A crowd of business leaders aspiring to take their businesses to the next level gathered yesterday for the inaugural GrowthCon event at Sydney’s Hilton Hotel. The brainchild of Martin Martinez, who founded and grew the Australian Poker League (APL) from a “one-bedroom operation” into a 50-million-dollar enterprise, the event brought together ten of Australia’s leading business experts to deliver their insights and strategies on growing businesses.
‘If I had a mentor earlier, I could have done better’
Inspired by his own experience with APL, which saw tremendous growth over a short 6-year period, Martin told the audience: “I know what I don’t know. I didn’t know how to be a CEO.”
“All of us feel at times that we’re lonely at the top,” he explained.
Martin said that while your own team will tell you what you want to hear, externals don’t and they will point out your mistakes – so it’s important to surround yourself with advisors who have ‘walked the walk.’
“If I had a mentor earlier, I could have done better,” Martin commented.
Harry Hodge, European Founder of the Australian surf brand, Quiksilver, was the first expert off the rank delivering a sobering message; not just about what drives growth but also what drives the fall. Founded in 1973 and growing to a $1 billion company by 2004, Quiksilver was the ultimate success story turned example for ‘what not to do in business.’ Quicksilver’s fortune twisted in 2005 when the company acquired the European ski brand, Rossignol, and subsequently suffered a series of financial losses leading to a debt of US$1 billion in 2015.
‘The essence of leadership is to get people to work in harmony to achieve objectives’
After starting the business with a clearly defined, shared vision which lead to some formidable marketing campaigns including the famed Quiksilver Crossing, Harry said “the company became too fiscally aggressive and the acquisition of Rossignol was not a good fit.”
“We took on too much debt, we didn’t have the resources to manage integration and culture fit was poor.”
While expressing that top-line growth alone was not a strategy, Harry explained to the gathering of leaders that Quiksilver acquired people who detracted from its original persona and the pillars the brand had been built on for 40 years.
Harry said “the essence of leadership is to get people to work in harmony to achieve objectives. That’s how Quiksilver had a competitive advantage in its heyday.
“It all starts at the top. At the start we had an excellent global leadership; a mastermind group who worked together to achieve objectives.”
‘Let data speak rather than opinions’
Other speakers at the event included Justus Hammer, Co-Founder of group-buying website, Spreets.com.au, and BRW Young Rich Lister, Dorry Kordahi, who founded the branded clothing company, DKM Blue, from his parents’ garage aged 26.
Launched in 2010, Spreets.com.au also experienced explosive growth before being sold in 2011 to Yahoo!7 for $40 million. Perhaps the most noteworthy pearl of wisdom, Justus said: “let data speak rather than opinions.”
“Testing has to be in the DNA of the company,” he added.
Dory told the audience: “The entrepreneur space has changed in recent years. The world is smaller and the pace of business is moving faster. It’s valuable to pick the brains of others – it’s not just about reading about Richard Branson like I used to do.”
As a panel discussion drew the event to a close, the first question directed towards the day’s experts [perhaps inadvertently] highlighted a prominent issue of our time: “where’s the diversity?”
That diversity referring to the lack of senior women in business, as represented by the panel itself.
Martin explained that while there were two women on GrowthCon’s panel of experts, the caliber of expertise at GrowthCon remained the first priority. Unfortunately, he says, there just aren’t as many women in those positions – yet.