MBA sets new stage for Cairns musician in a post-COVID market

Claire Halliday
Claire Halliday
Entertainer Tony George has used his MBA qualification to boost his opportunities in a challenging industry.
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A popular musician and entertainer credits surviving the pandemic – and diversifying his business – to a return to university as a mature-aged student.

He’s used to taking centre stage, but Cairns-based musician and entertainer Tony George has a new reason to step into the spotlight at CQUniversity Cairns graduation ceremony this month.

The life-long performer is receiving his Master of Business Administration (Leadership) – and he says the study has been a game-changer for his busy business.

“Since I started the degree, so many mates in the music industry have asked me, ‘why on earth are you at uni?’ – and I always answer, ‘you don’t know what you don’t know!’” he laughs.

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But Mr George told EducationDaily that his earliest steps towards the qualification were marred by self-doubt.

“Fear of failure was huge early on,” he says.

“I’d done a certificate of accountancy course in the ’80s in Melbourne – so the gap was huge.”

After completing his first day of studies, Mr George says he remembers opening the front door at home to his wife and feeling the tears well in his eyes when she asked him how it had gone.

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He told her “I think I’ve made a horrible mistake”, but eventually overcame his own negativity by making a decision “just to keep chipping away”.

“I think fear of change was a big thing, and if I feel it, I’m sure there’s 1000 students out there who have that same feeling,” Mr George told EducationDaily.

“It was pretty daunting to take that on in my early 50s.”

From doubt to degree

When Mr George crosses the graduation stage on Thursday 18 April at the Cairns Convention Centre, as one of 150 locals celebrating their successful studies, he says the decision that led to his achievement has proved to be “absolutely positive”.

After 25 years running a business and managing one of Far North Queensland’s most in-demand event entertainment offerings, Mr George says he began the degree looking for new ideas.

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He took on Australia’s only hyperflexible, fully online MBA in early 2020, and the decision proved timely.

“The pandemic meant huge parts of my world were falling apart, with events cancelled and tourism shut down, and what I was learning in the MBA actually mirrored what I needed to keep going,” Mr George says.

“It was all about leadership, and strong communication – and I was applying it as fast as I could learn it, to keep my subcontractors going, and hold the business together through COVID.”

Today, eight local musicians work for Tony George Entertainment, to support a busy schedule of conferences, events, and weddings.

As events returned to Cairns post-pandemic, Mr George says the course flexibility meant he could manage the juggle – to complete the degree in just two years.

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“You can run your business, you can come home after a gig at 1am, then sit there and read through your essay, or watch the online content – having the ability to do it in my own time was perfect,” he says.

Towards the end, the content was about the importance of reinvention in business, how social innovation can drive business and benefit society, and the need to fail fast and adapt in a constantly changing environment – so I was living all that too!”

“Nothing was the same after COVID, I feel like all my industry, and our whole community has had to change.”

The studies have helped Mr George diversify, value-add, and hone business strategy.

He now offers conference MCing and keynote speaking, live trivia nights, and other add-ons to the live bands and music his business already delivered. He’s also founded a speakers’ bureau in Cairns to support the meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions market.

“I’ve got the confidence to say to a client, ‘what do you need?’ – and while the music industry can be very ego driven, the course has taught me real leadership is all about engaging other people, how you network and nurture people.”

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Flexibility and possibility

Since launching in 2019, CQUniversity’s hyperflexible MBA (Leadership) has attracted more than 1200 students and earned a string of teaching and student awards.

CQU Academic Lead – Leadership and Innovation Courses, Dr Anja Pabel says the innovative course meets the unique demands of mature-aged students, often juggling work and families as they look to grow their careers.

“The MBAL is now one of Australia’s largest MBA cohorts, which really shows how this course supports those priorities,” Dr Pabel says.

The MBA (Leadership) has no set assessment submission deadlines, allowing students to self-pace the degree to complete over five years.

Priced at $20,664 with pay-as-you-go and FEE-Help options, CQUniversity is proud that this quality MBA is nothing like other MBAs.

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Investing in yourself matters

To mature-aged students considering a return to tertiary education, Mr George’s advice is from the heart – and simple: “Go for it,” he told EducationDaily.

Pursuing the MBA qualification specifically, he says, is “an investment in yourself”.

“It’s not only in your casreer,” Mr George says.

“It’s an investment in who you are as a person. It’s within your personal relationships as a friend, a partner and a father. Leadership is not just a business term.”

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Claire Halliday has an extensive career as a full-time writer - across book publishing, copywriting, podcasting and feature journalism - for more than 25 years. She lives in Melbourne with children, two border collies and a grumpy Burmese cat. Contact: claire.halliday[at]