A sea change with the entrepreneurs

  • Date:01 Jun 2005
  • Type:CompanyDirectorMagazine
Under the sea and above the surface there are many secrets a sign at the WA Maritime Museum tells the visitor. It seems a fitting opening.

A sea change with the entrepreneurs

By Pamela Murray-Jones

Under the sea and above the surface there are many secrets a sign at the WA Maritime Museum tells the visitor. It seems a fitting opening.

On this particular morning a group of us from the Company Directors Conference have gathered at the museum hoping to learn the secret of success from three of Australia's most successful entrepreneurs, each representing a different stage in the life cycle of a company.

Stage 1: Fun

Tan Le was born the year George Lucas released Star Wars. 1998 Young Australian of the Year, clever, beautiful and endlessly optimistic, Tan is a technology entrepreneur now onto her second start-up.

Having sold the successful wireless technology company SASme, that she co-founded in 2000, Tan and her partners formed a new company Emotiv Systems to develop a product she calls The Brain Chip.

This device is as close to science fiction as many of us care to go, enabling computers and operators to communicate more as humans do using non-conscious as well as conscious communication. If successful, it is bound to make the computers in the latest Star Wars movie, Revenge of the Sith look seriously out of date. It's also likely to earn Tan and her partners the kind of fortune and fame those of us in the audience can only dream of.

Tan's secret? Enjoy what you do and you can't fail.

Stage 2: Learning

Adrian Giles who co-founded Hitwise in 1998 apologises if he sounds as if his tongue is not working. He flew back into Australia three days ago and had four wisdom teeth removed before flying across to Perth for this engagement.

Such is the busy life of an entrepreneur whose company operates in Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Singapore, London, New York and San Francisco.

Hitwise monitors more than 25 million internet users providing competitive ratings on the most popular 500,000 sites. The company is now in its developing phase and moving towards being floated.

The challenges at this stage are around recruitment of the right people, keeping focus, and scaling the business by streamlining business systems and out-sourcing non-core activities.

Giles admits it is not for everyone. His co-founder Andrew Barlow, a self-confessed "serial entrepreneur" has moved out of the management team, needing the buzz and hands-on approach more associated with early stage start-ups. Hanging in there, particularly when faced with cash flow problems, hungry venture capitalists and uncooperative banks takes tenacity.

His secret? Stay open to change and be prepared to learn.

Stage 3: Re-invention

Dr Patricia Kailis, governing director of MG Kailis Group, and matriarch of the Kailis family wears a single, large, perfect pearl on her neck, a dignified representative for a company which has been operating for over 40 years. The Kailis Group is a family business with its beginnings in the fishing industry. Her late husband, Michael Kailis designed a knife for cutting lobster heads to allow for better harvesting of the meat. This provided an opportunity to establish a lobster processing factory in Dongara which he bought with the assistance of $400 from Patricia, the proceeds from selling her car.

From there the family branched out into prawning at Exmouth, ship building in Fremantle and offshore consulting. In 1974, after Michael read Alvin Toffler's Future Shock, and became concerned about the possible impact of technology on the fishing industry, they started pearling in Broome. The group now has three divisions: Seafood (which has expanded into tuna fishing), Pearling and Marine Engineering and is the largest privately owned marine corporation in Australia.

Kailis remembers times when finding finance was difficult and political interference placed the livelihood of employees at risk. At such times she says the company relied heavily on its values.

Her secret of success? Never give up but also be prepared to reinvent yourself if you have to.

Thirsting for more?

The audience, some of whom are entrepreneurs themselves, are hungry for additional information. Has gender played a part? Can an entrepreneur be a loner? What about dealing with financiers? Is it a good idea to get experience on other boards to help with your own business? Where can you get advice when you need it?

The problem is there are more questions than time to answer them. The thrill of entrepreneurism is catching and even staid corporate types are not immune.

AICD runs short courses in its Directors Essentials series for entrepreneurs. These include: Introduction to Strategy, Issues for Director Owners, Trade Practices and Capital Raising. Contact your state division office for details or visit www.companydirectors.com.au

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