Five lead­ers on what it takes to make it to the top

Reach­ing the top takes pas­sion, de­ter­mi­na­tion, pa­tience and an en­tre­pre­neur­ial spirit. Five busi­ness lead­ers, who’ve vaulted onto the an­nual BRW Rich 200 list for the first time this year, share their jour­neys with Lyn­dall Crisp and of­fer a few words of w

Qantas - - Contents -

NOT many peo­ple re­tire in their 40s, buy a com­pany in its death throes seven years later and then turn it around in just a year. But Manny Stul did.

To­day, Moose En­ter­prise is one of the world’s lead­ing toy com­pa­nies. Wholly Aus­tralian owned, it sells to 80 coun­tries and is the fourth-big­gest toy com­pany in the United States. An­nual turnover ex­ceeds $600 mil­lion. In June, Stul beat 55 con­tes­tants to win the Ernst & Young World En­tre­pre­neur of the Year ti­tle in Monaco.

Along with Mighty Beanz, The Trash Pack and, more re­cently, Lit­tle Live Pets, the Shop­kins range has ce­mented Moose En­ter­prise as a global leader in col­lectable toys. If you know a lit­tle girl aged be­tween four and eight, you’ll know Shop­kins: ev­ery­day items (shoes, bis­cuits, tomato sauce bot­tles) that are brought to life with eyes and quirky per­son­al­i­ties. The lim­ited edi­tions dis­trib­uted ran­domly around the world each sea­son are ev­ery young girl’s must-have.

Stul was sup­posed to be a pas­sive in­vestor when he and a few part­ners bought the strug­gling Moose in 2000. “I’d re­tired from the busi­ness en­vi­ron­ment, never to work again,” he says. “I got in­volved in or­ganic farm­ing, spir­i­tu­al­ity; I went to In­dia. I was in Is­rael look­ing at new tech­nol­ogy when Moose came across my desk in the ho­tel room... and boom, boom, here we are. I bought out the other part­ners in 2001 and took over the run­ning of the com­pany, a full­time job for the past 16 years.”

The Mel­bourne busi­ness­man, whose coCEO is step­son Paul Solomon, was no stranger to re­tail. At 25, with no for­mal train­ing or men­tor, he started Skansen Gift­ware, hav­ing worked on con­struc­tion sites to raise the cap­i­tal. “I had to do ev­ery­thing my­self in the first three years of the busi­ness,” says Stul.

FIND A NICHE IN THE MAR­KET WHERE YOU BE­LIEVE YOU CAN DO BET­TER... AND MAKE SURE YOU’RE FULLY AWARE OF EV­ERY­THING THAT’S TRAN­SPIR­ING.”

“I did all my sell­ing, pack­ing, in­voic­ing and pa­per­work. I was a one-man show start­ing off from home then mov­ing into a small rented of­fice. I took it pub­lic in 1993, the big­gest gift com­pany in Aus­tralia.” His one re­gret is that he didn’t take Skansen Gift­ware to the US. A lack of funds pre­vented him – which makes his suc­cess with Shop­kins all the sweeter.

At an age when many are re­tir­ing, Stul works a 70-hour week and says he could do with more hours in the day. “We in­tend to keep grow­ing Moose En­ter­prise, to de­velop in­no­va­tive prod­ucts.”

Of all the lessons he’s learned over his long ca­reer, Stul puts spe­cial em­pha­sis on in­tegrity. “It’s very easy to lose some­body’s trust. When I started my gift com­pany, I was try­ing to sell to a va­ri­ety of re­tail­ers around Aus­tralia and I de­vel­oped a rap­port with them over the phone. I learned quickly that you don’t want to have to re­mem­ber who you’ve said what to if you’re em­bel­lish­ing or stretch­ing the truth. So I adopted the pol­icy of never ly­ing. That has per­me­ated my whole busi­ness ca­reer.”

His ad­vice to any­one start­ing a busi­ness is to have a clear view of what you want to achieve, be fo­cused and de­ter­mined. “Find a niche in the mar­ket where you be­lieve you can do bet­ter, re­search your mar­ket and make sure you’re fully aware of ev­ery­thing that’s tran­spir­ing,” he says. “Be flex­i­ble. Don’t bet the farm. If you’ve got a great idea, dip your toe into the wa­ter. Mar­ket test­ing is very im­por­tant.”

Aside from Moose En­ter­prise, Stul is a keen in­vestor. He doesn’t play the stock mar­ket but does in­vest “quite heav­ily” in tech­nol­ogy around the world and in prop­erty. He’s pas­sion­ate about ev­ery­thing he un­der­takes, which in­cludes keep­ing fit to man­age stress and “func­tion bet­ter”. He ex­er­cises ev­ery day: Pi­lates, weights and aer­o­bics at a gym. “If you’re highly mo­ti­vated, you’ll al­ways make time. In my gift­ware days, when I was work­ing far longer hours, I was com­mit­ted to a squash team. They trained at 4pm. I al­ways made time to be there and then went back to work. If some­thing’s im­por­tant to you, you’ll make the time, no mat­ter how busy you are. Same goes with ex­er­cise: if you haven’t got your health, what’s the point of it all?” It was al­most by ac­ci­dent that Chris­tian Beck started a busi­ness that’s now a world leader. Af­ter leav­ing school, he joined a com­pany sell­ing com­po­nents for com­put­ers. At night, he’d go to his fa­ther’s law firm in Syd­ney’s Par­ra­matta and use the com­put­ers – he didn’t own one – to write a sys­tem that he’d sell back to the com­pany. It was 1989; he was 20 and hooked.

His fa­ther, David, al­ready had a sys­tem for his conveyanci­ng busi­ness but young Beck de­cided to im­prove it. Then he started sell­ing the soft­ware to other small law firms. In 1992, Leap Le­gal was born. Beck, founder and ma­jor­ity owner, em­ployed five peo­ple and by 1998 had an an­nual rev­enue of about $250,000. A le­gal re­search com­pany of­fered to buy him out but that fell through – luck­ily. Beck re­alised that by com­bin­ing le­gal re­search and le­gal soft­ware, he could get twice the rev­enue from each sale to a law firm. “Then you can spend more than your com­peti­tor get­ting those sales,” says Beck. “That was the break­through.”

Af­ter a slow start, the busi­ness picked up mo­men­tum in 2005. To­day, the com­pany is di­vided into three busi­nesses – Leap Le­gal, Cammy (a cloud­based cam­era sys­tem) and In­foTrack (a search tool) – and em­ploys about 550 peo­ple in Aus­tralia, the United King­dom and the US. Leap Le­gal sells to small law firms; Cammy sells to in­di­vid­u­als and small busi­nesses; and In­foTrack sells to small and large law firms, gov­ern­ment

and cor­po­rates. To­gether, they turned over $245 mil­lion last fi­nan­cial year.

“I had ad­vice from my dad and a men­tor who helped a lot,” says Beck. “On the tech­nol­ogy side, lots of peo­ple con­trib­uted and these days I have em­ploy­ees who know more than I do. It was ob­vi­ous the things we were do­ing were use­ful.”

Beck has bought sev­eral com­pa­nies in the UK and the US. The UK mar­ket, where there’s not so much com­pe­ti­tion and law firms op­er­ate much the same as in Aus­tralia, was eas­ier to crack than the US, where ev­ery state works dif­fer­ently and law firms fol­low the Amer­i­can model. He ven­tured into Canada and Malaysia but nei­ther worked out.

“I love to try things; I make lots of mis­takes,” says Beck, who is con­fi­dent he’ll keep ex­pand­ing and has hired Gold­man Sachs to help with the float of In­foTrack. “The idea is to make all three busi­nesses global suc­cesses. There’s not much com­pe­ti­tion with le­gal soft­ware sys­tems. We’re the largest in the world spe­cial­is­ing in small law firms.”

The first thing that keen tech buffs should do is “learn how to pro­gram a com­puter”, he says. “It’s the sure way to solve any busi­ness prob­lem.”

Beck does in­vest but other than a house and three hol­i­day homes, which staff use, he sticks to tech com­pa­nies.

“I do en­joy my suc­cess,” he says. “With four kids and a cou­ple of boats, I’m very fam­ily ori­ented. I used to work long hours but I’ve cut back to about nine hours a day, five days a week. And I take hol­i­days.”

LEARN HOW TO PRO­GRAM A COM­PUTER. IT’S THE SURE WAY TO SOLVE ANY BUSI­NESS PROB­LEM.”

JONATHAN Hal­li­nan be­gan sav­ing to buy a house when he was 10, do­ing a daily news­pa­per run that took him 10 kilo­me­tres around Mel­bourne. Nine years later, he had enough to buy a $90,000 prop­erty in Bentleigh. Be­tween work­ing as an ap­pren­tice car­pen­ter dur­ing the day and study­ing con­struc­tion man­age­ment at RMIT at night, he di­vided the prop­erty into two and ren­o­vated both sites him­self over 18 months. One sold for $220,000, the other for $240,000 – the only prop­er­ties in his vast port­fo­lio in which he hasn’t main­tained a share.

“I fol­lowed the busi­ness mod­els of peo­ple I ad­mired, such as [Meri­ton founder] Harry Triguboff,” says Hal­li­nan, who founded BPM Corp. in 1995. “I fol­lowed his plan of keep­ing a per­cent­age of ev­ery­thing I built – 20 per cent. Like young peo­ple fol­low a foot­ball star or a movie star, I fol­lowed busi­ness lead­ers through read­ing.”

To­day, Hal­li­nan has a port­fo­lio of around 140 com­pleted rental apart­ments and about

WE LOOK AT AR­EAS THAT ARE RUN-DOWN AND I FOL­LOW THE FOOD CUL­TURE. ONE THING... THAT WILL MOVE A PROP­ERTY MAR­KET MORE THAN ECO­NOMIC FAC­TORS IS COF­FEE.”

3000 apart­ments, worth $2 bil­lion, in the pipe­line. Though he’s moved into the Bris­bane mar­ket with seven prop­er­ties and is suss­ing out Syd­ney and Los Angeles, he’s bought mostly within 10 kilo­me­tres of Mel­bourne’s CBD.

“We look at ar­eas that are run-down and I fol­low the food cul­ture. One thing I’ve found that will move a prop­erty mar­ket more than eco­nomic fac­tors is cof­fee. In an area like Colling­wood/Fitzroy, where there’s amaz­ing cof­fee, a young, am­bi­tious cul­ture around pas­sion­ate, suc­cess­ful peo­ple can drive a mar­ket. We heav­ily in­vest in that area with mul­ti­ple projects.”

Be­cause of chang­ing gov­ern­ment and bank­ing reg­u­la­tions, Hal­li­nan and his 85 staff are con­cen­trat­ing on ex­ist­ing projects such as Shadow Play at South­bank, Mel­bourne. The $300 mil­lion tower will be fin­ished in 18 months; only 11 of the 494 de­signer apart­ments are still for sale.

“As far as the de­ci­sions I’ve made about be­ing in or out of the mar­ket or the prod­ucts we’ve done, no, I wouldn’t change any of it. I’ve al­ways be­lieved that be­ing out of the mar­ket is more of a risk than be­ing in the mar­ket.”

It wasn’t un­til Hal­li­nan got a busi­ness coach five years ago that he learned to pull back a lit­tle. Find­ing bal­ance is “the great­est change I’ve made”, he says. “In ev­ery busi­ness de­ci­sion I make, ev­ery project I go into, they’re all about pas­sion. It was pri­mar­ily a prop­erty busi­ness but now it’s life­style. We have cof­fee shops and a suit busi­ness and we’re start­ing a ho­tel busi­ness and a health and fit­ness busi­ness – all pas­sions of mine.”

Hal­li­nan dab­bled in the stock mar­ket dur­ing the tech boom but not any more. “I learned a lot about the fi­nan­cial mar­kets but it wasn’t a pas­sion. I was do­ing it to earn money and I just knew it wasn’t go­ing to be suc­cess­ful for me long-term.”

He sees no limit to his busi­ness ven­tures – all part of his burn­ing de­sire to be suc­cess­ful. “It’s one hell of a bur­den. Be­ing free from that burn­ing de­sire would be nice. But I see no end. It’s kind of like be­ing trapped. I’ve com­pletely de­fined my­self through my busi­ness suc­cess but I’m fol­low­ing a pas­sion with huge re­ward. My great­est dream was to have an im­pact on Mel­bourne’s sky­line and I’ve ful­filled that.” The value of hard work was drilled into Alex Wais­litz from an early age. His Pol­ish im­mi­grant par­ents, David and Ruth, worked seven days a week, with Ruth teach­ing He­brew and mu­sic and David do­ing ev­ery­thing from teach­ing Yid­dish to work­ing as a fit­ter and turner, even­tu­ally be­com­ing a suc­cess­ful real es­tate agent and lead­ing de­vel­oper.

From the age of 11, Wais­litz had a pa­per run and col­lected metal from aban­doned prop­er­ties to re­sell. As a teenager, he bought and sold cat­tle.

“I grew up in an en­tre­pre­neur­ial en­vi­ron­ment and that has stayed with me,” says Wais­litz, who stud­ied eco­nomics law at Monash Univer­sity in Mel­bourne be­fore go­ing to New York. He got a job on Wall Street, “be­came hooked on in­vest­ment” and for­got about be­ing a lawyer. He then worked

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