional South Australian paper in his boyhood home of Naracoorte.
Last year Australian Community Media chose to suspend the publication of its 145-year-old newspaper, The Naracoorte Herald, in the state’s southeast in the midst of a global pandemic.
Waite was not impressed.
“I was just shocked and dismayed that anyone would walk away from a town in a pandemic, especially their local newspaper,” he said.
“It was kind of stunning on so many levels.”
Waite didn’t simply dash off an angry email and forget about it; he decided to underwrite an entirely new paper and, three weeks and almost-as-many sleepless nights later, the first edition of The Naracoorte Community News went to print.
The 44-year-old didn’t set out to start a media company. His only experience with the press came from his mum Sue, who had worked for The Naracoorte Herald for 30 years and a couple of articles he’d written for the former paper while living in the US.
But the father of three understands business models and saw the importance of funding local news to inform the community in which it was intended to serve – a community he had just returned to after decades away.
He’d spent 20 years living in the United States and only planned to holiday in South Australia for the summer of 2019-20 as part of an 18-month around the world sabbatical.
But when international borders were shut in a bid to curb the spread of coronavirus the Waites put their holiday plans on hold and have been living on the Limestone Coast ever since.
Waite said during this time he noticed young leaders were missing in the town’s “critical” community bodies and associations and considered developing a “power list” of young leaders – much like the InDaily 40 Under 40 – to highlight emerging voices and give recognition to young people making an impact in the area.
“It’s the old white man dominance of towns,” he said.
“They see it as a fixed pie and if you start letting 30-something, 40-something, even 50-somethings have a piece then you’re going to have to lose your piece or shrink your piece – and that’s kind of the opposite way to how I view it.
“You can’t look at a town like that.
“There’s so much energy that’s packed in these regions.”
Waite – who will deliver the keynote speech at this year’s 40 Under 40 awards on June 10 – said he witnessed the benefit of young leadership awards on the individual winners as well as the towns that run them during his time overseas.
“So much of local elections, when it comes to councils and things like that, is just name-identification,” he said.
“It’s a really good way to highlight your career and get noticed and impact whatever organisation you’re doing or highlighting and it can be in any unique kind of way. By no means is it by financial or size of company, it’s about size of impact and I would say potential impact.
“It doesn’t even need to be that you have impact. What you’re doing is creating energy that might create impact and that in itself can directly or indirectly create movement and progress for the city.”
The achievements, energy and innovation of South Australia’s top 40 business leaders under 40 years old are set to be celebrated at a gala event as part of the awards.
“From a community perspective, it shows the vibrancy of cities,” Waite said.
“Cities are all competing for companies to come and invest in their future and a list of powerful young leaders is a testament to those cities.”
“Everyone wants to back a winner.”
The InDaily 40 Under 40 Awards will be held on Thursday 10 June at the Adelaide Convention Centre. Tickets are on sale now.
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