Firecorp SA Pty Ltd case study

Jerry Tanner, managing director and owner of Firecorp SA, makes a point of having lunch with other small owner-managers.

"It’s hard to come home and bounce business ideas off my wife and kids, but that’s what you end up doing," Jerry says. "It can be isolating if you don’t have a network."

Jerry started Firecorp SA in 2003, based in Beverley, Adelaide. Over the past 10 years, he has built his business into one of South Australia’s premier independent suppliers of reliable and effective fire suppression systems.

In early 2012, a business review identified mentoring as key to Firecorp’s development and recommended Jerry enrol in Leadership 21, a development program for small business owner-managers.

Part of Melbourne Business School Executive Education’s Open Program portfolio, Leadership 21 is held throughout the year around Australia. Held over a period of eight months, the program includes a series of workshops, peer-group sessions and business coaching.

Almost a year after starting Leadership 21, Jerry maintains the network of fellow owner-managers he built on program. With the support and advice of his peers, Jerry has built a new factory for Firecorp SA and is engaging much larger contracts. "I have the confidence to take my business to the next level," he says.

Why Leadership 21?

"Mentoring was a key focus for me. I was always questioning myself. Before Leadership 21, my only mentors were my bank manager, my accountant and a couple of family members. It was quite limiting.

On Leadership 21 I was able to use everybody – the speakers, the facilitators, the other group members – and get that independent information for the first time in the nine years we’ve been up and running. The network has really made a difference for me."

What changes have you made in Firecorp SA?

"Everything is underpinned by the confidence I’ve gained from my network. It’s fed down through the business and helped me realise that we’re going to be ok.

We’ve made some changes to our strategy. Before the program, we had a strategic plan that we weren’t really using. We were all going hell for leather, but we weren’t moving in the right direction. Now, we’re implementing our strategic plan and actually measuring and evaluating our progress.

I also realised how much the business was still relying on just one person – me. I’m getting others to do more now. I’m taking on the helicopter view and overseeing everything, which is what I should be doing in my role."

What's the resulting impact?

"It’s given us the confidence to proceed with our dreams.

We’ve built a brand new factory, which has already paid for itself. Just last week I was negotiating with some importers. When they came to our new warehouse, it sealed the deal straight away. And that’s just one. We’ve sealed three new importers all due to the new warehouse.

Recently, we approached a supplier with a small idea, but within two weeks they’ve been so impressed with us that we’ve got the whole SA contract. The contract went from $100,000 a year to $1 million a year. We can offer them a lot more and we present ourselves better.

The program also gave me the confidence to employ an extra person. Before the program, I was looking at employing a sales manager. But through Leadership 21 I identified that we needed to employ a junior storeman, which has freed everyone up to step forward in the business. I would have got that wrong if I hadn’t done the program."

What's the most valuable thing you took from Leadership 21?

"Networking. We realised we’re all in the same boat. We all lie awake in bed at night and worry about the same things.

I’ve set up some alliances that I can build on. It’s so valuable to bounce things off people who are from a diverse range of companies and are in the same owner-manager mindset.

You can pay thousands of dollars for a consultant, or you can have lunch with someone from your network – that’s free."