I have been very fortunate to have worked closely with a number of extraordinary founders during my working life. 15 years ago I embarked on a journey with a very clever entrepreneur, founder and tow truck driver – Tony Re. This is what I learned about the importance of trust and respect.
Our key player at Straight Bat is the business founder. They are hard-working and honest. Their business is their reputation and their legacy. They have strong relationships with all the long-standing employees and care about them and their lives. They have had the courage and resilience to forge a business while dealing with the complexities of customers, competitors, regulators, employees and the laws of the land.
Tony was the driving force behind Nationwide Group. The business started life in a shed with eight tow trucks, two service vans and 15 people in the back streets of Blackburn 20km east of the Melbourne CBD. There were eight shareholders with a diverse skill base. The business now has a workforce of 550 people, 300 trucks, 150 service vans and operates across the country.
Since its beginnings, the business grew across Melbourne supporting the RACV with breakdown towing and emergency roadside service, local councils with clearway towing and equipment hire companies moving gear to work-sites.
When I met first Tony we had a 1-hour meeting scheduled to consider investing in the business. We built rapport very quickly and the 1-hour meeting went for 3 hours! I had no idea at this point how our relationship was going to evolve however the immediate rapport was the foundation of the most critical element between us which was the mutual trust and respect we built and developed.
The pathway from rapport to genuine trust and respect is established over time and based on honesty, hard work, listening, accountability, playing the long game, having a crack and finally – focusing intently on what is best for the business and the team. This is how Tony and I operated. We were also very fortunate to have a talented group of leaders in the business who operated in the same way and had a great team ethic. It was a lot of fun.
A few years after our first meeting I joined the business as Chairman and two years later I became CEO. We did a lot of great things together – and with our team of people. The business needed a sharper focus on profitability which we did. We agreed a strategy to grow across the country which we did. We then brought in a strategic shareholder who agreed to acquire 100% over a period of time. An interesting point is that we had agreed 4 objectives when I started as CEO – which included all of the above – and we did virtually exactly as we planned. This is another critical element of working with a founder – do what you say you are going to do – and if not – discuss and agree new objectives.
To achieve all of this Tony and I worked very closely together, listened to each other and communicated very regularly, we figured out what was best for the business, worked it through with the senior team members to get their input and feedback – then we drew up a brief plan and executed. It was all an amazing experience which I have treasured and learnt a lot from. When you really have trust and respect in a business relationship and you foster genuine team-work it is amazing what you can achieve. Tony & I still talk 3 times a day!
Play the long game.