Managing the people issues with Tony Falkenstein - Episode 2 of Better Business Better Life
Updated: Mar 8
The 3 Top Entrepreneur Tips from Tony Falkenstein
1. Evaluate your venture and ask yourself ‘Is it a million-dollar business?’
Don't waste your time with businesses that don't have the potential to be a million dollar business - you'll buy a job not a business.
2. Always exercise, meditate and have time for clarity breaks with no distractions
Take clarity breaks, using the following tool - EOS Clarity Break
And read this to see "Why clarity breaks re more important than even right now!"
3. Join business organisations and spend time mixing with other business people.
Groups such as EO (Entrepreneurs Organisation) can be key in learning & having peer support.
Tony has written a book - The ABC's of Business: Never Hire a Person Who Walks Slowly
FULL TRANSCRIPT OF PODCAST:
Thank you for joining us on better business better life. Today I am here with Tony Falkenstein. Welcome, Tony.
Lovely to have you as one of our guests. Hey, look, I'm looking forward to hearing what you're talking about today, which is about managing people issues. Big, big topic of mine that I'm very fond of. And before I get started, I just like to, I've got the full bio of Tony online, which you have a look at. But Tony is a real passionate entrepreneur, he has started over 50 companies so far, he's been absolutely instrumental in terms of bringing into the education curriculum, things like business entrepreneurship. And he's also written this book, which is the ABC of business. And it says never hire a person who walks slowly. So we might cover a little bit more of that in our talk. Tony has also been married for 39 years to Heather and has got one daughter who's just returned from the UK. So little bit of background. Tony, thank you. Before we get started, would you mind sharing with us one professional and one personal best that you have in your life?
Okay, one personal best. I'm not a I've never been a great sportsman. But when I was eight, I won the beginners doubles, tennis. And I've been a passionate tennis player ever since. And I still play that three times a week. Yep. And I've never won a cup ever since for any sport or anything. But two years ago, I entered the nationals in my age group. And I won. Oh, wow. became runner up from the doubles.
A few years between
eight years, and we won't even go there. There's like a lot of years. Okay. Oh, that's really good. And what about professionally, what would you say your professional best.
So professionally, I mean, if I just look in the last year, which has been a really interesting year, the COVID year. And we were practised prior to March with, we'd looked at an acquisition company called the cylinder guy. And then COVID came and, and also went all in into myself, and thought, now I won't go into that. And then after thinking about I thought, Well, hey, doesn't really matter what happens when a when you're hot water water cylinder goes, you need a hot water cylinder. So it's really fairly recession proof. So went ahead with the acquisition. And that's all you know, 30% here, we bought it. September one we took over and 30% ahead. Since then, yeah. Wonderful. Very, very pleased for that acquisition.
Yeah, I can imagine. Right. So you said that in your, your bio, that you started over 50 companies, and they're obviously not all going now. But you still got your fingers in quite a number of pies in terms of businesses that you work with, haven't you?
Yeah, probably a lot. A lot less. Probably, you know, probably the ones were was Bartercard. Yeah, one. So and that for 15 years. Bureau, which an office chair business? Oh, yes. That for 10 years. And several other smaller businesses. I mean, I suppose I started off my very, very first company was a company called Vogue personnel. So I was in the personnel business early on. And yeah, and really, I've just been, you know, there been some good ones and bad ones. Yep. So I started the company. When swatch was first introduced in New Zealand, and I started a company called z watch to compete. And we both launched on the same day. Yeah, I'd gone to Hong Kong got similar copies. And, and I'd rang up the receptionist of the company that was importing them and found out all the information when they are launching what the pricing was going to be how many models how many colours, guarantees everything. So I thought, well, I can better than that. And so I didn't every every part of the part of the mix, Santos a product, we are more models, more colours, in terms of we had a two year guarantee that a one year guarantee. They were $69 we were $49. We both promoted similar type of lifestyle ads on TV. And they distributed only through jewellery shops and department stores. We went through pharmacies and department stores in a much wider retail reach. Yeah. And so between September and December, we sold 27,000 watches to the 7000. And unfortunately, the strap had got brittle plasticizer in the strap. So when kids put them on on Christmas Day, they wouldn't snap immediately. And so it was an absolute disaster.
How do you recover from that?
If I ever you know, do my look up my lifeline say that that would be the worst. You know, took me right down to zero really really tough. We're very lucky, you know, didn't lose our house very, very lucky because I'd been in a previous business And the auditor, audit partner had seen what I was doing and thought, gee, hey, this is a good guy didn't know anything about SeaWatch he rang me up and said, Hey, listen, when you come along, we've taken over a company crushert based company, we need someone with your skills, and will give you $100,000 sign on bonus. That really just saved me.
Yeah. So what was that? Who was that called?
Am seventh weight? It was owned by a company called you called unity group. Yeah, property developers. And they bought this trading company. It was a turnover. 60 million losing 30 million. Losing 3 million. Yeah. And had six divisions, textiles, paper, printing machines, all sorts. And I sold off the various divisions. This was back in 87. In fact, this was the start of really just water in November 87. I went to the board and said, Listen, everything's gone now is sitting there and 50,000 square feet gathered or place. And I'm just there with one, one, pa and, and I'm in effect redundant. I've got a couple of ideas. And one of them was to rent fax machines. Okay, really following the rank Xerox model for photo copiers, but you can have any, any model you like along with your rent. Yep. And other companies weren't renting because a salesman had to go and get the order then get credit approval. And I really followed the Xerox model was, Hey, I don't need credit approval folds over. I put it somewhere else. Yep. So people renting that needed new machine, but they look new. And that's what happened. And and so they said, Yeah, we'll go ahead with that. And then we started in the share market crash happened. And in January the eighth, the managing director came to me and said, Hey, listen, we're going into receivership. Do you want to buy this buy effects business for $1. And off we went. And so then we went 88 was a really big boom because like the global financial crisis, a lot of decisions for capital have to go a lot further up the line. Yep. And for rental, any branch manager could approve it to now picks. Yeah. And then we look around for another product, we could rent and I've seen what a call is on on American sitcoms. Try there.
So is that where it started from? It was adding something else the rental suite of products.
And so people and yes, I bought six water coolers to people that stayed read more into jogging and and just that health thing was starting to kickin. Yep. And so anyway, I bought six water coolers, they went out the first day. So that was the start of the water business.
Fantastic. So it's really interesting, because people think that, you know, they see successful business people and they think, Oh, well, they've had an easy ride. But it's often lots of ups and downs, isn't it? It's a roller coaster ride. What apart from losing everything in the Z watch thing? What are the others are big challenges that you've had in your career as entrepreneur?
Well, I would say that, like I've always said, If I had my way again, there's no way I'd start my own business. I'm really because it is, you know, it takes, you know, we had seven years, I suppose. And, you know, really skimping and not knowing that close to the line between success and failure are so close for the bank, you know, to come in, you're sitting there right on your limit and everything. Something goes wrong a little bit. Yeah. And you're, you know, you can lose everything. You lose everything. Yeah. And yeah, prior to that, I've been in a corporate job, getting a good salary coming up the front. stuff. Yeah. When I wanted to leave, I could leave. And so the with your own business, you can't ever leave. But anyway, you know, after we're done, if he would say Aye. Any saying that we'll look at you now. But hey, it was it. Was that close to seven years?
Yeah. Things have changed for the better now. Thank goodness. So we're here to talk about people specifically today. And I saw you know, your book talks about never hire a person who walks slowly. Where does that come from? What's the rationale behind that?
Really, it really came from a from a lecturer at university. Those are two MBA students. And someone just asked me this question. Give me one thing on I want you to look for new employees. And that's the first thing that came out of my head. And that's a big laugh. So I thought well, that's a nice thing. But it is true. I mean, we have when we hire people, we the receptionist is really important part in this whole employment thing. Yep. Just watching how they come in how they treat him or him or her is really important. Yeah, and, and I don't think it's it's not 100% foolproof, but because often I work so you know, you often can be deep in thought. Yeah. And you may not. You know, you may you may walk slowly, but in general people are people who walk slowly. They walk Quickly,
as well, fantastic. Now I know when Warner was here in the last episode, he talked about the fact that the real reason he was able to kind of let go of the business and spend time with his wife and his family because he had the right people around him. But it's not always easy to get the right people. And sometimes the people you start the business with end up not being the people who continue on the business. So right people, right seats is always important, I suppose from your point of view, what's been the biggest people challenges you've had?
Well, there's getting the right people on the bus and you're always moving the people on the past to get the right people. Yep. What's been really interesting, over COVID has been, you know, one of the good things about COVID was the lockdown was we had time to think, and, and business businesses changed. And one of the things we had to think about and it was a was a terrible one had to do, but the, the time of the door to door salesman is sort of ending. Yeah, and, and if you just keep on going, we keep on going. And we have the same people. And really we weren't, the water business is fairly mature. We weren't getting a lot of new business. And we were paying these people who are really audit clerks. Yeah. And that's what we needed. We needed what we call an internal sales team now who just take the orders and look after any, you know, key key customers, they know they want a water cooler shifted, or they want to new water cooler somewhere, and to a top three or something. As long as we get it there. They don't really want to see a salesman's on the door every five minutes. I know how thing going and all that sort of stuff. So so. So the horrible thing for us was that removing 4, 5, 5 people had been there. Well, on average from the 15, 16 years, yeah, so it all been good friends and effect. Family. Yeah, yeah. Suddenly, you're saying, hey, Tom, the guy. That was tough, but you know, that's it. We knew it was the right thing for the future. Yep. So it'll be done.
And so when you have to make a tough call like that, because you have to sometimes to survive, right? How would you handle that? Because as you said, there, you're potentially part of an extension of the family. They've been there for a long time.
Yeah, I mean, this was quite I mean, it's quite unusual. But yeah, we just had to wait to go through the process and say, Hey, this is what we're looking at restructuring. Yep. They in effect, they will. They will put voluntary redundancy immediately. And it will take money. Yeah. But still, it was, you know, from their, from their point of view this thing. Gee we gave all our time and life to this company. And now look what they do to us. Yeah. So you've
looked after them. So
yeah. So male side would say, Hey, listen, we've got you. We're taking you on a year on overseas trips. Yeah. But I can understand how they think,
yeah, and things change. And and as I said, as a business owner, we often have to make those tough calls, and Warner talked about the fact that sometimes you can have a rotten apple in the business, and that can have such a massive impact on the whole team, just as a good person to have a positive impact. But have you ever had a person in an organisation who has been really detrimental?
Yeah, I this has happened to a lot of people I don't know. But we say, hey, they just not worth having that. We have to pay them out. We feel well, you just shouldn't have to do it. We say hey, listen, you know that? Get rid of them very, very quickly. Yeah. So So I have a I have a phrase or something that probably the best pin Tiger probably give you today. Yeah, the best phrase you'll ever ever use is how, you know, you don't seem to be happy. And then white? Mm hmm. And the thing that yes or not? Yeah, either. They say, Well, no, listen, I'm not happy here. I will let you know, if you're not happy. You just shouldn't be I mean, hey, let's come to an arrangement. If they say yes, I'm happy. Well, they will say Well, hey, you're certainly not showing talk to your face. You know, that thing has to, you're gonna have to, you know, the whole, whatever they're doing, and nothing is an evil person or just person who talks and just gossip monger or whatever. They're able to tell him straight. Listen, and that's not making not making you happier. Don't make anyone else happy. Yeah, generally, we find that they either way they go.
Yeah. And you're right, because it has to be related to both the employer and the employee. Right. And if the employee is unhappy, it's important that they actually go for their own benefit and find something that they actually genuinely love. Right? Yeah.
So we have a we have a signing that's being right through the company. If you're not in business for fun and profit, what the hell are you doing? Yeah. And, and I say it for the employee to say hey, if you're, if you're not in a job that you that you're learning from and enjoying Then why be here? Yeah, so probably someone who's a, who's a civil servant, a bureaucrat, possibly wouldn't like it in our business because, you know, they want to know fixed rules, etc. A view from our business we would hate to work for a government department. That's just different people. Yeah. Yeah.
Okay. And if I was to ask, you know, one of the employees at just, what's it called now? just life group, sorry, Yeah, I was gonna say just one, but just life group. Do they? They understand, you know, they're there for the core purpose of the business, what would they? What do they say about the company as an employee?
You know, like I say that, that we, you know, we live by our values. The acronym first. That's fun, integrity, respect, service, and trust. Nice. So the fun part is saying, Hey, we want to provide you with an environment that you that you enjoy. But you know, game that you're making profits which is why you work here, yep, we provide a you know, nice facilities. You can, you can have, there's lots of food, you make your own breakfast here and lunch here. We have a massage person come in. We do some nice nice things for people. Yep. And and then that comes down to respect. You know, I say that fibre, fibre anyone? Yes, I listen to that. And I tell them when I when I hire them, the reason you get fired is because you show lack of respect. So I will respect everyone in the company. And I expect the same respect back. So if you decide to go and sell water or water to someone else, and take the money, yep. Well, that's not showing respect.
Fair enough. Yep. Okay. And then if we look at the on the positive side, you know, you must have some stars within the team. What do you think we're creates a star within an environment?
Yeah, I say that. That one star equals two good people. So star, you want as many stars as you can get. Yeah.
How do you employ stars? How do you know their star before you employ them?
Yeah, you often don't. But just suddenly try and try and get them. We put a lot of you know, that hire slowly and fire fast is probably pretty important. Yep. And, yeah, we try it. We try. We try and get you're always just it's always a big massage of just getting the right people in the right place on the bus. Never, never really stopped. Yeah. And then as you grow, I think you've said this as you grow the people. Some people just can't grow at the same rate. Yeah.
That's one of the roles changed significantly. I mean, we look, we look at this last year as a classic example. I mean, we've had to reimagine business in huge ways, which means that the role that might have been there six months ago, may not be there now. Yeah, yeah. I remember John Spence, when he came over, he talked about, you know, if you've got the wrong person in on the bus to just fire them, well, you can do that in the US, you can do that quite so easily over here in New Zealand,
but you have to, we take the we take the hit. Yeah. So we, if we have to we go through that? Are you happy? Yeah, that doesn't work. We say hey, listen, it's not working, not working between us. You know, it's, uh, and so you are going to have to go? Yep. And so we'll have this chat now. And the worst. And this is what I think a lot of companies don't realise that they're so scared of personal grievances. Yep. But the most chances are, as long as you go, pop, pop the way through the process, and, and show some respect for them. The most of this is going to cost you three months, three months pay. So often, we're prepared to pay that three months
Because the damage they do when they're in there is just, you can't even measure that. Can you? Yeah, okay. So we like to give our listeners sort of three tips, our listeners that are generally sort of, you know, established businesses, they they're definitely privately owned businesses, working with a leadership team, let them sort of three tips or tools or pointers they can take away with them won't be the sort of three things you'd really like to share for either up and coming entrepreneurs or those who might be struggling a bit after the pandemic.
Well, I suppose when we look at a new venture, and it'd be the same for a startup is we say, hey, can this be a million dollar business? There's not a million dollars, we don't want to waste our time with it. So there are some businesses that we have started not. It's not going to be it's not the million dollar business. It's given us a way to throw it to someone else. Yep. So so I think that's, that's important. Just being realistic, not not going because you think, gee, this would be fun. We'd love to do this. But if you really want to get lifestyle, you just have to get up to here to get up to a million dollars pretty quickly. And the pain here unless it's unless it's a consulting business or something where everything is, its profit. I I'm big on on exercise. looking looking healthy? And
I see you've got an outer ring on her. Yes.
During during excising every morning and you just feel much better for the day.
Yep. That's the first thing in the morning thing for you. Yep. Before you start. Yeah. Why don't you get up in the morning?
I think I'm a morning person. Yep. And I call him I call that six to seven. It's normally 530 to 630. Is my golden hour. Yep. Come down, feed the dogs feed the cat. And then I've got my own. Yeah. I like I put a lot of emphasis on this. Thinking overnight. Yep. So you know, my wife will say, in the dinner party or something. Tony can have the worst crisis in the world. He tells me that at night, I don't sleep all night. He goes straight to sleep. The next morning, I know what I'm going to do. And, and I'm relying on my, my subconscious to tell me that. Yep. And that's very much the same thing I wrote in the book about, you know, how to have new ideas is go for a walk, no iPhone, no iPod? No dog, no partner. Yeah, go for a walk for an hour and a half. And you'll just find so many things that come into your into your mind. And you get a proposal. Well, that's a bit like meditation. But yeah, I
mean, I must admit, I've always struggled meditation in terms of lying on a mat and, but I do use it as the quiet time. You know, getting that clarity break to go out there. On your own no distractions. I really find that is my full meditation. Yeah.
Yeah, I think I think mixing with people to that you left us alone. As a winner. Don't go out of your way to do it. But, you know, it's, you know, I belong to EO, yes. Yeah. So you just getting, you're mixing with people who are really wanting to want to be in business? Yeah. So, so often, otherwise, you can. So wasting, wasting your friends time, you're not really getting anything from the relationship? And certainly, that's fine to be casual. But if and if you're with if you want to be in business, you probably shouldn't join some business organisation be talking to people who are who are also doing it.
Yeah. I think part of the value of VO and EO, I was member for three and a half years was the forum is actually having that chance to discuss with your peers, openly things that perhaps you can talk to other people about. And they get it because they've been there, they've done that they've got the T shirt, or they're going through it themselves. I think that's the real value. But you're in that way was in baby eo, you're in this role here. The big EO, what's the big value you get from that organisation?
So, so I'm, you know, a lifelong learner, and I think it is you just need to always keep on learning. Yeah,
I agree completely. Fantastic. Okay. So now, if people want to get in contact with you, and they want to get hold of them, or your water or your any of your services, what's the best way for them to get in contact with you?
So I'm Tony F, yep, just life.co.nz. Or you can go straight on our website, and which is either just life group, or just water? You know, in
any of the videos? Yeah.
Yeah. And we have a you'll see on them, every one has a personal guarantee by by myself is with my phone number and my email address on it. And I think I'm the only TV, any public company that has, has a mobile number and email address on the website, saying that I will treat I treat every customer, shareholder. Employee like an as either a member of my family, if you think I'm not living up to that, then please call me directly.
That's fantastic. I didn't realise that. And that's never finished them. They can't get all these questions. Has that? Have you ever had anybody sort of actually take you up on that?
You know quite quite quite a lot. Yeah. People say hi, you know, or whatever and arrive on Friday. What I'm gonna do I get a lot of, you know, texts over the weekend and things. Yeah. But to have the chief executive answer to that is great
Phenomenal. Yeah. Fantastic. Well done a great initiative. Okay. Well, thank you so much for coming on. Really, really appreciate it. It's always good to hear you know, from the horse's mouth what really goes on in business and I appreciate you being so open and honest.
Thank you. Pleasure to be here.