Q&A: A life of service leads to a professional services start-up

The celebration of NAIDOC Week is the ideal opportunity to introduce you to David Mallett, a proud Ngarrindjeri man from Adelaide and the founder and managing director of Yanun, a project services company that specialises in the defence and government industries. On leaving school, David spent a decade in the Armed Forces, including as a Navy Clearance Diver and Special Ops Sniper, and training the Iraqi Police Force, before building a successful career in project management within the defence industry. He launched Yanun, which means “to communicate with others” in Ngarrindjeri, in 2020. David is passionate about supporting young indigenous job-hunters and provides mentorship and support to help them into careers in defence.

ISB: What was the motivation behind you establishing your own project services business?

DM: I’ve always had a burning desire to start my own business, but initially wasn’t sure what. The penny dropped when I was working for a defence organisation, but 100 per cent seconded into one program, I realised I could do this myself and cut out the middleman.

The other drive was the timing around Indigenous Business Procurement. In recent years, momentum has grown around the recognition and procurement from Indigenous Business. I felt starting my business during this time would provide additional opportunities.

ISB: What was the biggest challenge you faced in getting the enterprise off the ground?

DM: Finding our business value proposition. This is still a work in progress for Yanun. We are a still a young business and continue to evolve as we understand more about Defence’s needs. Yanun continues to pivot where necessary into more focused offerings. Fortunately, we are small and nimble enough to be able to do this.

ISB: How did your experience in the military and the tough environments in which you operated help you prepare for running your own business?

DM: Resilience. In my special forces career they throw many challenges at you, both physical and mental. It is all about continuing to move forward and learning from those challenges which expose your strengths and weaknesses. Where you have weaknesses, you are taught to focus here and build the necessary capabilities to turn them into strengths. For me business is no different. I am finding I have areas I need to continue to work on and welcome the challenges!

ISB: As a proud member of the indigenous community, how do you go about helping young members of the community have a pathway to becoming successful entrepreneurs?

DM: Mentorship. In our community it is often said “you can’t be what you can’t see”. It’s important for our younger generation to have access to successful indigenous Australians who they respect and look up to. Ongoing mentoring from Year 10 through the transition years following school is paramount. I continue to mentor young Indigenous Australians who show interest in the Defence industry, providing guidance on how to navigate a successful pathway into the industry.

ISB: What is your vision for the venture in the next couple of years?

DM: I see Yanun as a reputable indigenous professional services company delivering project services to Defence and the defence industry. Part of this journey includes establishing real indigenous development pathways into the defence industry in professional service roles.

ISB: Finally, what is the number one lesson you’ve learnt on this journey you’d share with others looking to start their own business?

DM: Find a suitable mentor. I was lucky enough to meet Jim Whalley (South Australia’s Chief Entrepreneur), an established businessman and entrepreneur. Jim also comes from a military background operating at the sharp end as a fighter pilot. His journey is one which shares similarities to mine, so his advice and guidance has been integral to my business journey and Yanun’s growth.