This month we speak to Richard Skarzynski who is the CEO of Coraggio, a peer advisory board based in Australia. Richard has a fantastic story – the son of immigrants, he was a banker who turned his personal skills and love of music into his first business. The business went on to become one of the most successful construction finance companies in Australia, before the GFC came along and everything changed. Now Richard helps other entrepreneurs and business owners tackle their personal and business challenges through a peer to peer business mentoring company called Coraggio.
Richard has been living and breathing business for most of his life. His career has seen him grow a multimillion dollar, global, audio visual contracting company with 7 offices in Asia Pacific, 180 staff and a turnover of $100M. In his leadership role as CEO within Coraggio, he dedicates his time and knowledge, freely providing personal business coaching and encouragement to cutting edge business leaders. Through peer to peer business mentoring he facilitates the chair for two of the Coraggio groups supporting and challenging individuals through personal and business challenges. He has a practical business approach and is committed to delivering value to business owners and leaders and supports them to achieve their best.
Note: This has been automatically transcribed so is likely to have errors! It may however help you navigate the points of interests for you.
Michael: Welcome to the Troubleshooters Podcast with me, your host, Mike McGrath. My guest today is a fascinating guy with a great story – immigrant parents arrived from Europe after the war so they can’t have kids. And then hey presto, along comes Richard. Richard is one of those entrepreneurs that got started early, really early. He turned his ability to get on with people, and the fact that he liked going out at night, into a business and a very lucrative business. Richard then built one of the most successful construction finance companies in Australia, specialising in nightclub lighting and audio visual. Richard eventually ran into some severe headwinds in the GFC when the bank decided they wanted to take their baton ball home. Richard now helps other entrepreneurs through a fantastic initiative. He runs Coraggio, a business dedicated to putting business owners and leaders in touch with their peers for support to help them grow and prosper. So without further ado, let’s get into it.
Richard Skarzynski – welcome to the Troubleshooters Podcast with me, Mike McGrath. Now we’ve known each other for a little while now. And we’re probably five or six years or maybe longer. Yeah, okay. So you are a lifelong entrepreneur with a fascinating story that we’re going to get into. Anyone who’s been in business for a while, by definition has to become a troubleshooter. So let’s go back to the beginning, if you don’t mind. So, you were the only child of immigrant parents, came to Australia from Poland at the end of the Second World War.
Richard: Yeah. With a surname like Skarzynski, it’s probably about as Australian as you can get. A little bit of a giveaway that it’s easier to say than spell. It isn’t?
Michael: Not that easy to say.
Richard: No. But mum and dad came to Australia in 1948. Right after World War Two, though, they came out of Poland, of the atrocities of World War Two and landed in Sydney. Mum was a nurse and dad was a truckie. Mum had obviously been a nurse through the war. But they were told through lots of advice from doctors that they’d never have children, because of the atrocities of war. So, dad sort of started up trucking. And mum started nursing at King George, which I think is just across the road from Royal Prince Alfred here in Canberra and Sydney.
Michael: When did you come along then? So you said, Well, there’s a Euro surprise package effectively, they weren’t expecting you. And you arrive.
Richard: So my mum and dad were told they’d never have children. So my dad started building a business in trucking from 1948. Every year as it progressed, he’d sort of buy another truck and employ another driver. And there were lots of immigration at the time coming into Australia and people looking for work. And by 1960, he had quite a little bit of a trucking business going on, in Sydney, Australia, and it was growing. And then my mum said to my dad, look, we’ll never have children. So you’re killing yourself growing this empire of trucks. In the end, my dad sold these trucks out completely and retired in 1960. And life was pretty good. And then unfortunately, you’re 1961 through the miracles of modern medicine, I was born and my dad regretted the day selling his business because he could feel the overdraft coming off on a family. So.
Michael: So, Richard, was there anything in your upbringing that suggested that you are going to be an entrepreneur? No, I
Richard: think it’s interesting growing up as the son of a truckie. I think you learn hard work. It’s really interesting. I suppose a career being a truckie. Because you know, the more miles you drive, the more money you make. And if you don’t drive the miles, you don’t make the money. Yes, I think those days, my dad was driving about 5000 miles a week. And that’s how we made a living. And people sort of talk about, you know, the sacrifices of private business. And I think I learned at a very young young age that the only way to make $1 is through sacrifice, or through hard work. It doesn’t fall off trees. And now that I’m 60, I’ve learned since going into my first business at 23, that there is lots of sacrifices, lots of extra hours, there’s lots of trade offs between family time and private business that a lot of private owners make. It certainly doesn’t fall out of trees. I think there is luck associated with it. And I think it’s a case of the old saying, the harder you work, the luckier you get. Yes, I think I learned at a very young age, that if you don’t get in and make some sacrifices or take some calculated risks, and nothing’s a given in private business, nobody teaches you how to run a private business. And I started being around private business when I was 16 or 17.
Michael: Tell us about that. Because I said in the intro that you got started early, Richard so you effectively turned to sort of, you know what most of us consider to be a, you know, leisure time pursuit going out at night. You turned it into a bit of a business and quite a lucrative little enterprise. It was as well tell us a bit about what got you started.
Richard: Well, most ethnic children will remember the story that I’m certainly sure if you’re Italian or Greek, our parents always wanted us to play the piano accordion or some fine instrument like that. My mum and dad certainly wanted me to play the piano accordion, being Polish. And that was never going to happen in my household. And but I did take up the guitar. And for those of you in my era, or remember that we never went to school discos, we went to school dances and the school rock band played at some pets. That’s what we did. So I managed to play lead guitar and I play so you will
Michael: lead guitarist in the school band. Yeah, that they will call the truck pistols. The chuck has a sir, that was probably quite a cool thing to be done with it.
Richard: It was very cool playing the lead guitar. And we had a lead singer. You know, pretty good rock and roll band. Playing at the school dances and stressful was an area with a lot of schools or private schools. And if we’re good enough, hopefully the goals turned up and like the musician. Yeah, you just never know might you know, but yeah, so we don’t make any money out of being a music though. And we all just happen to be at a party, I think around year 11. And the DJ at the time ended up getting unfortunately, Ill very early in the evening. And the girl that was having the party invited me to be the DJ and and I thought, wow, this is quite a good thing. You spent a few records and play a bit of music and your mates bring you over a couple of beers. And at the end of the day, you get paid for it. And I was actually pretty happy about that. So one thing led to another and I sort of as I was going through year 11 and 12. Pat’s took up sort of DJing at all the schools in the area and doing a few parties. And I thought this is a really good way to make a living, as well as enjoying yourself. And then when finishing school went on to uni, and while I was at uni, started playing in a few nightclubs. And
Michael: so when was this was this in the sort of 8080 1980? Was it 1979 1979. So you’re still young. We’re talking about in the UK. Anyway, we had the Sex Pistols. That’s it. We had fun. Rob, what did you like at that point? We had sting, Elyse were big. I mean, yeah. I mean, for anyone who’s not as old as us, though, they will have no idea.
Richard: Yeah, well, when I was growing up, you know, the bands that were B was certainly Deep Purple and Black Sabbath. And Led Zeppelin, heavy
Michael: metal. And did you like that sort of heavy metal status quo?
Richard: I was a big fan of pretty good. You know, these are all good bands out of the UK. We were all pretty big fans. They were great bands, or some of them came out of the US. But you know, it was some it was really good music. And yes, I think at that stage their early 80s. A lot of the Australian bands were starting to come through. Yes. Well, and live music was a big thing. Yes, Sydney and Melbourne.
Michael: Yeah, you were making money DJing and getting a kiss at the door and do an okay, basically,
Richard: yeah, well, what ended up happening is they used to pay a flat fee. I think it was 40 or 50 or $60 A Night at that stage. But a couple of the owners of nightclubs around Sydney got a bit smarter and said, Well, if you’re worth your money, we’ll give you $1 ahead for everybody we get and if we get 300 people, then we’ll give you $300. And if we get 500, we’ll give you $500. So the harder you work, the harder you sweat, the more money you make. And the bands were on the same sort of thing. So a lot of these nightclub owners were pretty savvy. And they sort of put the same pressure on the DJs and said, Well Rado, do you reckon you can get 1000 People then off you go and if you get 1000 People will give you $1,000? Yeah, okay, might you they took the raise. So you’re doing a whole lot better now.
Michael: Yeah. So is it typical? Dorothy back then then? $10.10 bucks. Okay. So yes, you might get $1 $1? If, yes, so,
Richard: pretty. $1,000 a night, so a lot of money then.
Michael: So you got a bit of a taste of it. And then a little bit of taste of entrepreneurialism,
Richard: which is if you’re good at your craft, big lesson in life, if you back yourself and you think you’re good at your craft, then back yourself and have a go, you know, and if you’re not, it’s it would have been much easier just to stand back and say, Well, you know, I’ll just take the $50 Yeah, and a flat fee or if you believe in yourself, and you think you’re gonna give it a go and you’re, you’re okay, your craft and yeah, you can deliver a good result. And then then back yourself.
Michael: So you carried on with that. But you were telling me that you also got into banking. After a year
Richard: when I finished my degree at the University of New South Wales. My mum, God bless her.
Michael: What did you do your degree in? Not DJing
Richard: it was a great DJ. Now I did a I did an economics degree and at the University of New South Wales
Michael: has to take a cut at the door is amazing.
Richard: It was and for my mom. Back then ethnic mothers felt that good careers was being a doctor, a pilot, a dentist, and a bank manager. They’re all safe. Korea
Michael: is all about getting a job, wasn’t it? Yeah, it was.
Richard: A stable job. A
Michael: job safe job.
Richard: Yeah. I think mothers could talk about on Sundays at maths and a church to say, you know, there is a parlour or a doctor or a dentist, and I think was pretty hard on first generation. I think there was a lot of pressure by our parents to Yeah, wow. And
Michael: you can understand that in a way. So I know that all that instability in this episode, we forget that second one was six years. Yeah, global chaos three, and Poland in particular. Yeah, suffer. So you can understand every repair saying you we want to want you to have a nice, safe jail rich enough for this DJ and taking the cursor the door.
Richard: So yeah, so my guy is my first job was that the ANZ Bank at 20 Mountain place and working under two really smart bankers, Cleveland and Lloyd Guthrie, and which I learned a lot, they had a graduate programme and I was privileged to be accepted into the Graduate Programme. And I actually learned a lot from them. They were certainly two really good mentors, both very good bankers that lent on the strength of the person, not on the strength of the balance sheet. Yeah, and I often reflect that. In life, when we shake hands with a with a person, it’s it’s the contract with the person not with the balance sheet. Yeah, good or bad. And I learned a lot from
Michael: them. And a lot of banking was very different back then, wasn’t it? I mean, in their early 80s, the bank manager of the branch would have relationships and would make lending decisions based on those relationships. And based on the idea and the concept, or whatever it was, that was going on. And it changed in my expense to change in about 1990. When, certainly in the UK, the banks have got their balance sheets and a big mess. They lent a lot of money overseas, and they needed to straighten things up. And they did it by getting very aggressive with local lending. And, you know, it’s a credit squeeze at the time in 1993. Remember, interest rates were sky? Yeah. And I remember our bank manager at that point, growing Kirby valleys bank, visibly aged in the space of about six months, he kind of went white his head, because region took over, he no longer was able to manage the bank as he used to, and was having to report up to region with his closing balances every night. And I think banking changed. And he got very remote, very analytical, as you said, you know, what was we used to going to have lunch with about manager, you know, in the 80s. And, you know, you could bring them up, so I need another 50 grand, and he go, Okay, Michael, no problem. And then it all changed.
Richard: Absolutely. And that was the year that I was, I think at the bank for two or three years at the time, and learned a lot and learned a lot about true bank managers lending on the strength and believing in people and people staying to their word and to their handshake. You know, they often say you need your bank, not when things are going well. But when things are going not so well, yes, we need the support of your bank. And I still, today publicly say I think the Fed is a great bank. And they often have stepped in often to support lots of businesses when things aren’t going that well, you know, look at COVID, you know, it’s obviously affected a lot of businesses and not through any fault of their own. The reality is
Michael: that you like any relationship, you get out what you put in Yeah, and you’ve got to invest in that relationship and put them in the picture. We do that with all our clients, we encourage them to put the bank in the picture, you know, early on, tell them what’s going on and articulate the situation. That’s when I think you get support, you can’t turn up having never spoken to them for two years. And then say, you know, I need, you know, $100,000 by way next Tuesday or otherwise, my payroll?
Richard: Yeah. So I saw a lot of that at the ANZ Bank. And I think we had some great businesses that were expanding. And that’s when we saw foreign currency loans and said, we’re a bit of a leader back then. And currency loans and mixed currency loans, which I think was pretty unique, I think, rightly or wrongly, they took a risk on all that and but we’re certainly a leader and I think, learn a lot.
Michael: So you’re the bank, right? You’re doing it some presume you’re still doing some of your gigs.
Richard: Well, yeah, I had one of these jobs where you work nine to five, Monday to Friday, and then DJ after hours on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights, okay, Friday after work on Monday morning, hopefully,
Michael: not to worse away. We used to go out to work for a restaurant.
Richard: Like I didn’t go, please. I sat in front of the ANZ Bank. But anyway, lucky I did and the business started to grow. And I actually went to the bank and said, Look, I’m going to start a private business and I’d like to have a year off work. And they were particularly supportive. I remember both Klieg and Lloyd being very supportive of that. And I said, Look, if it doesn’t work out, then I’ll always come back. But it was also the my mother passed away of a heart attack. She was 60 and never smoked, never drank the passed away.
Michael: And this was 85, 83.
Richard: And it was also the year that we started our business. And I always remember saying to my Dad, look, we’re gonna start the business with $9,000. And if we blow the $9,000 Then I’ll go back to banking or I’ll go back to you know,
Michael: and what did you think of that your dad? Oh,
Richard: he was very supportive. Was it good? Yeah. He was very supportive so that you got to have a go, you got to get it out of your system. My dad wasn’t a risk taker, but he was always a believer if that if you needed to have a go at something, to have a go, you know, don’t be one that said would have should have could have.
Michael: Yeah. So what was the idea? What What was it that got you out of banking? Because I presume you had a pretty good career and review corporate banking,
Richard: I was really enjoying banking, I have to say, and I suppose Mike, the the thing was that I love seeing people have a good time and enjoy themselves. And I enjoy the fact that music put a lot of, I think fun and happiness to people. Not too much, I suppose, which drives a lot of musicians today, you know, as to what they see, you know, people in entertainment, and I could see myself as, as the person that was the giver of that entertainment, and seeing people enjoy it. So what
Michael: was the business concept? If when you’re not it down to its essence, what was it you were going to be doing? The plan
Richard: was to provide two things, we really wanted to go and build and instal and supply and design, all the lighting, sound and video equipment that would go into a nightclub, okay. And number to provide the DJs to support those sorts of things. And now it might seem simple. It was there was quite a bit of a boom going on there in entertainment in Australia.
Michael: And that whole audio, you know, visual audio lighting that that was emerging release, you know, you were going from the 50s and 60s with a sort of village hall type stuff. And all of a sudden, things were getting a bit more sophisticated, weren’t they? Yeah,
Richard: they’re getting very sophisticated. I think they will be blown the big
Michael: news for them
Richard: that the Well, exactly right. You know, like Sydney had, you know, private nightclubs and had you know, Kings Cross, you know, we didn’t build a lot of clubs in Kings Cross. But, you know, at Oxford Street opening up, we had clubs opening up in registered clubs, we had nightclubs opening in big pubs, or the Coogee Bay Hotel, and, you know, they all needed lining in Santa Clara.
Michael: Okay, and you guys knew what you were doing that you knew what that should look like? Well,
Richard: look, we didn’t come from a technology background. But we were happy to take advice and learn. And so the one eyed man of the kingdom of the flies in charge, let’s see this. Yeah, the volume of oil. But look, I think we were we were happy to have a go. And yes, and there were lots of friends that were happy to jump in installed with us. And we knew some guys were electricians, and look, and we made a few mistakes, and we electrocuted ourselves.
Michael: So the smoke was unintentional.
Richard: But you gotta have a guy. Yeah. And if you get it, right, it works. And if you blow yourself out, but it was fun. And games were working pretty hard. We’re putting in some big hours and the dollar became 10. And the 10 became 100. And, and we never ran out of money. We kept going and and I always remember there were three of us had started, and we’re going
Michael: okay, so 89, then six years on, there’s two of you at that point. Give me some context. I mean, you strong demand, you’re fitting out all these places interstate and pretty big money as well. I mean, yeah,
Richard: the budgets were running high end. You know, we’re talking people spending, you know, a couple of 100,000 300,000 400,000, which back in the 80s, which is big money. Huge. Yeah. And then we started working for the five star hotels, and we started working for the American chains. Bobby McGee’s came to Australia. So there really wasn’t an entertainment facility in Australia that wasn’t coming here that we weren’t working for a building for
Michael: so you really the fit out guys in that? Yeah, eight eight is we’re sitting the go to guys, we had one or two competitors. But that was it. And I think for the site, there’s plenty of room for everyone. Plenty of room for everybody. So it was a nice really, yeah, the builders in their traditional fitter, Adam Adam cottoned on
Richard: No, and look, once again, there was probably the third biggest lesson, you know, you’ve sometimes got to be a bit of a and the creator and just see where what the mockery market was offering. And I see it today, you know, often what happens is, sometimes it’s the aggregator, or the provision of all services, that, you know, picks up the whole pie, the pie was pretty segmented. When we came into it, there’s a whole host of yeah, you sort of had to go to 12 different places, okay, to actually, you know, buy different products that yours for this sort of thing. And then all of a sudden, it was very easy for the consumer to come to us and get, you know, the complete package. So we actually made the purchasing decision very easy, and could finance it all together for them. And that’s where we actually then turned around and I suppose you’ve got to learn sometimes how to finance different solutions. So we presented the same scenario and said, well, righto, apart from deejays, getting a cut of the door, why don’t we then say to you look, we’ll figure it all out, put all the equipment in and if that brings a bigger audience, then we want a percentage of the door, you know, how are
Michael: you structuring that you because that sounds pretty creative for that period. So you were perhaps covering some of your basic costs and then taking some upside Yeah, margin.
Richard: I always remember Building a facility in Gosford called Club troppo. That sounds very nice. Yeah, absolutely. And I’ve got to tell you, you know, I always remember the opening night there and God bless the promoters behind it. I think two of the most successful and nicest people that I’ve ever made. And always remember that this this was in the auditorium of Central Coast Leagues Club. And it was the opening night and there was, you know, 3000 people turned up. And you know, you think they’ll come and see you and access and they’ll come into the opening of club troppo. And they blocked off the main street police and, and everything there and Central Coast leagues had a very big auditorium and, and look that like the place ran every Saturday night for I don’t know, the better part of 10 or 12 years. And I think in the end that got closed down, because it was actually too successful and created too many problems at three o’clock in the morning when they tipped out 2000 people onto the street. So it was a great success. And that was where you provided up an entertainment place for people that were previously travelling from Gosford down to Sydney for entertainment. And also it was there in Gosford, as it was in Newcastle, we built facilities in Newcastle and Wollongong and all over the state. And that was on a percentage type scenario. And if you’re getting in 2000 people at $1 or two off the door, then you’re doing that over 100 weeks or 50 weeks or over 10 years
Michael: personally and then so you count on that. And then you were telling me another big boost was the wedding went visual from audio and lighting to visual.
Richard: Well, I always remember the turning game, there was a point at which I think we were working on the what is today the Shangri La Hotel, which back then was the AMA hotel, and my business partner at the time. There were two of us were successful in winning that project. And we ended up not just building their nightclub, but a lot of their function spaces and their meeting room spaces. And it was about the time that the word plasma screen appeared in our market, right and I always remember the the senior management at Fujitsu saying that you know these 42 inch plasmas will sell for 15 to $20,000. And I can’t believe I could never have believed that the global market was going to spend $15,000 on what was a TV set at the end of the day, I was completely wrong. And we saw people buying you know, piny 50 inch plasma screens for 10 or $12,000. And we obviously being in the AV commercial space, we saw the growth of the commercial markets and people were putting into their boardrooms, their meeting rooms here. And that was driven by it. You know, it were coming in people wanting to connect the computers to screens, they, the days of this Reagan Barco projector was over. And suddenly, products like Sangyo. And I always remember the MD of Sangyo Bill Crighton saying to me, you know, projectors are the future, and you’ll see a lot more that price will fall. And as has been the case for the last 20 years. You know, Bill crimes always been right. And I think Bill, to his credit was certainly a pioneer in this country. I remember him being the managing director at Sangyo and Sangyo, certainly without doubt a market leader in this country in that space. And we saw lots of projectors go into school classrooms, we saw them go into hotels, we saw them go into boardrooms. So all of a sudden, our marketplace went from entertainment to overnight we will corporatized
Michael: so is this shift from fitting out disco and entertainment type venues to
Richard: working for the ANZ Bank, you know, and working for all the banks and all the accounting firms and all firms and yeah, and suddenly being involved in lots of facilities. And by that stage it was getting to about the year 2000. Yeah, we obviously saw the Olympics. And we were suddenly, you know, we saw the growth of facilities such as the establishment. You know, we saw Justin hems come into the market. And we were privileged to work for Justin hems there. And we saw the laundry family come into hospitality. We saw the growth of clubs. Yeah. Reach the clubs I’m talking about, we saw the entry of Crown casino star CDs, you know, and lots of corporate offices, you know, suddenly it was collaborative meetings, it was presentations. All of a sudden, people were bringing their laptops, they were connecting into screens. And obviously, an office layout changed overnight.
Michael: So you’ve been going about, what 18 years at that point? Yeah.
Richard: Probably 2000 By now, you’re not in 83. So probably 17 years.
Michael: I mean, you you were telling me that, that one of the challenges for you at that point was a sort of that credit squeeze brought on by the GFC affected you quite badly, and that you’d move banks. You know, you followed the the management in
Richard: here. Yeah, we’d always been with the National Australia Bank for five odd years. And some of the banking relationships we had with the NAB, then moved to the CBI. And as you do, you know, nothing’s forever. And banking change. But you know, I think all the banks at the time, they just didn’t have the money. Nobody had the money. Yeah, that was saying not just to us, but every Australian business look, they just don’t have the money to support the facilities. And suddenly, we had suppliers saying to us, look, it’s been great 25 years, but you know, we really tend to work with you, but it’s cod. And it’s like, well, it’s pretty hard to run a payroll, pay everybody cod and then what your suppliers to pay you cod when they want to pay you in 60 days or clients or it’s a
Michael: it’s insulated, you know, that the idea of sort of troubleshooters, right is that periodically you’re going to correction. Absolutely. I left school in at unemploy At 10%, you know, there’s nobody that didn’t know a couple of people who are unemployed. And it was seems so difficult to get jobs. And yeah, it was just a, just a downer time for two or three years. And then we boom. And then 9090 comes along. And we’ve got interest rates at 15 or 16%, full on credit squeeze that goes for two or three years. And then 10 years later, we got the correction in 2000. The hammer the tech bubble. Yeah, absolutely. And then the GFC. So, you know, if you wait around long enough, trouble is coming, right? Yeah. And Australia’s been very lucky, because it’s sort of avoided some of the impacts of some of those recessions, you know, we’ve done relatively well, in the GFC, if you look on a global basis, but it still is still a big problem. And I think that a lot of the younger entrepreneurs that I’m talking to, and working with, you know, they don’t always understand that that cash is king, and that you’ve got to, you got to squirrel it away, and there are times when to push it, there are times when not to push it really.
Richard: And the big learning curve, Mike is like everything else. Credit is a business, you know, and just because something is approved today, doesn’t mean it’s approved tomorrow. Yeah. Whereas with cash at Bank, there’s no debate about cash or bank. And I have to say, certainly what we’ve seen in COVID, and the businesses that have survived through COVID, apart from the obvious that support of the government supported the banks, but the ones that are really survived through COVID are the ones that had cash at Bank, we often talk about how much cash do you need to trade through periods of that, but it’s, it’s the ones that do have a strong cash balance. And if we take what is lesson number four, I think lesson number four is cash is king. Exactly. And it was interesting, I was listening to a presentation the other week by an industry body and are saying the best time to learn from a bank is actually when you don’t need your money. The bank seems to sniff and know when the times are tough, and then you need the money. But there’s a lesson learnt there. So I think, don’t just assume because the bank, like anything rang us and said, Look, I’m sorry, it’s been a great relationship of 20 years, or whatever it might be. But yeah, sorry, you’re gonna have to cut the facilities, and they have every right to do so.
Michael: Yeah. And I think, you know, I have a lot of people that, you know, want to complain and moan about the bank. But the reality is, the banks are not equity partners are not, they’re there to make a clip. Yeah. And they’re there to lend their money as long as it for as long as it suits them. And they can withdraw those facilities. Yeah. So bring us up today. Tell us what you’re doing at Coraggio, which I think is a fantastic initiative. So
Richard: what ended up happening is, I’d always wanted to give back and be around people and help people and I think part of that is probably instilled by my mother being a nurse. Yeah. And a colleague of mine, Mark Purbrick reached out a couple of years ago who had met to a networking breakfast and suggested to me that I would consider being a chair in a product called Coraggio, which I’d never heard of, I’d never heard such a thing even existed in this country, I learned that there was this organisation that had been created by 12 Australian shareholders, about bringing private business owners together on a monthly basis to talk about in a confidential way and help each other with running a private business. Yes, to me, I only wished I knew about when I was 23, no 48 or 49 or 50 years. And when I met some of the shareholders and some of the members, and I think at the time, we had 46 members and was really impressed by the values and why people had put me money on the table to support private business. And so luckily, enough things happened for a reason I was appointed as chair of one of these boards Coraggio Advisory Board Number two, which is now the second oldest board, they’re all numbered 100, the second oldest board in Coraggio. And the the chair at the time was retiring. And John Mooney appointed me and I became a chair. And I’d have to say that the first 12 months was a massive learning curve. And I think I learned more from the 12 Coraggio members than they suddenly learned from me. And the following year, I was appointed to a second board, which is a Thursday board capital F team, which I still chair today. And then I remember when John Mooney rang me and said, Look, I’m going to resign and step down to like three boys, new intern. And school fees are pretty expensive at new intern. And you might consider just babysit the role for us for three months while we find a new CEO. And I was actually really impressed by it. It actually excited me right. And I felt that this could go somewhere and I wanted to make the shareholders and and there’s 12 of them. And so we put together a plan about scaling this business to 1000 members over Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, and something that could really help a lot of Australian businesses. And so I think we’ve now been involved about six years first couple of years of that chair in the last three or four years as a CEO. And I’d have to say today as we climb towards nearly 500 members, and we have got boards in Sydney, Melbourne Gold Coast and Brisbane and a great sales team and math Team and admin team and hard working chairs, the chair these boards and great members members that have stuck with us.
Michael: So Richard, just for the benefit of, you know, listeners that might not know too much about Coraggio. Essentially, we’re talking about boards of made up of the owners of individual private companies that meet every month. Yeah, under the chairmanship of someone correct to ostensibly help each other, build and develop those companies and support each other.
Richard: Yeah. And it’s really interesting, like, I don’t come from a psychology background, or, but I think there’s a real turning point, you know, a lot of Australians have started their businesses from nothing, you know, very few of them have sort of come with what, you know, he’s 100 million Off you go, they’ve sort of scale this thing through sacrifice, and then they sort of get to their late 40s, early 50s. And they realise they’re not too far to 60? And what am I going to do with these things, you know, who’s the partner that I need to work with to try and sell this business? Or get it ready for sale? Or who would I sell to, and those sorts of advisors are not readily accessible, you know, like, you can’t just sort of Google or look them up in the yellow pages, you know, they just, they’re actually hard to find. There’s lots of people that put their hand up so they can do that. They don’t. And it usually stems from some of the accounting firms. And look, there’s probably some accounting firms that don’t really well, but on the whole, these experts that, that work with you, and to help you get your business to sell is not really available. And the the thing that we saw were, there’s this real age group, they’re around 50, right on the Eastern Seaboard that are really looking to sit with other owners, then maybe not getting the expertise from their accountants and lawyers, and saying, What do I do with this thing? Do I scale it? Do I sell it? Yeah. Am I in there for a reason, a season or a lifetime? If I don’t have succession? Who do I talk to? But there’s not just this panel of experts that I go to?
Michael: It’s really tough, isn’t it? I mean, you mentioned a couple of times that you started out in business in age 23. Yeah. And that was the age I started, ironically. But it’s interesting. I had no help. You know, I just I was making I was going along a bit like you, but I would have really benefited. In fact, the couple of years after I started, we ended up selling 26% of the capital to a venture capitalist, Geico, Russell Smith. And then from that point, because we had to formalise, we had board meetings. And that was really the day that my business education began, because I had to start speaking to someone every month about what was going on and articulate what we were planning. And I got started to get support and help. I mean, sometimes it wasn’t, it was a bit painful, because I was being challenged and told to shut up. And, you know, I didn’t know what I was talking about. But that was really the beginning of my business education was beginning to report an account every month. And ostensibly that’s really what’s going on because the other owners are presumed Karanja. You know, they’ve been in the tough school Hard Knocks haven’t a book. I
Richard: have to tell you, Mike, I think in the last couple of years, as I’ve travelled pre COVID, in all the locations, everyone has got a story. Yeah. And everyone’s made some mistakes, and everyone’s not got a ride. I’ve yet to meet somebody that’s had 50 years of financial success and excellence in private business. Yeah. So I think lots of owners talk about mistakes and mistakes and mistakes. Yeah. And I think a lot of them only make mistakes once. And they certainly learn from those. Yeah. But there’s a real yearning for you know, people are working really, really hard. And, and you often say to somebody, well, you have this $30 million business or this $50 million business. And when you get to 100, what are you going to do with then when you get from 20 to 30? Like, you get to that point? Yeah. You know, are you going to sell it? Are you going to keep it? Yeah, what are you going to do with it? And they don’t really know. So there’s all this energy going into scale, scale, scale, grow, grow, grow? And then we’ll, when you get there, what’s going to happen then? Yeah, and nobody really has an answer. No, no. So yes. And I think Corrado brings that really to hear every month to say, look, we know you’re really busy. We know you’re working really hard. But why? Yeah, well, I
Michael: think the thing with an owner is you think humans have all the answers. And everyone comes here and says, you know, what do you think? They actually you don’t you know, you but but there’s nothing like getting something out of your head. Yeah. And verbalising it? Yeah, sometimes you can’t believe what you’re saying. Because it can often appear so great and lucid in your head. And then you start verbalising. And you realise it’s not as it’s, it’s not as clever as you thought it was? Well,
Richard: yeah, if you’ve got to explain what you’re thinking to 12 pretty smart. Like, you know, and they’re pretty sobering environment. And you got to sit there for a full day. And let me tell you, you’re back there next month, you know, so they’re actually holding you accountable. And to a large degree, a lot of owners. Yeah, nobody holds them accountable, you know, at all this sort of exactly where they’ll have a great month or a lousy month or whatever it might be, but I’ve got to say I think the ones that do take the step and I often say welcome to the dark side because I think it’s quite a step to step in or Corrado and be vulnerable and be roar and be honest and be accountable and share your numbers and your budgets and your forecasts and test your business plans. Yeah. Then what I can say to you, I think the businesses are better, stronger. And people are happier, people are actually happier after they spent a year in airports, because I think they just feel just clear on why they’re doing what they’re doing. You know, and because people are saying to them, Well, why are you doing this, and often, a lot of owners that have been so busy over the last 20 years, trying to pay their mortgage, trying to pay their school fees, run around after the kids, you know, try and be a great dad or a great mom, that they you know, and run the business at the same time and employ people and get paid, that they’ve just been too busy borrowing for the last 20 years, all of a sudden, they get to their 50s. And they think, you know, sort of the other side of this. Yeah, and we’ve paid all that off, and they get a bit of free air, and they still have good luck with their business now.
Michael: Yeah, I know you love what you do, Richard. And, you know, I’ve been privileged to speak to many of the members present to them from time to time, and there’s a great energy around Correggio. And I think it’s a great idea. I talk to people all the time about putting your hand up, you know, and getting some input and not being shy about that, really, you don’t have to throw your brain away. You don’t have to do everything that everybody tells you to do. But just getting some counsel from from people who care about you got to kind of earn the right to get that, to provide that counsel, I think and I suppose that’s what they’re doing on the boards. Every month, they turn up, they help each other. Before we finish, I gotta ask you, so tell me your favourite place in the world.
Richard: My favourite place in the world would have to be New York. Okay, was that? I think the city’s got a wonderful buzz. You know, it’s just got a wonderful energy. Right?
Michael: Yeah. And what about books or films, anything? Stick out for you. That’s been memorable.
Richard: I’ve always enjoyed books written in Australia, right? There’s lots of books written globally. But I think the the books that we see by Australian authors, especially business books, you know, it’s not easy to scale a business in Australia, you know, we’re only 26 million people. There’s only so much HR here. We’re very entrepreneurial as a country. But you know, there are things that are uniquely Australian. So I think anybody that can help us write about Australian business that’s been there and done it, I think are invaluable. I think there are some great success stories. So I think any of the books that are written by strangers,
Michael: yeah. And what about people who have influenced you? Or have kind of made a difference? Who would you give a shout out
Richard: to? I have a deep respect for my children. Growing up today is very different for them to how we grew up, you know, I think they’re very social media. You know, they’ve got access to the whole world. at their fingertips, it’s very different to the way we grew up. And look, I think things like COVID can really affect our children and helping them get through that they certainly have missed a lot of the fun years that we all had, you know, going through school or going through year 12. Or going through Yeah, no, it’s
Michael: been tough, hasn’t it? Yeah. My daughter, Emma, my youngest, she was a late surprise package. But she is going to year seven first year COVID. Yeah, very traumatic. That year at school, meeting everyone then online. big uptick in the quality and the quantity and the standard of the work being demanded. I mean, really, I saw her go from fairly carefree to pretty stressed in a year.
Richard: Yeah. And I think that’s had an effect on our children. So I think anybody living in Victoria, I would have to say, I’ve only just been reflecting over the last couple of months. If we could borrow a Victorian resilience in a bottle, we’d all make a million dollars, you know, somebody that can handle that amount of lockdown and still come out the other side.
Michael: So just final question to you, Richard. And I’m so I’m so grateful that you’ve come in and shared your story. But um, what do you like doing for fun?
Richard: Spending time with the families is a pretty big priority. I think you don’t have kids forever. You know, I think they come for 25 years of your life and then they go travelling the world. Well, I think this generation will anyway, so certainly enjoying them. Yep. Sport. I think Australia’s a great sporting nation. I think we’ve got great water. We’re lucky in Sydney, we’ve got great waterways. I love the water. And I think you’ve got to enjoy yourself and use that time because before you know it, we could be at Rookwood. So, you know, life one thing is not forever, no, enjoy the days and look forward, you know, we can spend our lives looking backwards and with regret, but sometimes those days that are in front of us, so are you going to be the best days of our lives. But thank you
Michael: for having Richard, thank you. You are the entrepreneurs entrepreneur. What a great story. And I can see I’ve only just noticed that I can see one hell of a file of facts on this test. That is Very 80s item that and you still got that as a cracker.
Richard: So Mike, you’ll be happy now the fact this comes from daytime as in the UK. Okay and I have been getting a diary from day timers every year for the last 30 years.
Michael: I’m going to put that up on our website. I’m gonna take a picture of that and put that up on our website so that the millennials among us will know what a filofax is absolutely ready to come in. Take care. Thanks, Mark. Bye. If you enjoyed my conversation today with Richard from Corrado. If you like these podcasts, be sure to tell your friends and colleagues. If you want to know more about Correggio, then the details are in the show notes. Finally, quick shout out to our sponsors Oasis partners. For great business advice, guidance and support, contact the team at Oasis. So until next time, stay safe