Michael McLeod – overcoming the odds
For Michael McLeod, CEO of professional services firm Message Stick, success didn’t come easily.
And looking back on his early years, it’s a wonder it came at all.
Michael was born in 1961, the youngest of six children. At just 12 months old, he and his siblings were removed from their parents and became wards of the state of NSW.
Michael spent his childhood in and out of children’s homes and many foster homes.
Drugs and alcohol featured prominently during his early life. He tried heroin for the first time at age 10 and alcohol around the same time.
Things progressed from there and by his early 20s, he was a ‘full-blown’ heroin addict and alcoholic. By his mid-20s, he was derelict and homeless, living on the streets of Sydney.
Michael calls himself one of the lucky ones, being introduced to a detox program in his early 30s.
A very caring counsellor asked him what he believed were the triggers which locked him into that way of life.
‘It was really simple for me to identify,’ Michael said.
‘I had one of those life changing experiences, an epiphany. It was welfare dependency. I was reliant on government grants and on a disability pension. I didn’t have employment, as such.’
‘That led me to thinking, ‘I want to get off welfare’. I want to reject all philanthropic charity. You name it; anything that had a kind of ‘hand-out’ feel and taste to it.’
And that’s when he began Australia’s first Indigenous owned Internet Service Provider (ISP) in the Illawarra in the early 90s.
He ran it while he was getting clean and sober, learning as much as he could about this new information sharing platform, the internet.
‘It was a business area which nobody identified with Aboriginal people,’ Michael said.
‘At the time, I thought, if we get it right, it shows that Aboriginal people can crossover the boundaries and break the stereotypes applied to Aboriginal people.’
‘I ran it for about 6 years and found out I was a true entrepreneur because I failed at that first version of the business,’ Michael said.
‘But it didn’t matter because I think it was the most empowering time of my life. Something occurred to me in those 6 years and that was I had aspirations and dreams and a vision of the future, something I didn’t have when I was a druggy on the streets.’
Michael didn’t give up and a few years later, he met Dugald Russell, his mentor and co-founder of Message Stick.
However, Michael’s extraordinary change and personal success was not his ultimate goal. If you haven’t already, read about it at Message Stick – carried to Indigenous and Corporate Australia.