Date posted: April 7, 2017

“Forging a decade long career in Real Estate to become a Mining Laboratory Supplier”

It’s 2012 and I’m living in inner city London eking out a living as a Real Estate Agent. The phone rings and it’s my father, Graham. He does not sound his usual jovial self. He tells me that he is unwell with an ‘untreatable’ form of leukaemia and whilst he does not have any symptoms yet, it is a priority that he stops working and focuses on his health. Time to pack the bags… but before I continue, let’s go back to the start.

I left school in the year 2000 with no intention of working in the family business. I had regularly worked during school holidays in our manufacturing plant but working in a managerial capacity seemed like an unlikely end-game. I had already seen my family change businesses multiple times in my lifetime and I never expected any sort of nepotism where the business was concerned. I’d had my own jobs and small businesses from a very young age so I wanted to stand on my own two feet.

Over the next three years I started a small car washing business to earn me some money while I was studying Commerce. I also studied for my Real Estate Salesperson License in the hope of picking up some weekend work in an industry that interested me. Soon after graduating from my Bachelors I started work as a Real Estate Agent and began learning the art of selling while I did a Masters of Property at night school. This degree would qualify me to train as a Property Valuer. I’d chosen my career. Sorted.

Some years later I was awarded my Valuation License, I was earning good money and I felt like I was good at my job. Trouble was, I despised almost everything about being a Property Valuer and my comfortable Australian upbringing lead me to believe that everyone could always enjoy their work. So I thought “When all else fails, move to another country!”. After a very quick visa application and an enthusiastic resignation I promptly jumped on a plane to fulfil my destiny as “Just another Aussie in London”. It was nearing the end of my two-year visa when I got “the call” from Graham.

I started work 2 days after my plane landed in Perth. Who needs sleep and time to see friends? There’s a business to run! It’s a family business and family comes first. My new job was becoming the General Manager of Western Refractories Pty Ltd, a company that sells laboratory consumables and machinery to the gold mining industry. Real Estate it is not.

My father and staff are very supportive of me as a new member of the team and as a potential leader. I must learn everything about running the business from the ground up and it’s a big job, but it is extremely cerebral and exciting. Within months my father starts to come in less and less and is essentially retired in less than a year. The business is mine to run and my parents want to let me spread my wings and take it where I want. It is a dream succession and everybody is glad that we had made the aforementioned decisions. However, with time comes the realisation that I held in my hands not only my financial future but a good portion of my parent’s capital and I really needed to run a tight ship. I would also find myself reflecting on my professional life and being very glad that my path took me into the real world before I joined the family business. In my opinion this was critical to my ability to step into a high level position with an appreciation of the real world.

It was around this time that I received a letter from a group calling themselves FBA. Why they had sent me a letter, I didn’t know, but a new part of my journey was about to begin.

“Avoiding decline by positioning for growth”

My father Graham, is an entrepreneur in the true meaning of the word. He has owned or been involved in many successful businesses and he has an intuition that I envy as much as I exploit it to this day. He started running businesses young, as I did, and consequently has a traditional style of business management. In no way is this a bad thing. “Turn up. Forge relationships. Give excellent service.” You cannot argue that this traditional style of business is not applicable today, but I was finding that things would have to change at Western Refractories to meet customer’s evolving expectations.

Shortly after joining FBA WA I started to attend breakfasts/information sessions to find out what the organisation was all about and to assess whether I would get value from my membership. I soon realised that family businesses tend to share a lot of the same problems and suddenly I was not alone anymore. Presently, I got a call from the National Forum Manager to fill me in on what the FBA Forums were all about as they were not on my radar. I joined almost immediately because I had a burning desire to share my problems and dreams with an impartial audience. Not only that but I knew there would be a diverse range of experience in the room, from green managers like myself to far more experienced non-exec directors of multi-generational companies. Exciting!

I kept attending info sessions and Forum Group and it wasn’t long before I started to notice that there is what I might call a “Common Business Wisdom”. Further study at the Australian Institute of Company Directors reinforced what I had learnt thus far and taught me that the aforementioned Wisdom was closely aligned with good corporate governance. Modern businesses, while diverse in their industry and offering, could all benefit from good corporate governance and working through a few select projects to position themselves for growth. With the advice, encouragement and sense of accountability that I received from my Forum Group I started to build a map in my mind of how I would take the business out of my head, away from excel based data entry and put us into a position to drive sustainable growth.

Projects that I decided were essential for my business in today’s context were:

  • Strategic Planning
  • Well documented systems and procedures, especially for HR and OH&S
  • Sustainability Planning and Reporting
  • Regular well-structured board meetings preferably with external attendees
  • Enterprise Resource Planning/Job Management automation

Being a relatively young person, I naturally wanted to solve all my problems with IT/Cloud based solutions and so I have spent the last 24 months working my way through the plethora of options. FBA have been a huge support in this process and it is still underway. The problem with continuous improvement is that it is continuous!

I look forward to speaking at the State Conference to discuss where I am in this journey and the things I have learned along the way. I hope to see you there!

Jimmy McGregor | Western Refactories