Decades of success and no plans to slow down

David Smorgon is a name synonymous with Australian entrepreneurship.

After originally working for a short time as a young lawyer, Smorgon cut his teeth working his way through a grueling three-year apprenticeship in the abattoirs of his family business.

Since those early days, Smorgon has grown to be a stalwart on the business scene, helping to grow his $1 billion family business, and leading the Western Bulldogs as President for 16 years.

Dynamic Business had a chat to Smorgon about his career and his latest venture, Point made., which works with family business owners, corporates and senior executives to identify, solve and improve their communication issues.

How did you come to start Point made.?

It came about because when my time was up as President of the Western Bulldogs, I’d been there for 16 years and I didn’t re-nominate in December 2012, and although I’m the ripe young age of 66, I wasn’t ready to retire or semi-retire, because I’ve seen too many people I know at that age hang up their boots, and they get very boring very quickly because they don’t have enough to do to fill in their days!

I thought to myself ‘I don’t want to become like that’, because I’ve got too much energy, too much experience – both in business and in the community – and I thought if I could share some of those experiences with others, that would give enjoyment to me.

That was the motivation for setting up Point made., and really emanated out of my interest in public speaking, which I’ve been doing for about 16 years or so. Over those years I’ve spoken to a number of organisations both in the public and private sectors, schools, and a whole range of different organisations. It’s always intriguing to me and pleasing that I do get feedback, mostly good – sometimes some other points of view, but my experience seemed to resonate with a lot of people, because I talk about success, about failure, and about giving back to the community – and all of these issues that are perhaps not always spelt out.

So I found there was a gap in the marketplace basically on communication issues. Point made. was established to provide senior executives, and organisations with assistance in developing the essential public speaking and presentation skills. So from that has led to a business that now fully occupies my time, and I’m having a lot of fun doing it, with a lot of interesting clients, and I’ve got a growing business.

How many people do you have working with you on Point made.?

Two people, but we also use, depending on the situation, contractors that have got particular skills that we use on an ‘as needs’ basis. But frankly we look at the workload moving forward and I have no doubt that in 12 months from now we’ll be engaging more people in order for the business to keep performing.

Have you found that your business contacts from previous business ventures has helped you get new clients?

No not really, because this is a different client base. My experiences have assisted, but no I don’t have any existing clients that have come from another time in a different business. They’re new clients, but they’re a wide-ranging client base, and I do have alliances with a couple of different groups that assist with bringing in new clients as required.

You’ve been involved in many entrepreneurial ventures over the years, how did your friends and family react to your latest pursuit?

There were two immediate reactions – one was “why?” and then the other, was that it wasn’t a surprise. I think the ‘why’ question was the interesting one – and it’s simply that I’m not ready to hang up my boots. I’m not ready to retire, and I’m in a position where I can do what I want to do, and just very fortunate that I’ve found something I’m passionate about, and have 40-50 years of experience with, and to share those experiences with others is just giving me lots of enjoyment. So the ‘why are you doing it’ question was actually a really easy one for me to answer.

What are some mistakes you’ve made, and how have you learned from them?

Oh I think every successful person has had failure. It’s a question of how you deal with failure – and a failure, a mistake – I think it’s the same sort of issue, and it’s a question of whether to regard it as a defeat or as a detour. I’ve had many failures and made many mistakes in my life, perhaps made wrong assessments of people, made wrong investment decisions. But that doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world. My attitude is more ‘so what?’ and you just move on to bigger and better things and learn from your mistakes. The one thing you’ve got to try really hard to do is not to make the same mistake again. Often in this highly competitive world we live in, it’s likely that we’re all going to fail along the way, but it’s your attitude about it that matters.

That’s something especially important for young entrepreneurs to learn – you’re going to have bad debt at some point, you’re going to have your doubts, and you’re going to have a client that does the wrong thing by you, you’re going to have a supplier who lets you down – but all these things are part and parcel with business. It comes down to your attitude about it, and the ability to persist.

Over the course of your career, you’ve been very much engaged with the community – how do you view the role of business in today’s world?

I think today we do business with people and organisations who have got the same values that we as people have. I think businesses that involve themselves in the community are noticed, and have a greater chance of getting customers, and being successful than those who see themselves in isolation.

I’ve always felt that it’s the way business should be done, and I’m grateful to the community to give us the opportunity to live here and work here, and grow a business here. I was always brought up with the idea that the more you give, the more you make. You just cannot live a selfish life in my view, and the best experiences are always the ones you share with others.

What advice do you give to young entrepreneurs and startups – those indispensible ingredients they must have in place before they start out?

I’d say think big, have a dream, and as my Dad used to say, if you aim for the moon you might hit the top of the cow shed. We all have to aim big, and then after you dream, you then have to come back and have a written plan. Then also to work with the people who you trust and have respect for, work hard, and then very importantly – you have to back yourself.

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