AIB MBA Graduate Michael Smith set out to conduct research for his MBA project, and came back with so much more.
Smith spent seven months travelling to more than 80 cities and towns in a tiny, two-seater, single-engine amphibious plane named ‘Southern Sun,’ which was specifically modified for his trip.
In doing so, he set a world record, as no one has ever completed a solo circumnavigation of the world in an amphibious plane before.
As a result of the trip, he was awarded the 2016 ‘Adventurer of the Year’ award from the Australian Geographic Society, which recognises and celebrates the best of Australian endeavour.
Smith recently attended the awards ceremony in Sydney, where he was joined by previous award winners including Dick Smith and Ian Kiernan.
“Receiving the Adventurer of the Year award is one of the proudest moments of my life,” Smith said.
“Many of my heroes are adventurers, yet I never dreamed I’d one day be standing amongst them or even meet some of them – people whose books I have read and absorbed over the last 30 years,” he said.
“To be honoured by the Australian Geographic Society was especially humbling as I hadn’t told anyone about the trip.
“I’m so pleased my adventure has now come to the attention of others, and I can share my story and the parallels drawn with our cinemas and local community.”
Smith used the round-the-world trip to research the theory behind his AIB MBA Project, which was based on the perceived value of cinema for the community, following the success of his own chain of cinemas in Melbourne.
“One of the things I really loved about the AIB course was that I can apply what I learnt from the MBA to my cinema business.
“I’d been thinking about doing an international trip in my little plane for a while, so I just decided to combine the two and use the experience to investigate cinema across the world, travelling first-hand to each destination,” Smith said.
“I visited 70 cinemas around the world on my trip, and it allowed me to create this really unique data set around the variables I was measuring for my MBA Project,” he said.
“The benefit of travelling in an amphibious plane was that it let me land in and access towns that I wouldn’t usually be able to get to if I was flying commercially.”
Smith travelled across Europe, Asia, Australia, and parts of North America, where he gained key statistics on the quality of cinema and community engagement around the world.
While the average cinema attendance in Australia is four visits per person per year, the cinema he co-owns and operates with his wife in Melbourne (Sun Theatre), averages 17 patron visits per year, and Smith was curious to find out whether there were other examples of cinemas around the world that do just as well.
“As it turns out, Australia has some of the best quality cinemas in the world. Two-thirds of the cinemas I visited still have vinyl floors and tip-up seats and their focus is capacity over quality.
“The irony is, in these cinemas, there are often just a handful of people sitting in a cinema built for 500, because it’s not a comfortable experience,” he said.
“At the Sun Theatre, we take a lot of pride in providing a comfortable cinema experience at a reasonable price, which is how I think we’ve reached the success we have.
“I believe the future of cinema is going to be about well-priced comfort – providing larger, more comfortable seating at a reasonable price and offering a better experience so people come back more often.”
A private pilot for more than ten years, Smith said the round-the-world journey tested his skills at times, turning into a crash course in flying in difficult conditions.
“There were times that it was scary, especially when I was flying in bad weather.
“Some of those legs I flew, I was sitting in the plane for up to 18 hours non-stop, without an autopilot, travelling across the ocean, which was both lonely and peaceful at the same time,” he said.
“That flight across the North Pacific from Alaska to Japan was such an enormously long leg. It was 23 hours of flying in one day and it was pretty scary.”
As for what’s next for the Adventurer of the Year, Smith said he’d like to further develop community cinema around Australia and the world.
“If there’s one big takeaway from the trip, it’s the generosity of strangers. As I travelled around the world, people went out of their way to help me and were so generous.
“For me, the experience really underlined the importance of making a difference to the people in your community,” he said.
“I’d now love to sail around the world one day, and I’ve got this idea about taking outdoor cinema equipment on a boat and sharing movies at each stop.”