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Let’s Talk: What is the best business advice you ever received?

We are bombarded by an avalanche of business advice every day. Much of it we disregard.

But most people remember one insight that was delivered at just the right time, a gem that profoundly changed the way we approach our professional lives and is now our North Star.

Let’s talk…

Andy Mellor, Regional Vice President ANZ, Kofax

Let’s Talk: What is the best business advice you ever received?

“The best business advice I’ve received is to always put the customer at the heart and everything else will fall into place. This means continuously striving for a better understanding of who your customer is, maintaining a two-way dialogue with the customer base, and being laser-focused on solving their problems.

“This advice has helped me throughout my career in a variety of ways. It’s interesting that when you remain focused on the external customer, you also benefit internally. When teams collectively focus on authentically engaging with customers, it creates a better internal culture through a shared mission, reduced internal politics, and ultimately an increased bottom line that serves everyone.

“I make a point to embed this advice in every decision at Kofax. When it comes to expanding the team, I seek out candidates who are fluent in driving cost efficiencies, better processes, and ultimately improved experiences for our customers.”

Emilio Romeo, Managing Director, Ericsson, Australia and New Zealand 

Let’s Talk: What is the best business advice you ever received?

“The best business advice that I’ve been given was from a past manager and friend of mine, who highlighted the importance of maintaining balance through a juggling analogy.

Every day we juggle many balls. They’re all made of rubber so you can afford to drop them as they will bounce back. Except for two of these balls. These are made of glass. Do not drop them – they are your health and family.

“To me, this reminds us how critical balance truly is, and this is a message I promote to all our employees at Ericsson. If we can recognise and prioritise what is of paramount importance to us, then we will have more energy and clarity to excel in our work, and whatever we set ourselves to do, making a positive impact on those around us.”

Luke Anear, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, SafetyCulture

Let’s Talk: What is the best business advice you ever received?

“To be acutely aware of what will have the greatest impact and to stay focused on it. Focus seems simple but it’s a daily hurdle and the greatest factor in success or failure. 

“In order to master this, you have to be skilled at saying no to the many good things that are in front of you so you can say yes to the very few great things. Achieving focus is not just an individual task but a team effort. 

“At SafetyCulture, our focus is partnering with our customers to help them solve the problems they’re facing. In order to scale our business we must be making meaningful improvements to theirs. If you want to build a great company, focusing on what matters is an essential discipline to master.”

Tom Gole, Head of Strategy, Go1.com

Let’s Talk: What is the best business advice you ever received?

“The best piece of advice that I’ve received has proved to be incredibly valuable to me throughout my career: The tide is always rising when it comes to technical capability. You can be afraid of it or invest now to get ahead.

“Whatever field you’re in, what is technically possible is constantly changing, as are customer expectations. Over the long run, the only path to creating an individual sustainable advantage lies in constantly investing in your skills and knowledge.  

“Whether it’s enrolling in short courses or higher education study, taking on new challenges to extend your skills, engaging directly with your peers or something else entirely will depend on your field, but you need to find that path to keep ahead.  

“As a business leader, you also need to facilitate that path for your team – this will prove beneficial to individual growth and position your business to successfully address wider company challenges. We’re proud at Go1 to help tackle both of these challenges for millions of people around the world.”

Craig West, Founder and CEO of Succession Plus

Let’s Talk: What is the best business advice you ever received?

“Begin with the end in mind, from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Dr. Stephen R. Covey (habit #2). This means making sure each and every decision you make in business gets you closer to your endgame.  

“The people you employ, the business model you adopt, the financial strategy you map out and the way you market and promote your product, your pricing model, your client service and delivery – all need to focus on the endgame. If you look at a decision that is taking you further away from that, it is the wrong decision. 

“In my area of business – succession and exit planning – it also means an extended timeline for planning and strategy, having a goal that is five or ten years out, not 90 days. Timeframe is important as a business owner. It takes time to build and increase value. The difference between equity (or long-term value that can be extracted when you exit) versus income is timeframe. 

“We have been trained by media and instant communication to focus far too much on short-term outcomes. Warren Buffett’s average holding period for shares is 20 years, whereas the average mum and dad investor’s is six months. Buffett claims this is the #1 reason he is successful.  

“Therefore, focus on your endgame, build long-term strategic goals into your planning and make sure every decision gets you closer to that endgame.”

Danny Lessem, CEO and Co-founder, ELMO Software

Let’s Talk: What is the best business advice you ever received?

“The best advice I ever received was that if you have an idea or a vision you need to stick with it, but you need to listen to your customers too to make it work.

“When we founded ELMO in 2002, we were among the first Australian tech solutions looking to offer a software solution via the cloud. We had created a delivery mechanism that was ahead of the times and our customers really just wanted the e-learning content without truly focusing on the cloud delivery solution.

“Had we given up on our idea of software via the cloud we wouldn’t have the fast-growing tech business we have today. On the same note, had we not listened to our customers and what they needed we wouldn’t have a business at all.

“It’s important to stick to your ideas and your vision but you need to listen to the needs of those whose problem you’re trying to solve.” 

Kris Grant, CEO, ASPL Group

Let’s Talk: What is the best business advice you ever received?

“Don’t try to solve every challenge at once. Passionate people find this really challenging because they want to change the world, but change is simply not possible all at once.

“You need to have a planned approach, looking at what you can change in the short term that can affect longer-term change as you go.”

Richard Favero, CEO and Founder, Soprano Design 

Let’s Talk: What is the best business advice you ever received?

If you think you can, or you think you can’t, you are probably right.”

“This quote has always driven me and has remained consistent in the people I admire. Over my career in business, this single piece of advice has allowed me to assess my competence, confidence, commitment, and enabled me to not overlook chance and opportunity. There is nothing worse than having people around you or on your team who talk about the impossibility of attainment—it is so life-sapping.”

“In business, sometimes going with your gut is the best approach to a problem. It’s important for business leaders to be mindful of this and not get caught up in conflicting perspectives that would otherwise hold them back or push them in the wrong direction. Only they know what they are capable of achieving.”

Ian Jensen-Muir, CEO, Belgravia Health & Fitness

Let’s Talk: What is the best business advice you ever received?

“The best business advice I’ve ever received is to make hay while the sun shines

“When times are good, it’s tempting to relax and enjoy the ride – but it’s really the time to keep working on the business and make smart (and sometimes difficult) decisions that will ensure you are in a very strong position to deal with the tough times when they arrive. 

“Nobody is immune to the hard times – that’s the cyclical nature of most businesses and COVID-19 has reminded us that a curveball can also be thrown at any time. While it’s important to celebrate the successful times, you must always prepare for your next downward cycle.”

Andrew Duncan, CEO and co-founder, Sorted Services

Let’s Talk: What is the best business advice you ever received?

“I’ve received a lot of different advice throughout my career, which has helped to shape and transform my business into what it is today.

“The first piece of advice that really impacted me was from my master’s degree tutor, who told me that my idea for my first business was good and encouraged me to go forth and put it into action. I recall being surprised that he could see the concept working, he was honest and really pushed me to go beyond my comfort zone and just give it a go.  Without that conversation, I may have never made the leap.

“When I was working in corporate land, I was told by a manager that I needed to think bigger and bolder. This feedback jolted me at the time, but in reflection, it was definitely what I needed to hear.

“Throughout the years, I’ve read heaps of different books that focus on the topic of business from leaders who are experts in their respective fields. One that stands out the most for me personally is from Jim Collins’ book “Good to Great” and his” hedgehog” model has been very important over the journey.”

Brodie Haupt, CEO and co-founder of WLTH

Let’s Talk: What is the best business advice you ever received?

“Over the years I have been able to receive some great business advice, but there are definitely a few principles that stand out.

“LTV- The Lifetime Value of your customers is directly linked to the quality of product, support, and service you provide. It’s one of the most important pillars of our company DNA. Valuing your clients, and working closely with them to achieve their goals, will only help the business to grow and increase your net promoter score (NPS) and will ensure your business the opportunity to generate referrals from happy clients.

“Another piece of advice that is also core to our ethos is ensuring we build and nurture a strong team culture, which starts with the importance of hiring the right fit for the business culturally. We have a great team and when the team is happy and driven, success is the organic by-product for the business.”

Brenda Gaddi, Founder and Managing Director, Women of Colour Australia

Let’s Talk: What is the best business advice you ever received?

Be good. If you cannot be good, be careful.

“This advice is from my late father, and it guides me through both my professional and personal life.

“Although it took me a while to understand what he meant, once I did, it unlocked the right opportunities for me. 

“In life as in my career, I aim to be driven by my good intentions. However, in business it’s not always possible, and sometimes we need to take risks and make tough decisions. It’s important to be cautious when taking risks, not only because we fear failure, but more importantly because we need to be at peace with our decisions so we can sleep at night. Nothing is worth our inner peace.

“Another very valuable piece of advice is from Reid Hoffman. In his book “The Start-up of You”, he talks about the concept of permanent beta- “a lifelong commitment to continuous personal growth”. Adapting this mindset means I’m always striving to continually evolve, learn more, do more, grow more.”

Alex Frolov, CEO and Co-Founder, HypeAuditor

Let’s Talk: What is the best business advice you ever received?

“The best business advice is from famous investor Ray Dalio. In his book Principles, Dalio addresses the importance of embracing mistakes, your own as well as those of others, instead of thinking about them as failures.

“In business as in life, mistakes are bound to be made. How you react to mistakes – your own and those of others, will determine your learning process and growth and eventually your success. Having a negative attitude about mistakes and beating yourself up can be very detrimental, not only to your mental health but it can also limit your abilities and stop you from evolving.

“The key is to fail, learn, and improve quickly. If you’re constantly learning and improving, your evolutionary process will be ascending. If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not pushing your limits, and if you’re not pushing your limits, you’re not maximising your potential.”

 Lionel Kho, VP Data Transformation, Merkle Inc.

Let’s Talk: What is the best business advice you ever received?

“It’s ok to be vulnerable. Whilst this doesn’t sound like business advice, it absolutely is. Professionally, we habitually glorify product and process: ‘We invested in technology X to automate process Y’. However, we forget that business is built by people, and productive relationships are founded in trust. 

“As a leader and expert in data and analytics, it is especially easy to overlook the human element. Experts are expected to be the smartest people in the room. We lean on technical language and methodology to demonstrate our prowess. However, this also make us seem impersonal and unapproachable, putting others on the defensive. 

“Instead, openly demonstrate vulnerability. This levels the playing field, give others agency and create equity. I am an expert in my domain, as you are in yours. We have something to learn and gain from each other, and value our diversity of thought. Now, let’s get down to business. 

Peter Philipp, ANZ general manager, Neo4j

Let’s Talk: What is the best business advice you ever received?

“Always put yourself in the customer’s shoes first – do what’s right for the customer, not your quarterly targets. Follow the 80 / 20 rule of listening vs speaking to better understand their short- and long-term needs and be prepared to walk away from potential deals if it saves customers’ time and money.

“Value relationships above everything for every part of your business – customers, employees, partners, and even competitors. We should always strive to do the right thing to maintain strong and healthy relationships. 

“A customer or a team member lost to a competitor may one day want to return – what sort of relationship did we maintain? Did we do the right thing by them previously? While degrees of separation may change, the relationship remains. 

“In our increasingly connected world, I find the advice to put relationships at the centre of everything we do is more relevant than ever.”

Remo Carbone, CEO, MEQ Probe

Let’s Talk: What is the best business advice you ever received?

“The best piece of business advice I ever received was from my former boss Scott Yasharian, early in my career at financial data company FactSet. 

“He used to say that every business must be obsessed with their customer; make them the centre of what you do. Ensure that your customer – the decision-maker – is always the hero, because they’re the ones taking the risk and investing in your organisation, products, or services.

“These words have guided me through my career and entry into the start-up domain, where your customers and partners are taking a leap-of-faith and investing in a promising technology or an idea that hasn’t yet been fully realised. 

“It is also crucial to be a good listener in these instances and immerse yourself in your customer’s thinking in order to achieve the best solutions and outcomes for them.”

Charlie Wood, CEO, Wiise

Let’s Talk: What is the best business advice you ever received?

“I’ve been lucky to have received lots of great business advice. But one thing that still stands true today is something that my good friend, Exisle Publishing’s CEO Gareth St John Thomas, said to me many years ago. He pointed out that, during the gold rush, it’s not the gold miners that get rich. It’s the people selling shovels.

“This really resonates to me as we look at the massive waves of digital transformation currently coming for every industry in the world. It will be the enablers of change that will profit the most and have the most long-term sustainable businesses.

“Today’s ‘shovels’ are the tech platforms that help other businesses unlock their potential. From the ERP software providers that power SME transformation to Australia’s own home-grown tech giant Atlassian, which started out with as a tool used by software developers.”

Jarrod Kinchington, Infor ANZ managing director

Let’s Talk: What is the best business advice you ever received?

“Persistence, beyond any other trait, will lead you to success.

“As Thomas Edison once said: I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.

“Even the most successful business leaders have made mistakes throughout their career, but the ability to persist and keep striving towards an overarching goal in the best interest of the company has proven to be key to long-term success. 

“Closely tied to persistence is the ability to respond swiftly and adapt to change. Those who persevere after a setback are also provided with an opportunity to unearth new ways of doing things, while demonstrating resilience and the ability to think laterally – all of which are necessary skills in business leadership and management.”

Sreelesh Pillai, General Manager, Freshworks Australia.

Let’s Talk: What is the best business advice you ever received?

“It was during the first three years at Freshworks, that Girish Mathrubootham, our co-founder and CEO, inspired me to embrace the concept of “dreaming in instalments”. Dreaming in instalments keeps our dreams real and achievable, and who doesn’t like dreams that come true!

“Our first ever goal and dream for the whole unit at Freshworks was to hit our first million in revenue. Once we hit that, we then set dreams of $5 million, $50 million, $100 million, and so on. 

“As I transitioned into my different roles at Freshworks, I continued to carry Girish’s advice with me and was lucky to share it with fellow colleagues. 

“My biggest learning through all this, is that achievable dreams result in better motivation and the team then scripts together bigger goals, in due time.”

Jason Toshack, General Manager ANZ, Oracle NetSuite

Let’s Talk: What is the best business advice you ever received?

“I’ve been fortunate to work with some great leaders and the best advice I’ve received was to ’Invest in Culture’. For any team to be successful, there needs to be a strong belief that everyone is working towards the same goal. Being invested in the value your employees bring, while demonstrating an interest in their personal aspirations and goals, is as important as providing leadership and direction.

“Hand in hand with this comes trust. The business and your employees need to trust that you are making the right decisions and with this, your team will be far more inspired to help the business achieve its goals.

“From an organisational standpoint, investing in culture means having the skills and capabilities to adapt in the face of change. The last year has shown us that the ability to adapt, change and align the team quickly in response to market conditions is key. Going from an office-based environment to working from home is placing additional demands on the way we manage the business and our people.

“Trying to lead by example has been an effective approach for me, as I find teams will respond significantly better when their leaders strive towards inclusion.”

Dan Bognar, Vice President & General Manager, Asia Pacific & Japan, Docusign

Let’s Talk: What is the best business advice you ever received?

“There are really two things that stick in my mind. First, strive for progress, not perfection. Transforming a business, whether it be digital or cultural, is an iterative process where you need to constantly review and improve what you are doing. 

“Secondly, don’t put the customer first. Put the customer experience first. We are entering the age of the ‘experience economy’ where a customer, employee or partner’s experience with a brand will be the driving factor for doing business with them. It’s about making everything quicker, easier and smarter. 

‘For example, using e-signatures and smart contracts so that anyone can sign anything, anywhere and on whatever device they are on. Where their information is already pre-filled, and they can avoid having to go through the same details every time they interact with your business. 

“It’s often these small things that drastically change the experience people have and, just by making these incremental changes you are on your way to transforming your business.”

Brian Fenty, Co-Founder and CEO, TodayTix Group

Let’s Talk: What is the best business advice you ever received?

“There are two mantras that are always top of mind for me. The first is: “don’t put good money after bad.” It’s a clear reminder that despite our best intentions, we all fail. Encourage your teams to innovate, but never double down on a losing strategy. Fail fast and lean into the wins. 

“The second is from famed New York restaurateur Danny Meyer, who reminded me that “you can choose who sits at your dinner table.” Don’t waste time with people who bring the energy and output of the room down. It’s always worth it to be selective, deliberate, and confident in who you choose as company. I like to be with good people who are curious, energetic, and kind.”

Brad Bennett, founder, director and transformation specialist, EPiC Agile

Let’s Talk: What is the best business advice you ever received?

“The best business advice I’ve ever received? Don’t sell.

“Emotional intelligence in business has dramatically evolved.  Leaders can immediately pick up on those who are trying to hard sell, and those who are trying to find genuine solutions to meet their needs.

“What business leaders really want are people who are really comfortable with themselves and are authentic and honest in their communication, offering recommendations and introductions.

“As soon as it becomes not about you, the game changes, trust goes up and barriers come down.

“In our business, we just don’t ‘sell’, we have authentic conversations with business leaders.”

Dr Benjamin Coorey, chief executive and founder, Archistar.

Let’s Talk: What is the best business advice you ever received?

“Focus on your product. You need to have a product that is a necessity for your target market. If you get the product right, everything else will fall into place. This means working closely with your early adopters, testing new features with customers and being proactive with your clients. 

“Entrepreneurs are always redefining or disrupting a space. To do this successfully, you need to have a deep understanding of that space, the problems that that industry is facing and solutions that would make a difference. 

“Early on, I had mentors and advice to specialise in my field. I took every opportunity to learn as much as possible, taught myself new technologies even when there were barriers or limitations on what was possible at the time. 

“Coming from strength with expertise in a field gives you the reputation and credibility to provide a vision and leadership for that industry.’

Read more: Let’s Talk – How can you drive motivation and teamwork among staff?

Read more: Let’s Talk – What leadership styles work best for SME owners?

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Clare Loewenthal

Clare Loewenthal

Clare is an author, business commentator and passionate contributor to Dynamic Business. She was the Founder and Publisher of Dynamic Small Business magazine, which became Australia’s largest small business publication.

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