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Standing on the shoulders of business giants

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Successful leadership involves an open mind and a willingness to learn. Luke Mangan, John Symond and Rohan Ganeson, though leading businesses vastly different in makeup and industry, each share a common theme in their attitude towards leadership – a thirst to continually learn, whether that be from others or from their own experiences.

Now we’re cooking

Luke Mangan, chef and restaurateur, admits that when he started as an apprentice in the mid-1980s, he was not the leader he is today.

“I asked to move on from school at the age of 15 and had no idea that I’d be doing anything like I’m doing now,” he says. “You do learn as you go, meeting people and falling into place.”

When his Sydney venture – Salt – kicked off, Mangan was slaving over the hot stoves day-to-day – and trying to run the business from the kitchen vantage.

“The best thing I did was step out of the kitchen and then take a big look at the picture of the restaurant,” he says.

This was no easy feat, and Mangan says a lot of business owners in and outside the hospitality industry find it hard to extricate themselves from the daily grind.

“They get locked in and chained to the stove. There, you can’t expand, you can’t get out and talk to the customers,” he says.

Mangan was given the experience of a lifetime when he had the chance to learn from business great, Richard Branson, after he was approached to design and cook the meals for Virgin Atlantic’s Sydney to London route.

“He invited me to his island, Necker, in the Caribbean. I had 12 or so days on the island with him and the experience was pretty surreal,” says Mangan. “Having the time and asking him questions on how things work and how he operates his business was something money couldn’t buy.”

However, the thing that has helped him the most in business is listening to his gut instinct and learning from the outcome.

“Stay focused on what you want to be,” he advises. “If I’ve got a vision for a restaurant or a bar or whatever it may be, I will stick 150 per cent to that … stick to it and, touch wood, 99 per cent of the time it works.” 

Close to home

Like Mangan, John Symond, founder of Aussie Home Loans, says he learnt the fundamentals of leadership from scratch.

“I developed my leadership skills with the need to survive and try to work out an efficient way to achieve something when you haven’t got bucketfuls of money or backers,” says Symond. “It’d be great to be a Harvard scholar, it would be great to have money and it would be great to have all these crash-hot advisers but what I learnt and proved to myself was that even without those you can achieve if you’re passionate, dedicated, committed and persistent.”

Symond gleaned business fundamentals early on, while working at his parents’ fruit shop.

“We learnt the importance of high work ethic … even on weekends, we had to take it in turns minding the shop and, above all, the importance of looking after customers. My parents said always make the customers feel good, make them smile and give them a reason to want to come back and do business with us,” he says. “My best education was from my two parents who, by the way, had very limited formal education.” 

Phone a friend

Managing director of Small and Medium Business for Optus Australia, Rohan Ganeson, now leads 600 people nationally, despite having little leadership experience when he began in the industry.

“I didn’t have a clue on how to run a business. I learnt a lot of things by trial and error. Sometimes you have luck and luck is part of running a business,” he says.

The single most important step in developing leadership skills is seeking external help, says Ganeson.

“Mentoring was one of the key things I teed off on. Having access to somebody who’s been there and done it before is a key part of ironing out some of the wrinkles you’re going to hit in business,” he says. “Understanding who’s out there can help you because you will not have all the answers.”

At a glance – six leadership tips from the top end of town

  1. For a business to grow and develop, a leader needs to escape the daily routine, step outside the business and adopt an objective view.
  2. Look to role models, such as business greats Richard Branson or Donald Trump, for inspiration and guidance.
  3. Trust your instinct – once you know your vision, stick to it.
  4. Money and education aren’t the only means to success. Passion and ambition are far more important traits in a leader.
  5. Experience is the best teacher – learn from past mistakes and look to personal role models to emulate.
  6. Know what you’re in for – seek a mentor and learn from their experiences.

Peter Switzer is the host of 'Optus Business Matters', your new weekly radio show. Find out more.


Published on: Thursday, July 15, 2010

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