We are all familiar with the phrase "worked to death", but for entrepreneur and former venture capitalist Rand Leeb-du Toit, those words almost became a reality.
As Rand admits, while lying on the floor after suffering from a sudden cardiac death, his thoughts homed in not on family, achievements and legacies, but on work and the meetings he would miss while in hospital.
Having recovered from the attack and a subsequent minor stroke, Rand is now on a mission to help save other overworked business leaders from themselves and share his lessons for leading a productive, balanced life.
Tune in to hear:
- Rand's experience of knocking at death's door and how it can happen to anyone at any age
- The factors holding business leaders back from reaching their potential
- How to reinvent your business, and yourself as its leader, for peak performance
Plus lots more!
Adam Zuchetti: Hi everyone. Welcome to the My Business Podcast. Hope that your business is treating you well. Good to have Andy Scott along with me for the ride. Andy?
Andy Scott: Hello Adam, how's things?
Adam Zuchetti: Good, good. We've got a fantastic guest in the studio today. He is a former venture capitalist. He's worked in Silicon Valley on a major start-up project. He then returned to Australia and was working as a research analyst, until a life-changing health scare really put things into perspective for him.
He's since written a book on the entire experience and his learnings, called Fierce Reinvention. We've got him in to talk about the entire experience and what he's now doing to help other businesses reinvent and change and transform themselves and their businesses.
So we've got Rand Leeb-du Toit in the studio. Rand, can you take us through that, the goals of consequence, and really setting goals that are meaningful rather than the sake of I need to set goals because that's what everyone tells me to do?
Rand Leeb-Du Toit: Yeah. To me a goal of consequence is something that's going to help you find your path forward, that's going to help you become directionally correct. If you don't know where you're going, you're just going to be wandering around lost.
A goal of consequence is something that is going to install fear, that's going to help you become more courageous, and it's going to help you get out there and do stuff.
Adam Zuchetti: Okay. And, coming back to crushed dreams versus unfounded dreams. The clients that reach out to you, are they really coming from that point where I'm just stuck and I don't know what I'm doing? Or is it I've got a fear because of a past failure, and they just can't get over that hurdle in that past experience?
Rand Leeb-Du Toit: Look, it's a mix. Sometimes it's people who are completely stuck because of something that's happened to them in their recent past. It could be a failure of the business for example, not being able to raise venture capital, or it could be they've got a desire to do something and have no idea how to achieve that, so they're looking for somebody who can help guide them, coach them in the right direction to get there.
And then you get other clients who feel something's not right for them. They're not seeing colours, they're not smelling the flowers of spring, whatever it is, they're not singing in the shower. Something's out of kilter for them. They're not quite sure what it is, and they're looking for somebody to help find the trigger, find the catalyst that can help them move forward.
Adam Zuchetti: It sounds like some of this is about them as a person, and other times it is the business and the experiences within that business. Is that fair to say?
Rand Leeb-Du Toit: Yeah. Very much so, yeah. It's a mix. It's a complex system between us as humans and the workplaces that we find ourselves in, the environments we find ourselves in.
Some people are wanting to change themselves, some people are wanting to change their business, some people have a portfolio of businesses that they want to optimise, a venture capitalist for example. And other people want to make a difference in the world. It's not about business for them at all.
Andy Scott: You speak about how there are ... obviously everybody's different, and they have different motivations, and different drivers, and everybody's situation is different as well. Are there some common things that you see that act as, for want of a better phrase, agents of change, for people in their situation?
Rand Leeb-Du Toit: Yeah. I think the biggest common factor that we all have is fear. And ultimately the fear of death is the thing that frightens the hell out of most people. Once you can help people understand how they relate to death and what it means to them, how they situate themselves, and how they can overcome that fear and harness the energy that that's giving them for positive change, that's a fantastic thing.
Adam Zuchetti: And by death, are you talking about physical death of you as a person, or the death of the business, death of dreams, death of success? Everything?
Rand Leeb-Du Toit: The real thing, the death of you as an individual. But within that, of course, there's the death of, as you said, of your dreams, of your business. There's failure death, and then there's ... it's like zeitgeist.
Adam Zuchetti: Do people sort of confuse those two and think that my dreams are my life? Or my business is my life, and without it I am going to curl up and die?
Rand Leeb-Du Toit: Very much so, yeah. What I find often is that people confuse what it is that they're doing with what it is that they should be doing. And when you have some kind of a transformative trigger take place, whether, like in my case, a sudden cardiac death experience, something that will really get you to sit up and take notice and go, "Wow. Am I doing what I should be doing in life?" That can be such a profound and transcending moment for people, to come to terms with the fact that what I thought I was doing was everything, is actually nothing. It means nothing.
When I'm standing on the sideline of my kid's rugby match and some of the other parents turned to me and say, "Hey. What is it that you do?" it's not so much about that role that you have in some corporate situation. It's what is it that you do inside yourself. That's what really counts at the end of the day.
Andy Scott: Of course. You recently really did nearly die, didn't you?
Rand Leeb-Du Toit: I did in fact go through a sudden cardiac death experience, a near-death experience, yes.
Andy Scott: Share that with us.
Rand Leeb-Du Toit: 2014, February. I was at that stage, I suppose a high flying corporate analyst, working for a multinational company. Spending a lot of time flying around the world advising Fortune 500 to Fortune 50 companies on executive leadership and innovation. It was a Sunday evening, I was supposed to fly out the next morning on an international flight, and went to bed not feeling great. Something was wrong, but I couldn't quite put my finger on it.
Woke up a few hours later feeling awful. Tried to get to the bathroom, and fell over and collapsed and died, on the spot. Had a sudden cardiac death experience. And very fortunately I came around from that, and I came around with my wife and my oldest son standing over me and saying, "Shall we call the ambulance?" And I was, "No. Don't call the ambulance." Because in my mind I was thinking ambulance means hospital, means no flight, means miss business meetings the next morning. That was the first thing that came into my head.
Thankfully they didn't listen to me. And when the first ambulance crew arrived, I was sitting on the couch as if nothing had gone wrong. I'd gotten myself into a state of flow. I was extremely calm, it was as if time had stood still. But it was when they plugged me up to the machinery, and one of them said to the other, "That can't be right." And he started checking his equipment. My heart rate was at over 200 beats per minute. "He had hours sitting there conscious," and that's apparently quite a rare thing, to be in a state of what's called conscious ventricular tachycardia.
Normally once you have that situation, the blood doesn't get to your brain, because your heart's out of whack and you fall over. And unless they come and put the paddles on you and get you back to normality as it were, that's you, you're gone. Only 5% of people who go through that experience actually survive. So I was extremely lucky and feel very grateful for having survived that.
That was early 2014. Soon after that I had a stoke, a mini-stroke as well. And that was very, very scary. Everything else was like, I suppose a glass half full feeling for me, in a sense that I've never been in an ambulance before, yet here I was in the top level ambulance, being rushed to the hospital. In fact, I was in a convoy of ambulances, midnight, being rushed to the hospital.
I arrived. I had 20 doctors waiting for me at emergency. Never been in hospital at that level before, so to me it was ... this is interesting. This is interesting. How does this all work? And yet the stroke was when half of my body just wasn't there. And that was terrifying, that was scary.
So through the course of 2014, first half I thought I was getting a lot better, and from about middle of the year, the electrics that had caused the sudden cardiac event initially, started going out of whack more and more. And by October, I could hardly walk from one side of my house to the other. I'd start cooking a meal, I love cooking, but I couldn't complete a meal, couldn't complete the cooking of the meal.
Eventually, in December, I had another operation, a six hour operation, and very, very grateful for that one in the sense that these wonderful doctors got in there, ablated the electrics that were misfiring and I've been literally 100% since. It's a new normal, but it's as normal as it's going to be, so very, very grateful for having gone through that.
But what that did for me was, it became an absolute catalyst for me to go to question in my life what is it that I should be doing, because I could feel something wasn't right, something needed to change. And at first, I didn't really know what that was.
And when you're in a situation like that, what happens is, we've got an ego, and my ego was shouting loud and proud, "You're very, very good at the entrepreneurial thing. You're a serial entrepreneur. You've done the venture capital stuff, you've built so many tech companies. Go and do that again." And that was the ego speaking. But the more and more I listened, and I had to listen very, very carefully in the beginning, there was a soul voice inside of me. We all have a soul voice.
And many times I was drawn-out by ego, but it came through eventually. And what I realised was that for me, being there with people as they transform themselves, from where they are to where they should be, and as a result they start to do incredible things, that's the spark for me. That's what I came back to help people do.
Andy Scott: I thought that was really interesting, when you first had that incident in your hotel room, that your first immediate thought when you sort of regained consciousness, for want of a better phrase was, "No, back to work. Work, work, work," thinking like that. Clearly you have a very different attitude and mindset to that now.
Was that a moment of epiphany? Or was it as you say, it took you a while to get little nagging bits and pieces together and build that sort of picture, of where you needed to be?
Rand Leeb-Du Toit: I would say the epiphany was something that took a while to come to terms with. There was a trigger event, and that was my near-death experience. But they say on average it can take you up to seven years to really work out and come to terms with a near-death experience. I'm only, what? Three and a half years in, and I'm still coming to terms, I'm still dealing with it, I'm still in many ways transforming myself. And I'm on a journey, and I love helping other people get on that journey alongside me as well. Yeah, very much so.
Andy Scott: What were the biggest lessons of change that you took from that incident? And what lessons are you still learning, do you think?
Rand Leeb-Du Toit: I think the biggest lesson I learned was death can come for us at any time. We don't necessarily have the foresight or the ability to chose that moment, which means we also don't have the ability or the opportunity many times, to say things that should have been said, we don't have the opportunity to say good bye to the people that we love. We don't have the ability to do those things that we really, really wanted to do, but we put off for that day that's going to come at some point in the future.
That day is today. And if there's anything else I want your listeners to take away from this conversation, is today is the future for you. Get out there and make it happen now. Right now.
Adam Zuchetti: In terms of this experience and what actually caused it, was it a hereditary issue? Was it simply stress and burn out?
Rand Leeb-Du Toit: With the sudden cardiac experience, they say 50% of the time it could be genetic, so hereditary. It could be caused by something that's happening to you, for example you might have a virus. And the other 50% of the time they have no clue, and I fell into that 50%.
At the time I was extremely fit, I was paddle boarding a lot, I was running. In fact, I'd been paddle boarding that morning. And when I came off the water ... in fact, my paddleboard session was very early, in the dark, by myself on the water, no safety equipment. And as I came off, I felt like low blood sugar initially, and I thought something's not right, but I kind of put it down to, look, it's a hot humid morning, I pushed myself very, very hard. And that's cool. I'll energise myself with some food and off I'll go again. In hindsight, that was probably my body telling me, "Somethings coming for you." And hindsight's a wonderful thing, but it ain't there when you go.
Adam Zuchetti: You're not that old, are you? Sort of 40s, 50s I'm guessing?
Rand Leeb-Du Toit: Thank you. Yeah. Early 50s.
Adam Zuchetti: Yeah. It really does put in context that it can come any age and ...
Rand Leeb-Du Toit: Very much so, yeah. In fact, sudden cardiac death comes for people ... most it tends to happen for people in their either 70s or 80s. But there is a group ... I'm part of a group of people that is ... I've got a defibrillator in my chest. My own portable device that goes off if my heart goes out of whack. And as I said, I've had my situation corrected, so mine, touch wood, doesn't go off a lot, but this group that I'm part of has people mostly from a hereditary point of view who are somewhere in their 20s and have had this kind of experience. It can hit you at any stage.
And if you read the newspapers, you watch TV, or wherever you get your news from, look at the sporting events. That's relatively common these days. It happened relatively recently where someone was competing in Sydney, the City to Surf race.
Adam Zuchetti: Yes.
Rand Leeb-Du Toit: And I think he literally just got to the finish line, dropped dead. Sudden cardiac death.
Adam Zuchetti: You said that this was three and a half years ago. And you obviously have undergone quite a lot of change in your life, your lifestyle and everything, but do you find that over time you fall back into sort of bad habits of not saying goodbye to loved ones in the morning, or taking things for granted, or waking up and thinking, "Meetings, meetings, meetings," rather than the things that fundamentally count in life?
Rand Leeb-Du Toit: That is a wonderful question. For me, yes that can happen. And I've seen that happen and I have to deal with that every day myself. I think for me, the most important thing is building up a practise. So you've got to practise at this every single day.
And I talk in my book about having a fierce practise, and that's being fierce with yourself, with your business, with the people around you, but particularly with yourself, so you don't get trapped into those ways, those bad behaviours that might have pulled you off in different directions. It's about being mindful, it's about living in the now, and working on that practise on a daily basis is such and important thing to do, yeah.
Adam Zuchetti: The reinvention obviously revolves around new, innovation, change, adaptation. And we were talking off-air and you mentioned innovation theatre. Can you explain that term and that concept?
Rand Leeb-Du Toit: Yes. Innovation is I would say a much misaligned and misunderstood term. And it ranges from innovation at the disruptive end, where you're totally changing a business, or system, through to innovation which is incremental. Somebody putting in a CRM system into their company when CRMs have been around for years and years, that is incremental innovation that might make a difference to them, might make a difference to their bottom line, but that's not real disruptive innovation.
Real disruptive innovation is when your business is doing fantastically well, but you realise that something's going to change in the future and you take the hard decision right now to change your business completely to get you ahead of your competitors, and do something that's going to help you be ahead of the start-ups that could be coming down the path to steal away your business in the future.
Andy Scott: You mention disruption then, and certainly in the text base where you've done a lot of work. It's obviously a great buzz word. Is there a risk that you can disrupt the wrong way and misread the future, and change your whole business, and start doing something that's actually sending you on the path to ruin, rather than success?
Rand Leeb-Du Toit: Yes. I think an example that would come to mind there would be, let's say you're a large photography company and you decide to hunker down on dark rooms and the chemicals and all the systems that you need to do traditional analogue style photography, because you're certain that's the way things are going to go.
And you disrupt everything that you're doing, so that's all that you focus on, when in fact, some of your staff, some of your ... IBM likes to call them wild ducks, your orthogonal thinkers, have already been saying to you, "Guys, there's this thing called digital. We should get behind that." And you don't. And as a big photography company people even forget your name. Right?
Adam Zuchetti: You've got an interesting perspective on innovation and building, because you spent time living and working in Silicon Valley, and that's obviously the sector at the moment.
Can you talk us through the differences between what real innovation and what's changing over there, compared to the Australian context?
Rand Leeb-Du Toit: Yes. I suppose to get back to your question about innovation theatre, what we're seeing as innovation on the ground here is still very much people doing what they think should be done, as opposed to people focused on innovation as the land of infinite possibility.
In Silicon Valley it's about thinking very differently, it's about not necessarily following the herd, and getting out there and doing something that is going to really make a massive difference in the world, as opposed to I'm getting up on a stage, I'm doing pitching competitions, I'm doing things that are still within the comfort zone of my business or my industry sector, as opposed to I'm thinking about this one perspective of there is no industry sector for what we're going to be doing. That's real Silicon Valley style disruptive innovation.
I think for example, in the world of design thinking, where if you are going to build an innovative new thing for you to put stuff on, on a vertical or horizontal plan, and the moment you say I'm building a table, what does that do? It constrains your thinking. Okay, you're building a horizontal structure, it's going to have at least three or four legs that are vertical, and you're going to be able to pus stuff on that, as opposed to thinking about it completely differently. What's the user experience that you want to achieve? What are you trying to do, or trying to help people achieve, as opposed to this is something that has to fit into a certain mindset.
Andy Scott: You spoke earlier about, I suppose wild ducks within an organisation. I'm interested to hear your thoughts on, as a leader, how do you harness, I suppose, that innovation and that out of the box thinking that these potential wild ducks in your organisation may have, without being distracted from the fact that they don't necessarily know the full picture of the organisation like you do?
Rand Leeb-Du Toit: As a leader protecting and harnessing your wild ducks, or your real innovative orthogonal thinkers, the best thing you can do is run interference for them. Create a safe place, a skunkworks as it were, for them to go and do what they do unhindered by the DNA of the organisation, the ordinariness of the company, which will probably want to try and kill what they're doing.
Adam Zuchetti: Coming to yourself as a business owner and you wanted to take that initiative after your near-death experience to sit up on yourself, was it difficult to go from that corporate mindset to starting on your own, building your own client base, getting your own cashflow coming in? Talk us thought that.
Rand Leeb-Du Toit: Look, it's never easy to go from the comfort of a high paying job within a large corporation into doing your own thing. But for me, my perspective comes from many years of helping entrepreneurs, of being an entrepreneur, of being in start-up land, so I tend to be comfortable within large corporations. I can play within the politics of that, but at the same time I can get out there and harness the energy of a start-up. For me, it was about finding the right thing to go and do, and get out there and making it happen.
I suppose my near-death experience was that trigger that helped me set myself on that path, to go and do what I have to go and do. So I had this burning desire, this burning passion to get out there and make stuff happen in the way that I wanted to. And I knew it was never going to happen inside of a large corporate, so I had no choice pretty much. I jumped off the cliff, and I've done that before, and I've enjoyed the ride ever since.
Adam Zuchetti: On the flip side though, having had a major health scare like that, was there ever any sense in you to essentially wrap yourself in cotton wool and, no, I can't take big risks, I can't go and start a new business. I need to just do something familiar, and slow, and calm, to look after myself?
Rand Leeb-Du Toit: My first year, 2014 was very much a year of contemplation. I was still very, very sick that year, and there's no way physically I could've got out there and done something new.
I spent that year recuperating, contemplating. And rather than letting my ego set the path for me, I help myself back purposefully to try and work on coming to terms with what it happened to me, but also making sure that when I did decide to go out there, I had the energy, I had the foresight and I had the passion to go and make it happen in the right way if possible.
Adam Zuchetti: Okay. Coming to the book itself, I wanted to ask quickly about ... a lot of people in business are becoming authors. Why did you actually decide to write a book and to publish it?
Rand Leeb-Du Toit: A number of reasons. Firstly, from a passion perspective I've loved writing since I could hold a pencil in my hand. It's always something I've done. I started blogging in 1998, in the days when you still had to basically code your blog. So for me, it's always been a way to ... I tend to see a lot of desperate things happening in the world and by writing them down, I find the pattern recognition in that, and I can then set what the future's going to be for myself and for others. I find writing is a very, very powerful tool.
And from the perspective of this particular book, it was about ... I was working with a number of clients. I'd put in place algorithms, I'd put in place an operating system. I had everything there for these clients, but what I wanted to do was to crystallise that into a book form, so that I could get it in front of more and more people. My moonshot as it were after my sudden cardiac death was to try and help two brilliant people by 2025, and that's a big ambitious goal, right?
By me working with literally a handful, a portfolio of well meaning and in many ways people that are going to change the world and have already, and will continue to change the world, that's fantastic, but that's not enough to get to the point where I achieve that moonshot goal. So the book is very much the next step in that journey.
If I can get that book into more and more people's hands, more and more people who may not have been able to afford my coaching services for example, or may not have been able to get out there and make things happen themselves, if they can have the motivation, the trigger from that book, and they can learn from that process how to go and do it themselves, then I've achieved my goal.
Adam Zuchetti: That's kind of an inspiring point personally, but from a business perspective, you've obviously got the time it takes to write. I'm assuming it took six, 12 months or something to write it, did it?
Rand Leeb-Du Toit: Two years.
Adam Zuchetti: Two years, there you go. So two years to write it. You self-published it, so that's obviously a big financial commitment as well. So on the business perspective, what is the real return on investment of writing a book like this?
Rand Leeb-Du Toit: For me, I had the opportunity to work with a very large publishing house and I turned that down. Principally the main reason was the timing. They could only get the book out in 2018, and I wanted to get my book out this year, so I decided to go down the self-publishing, right, as you say.
And I've worked in publishing many years ago, so I understand the business, and at the same time, it has changed a large amount since the '90s. And I suppose for me, it was one, a learning experience, but two, getting that book out into people's hands, particularly if you think from a perspective of if you're a consultant, if you are a coach, it's your calling card.
If you say to someone, "Hey, I'm a coach and I do X," they're going to go, "Yep. That's fine." But if you say, "Here's my book. Have a read of it. If it resonates with you, give me a call." That's a much more powerful tool to have as it were. [inaudible 00:27:01] people to get on the speaking circuit, and get out there, and do a lot of road shows, or even sessions like this podcast, or blogging, or whatever their medium or media may be, those are fantastic tools for you to then get people to recognise what it is that you're doing. And you get people approaching you as a result of that.
Adam Zuchetti: The end of the book isn't necessarily to become a millionaire of the sales of that book. It's more about building the credibility and the marketing aspects that go into your existing business.
Rand Leeb-Du Toit: Very much so. Yeah, yeah.
Adam Zuchetti: Okay. Andy, anything to add?
Andy Scott: Nothing.
Adam Zuchetti: Nothing? That's unlucky.
Andy Scott: Not on this point, anyway.
Adam Zuchetti: That was really good. Rand, if anyone has questions for you about the book, or anything that we've discussed, where can they reach you?
Rand Leeb-Du Toit: My business is called EXOscalr. I'm on the web. Anybody who can use Google will be able to find me. I'm very transparent. My blog is Metarand.com, so that's out there. The book itself has a website, Fierce Reinvention.
I guess for people who are wanting to dip their toes in the water of what is the message that I'm advocating with the book, I'm also putting out a 30 days of reinvention video series, which will be on YouTube, so that people can get bite size, two to five minutes or so, daily videos that they can watch and hopefully that will inspire people to then go and start building their own fierce practise.
But I'm out there, I'm available. If people want to talk, I'm happy to do email, or whatever the case may be. I'm not one of those guys who places themselves away in the backroom as it were.
Adam Zuchetti: All right. Just to finish this off though, give us one key piece of advice when it comes to transforming yourself as a business later.
Rand Leeb-Du Toit: Don't wait. Get out there and make it happen right now. There is no future. It's all now in the present.
Adam Zuchetti: Good advice to live by.
Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016.