The business of community

Matt McGrath knows business from the ground up and the inside out

When he started his higher education journey in 1987 at the University of Wollongong (UOW), Matt thought he would be standing in front of a classroom teaching the next generation of students.

“When I started studying, I was doing a Bachelor of Education with the intention of being an English or history teacher, but six months into that I realised it wasn’t for me, and shifted across to business studies,” he says. 

As the first in his family to attend university, Matt, like many young people, didn’t know what he wanted to do after finishing high school, but credits the flexibility of the University and its teachers to finding a career he loved.  

“The University allowed me to explore options and find my passion. In my last year of studies, I got to do a project on Coles supermarkets and their competition analysis. I had been working at Coles since I was about 14 so I had a connection to the company,” says Matt.  

“My lecturer at the time said if I was going to do an assignment on Coles, I had to give it to the company at the end to see if they’d use it. He was adamant that the work I did was going to be seen by someone else, not just him, and not just be stored in a file somewhere.” 

Matt handed over his findings to Coles, who took his suggestions and conclusions on board, and cemented his hopes of a career in business.  

“That made me work a lot harder and it became more meaningful. Having that responsibility or onus in knowing that this thesis was something I had to hand over made me do it well.” 

That was just the beginning. Upon graduating, Matt became the first Australian-born graduate to join a brand-new pharmacy and retail chain. The South-African based company had only seven stores in Australia. 

Within two years, at age 23, Matt was promoted to area manager of the Greater Sydney area, with ten stores now operating. The company would grow to one of Australia’s best-known brands: Priceline.  

Matt then went on to manage a range of Kodak stores in Sydney and Canberra, before his CEO recommended that he move to Telstra. He became manager of Telstra-owned stores in Sydney before branching out as a franchisee, opening his own store in Macarthur Square.  

Over the next 17 years, Matt would add another 15 retail shops and business centres, a call centre and up to 120 staff to his portfolio – an exciting business during the boom of mobile phones and tech.  

A new chapter 

While still managing 16 Telstra stores, in 2015, Matt was appointed a government-appointed director of the Australian Turf Club (ATC) before being named chairman in 2018, completing his tenure in 2023. 

“I’d never been on a board before, but I was in the right place at the right time,” recalls Matt. 

“Historically such roles land with accountants or lawyers and rarely people from the retail sector, so I was a bit of an anomaly. But I enjoy working with people and the complexity that involves. The ATC has 300 full-time staff and during horse-racing carnival season, moves to close to 2000 team members. 

“Working in the corporate world was interesting and people underestimate the challenges of the retail sector, especially when you are working with so many people, staff and customers. The diversity is very interesting.  

“Even when I had 16 Telstra shops and had a payroll of $4 million, you do have to know your numbers and the strategic direction, but it’s most important to be able to manage people and ensure they feel valued and with a clear understanding of where the organisation is striving to be.” 

Matt is still keeping busy, currently working as an elected non-executive director of the Cronulla Sharks, where he can impart his wealth of experience in business and support the passionate National Rugby League (NRL) fanbase.