The launch of a new book offers insights into some of the traits common to Australian business leaders who have overcome incredible odds, setbacks and health scares to build successful businesses.
Author Charles Fairlie (pictured) launched the second series of his 50 Unsung business Heroes at an event in Sydney on Wednesday (13 March), aiming to share the triumphs over adversity that many Australian business owners have achieved on their journey of growing a sustainable, profitable business.
Speaking at the launch event, Kate Carnell, the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman, hit home the point that SME owners need to hear more inspiring stories from their peers.
“We don’t celebrate success nearly as much as we should... and there are lots and lots of success stories,” she said.
According to Mr Fairlie, the stories of the business leaders he has profiled are unique and varied, but there are some common traits among business owners who have successfully reached their goals and grown profitable, sustainable businesses.
“I guess we touched on one [during the launch event] about passion and the attitude that it’s not just work, it’s their life and they’re dedicated to it — which you can understand being a small business owner that commitment,” he told My Business.
“It’s not like a CEO who can resign and change jobs on short notice, so there’s that real in-depth engagement with what they’re doing.
“A lot of them give back to the community, which is a lovely thing that they’re doing — in fact, in the book we talk about how, in most cases, they give back to their staff and their community and other areas, charities and that sort of thing.
“One other theme that came out quite a bit was that they didn’t necessarily do that well at school, and they found in some cases school wasn’t a great environment for them, but once they got out into the real world and working life, I guess motivated by money, even if they were working somewhere else before they got their own business, they were really switched on to what they were doing and what the economy was all about.”
Another factor, Mr Fairlie said, revolved around “being flexible and [able to] pivot when they have to”.
“The trendy word now being nimble — to be able to react, measure what you are doing, change course if you have to, react to market conditions. I think that’s important for small business and definitely something a lot of them talked about,” he said.
According to Mr Fairlie, success for most of the business leaders he has interviewed likely came because of the challenges and problems they had overcome, rather than in spite of them.
“I think a lot of people, they utilise their struggle and they build on that to connect with people and engage with people to show that they are real humans,” he said.
But it is also the lessons that come from facing those challenges and making those mistakes that helps shape their future behaviour and decisions.
“Between the struggle and the success, where was the transition in between — that is the really interesting part,” he said.
“It’s not ‘here, I’m successful; here’s my struggle’; it’s what did you do to get from one to the other, whether that’s from the struggle to the success or if you flip it the other way around and you had success and you’ve suddenly gone bankrupt or something, what’s the reason for that too?
“That’s where you can learn the how-tos and the ‘how did you react?’, and take the lessons and examples from that.”
One such example was that of Dr April Armstrong, founder of Business for Doctors. Mr Fairlie said that Dr Armstrong had dropped out of high school at age 15 and was a single mother in her 20s who, now as a doctor, runs an advisory helping other doctors and medical professionals with the running of their own businesses.
The point that Mr Fairlie tries to make is that there are real success stories within the Australian business community, and that business leaders sharing their stories with their peers and others in the earlier stages of growing their business can be incredibly powerful and inspiring.
“Some of them are inspiring and others are just fantastic turnaround stories,” he said.
“Just seeing those people that have come from something that you think was such a bad place... and now you’re in this place where you’re thriving and employing people and building this community, that’s just so miraculous.”
50 Unsung Business Heroes is available from Purpose Publishing.
Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016.