On the 18th October, Hanrick Curran partnered with East Coast Forums to host an event profiling insights from some of Queensland’s great entrepreneurs aptly titled Lessons Learned from Qld Success Stories. A candid, engaging and entertaining discussion with business entrepreneurs John Wagner, John (Sharpey) Sharpe and Allan Todd was expertly moderated by Chris Titley.
The opening question from Chris set the tone … “Sharpey, what is with that shirt?” To which Sharpey replied … “in business you need to do whatever it takes to stand out!”
The Q&A style event provided guests with a window into the business origins, challenges and motivations of John, Sharpey and Allan. Chris addressed the questioning line to explore what innovation means to them, their approach to planning for the future, how they set culture in their business, and drew out tips for working in multi-generational family business. Some key highlights for future reference included:
Innovation and its role in business
- Sharpey harnesses innovation for his businesses by tapping into the energy, ideas and client connectivity by teaming up with young business partners and ensuring he has a diverse staff base across his business portfolio.
- John’s innovation often flows from designing a solution to address a problem they need to solve. Many Wagner innovations originated this way including their requirement to conduct customer research which was poorly executed by a 3rd party university arrangement, this was brought in house and now not only addresses their research needs but is marketed as another service line.
- Allan illustrated how innovation to secure big brand positioning on TV could be achieved with careful timing and buying of media packages which subsequently led to him being a household name.
- Innovation was considered crucial securing a meaningful differentiator in the market place.
Planning for the future
- Wagner’s are long term strategic thinkers and will look at business positioning and investment decisions out beyond a decade. Now they have both public and private equity to invest for future growth, they will put the investments with a quicker payoff in the listed business and take the long term investments on Wagner’s balance sheet.
- Whilst Sharpey gauges his strategic business direction from macro-economic leading indicators such as accommodation development in Brisbane and international visitor numbers. The growth in these areas has him directing energy into expanding his range of ‘experiences’ and reducing barriers to gifting experiences with the imminent launch of “No Expiry”.
Insights for business with multiple generations
- Allan spoke from experience in advising that expectations about when and how the older generation of leadership was to hand over the reins needed to be tabled and agreed early in the partnership. Leaving it to chance can impact both business and family relationships.
- John shared that he and his brothers went to meticulous detail to document a shareholders agreement before commencing in partnership. Whilst not easy, it sets out the mechanism for shareholders to exit. As a board they agree a set of rules to operate by, have their debates behind closed doors, won’t proceed without unanimous support and always show a united front.
Tips to tackling challenging times
- Put your hand up early, ask for help and benefit from the power of collaboration.
- Don’t underestimate the power of well-channelled energy and enthusiasm from under 25 year old school and university leavers.
- Today’s activities are tomorrow’s results, focus on executing the activities to drive results to maintain focus.
Getting business culture right
- The culture in Sharpey’s portfolio of businesses is strongly led by Sharpey, he sets and permeates the tone of business culture through his actions, interactions and recruitment choices.
- Wagners have a simple way of managing values that underpin their culture, they stay true to “only do it if it’s fair” - fair to owners, employees, customers and even suppliers. Whilst they admit they are tough task masters, they treat their employees with respect. Celebrating long tenure milestones is an important way of recognising valued loyalty.
- Recruit people who embrace the culture and values, who demonstrate dedication and an excellent customer focus.
- You can’t teach attitude so owners need to develop a good BS filter and exit staff when you occasionally get it wrong.
Parting tips from the man in that shirt
Do what makes you happy today, reflect on the past, contemplate the future but live in the present!