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The Young Enterprise Scheme gives Year 12-13 New Zealand high school students a taste of the excitement of setting-up and running a business over the course of a school year.
"Young Enterprise gives you exposure to things that you just wouldn't receive otherwise," says Hamish Mexted, Director of Convex Accounting.
Hamish was in Year 13 at Hutt International Boys' School when he took part in The Lion Foundation Young Enterprise Scheme (YES), a long-running initiative Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand has sponsored for the past decade.
The mission of the scheme is to provide high school students with an experiential opportunity to "learn about business planning and operations, develop a range of personal and business skills and consult with and create networks in their community".
Hamish and his team of four fellow students were tasked with creating their own business and executing a business plan. They devised a product idea, were each assigned roles and planned how they would source, produce and distribute the product to their target audience.
Hamish shared with us what he learned from participating in YES 17 years ago, and how it helped shape him into the business owner he is today.
[YES] taught us to think outside of our comfort zones and do something we otherwise wouldn’t. It encouraged us to persevere.
Turning lemons into lemonade
Initially Hamish's team wanted to sell mobile phone face plates for businesses, personalised with the company's name - thinking that the businesses would be able to give these face plates to their customers and suppliers as brand collateral.
"We had market days where we would put together a stall and try to sell our product which, for us, was challenging," Hamish recalls. "It turned out to not be a very good idea, because no one wants to have a branded phone from your local plumber for example. No one bought them, except for one person's dad - I think out of pity more than anything."
Although this initial product idea didn't work out as planned, Hamish and his team learned the valuable lesson of resilience when they changed their idea to selling mobile phone-shaped chocolates at their local shopping centre instead, appealing to a different audience.
"Even though our initial idea was a complete flop in a business context, it was a good process to go through. We learned along the way and that was valuable. It taught us to think outside of our comfort zones and do something we otherwise wouldn't. It encouraged us to persevere," Hamish says.
The heart of business
Hamish's main takeaway from his participation in YES was the "people element" of business. Pursuing a career in business or accounting and finance requires a varied skillset, as you need to work with a variety of people including your own colleagues, clients/customers and other stakeholders. Hamish says that good people skills are simply a must-have.
"If you don't have strong people skills, I don't think you can be a good accountant," Hamish says.
The soft skills that can be learned from working in a team at school or university, such as strong verbal communication and teamwork, are put into practice every day by accounting professionals.
For many, enjoying one's day-to-day work and finding a way to give back through that work is paramount to job satisfaction. Hamish says, for him, making a difference in the lives of others is the most rewarding part of owning a business: "We as business owners have the opportunity to influence the lives of the people we employ, and the people around us. Business is kind of the one avenue that we all have to make really significant societal change."
Then and now
Today Hamish is a Chartered Accountant (CA) and the proud owner of his own accounting firm. He describes becoming a CA as the next natural step after university for him, knowing he wanted to work in accounting. His first job was with one of the Big Four but he soon moved on from the sector as it just wasn't his "cup of tea," leading him to strike out on his own.
"To grow from being a one-man band, to now leading a solid team of people who do great work and who really enjoy working together, that's really rewarding for me," Hamish says.
To those looking to participate in the Young Enterprise Scheme today, or dreaming of owning their own business one day, Hamish lends some resolute advice based on his experience: "YES taught me that making mistakes can help you to become resilient and can even lead to new and even better opportunities. Take the useful elements of what you have created and keep running with them, rather than tossing everything out and starting all over again."
Young Enterprise Scheme
The Young Enterprise Scheme (YES) is an experiential programme where year 12-13 students in New Zealand set up and run a real business.