Young engineers can transform their careers with an MBA, and a new scholarship can help make this a reality.
When Wayne Patten was growing up in Mississippi in the 1940s, he never expected to leave the state, let alone immigrate to the other side of the world to become one of Australia’s most colourful entrepreneurs.
One of only nine students in his graduating class at high school, an MBA scholarship was the key that unlocked opportunities Patten never dreamed of. Now he is providing the same opportunities through the creation of two Wayne Patten Scholarships at Melbourne Business School.
Melbourne Business School’s MBA program is ranked the best in Australia, and one of the top 100 in the world by the Financial Times. The Wayne Patten Scholarships provides full tuition fees for two Australian students commencing a full-time MBA in 2020, worth approximately $90,000 each. The scholarships are open to those who, like Patten, have a background in engineering, IT or science.
“I chose Melbourne Business School because it has one of the best MBA programs in Australia,” Patten said.
“The scholarships will help students who have difficulty paying the tuition fees.
“Some of these students could have fantastic potential but miss out because of the fees and be disadvantaged if they wish to proceed into upper management in an existing business or start their own business.”
At university, Patten was encouraged to major in civil engineering due to his talent for maths and love of the outdoors. After graduating, however, he discovered it was “not my calling”.
“I knew it wasn’t for me – but I also knew I had to have a job to survive.”
His first job was with Texaco Oil Company in the bayous of Louisiana, placing flags where new oil wells were to be drilled. Patten said the tedium of this role was relieved when the nearby Nicholls State University started an MBA program with a scholarship.
“I applied and was successful. I received free tuition, spending money and my own office – and got to drink coffee with the professors. Incredible,” he said.
After completing his MBA, Patten worked for the Monsanto Chemical Company.
“The chemicals smelt horrible and very unhealthy,” he said.
“I heard that the Australian government’s Assisted Passage Scheme paid the air fare for migrants. Now, most Mississippians never leave their state, let alone migrate to another country, but I applied and was accepted.”
A life less ordinary
Arriving in Sydney on 23 January 1972, Patten moved into a hostel and bought a 500-cc Honda motorcycle to explore his new city. Finding a job in Sydney proved challenging, and he faced the prospect of returning to Mississippi before finally finding a role as the site engineer on a 10-storey motel project in Darwin.
“Darwin was a frontier town then – like the Wild West in the 1800s – and it was booming,” said Patten, who made the 400 km journey north in his trusty Honda.
Life in Darwin changed abruptly with the devastating effects of Cyclone Tracy in 1974. Patten moved from engineering to entrepreneurship, importing teak staircases into Australia from Bali. The business was unsuccessful, but it fuelled his determination to be his own boss.
With the help of a friend in Bali who became his supplier, he founded Wayne’s Tropical Fashions, which took an unusual approach to selling clothes across the outback.
“Our business took off with the creation of Wayne’s Travelling Boutique – a five-metre caravan converted to carry racks of clothes to agricultural shows and other community events,” said Patten.
“No one sold clothes in this way at the time. The Travelling Boutique sold more garments in a day than a shop could sell in a week and was a huge success. I eventually replaced the caravan with a custom-built horse float, fitted with a bed, sink, fridge and room for 1600 garments.”
Patten went on to open Wayne’s fashion shores across the Northern Territory and Queensland, including Alice Springs, Katherine, Darwin and Cairns. He said he is particularly proud of creating and supplying garments custom-made for the Top End’s remote communities.
“We realised that Indigenous Australians were our target market. We were among the first to cater to them with custom-designed styles, colours, sizes and materials – and eventually chartered a plane that flew to communities across Arnhem Land to stock their stores.”
Extending the opportunity
When Patten reflects on the rich experiences of his life in America’s South and Australia’s North, he credits his MBA for making them possible.
“In building this extraordinary and unlikely business, I used all the tricks of the trade that my MBA professors had taught me – from identifying my target market, to smart pricing and discounting, effective advertising and determining market demand with samples,” he said.
“My MBA opened the doors to so many opportunities in my life and made my dreams come true. This is why I have chosen to fund two scholarships at Melbourne Business School in 2020 – so that other people may have the same opportunities.”
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