In April 2021, five Owner Manager Programme alumni took part in our Grit Goes Further Together campaign shoot day. Here, Sarah Ramsay, CEO and Co-Owner of United Machinists, Hamish Pinkham, Co-Founder and Director of Rhythm and Vines, and Mike Shin, Owner and Founder of the Pocha Group, share their OMP experience in the first of a two-part Kiwi Business Story and podcast.
What does 'grit' mean to you?
SR: I think grit is the definition of stoic-ness – that ability to face adversity, block out the noise, and actually be able to focus on the opportunities that come out of it – and really get your head down and get into it.
HP: It's all about stickability and tenacity, really just holding on when times get tough and not letting people sway you from your vision. Certainly, with my journey, I've had lots of naysayers and well-poisoners and different people trying to dis-encourage you.
You come across all sorts of hurdles, whether it be financial or HR. In the event game, there's all sorts of twists and turns, but having that resilience, that tenacity to stick with something, is really what I exemplify as 'grit' and just holding on and not letting things sway you from what you're trying to achieve.
MS: It’s about going through the hard and good times, because you're passionate about something, and having the courage and patience to do what you think is right to achieve your goal.
How does 2021 look for you compared to 2020 ( as at April 2021)?
HP: There’s a bit more light at the end of the tunnel this year. We're back trading. We've had a bumper summer of events, people are out there spending money.
We’ve still got the issue with the borders. In our business we're trying to bring international talent to perform at our festival. So that's been a big issue that continues and it's not likely to change this year but, overall, there's a lot more positivity around 2021.
We’ve still got to tread carefully in all industries. Who's to say they can't be locked down any time? Mass gatherings are the last cab off the rank once things get moving again, so we're not counting our chickens just yet. Luckily for us, we've sold the majority of our tickets for our festival. So a lot of the marketing has been done.
The Kiwi crowd that we host are really appreciative of the Kiwi artists, so we can utilise those again. And, overall, there's just a lot of gratitude in the market for events after the year we had last year and people are just happy to be able to attend things and be entertained.
MS: It looks a lot brighter than 2020 obviously! I'm really excited because during the 2020 COVID and lockdown time, we were able to develop a new system and also develop a stronger team. This is the year that we're going to test all this implementation we made last year, so it's very exciting.
SR: To echo what Mike said, pre-2020 we were in high-growth mode, committed to spending two and a half million dollars on a new facility that all drew down in June. When instead of growing revenue by 40% – which was our budget – it reduced by 35% over the year, so it was pretty horrific.
As a result, in 2021 we're a much more resilient organisation. We’re much more efficient, we have massively diversified our client base and risk and because it was basically a control-alt-delete moment, we've been able to completely re-programme a lot of our work and train our staff, and it's looking good. We’re higher than we were pre-COVID, so back in that growth mode and really excited about it.
You're always too busy to work on change. When you've got nothing to work on and the work’s not there, then you just work on the change, so we've built a really good foundation that might have otherwise taken us five years to achieve.
How has grit helped you get to the other side?
SR: I think COVID was it. We got halfway through lockdown, we had our machine at one port and we had our roof at another port. And then we were advised that we’d start being charged $1500 a day at each port for how long they sat after level three. So, we literally had three trucks turn up on day one of level three, with all of the 13 crates and the roof and nowhere to put it!
It would have been really easy to curl up into a little ball and give up but, instead, that was the moment. I remember saying to Liz [Wotherspoon, Chief Executive of Growth] and the team from The Icehouse at the time, I’m loving this! I’m totally in control of the situation, we're brainstorming, we're sorting stuff out, and we're reacting and getting it done. That was a real moment for me, everybody knew that it was no longer about any individual but for us to all keep our jobs we all had to pull together.
MS: Just like other businesses, we deal with challenges every day, so grit always comes in. I lost my father a few years ago, I was going through a very bad time with depression that lasted with me for quite some time. And that’s when my grit came in. I fought for it, and I'm good now.
HP: I definitely had some different cash flow challenges over the years but I think of early on in my adventure when I left university was one of the toughest times I've had to commit to building my vision.
I graduated from university and felt the pressure from my peers and my family to follow a more traditional path. But I really wanted to focus on building this festival and that took a lot of grit, to pick that path and to stick with it.
A lot of my friends were taking law jobs and bank jobs, had disposable income and were travelling overseas, and I was still living on couches and over spending my credit card and trying to get my venture off the ground. I think that took a lot of personal grit from my end – to stick with it – and that's what you need to go through to follow your dreams.
We didn't want to just run a Kiwi festival, we wanted to have international bands and international sponsors and international media partners and international technology, and I think we've done really well. While we're not Coachella, we know we're never going to have the scale of those big international festivals, we've operated at a world-class level and on a world-class trend right here in New Zealand. That's something we're really proud of.
How have things changed in your business or lifestyle since doing the Owner Manager Programme?
HP: Just clarity – clarity on your role in the business and what you're trying to achieve and just seeing the wood from the trees. Before I took OMP 24 I hadn’t done any business theory, was on this treadmill and I wasn't quite sure what the hell I was doing.
But taking that step back gave a lot of clarity within the business and it's been beneficial, because we've had huge results down the track and it wouldn't have happened without OMP.
And, along with that, is the wellness aspect, and just taking time for yourself within the business again. I was just running around like a blue-arsed fly, but having the OMP to take a step back, take some time for yourself, and surround yourself by some good people, I know for my mental and physical state of mind was so beneficial.
SR: The initial part was validation. You can go into these things, and it's quite lonely being a business owner – you don't really know whether you're on the right track. And if you don't have an independent advisory team, I just had no idea whether I was doing a good job or not.
So it was really awesome to be around another 23 business owners (OMP 48) – for us to all kind of support each other, but also call each other out and actually have some really open and frank conversations. Ultimately, it's given me the confidence that I can go and make decisions and that maybe aren't not so crazy after all.
I had a tendency to take too many withdrawals and not take the time to top myself up, focus on the exercise and the yoga, and now I don't work on the weekends and I make sure I spend time as much time as possible with my son – just filling the bucket back up and bringing that to our team at work as well, because if I burn out, I'm no good to anyone. It's actually not a really good way to role model behaviour if you're flogging yourself. It can really hurt culture.
MS: I've learnt too many things! I’ve just finished block three (OMP 52). In block three I have learnt two big things which have touched me personally. One was to become a better leader by building a positive culture and making continuous improvements with the right people. And it also helped me to achieve a greater understanding that having passion and the right people can make the impossible possible. I'm still learning but there's still more to go!
Are there any changes people have seen in you since doing OMP?
SR: My husband certainly noticed my confidence and stress levels were much better. He's been really stoked to see that I've got some people to support me, because we bring quite different skills to the business. He's very much the technical and I’m the commercial, and I just didn't have a support group to have that conversation. He could see when I was going away on the course how much I was looking forward to it, and when I need to have a vent I've got that group there!
HP: Similar to Sarah, people notice that contentment and just having that support group to feed into. When you're operating in a silo, as a business founder and owner, you need that wider network to vent to or to feed into or learn from.
It does take a weight off your shoulders and, as a result, you're a lot more content; getting deep, learning about your business and appreciating it and how far you've come and what you've achieved, gives another sense of contentment and pride. OMP gives you that chance.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs who are struggling/looking for help?
HP: Do OMP! Reach out. There's some fantastic support networks and organisations like The Icehouse that are tailor made to help you achieve your goals as an entrepreneur. So tap in, use them, utilise the network, utilise some of the mentors, some of the alumni and you'll find that people are going through similar struggles as you. They’ve 'been there, done that' and they've got access to capital and resources that you might need. So just knock on the door. The Icehouse has helped me tremendously and I couldn't recommend it enough.
SR: Exactly the same. Don't be an island. A problem shared is a problem halved – you've got like 23 other people to share it with and The Icehouse has been absolutely brilliant. In most areas, there are groups that you can reach out to. Reach out to your local Chamber or support group and get something going and just confide in people.
The only other thing I'd say is look after yourself physically, because with that comes mental health and when you get stressed, you have a tendency to pick up a glass of wine more often. Go for the walk, take some time out, take an extra day off when you feel like you absolutely can't possibly afford to, because from that you have those Eureka and clarity moments.
MS: Always make sure to surround yourself with positive people and with the right advisors with a positive mindset. And if you don't have this, contact The Icehouse!
Listen to The Podcast here.
Catch the video from the shoot day here.