A career pivot from the business world to the social sector has seen Brendan Lonergan foster a thriving social enterprise which provides valuable support for vulnerable people.
Master of Business (Marketing), 2006
CEO, Beehive Industries
When UTS business graduate Brendan Lonergan took the reins at Beehive Industries, a ‘business with purpose’ that specialises in packaging, assembly and distribution services, things were fairly dire: the social enterprise was bleeding cash and the accountants told him the organisation would be lucky to survive more than a year.
That was five years ago. Today, annual turnover is up 360 per cent and the not-for-profit supports 250 ‘Beehivers’ who include seniors, those living with disability, and the long-term unemployed.
Jobs on the organisation’s factory floor fund meals, activities and support programs for members, including cooking classes and English lessons.
I say to people, ‘If you can help someone and you’ve got the ability, why aren’t you doing it?’
So how did Lonergan do it?
“A lot of phone calls, a lot of negotiation and a hell of a lot of meetings,” he laughs.
Lonergan is a natural salesman, a skill he honed over two decades as a co-owner of what became Australia’s biggest music merchandise manufacturer. When he took the job at Beehive, he had two goals: bigger clients and better training.
At that point, most of the work done at Beehive involved folding and sending letters, plus basic packaging and assembly tasks.
“The piece rate for that kind of work is very low, which means you’ve got to do a heck of a lot to make any money at all,” he says. “And if you’re taking up too much production time doing below-value work, you’ll never make a decent return.”
So Lonergan set his sights on more complex jobs requiring computers and software. He approached Telstra and, after much convincing, landed a contract to put together SIM card kits.
“It’s quite technical work but we maintained 100 per cent data integrity,” he says. That relationship, which continues today, helped him get other big firms on board.
All going well, Beehive will be entirely self-funded within the next 12 months. Not only that, Lonergan hopes to expand the organisation’s reach and alleviate social isolation with more online programs, such as the livestream cooking classes for seniors he currently runs with former MasterChef contestant Kumar Pereira.
Brendan Lonergan is the recipient of the 2019 UTS Community Alumni Award.
ROLE MODELS: Ronni Kahn, CEO and founder of OzHarvest, and Vera Entwistle, founder of Camp Quality.
SECRET SKILL: “Stubbornness. I’ll keep asking until I get the one ‘yes’ I need.”
Q&A: Brendan on leading positive change
You hear the word ‘no’ every day. How do you deal with that?
“Years ago I learned that it’s not me they’re knocking back. They’re just knocking back the proposal, the timing or the fit; not me personally.”
What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced at Beehive?
“Because the economy is not rosy, more people are coming to us for help. And it costs a lot each day to support them: we have to staff the place, feed everybody and pay massive bills for insurance and electricity. That money has to come from somewhere.”
What made you switch the business world for the social sector?
“Because I can. I say to people, ‘If you can help someone and you’ve got the ability, why aren’t you doing it?’”