In our previous post, we sat down with Dorado Director Thomas McClung to learn how he went from a roof tiler in Scotland to building a successful business in Australia that is now in its 10th year. Carrying on the discussion, we asked Thomas his advice for anyone starting a business venture of their own, and how to maintain the seemingly unattainable work-life balance as a company Director.

 

Building A Business

You decided to start a business of your own to be in charge of your own destiny, is that right?

“We were determined to create something that we wanted to turn up to everyday and enjoy, and not just live with someone else’s policies. It’s hard living with someone else’s culture if you don’t agree with it, so a big part of this was to create our own culture that we are comfortable with. We wanted to make this last, so I had a lot of confidence, especially watching Tim do his thing.

“I really had a belief that we would make it from the start. I got married the same week, so I was married on Sunday and started full time on Wednesday, so it was a lot of belief that my wife Kate had to have, too.”

 

Having never started a business of your own before now, how did you make that happen?

“The harder I try, the luckier I get is a famous saying… You have to see luck, recognise it, and then pounce on it. You had to be out there to discover it, and when you stumble upon it you have to grab it and go ‘this is the luck I need to capitalise on.’

We got lucky stumbling on the idea of financing for development and for recruitment initially – Nathan was with us for 9 years and went from a town planner to a brilliant Excel building machine. It takes time to know what you’re after in terms of cultural fit, but now we have a great process in place and HR consultant, and I haven’t regretted any recruitment we’ve done as everyone has played their part

The other fundamental reason it worked is that having someone of Tim’s acumen and experience felt like cheating for a start up!

 

What’s the most important part to start with?

A sense of purpose is massive. That’s what sets homo sapiens apart: our ability to invest in shared beliefs and visions. The dollar, listed companies, countries…. All these concepts are what set us apart. If you have shared visions, you can create armies and countries of millions of people and that applies to the business. You can have all these guidelines but if everyone isn’t coming into work every day with the same alignment then it will just crumble.

We had it to begin with, but it wasn’t until later that we badged it ‘to endure’. Overlaying it all with a framework that helps you show what your business will look like is critical, and I don’t think a lot of people do that early on. I have always liked the idea of applying theory to practice, going back to my time at CALA and being at Uni, and Tim has really leveraged that by introducing various books to me on companies and structure that we have then applied which I think has been crucial.

 

“The harder I try, the luckier I get”

 

A couple of years ago I went to an AIM course for five days to learn how implement scenario planning into the business, which was really enlightening and changed how we looked at our fast changing industry. It is a credit to Pete and Tim that they indulge my passion for that side of the business and agree to apply the resources it requires.

What is it that drives you to keep working and growing the business?

“I’m motivated to fulfil potential, for myself, the staff, and the business… It all comes from that belief that we’re all lucky to be alive. I love hearing my little boy say, ‘I can’t believe I’ve got a life’, it makes me happy he has that in him. Whatever your circumstances and cognitive abilities are, you’ve got to strive to get the richest life you can and I don’t mean that in a material sense.

I’m not sure where it came from, but I do seem to be driven and won’t allow myself to shirk from challenges. Whether it’s a difficult HR discussion or project, I try to face it, enjoy it, and embrace it as much as I can.

I’m also motivated by wellbeing, to come into work and be positive and energetic you have to take care of yourself in every aspect. I haven’t been a saint all my life, being young and living in Scotland and all that, but now I think, ‘ok, you have to look after yourself now’, especially having a six-year old and twin toddlers at home!

 

“Get on the phone, make it happen even if it’s not 100% perfect.”

 

What’s your advice to anyone thinking of starting their own business venture?

You have to find people you get on with, respect, and can have fun with, but that have complimentary skills, so they will be happy doing things you aren’t strong at or don’t like doing and vice versa. That’s one side of it.

The other is what Tim taught me: dynamism. Get on the phone, make it happen even if it’s not 100% perfect. When you start a business, you have to be iterative. Everything was done on the cheap, we used an old computer Tim had in his wine cellar and all that stuff. You have to do that to prove it will work. Then when it can’t be a skeleton anymore, you have to be prepared to invest, and put flesh on it.

 

Balancing Work and Life

A big dream for a lot of people is to have a perfect work-life balance. Is that an option when you start a business?

I do find it difficult, it’s one of my biggest challenges. One of the reasons I practice mindfulness is to know when I’m drifting into work mode when I’m with the children, and that’s not good enough; you need to be present. I’ve read a concept about when you drive home, you should be thinking about how you arrive home, not so much when you arrive home. I’ve  not been great at that, and when you’re running a business it’s always going around in your head.

The difficulty is that ruminating is often when you will solve a problem, so it’s finding that balance. When I go on holiday, after 2-3 days, work’s gone, and I feel myself uncoiling.

I know people recently say you shouldn’t try to separate it because it’s too hard, but I think it’s an individual thing and for me I try to separate it as much as possible, it’s better for my wellbeing. Tim would give a very different answer; he could be skiing and take a phone call at the bottom of the slope, answer it and then go back to skiing and that’s not a problem for him; it’s very different for everyone.

 

“You’ve got pools of resources you didn’t know you had because you’ve never had to dip into them before.”

 

How do you manage the stress that comes with all this?

“This year has been my litmus test for a lot of personal reasons and moving office together with more staff changes than normal. I’ve been very fortunate to never experience depression or anything of that ilk, but I also realise you can’t push that and you have to look after yourself, because your mental fitness impacts everything. I think with my kids if there’s one thing I can teach them it’d be mental resilience because it’s the best tool to get them through most things.

The last year, it’s been about having people who I can talk to about the challenges and ruminations, and exercise – it sounds counter intuitive but because I knew I’d have such a hard year I wanted to push myself and go harder at the exercise and it kept my head above water. I have used a coach/mentor since I got that first managerial job at CALA called Brian Chandler, and he has had a hugely positive impact on my career. We recently engaged a business coach, Ak Sabbagh, for Dorado and I am working with a mentor, John Poulsen, on leadership transformation. They are having a similar impact to Brian Chandler and causing me much more self-reflection and hopefully improving my leadership capabilities.

And then mindfulness – I wish I could do it more often because it always works, always. Tension can build up over the course of the day and if you do mindfulness you teach yourself to sense when it’s happening, or that emotions are boiling over, so when you go to bed at night it hasn’t all built up.

Sleep has been a big challenge this year with the twins, but I realise it’s so important to keep everything together.

Weirdly, pushing myself on leadership transformation and exercise has helped a bit, and what I’ve learned is you’ve got pools of resources you didn’t know you had because you’ve never had to dip into them before.

One of the best cures for stress, though, is some perspective and humour. At CALA, one of my closest friends and someone who took a real interest in my career was the construction director Raymond Tedeschi. He was excellent at his job and took it very seriously, but also was great at putting things into perspective or using humour to break tension; it was like having an in-house comedian at times.

 

When you have a couple of spare moments in your day, between looking after three kids at home, or between meetings during the day, how do you choose to spend them?

I read about Liverpool FC on my phone, or read a fiction book on my kindle. It’s another way to deal with stress, you get lost in another world and you’re not thinking about any difficulties in this one. I do a lot of reading when I’m settling a baby. I try to be disciplined; when I’m at home I’ll read fiction so I’m not thinking about work, and on my commute to work I’ll listen to audiobooks and learn about business and management theories.