Happy Wife, Happy Life with Warner Cowin - Episode 1 of Better Business, Better Life
Updated: Mar 8
The 3 Tips from Warner Cowin
1. Surround yourself with the right people:
Get a Business Coach, have a mentor, join an organisation such as EO (Entrepreneurs Organisation). This allows you to share some of the anxiety or challenges that you are facing without having to bring it home.
You can only let go & create space for yoAlways employ people based on their values - you can teach them what they need to do but you can't teach them to behave according to your company values. Having the right people in the right seats is the only way you'll be able to let go of the business & create that space for your loved ones, family & outside passion. One good person can make a world of difference, while one bad person can destroy your business.
2. Implement a structure or operating system, such as EOS (Entrepreneurial Operating System) to get the business running effectively
3. Always be learning - take the time to educate yourself about your business. industry or about business in general.
Here are the 3 latest books that Warner has read:
FULL TRANSCRIPT OF PODCAST:
So thanks for joining us and our first guest speaker episode of better business better life. We're here today with Warner Cohen, who's here to talk to us about happy wife happy life, or more specifically, actually how he creates that space, both personal and family life, particularly as his wife, Liz is actually a co founder in the business. So Warner welcome.
Thanks for Thanks for having me.
Lovely to have you here. Yeah, nice to have you as my first guest. Yeah. Hey, before we get started, I'd really like to understand a little bit about what it is your business does.
So I know when the website talks about being Australasia is leading technical tendering and procurement consultancy. What does that really mean?
What does that mean? Very simply put, we help government agencies procure large pieces of infrastructure, engineering infrastructure, like roads, bridges, rail, water, those types of things. And on the flip side, we help contractors and suppliers try and win government contracts as well. across both New Zealand and Australia,
fantastic. Okay. And also, I like to get to people to know you a little bit more personally, as well. So
if I can ask you a personal professional success that you've had in the last year or so?
Yeah, I mean, I, as we chatted before, you know, 2020 was pretty crazy. So I it's pretty hard to disconnect my personal and my professional life with how our team responded to the COVID crisis and, and particularly the lockdown. You know, we hit a pretty crazy year, when we set him in December and reflected over over a few wines we did incredibly well, we won a few awards. We did well, financially, our reviews are down, but their margins were up. But, you know, we've hit some real challenges we've had, you know, people who were working remotely didn't have the right you know, the right place where they could work or a safe place they could work. He challenges associated with the stress and anxiety of whether we were going to continue as a business like most organisations did. And so we hit this kind of whole roller coaster type experience. And I think, when you're emotionally connected to businesses, most founders and entrepreneurs are, that's really hard to disconnect the professional and personal. So how we ended up at the end of the year for us was probably for me, the highlight of this, you know, the highlight from professional personal perspective.
Tell me about other awards. You won a couple of awards this year. Is that right?
Yeah. So 2020, we won the boy procurement supreme award with one of our customers, which was, which is phenomenal. Phenomenal, really. So it was a great team effort from our team. And we got the we won the Best of the Best for the Westpac Business Awards for strategy and planning. We got announced last year, even though there was for 2019. So that was a real significant for us. And it was really important not not from a marketing perspective, but it makes the team feel really good about what we've done. And it's that third party endorsement that you're doing things right, so it was real, real highlight for us.
Congratulations, both you and the team. That's fantastic.
Now I understand that you're a little bit of a late bloomer to this whole entrepreneurial, sort of set the scene and tell us how you started out?
Well, I think, um, you know, just to understand I was in the military, when I left school at the University, I was in the Air Force and then travelled through life, left the Air Force went to the UK, got into construction. So I kind of jokingly say, I never had a real job till I was about 34. Again, join a corporate entity joined down as here in New Zealand. And that's how I really got involved in some serious construction activities is kind of linked to what we do now. It's been five years doing that. And then I got to a point where I kind of realised possibly I wasn't rightful for corporate world, I was looking for something a little bit different. So the age of really aged 39, nearly 40 years, and I made a call to start our own business. And it was pretty interesting, because we had a two month year old at the time and a two year old. And, you know, I was the single income earner in the family and we hit a, like everyone who owns a home and also had reasonably big mortgage. We might call it at a later age to start a business. And it was it was seven years ago now. So
and So what was the list at that time was a full time mom? Oh, yes. Yeah.
Yes, she was. Yeah.
And so what made you decide to take that leap?
Yeah, I look, I think, I think I realised that life was very short. And actually, I had confidence in my ability to create something. And I think, you know, there's always an anxiety when you go and look at selling a business around whether it's going to be successful or not. And I think Jim Collins talks about throwing pebbles first. Yeah, and I kind of was throwing a few pebbles and I was kind of sussing out what I was going to hit the target or not before I fired the cannonball and, you know, I was confident we hit something there and I had Liz's full support, which was really important. And so we pressed on. And I think you know, we've after two weeks, we've always been busy. So it's seven years ago now and we've come out of a Garret Sandringham, here in Auckland through but those days Yeah, yeah. Three to you know, we've got a team of about 20, which includes our board and some from part time contractors as well. So, yeah, so we've really progressed
and Do you still work full time in the business?
I kind of do. I mean, to be fair, I like my business is my hobby kind of weirdly, so I don't look at it is working I genuinely love going into work and exploring new things and chasing new opportunities. I don't know what else I would do to be honest, I'm not great at sitting still. And I don't I don't I don't have like hobbies that consume time. I mean, we've got a young family with three children. Yeah, I got a five, seven and nine year old. So outside of work when Liz and I are, you know, be part of our family, you know, this, those two things can consume us, you know, the business and raising, raising a reasonably young family?
And how was it starting a business with both of you involved in the business having such a younger in two months old? That's, that's tough times at that time in life. Right?
Yeah. But it was, it was interesting, because I think what I've learned is that how much control you have over your situation as a, as an entrepreneur, as a business owner, that actually you have more control. And probably I perceive as less risk if you're sort of interfaces into your large corporate. So you have the ability to if you have to call 100 people for a job or you or 1000 people you will Yeah, so, so the risk is all relative, and the stress is relative. So we were determined to make it. So there was never any option not to really, so yeah,
okay. And I'm really interested because you know, a lot of people go into business with their partners, their wives, whatever. And the whole topic, happy wife, happy life is not quite as its positioned. It's more about how do you find that balance? But also, more importantly, how do you as you say, create that space for family and business when they are so intertwined? You know? So, from the beginning to where you are now, I'm guessing if I asked Liz, you might have a story to tell as well. But how would you see that played out?
Ah, it's funny that I mentioned to you that this was the topic of conversation, she kind of looked at me and, and with a raised eyebrow, and I've got a number of very strong, influential women who are part of my team at work, and they all laugh and think it's hilarious that we're talking about this, because because we're definitely not the perfect couple. You know, we all have our trials and tribulations. So I'm not going to pretend to you that, you know, we are the poster capital for anything really so. But I think what we've learned, in particular, around how to manage a business and a family is a is a is a couple was really important around creating space, deliberate space, and being very clear around roles and responsibilities. So for example, I'm very much the CEO of the business. And Liz looks after all our people. So her two backgrounds in HR. And interestingly, Liz reports to someone else, she has a report to me. So it keeps things really very deliberate around trying to create that space. We try very, very hard not to talk about business outside of outside of working hours. So one of the things that's really important for us is that, particularly for me is I have to come home and decompress, and not have to think about, you know, some of the challenges we have at work. And so that's one of the things we those are two things that we try to do deliberately. And then it's also about how do we manage our time between us as a couple more effectively. And I don't think I don't think you know, last year wasn't a good example, because we were kind of cocoon together. It was awesome. But you know, as you know, we we try and be very deliberate around holiday. And one of the things we've always done is take three weeks off, mid year, no phones, no emails, we as a family, we guys, suddenly we were away from things. So that normally entails us healing to somebody like Australia, where we just basically just can't disconnect. And my team can pick up the pieces, I can spend 100% focus and attention on Liz and the kids. So it's really important for us, as a couple tip, make sure we hit very deliberate time away. You know, after this podcast, I'm going to hit the beach and spend some time with the kids. And we're going to probably right up to February. So we're in early January now. Had I spent a bit of balanced time with the kids at the beach as well. So yeah.
And I suppose we learn from our mistakes, don't we? Yeah, I said that when we Weren't we supposed to read this? Well, what do you think have been the biggest kind of obstacles challenges you've had? And then what have you learned from those along the way?
In relation to, you know, managing as a couple? Yeah,
I think so. But then also about the business a little bit as well. You know,
I think you know, when I think about the challenges we have in particular it's always seems to be around people. Yeah. And because Liz and I are quite emotional people. We are very emotionally invested in our team and their personal wellness and so forth like that. So when some of our team members are having challenges, we take it very personally, and we try our best to resolve it. So it can be very tricky to disconnect ourselves from that emotional challenge that maybe our teams are going through. So that for us is key. I think what we've really learned in going back to some of the work you're doing is, is the importance of having a framework and structure and importance of mentors, and those types of things when you're looking to scale and grow others. And so we we got to, I think, one of the Eureka things that will happen to us. As we got a we got involved in Neo quite early on entrepreneurs organisation, as you know, that also got a business coach quite early on as well. And we were quite small time we're only doing about two or $300,000 a year. But what it did is it set the set the structure out for us to to scale and grow in a real sustainable way that we weren't actually, you know, growing and creating more work for ourselves. We were backfilling stuff with people and systems and processes. We've been really clear on where our target market was. And I think what they did is allowed us a very str were relatively str, comparatively stress free way of scaling and growing. So I think that's one of the really key important,
it was actually one of the questions I've just written down, I was thinking about the fact that you take three or four weeks away, yeah, and most entrepreneurs, I start working with kind of go, there's no way in the world, I could take three or four weeks away, the business will fall down without me. And I suppose you've just answered that, in some respects is if you put the systems and processes in place, you have the right people in the right seats. Yeah, you've got everything sort of nicely structured, it actually gives you more freedom, would that be fair to say? 100%?
So for example, the holiday content was one of my mentors. He said, you know, what do you want to achieve this year? And we talked about revenue growth and new customers and, you know, some personal stuff as well. And we were talking you guys, you know, what, when's the last time you had a really decent holiday with your family? And I said, Well, probably this Christmas just gone where you're on your phone, we check in your computers. He said, Well, why don't you set a goal within 12 months time, you take two weeks holiday, notify me, no emails, and it was a challenge to me. So what it means to me was that I had to really deliberate around selection of people, I had to find a tool I see in the business, someone who could deputise for me, I had to get a minimum of systems around in place in order for the business to continue without me. And when I got home and explained to Liz, this is what you know, this is what I'm thinking. She She booked the holiday, literally. And we were we were gonna go here. Yeah, and this is what we were gonna do. So it's been phenomenal. It's a really important part of our family routine
that strengthens the family, doesn't it? It's all about having that time together.
Yeah. And you're creating memories the whole time. So that, you know, we were, you know, you know, not really bummed. But we were disappointed. We couldn't go away. And I think you know, but we've realised, you know, we've got some great options here. I mean, you know, we can go to the mountain from the mountain originally and pauanui in places like that. So yeah, yeah. Shouldn't comply.
Definitely not. Very, very fortunate position over here at the moment. Yeah, that's fantastic. Okay, what were the other sort of real big obstacles that you've kind of hit in the seven was eight years now, isn't it?
Yeah, isn't April, um, look, I think one of the challenges we face as a professional services business, and we and we kind of peaked a little bit, we had really good growth for the first five, six years. The last two years, we've kind of stagnated. And I think what we're finding now is how do we productize? How do we, how do we go away from selling time to credit experiences, and we invested quite heavily in developer products and experiences. And it's been, it's been really good for us. What it means is that we needed to really understand who we sold to, and what are their core issues and challenges. We need to be clear on who our customers are their core customer, and then design experience around that. And it means that we could, rather than just selling time, we could create an experience, we could market experience. We could train people in order to deliver these things. And then we just had our first dabble into digitising those experiences now. So you know, how do we create bigger scale through others? And so I am really excited about 2021 in terms of where we're going. And, in fact, with I think we learned a really good lesson, we actually recruited some people during the lockdown. Yep, we recruited a new principal. And they've been you know, three principles, but actually getting a new principal who can run a business who can run a subset of what we're trying to achieve and the influence she's had. And it's been phenomenal, really. So I think we've got the courage now to invest and get some good people in paid top dollar for good people. But also be really clear about the products and services we're offering.
people really are everything in the business, aren't they?
100% You know, you know,
what do you do if you've got the wrong person in the visit ever had that experience? Yeah.
I mean, yeah, I mean, you know, when you first start, and I needed somebody, I met a guy at a pub that happened to be loosely, you know, do a little bit of work in our space, and he was looking for work. And, you know, I grabbed them, I was just really chuffed that anyone would want to come and spend time with me, you know, like, isn't my business because I didn't have I didn't feel I had the credibility as a business. But we're becoming more and more were absolute very selective on on choosing the right people. And we have a very values based approach. And one of the things we were very clear on early on was how do we define our values and values are really important, because they become the unofficial playbook of how you run a business. so full of processes and procedures, if you empower your staff to make a decision based on values, that's all you can do, you know,
values have been a little bit overused in corporate, and they tend to be things that get stuck on the wall on a screen. People have no attention to them. So how do you keep those values alive in the business? And that's the playbook. But how do you hold people to at all?
Well, I think the story that we probably need to just touch on it briefly. I mean, it was one of our graduates who said to us look, you know, I think values are important. And I come from a military, which is a very values based organisation, and we really abide and live by you guys. And then I've got this corporate world where actually To be fair, was quite transaction. So we abide by our values, but actually know what if we're not making enough money, then we wont. So I was kind of like a bit sceptical. But you know, I owe it to Lucy, she's in Germany at the moment, for the fact that she persevered and we pressed on, but it was a game changer for us. in how we bring out values of life, it starts a recruitment process. So we have a nominal competency, but actually, what we're trying to choose is the right person. So the right set of values to align with that type of person. Yeah. So if we get the right values, then we can build competency, no problem at all. And in terms of bringing them alive, it's really important. So we have things like value based stories, every Tuesday, our team meeting, so we had some this morning. But also our morning huddle is really important as well. So I think if you if you if you try and get an environment where people feel comfortable in how do you create a level of vulnerability within your business as well. So it's really important without huddle, which is a quick catch up, where what you do last 24 what you do next 24 any stucks sort of issues or concerns, I think the trick is, to implementing that thinking is, is for the leaders of the business to be vulnerable first. So you've got to show uncertainty to your team when when you're uncertain. So what it does is send a clear message to everybody that it's okay to be uncertain. And it reinforces those days particular if you want people to be open, honest and transparent.
Perfect. And I suppose you know, 2020 certainly was a roller coaster year, wasn't it? And there has been times where you perhaps wondered what was going on? And where this would go to a bit of vulnerability here what we says the worst point in 2020. For you.
Yeah, I probably just touching and just going a little bit tangent here. But yeah, I you know, normally our huddle is really quick. Normally, it's about eight to 10 minutes for the whole for whole company to get together and smash through it. Yeah, what we found during the lockdown at a huddle would extend to half an hour, three quarters an hour, because people were just expressing how they were uncertain, or concerned. And actually, what's interesting, and sometimes for, you know, not necessarily for everyone, but you know, there were times where I thought that possibly where the anchor was for some of our staff was with with their work colleagues, as opposed to the environment they might have been sitting in remotely. Yeah. So again, you know, just observing and the power of vulnerability and the safe place for people to work.
I think communication became key, didn't it? So obviously, you have you had communication before pre COVID if you like, yeah. And then throughout the lockdown, how do you keep the communication lines open between you and your wife? Given that? You know, you try to keep things in, in business hours? Yeah. Hi, I'm with the whole team and the wider team, you know, what do you do to make sure that things are being communicated?
Well, yeah, look, it's Look, I don't think we've got this sorted out at all. So probably when I look at the way, Liz and I have had discussions and how we've interacted last year, it's been really, really tough for us, because we haven't had really that timeout as a couple that we'd like to one of the really cool things we did and probably the best day of my last year was well what's the best I without a doubt is that after our our work function Liz and I just stayed in the hotel in the city for two days. Yeah, just an you know, we had kids looked after. And on the Saturday we just went to Rangitoto and we looked around and not Rangitoto and went out for lunch, you know, just kind of really spent some time together so that we need to be more deliberate in creating that opportunity for us as a couple just to spend time. And it's in you know, that's really cool. As a team quite structured around how we communicate. So we have our morning huddle. Which is quite important. Yeah. And then we have our team meetings on Tuesdays, which is very much a technical, slightly strategic meeting. Yeah. And those are those key points around our day. And then we have another round of meetings, like sales meetings and cash flow meetings. So those are kind of our deliberate points of contact. But you know, it's always been about having an open door policy, so anyone can feel free to come and have a chat to you if they're uncertain or concerned. Yeah.
I think that's wonderful. And we're just about at time, doesn't it Go quickly. But we promise, we promise that our listeners that we would actually give them three tips they could take away, they could put into action, almost immediately. So just talking about some of the things we've talked about, what would you say your top kind of three tips are for keeping that space for both your personal professional life?
Ah, quite a probably, I think if you get the business, right, yep. In terms of the way the business runs, then it creates more time and space for you to invest back into your family.
And you mentioned getting a coach earlier, I think structures operating system, that kind of thing. Yeah,
so probably not three, but you know, just to see how we go. But, you know, for us around getting a business coach around having either business coach, have a mentor, I have eo which is much resource here think of forum where people come together and share experiences. So I've three mechanisms in which I can share some of the anxieties or the challenges I'm facing as a, as a business owner outside of my immediate work save an advisory board as well. So you know, I invest heavily in terms of external people to provide support and guidance to me. And I think what's really interesting about that is that it allows me to work smarter, not necessarily harder. And you know, that the situation with, you know, a business coach, and how that really transformed the way we ran our business was really significant. The other thing, I think you can't underestimate the importance of, you know, values based people within your organisation is very cliche about you know, getting the right people on the bus, but it's so true, you know, one good person can make significant diverse business to business. Yeah. And likewise, one person who's not great can destroy business quite quickly. Yeah, so the values are really, really key. So how do we create a culture of vulnerability and things like that, how we talked about really reinforcing days by stories, because you've got to teach people how to do this stuff, you've got to teach people that are new to business around what it is to work for our organisation be part of our team. So it's really, really important. What else did I write? Oh I just wrote learning, actually, yeah, you know, it's really important. So I probably do one or two days of learning every month, whether it be through forum or some sort of visual learning or reading. So something that I really enjoy. And I think being very deliberate around taking time to learn and be away from your businesses is really key. So there's probably three things that I have, I think, really helped us in terms of in terms of growing and growing scalable business, like, for example, learning the flywheel from Jim Collins, you know, read about that, and something I really wanted to implement. You know, I took time to read about it, understand it and so forth.
Read any good books recently?
yeah, I have actually Ibiza nomics by Brian Germain. Okay, so it's a story about Amazon. And Jeff Bezos says, I read I think you are worried about getting a grip by Gina Whitman and the holidays. And I read the big The, the answers to the big questions by Stephen Hawking. So I'm interested. I'm a an engineer. So I'm curious about physics and cycle today. Yeah and some trashy novels, of course. Yeah.
It's the holidays for God's sake. Yeah. Absolutely. Yeah. Oh, that is awesome. Hey, look, Warner, I really, really appreciate you being my first guest and coming and sharing so vulnerably and giving people some insight into your business and how you got there. So thank you very much. I look forward to seeing you again soon.