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Starting out as cadet reporter on The Australian newspaper, David Koch has a long and impressive career in finance and business journalism and publishing. But you probably know him best as the male anchor on Channel 7’s Sunrise breakfast program.

David Koch KochieHis production company Pinstripe Media is responsible for the small business show Kochie’s Business Builders, which is the major partner of this year’s revamped National Small Business Summit in Brisbane. And if you had to name Australia’s most well-known small business commentator it would probably be him. Having owned and run a variety of small businesses and made plenty of his own mistakes over the years, the advice he gives on TV also comes from a very personal place.

Finance nerd to TV star

It has been six years since he sold his interest in the magazine he started, MyBusiness, but he still has an active interest in small business issues. “I love small business and I love providing information about it,” he says. “I’ve always been a finance nerd. I was a finance journo first and foremost and Sunrise was something I just fell into. Who would’ve known? But that’s what life throws up.”

Kochie’s Business Builders is in its sixth series with more than 100 Sunday morning shows in the bag. Presenting small business advice and information in a way which is easy to understanding and doesn’t frighten people is something the 54 year-old is passionate about. “Many people make the mistake of thinking small business is just like big business but on a smaller scale. It’s not. What they need to understand is that small businesses are a collection of individuals just like them, with families and other interests too. They love what they’re doing but they really feel the pressure.

“They have to deal with a lot of admin, they’re wearing a lot of hats and they’re sometimes very isolated. My view with giving small business advice is that you have to focus on the individual.”

Business owners inspire me

Koch loves the fact that small business owners are so much closer to what they do. “They’re passionate about their product and loyalty is their pay cheque,” he says. “I get really inspired by it. There are some amazing private business owners out there. They don’t want to big themselves up, they’re not wankers, they just get on with it. They run great businesses and provide terrific employment opportunities.”

The ones he respects most though, are those who manage to run great businesses and have a life. “They are the sort of people who are grounded and who cherish their personal life and families as much as their business. The people who disappoint me are those who ride on the success of their business and sacrifice their relationship or family. Life’s just too short to do that.”

[Next: There is more to life than work for Kochie]

More to life than work

Family is very important to Koch. His daughter Brie works at Pinstripe (although he admits business partner Nigel Miller gave her the job!) and his sister and brother-in-law run a small retail business in Sydney’s Northern Beaches, for which he is unofficial business coach and advisor. His father, Dean, whose death last year he describes as devastating, was his biggest mentor, in life and in business. “The biggest benefit of working in a family business is trust.” He says. “I was very fortunate to have my dad’s influence in my life.”

When Koch gives advice on work/life balance, it comes from experience. “Lib and I have been married for 31 years and we are a partnership. We’ve got four kids and four grandkids. We decided that I would work and that Lib would be the homemaker and that was a personal decision and a business decision.

“You’ve got to invest in your family and that’s all about having someone there. I’ve very rarely worked weekends and I used to schedule in personal family things, like kid’s school events, like business meetings which couldn’t be changed. Some people are scared to do that. But people would ask me if we could meet and I’d say no, because I have Alexander’s athletics carnival that day. About 99 percent of people would totally understand and agree I shouldn’t miss things like that.”

Family first

In 1998, Koch took six months off work and took the entire family to Europe. It was a time to bond and “the best thing we’ve ever done in our life”. He adds: “If you’re in business for yourself, you have to make it work for you. It’s a huge responsibility but you should also make time to enjoy life. You’re here for a good time, not a long time!”

Koch says the challenges facing small business are still largely financial, despite the GFC supposedly being a distant memory. “There will be a shortage of credit in the world over the next couple of years, but the biggest challenges facing small business are not external, they’re internal. We can blame the banks and blame the Government, but the biggest impact on our business is us. It’s about understanding your deficiencies, continuing and improving your skills, balancing your life and your business, inspiring your staff and creating a culture of learning. It’s doing what you love but keeping things in perspective as well.”

Learning from mistakes

Like all small business owners, Koch has made plenty of mistakes and is happy to admit them. “Gerry Harvey [of Harvey Norman], who I interviewed many times as a journo, used to tell me you haven’t really been in business until you’ve been to the brink, looked over the edge and come back again. I used to think he was just being a grumpy old bugger but it’s some of the best advice I’ve been given. And that’s happened to me. It was a really valuable experience, in hindsight.”

He adds: “One of my biggest weaknesses is that I always take too long to admit mistakes. If I come up with an idea or a product and it doesn’t work, I keep trying for too long. When I look back I always think I should have admitted that wasn’t going to work and let go much sooner. It’s important to know your own faults.”

[Next: The Kochie Effect]

The Kochie effect

So what’s it like when the entire nation knows you by your nickname? “It is a bit weird,” admits Koch. “Sunrise has been a great success for me, but coming to me late in life, in my forties, I take it for what it is and don’t get too caught up in being a TV personality as such. The nice thing is that because Kochie’s a nickname, people feel immediately close to you. They feel like they can stop you and talk to you.

“Sometimes people fear business and finance information like going to the doctor’s. I want them to be able to understand it and feel safe asking questions. Most of it is common sense and it’s not that hard to get your head around. So it’s good if I’m approachable.”

The personal brand is really important thought and needs protecting. “Some years ago when an investor came into a listed company I was working for and I had less than 100 percent control of my personal brand, that was one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned.”

Small Business Summit

He’s excited that Kochie’s Business Builders is involved in the Council of Small Business of Australia’s (COSBOA’s) National Small Business Summit. “They approached us because they wanted something different injected into it. We’re hoping to make it bigger and better than ever and make sure it’s really relevant for small business owners as well as being a political and lobbying event. We’ll be talking a lot about technology and how that can help small business.”

The Kochie love/hate

It’s no secret that the public has a love/hate relationship with Koch. “The more prominent your profile, the more people want to have a go at you,” he says. “That’s fine and I think it’s human nature.

“I also have an opinion. I’m not your cardboard cut-out of the typical TV presenter. I don’t look like one and I don’t pretend to be one. With me, why you see is what you get and some people don’t like that.”

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Jen Bishop

Jen Bishop

Jen was the publisher at Loyalty Media and editor of Dynamic Business, Australia's largest circulating small business magazine, from 2008 until 2012. She is now a full-time blogger at The Interiors Addict.

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