Leadership 21 – learning to lead business success


Ben and Jess Crowley, Director and Manager, Bioflex, Hobart

While teaching English in Japan, fitness enthusiast Ben Crowley (L21, 2012) realised how expensive health supplements were outside Australia, planting the seed for his Bioflex manufacturing business, which now has around $15 million in turnover and a 2015 Telstra award for being Tasmania’s best medium-sized business.

“The thing I most liked about the course was meeting really talented people from different fields, and seeing the way they go about doing things,” Ben says. “And it gave me an appreciation for the importance of structure and planning when considering decisions.”

Sister-in-law and Bioflex Managing Director Jess Crowley (L21, 2012) completed the program with Ben and says she often turns to her Leadership 21 alumni for help.

“I've been able to go back to my L21 alumni for advice and information. For example, we're looking at what to do about salaries and CPI increases. We used to base our salaries on role and responsibility, but now we have people in production roles who’ve been there for five years. So what happens if they’re not taking on more responsibility?

“It was great to throw it out to my L21 friends and have people say, ‘We tried this, and it didn't work, but this did.' It’s allowed us to leverage knowledge from a bigger group of people than just ourselves.”

Corrina Wright, Winemaker and Director, Oliver’s Taranga Winery, Adelaide

Corrina Wright (L21, 2013) grew up on a vineyard in South Australia before working for major winemaker Southcorp. That’s when she decided that the family-owned Oliver’s Taranga Winery should start making its own wines and not just use its grapes to supply Penfolds prestigious Grange label. Renowned wine critic James Halliday recently gave her shiraz his highest rating.

“At the time, I just asked my grandpa and uncles if I could grab some fruit and start making wine. We're still only turning about 20–30 per cent of our crop into our own wine, but it’s been a great way to add value and jobs in a family business.”

Corrina says the winemaking side has seen steady growth as its reputation spreads beyond South Australia’s McLaren Vale to the whole of Australia, setting up some significant challenges in the process, challenges that Leadership 21 helped her solve.

“We did a lot of work on courageous conversations on the program, which was good for me because we were moving from state-based distribution in a few states to a national distributor. That involved having some tough conversations with people who had supported us for a really long time.”

Corrina says she also values the business network she developed on the Leadership 21 program.

“The connections I made in my group have become pretty tight, especially with the guys from Glen Ewin Estate.”

Those guys include Krijn van der Giessen (L21, 2013), who has helped turned Glen Ewin into an award-winning events venue.

Krijn van der Giessen, General Manager, Glen Ewin Estate, Adelaide

Krijn van der Giessen (L21, 2013) moved to Adelaide from the Netherlands about two years ago, when his partner transferred to a position at the Adelaide Hilton. Krijn took up a business development role at the historic Glen Ewin Estate, which grew fruit and grapes from 1843 to 1891, until its Scottish founder felt winemaking clashed with his religious beliefs and used his fruit trees to build a successful jam-making business.

That business lasted until 1989, when the the current owners made the most of its beautiful buildings and grounds to turn it into a popular place for events. Under Krijn’s guidance, business is booming, and the estate recently won a Savour Australia Award for being South Australia’s best wedding venue.

“Before I became general manager about two years ago, everything was outsourced, including the caterers and service staff. But the margins and financial side looked way more interesting if we did everything in-house.

“Obviously, the risk goes up when you go in-house, because you need to employ more people and provide work for them. But now, we have a full team of chefs and full front-of-house team and more people in sales.”

Krijn says the challenge of moving everything in-house attracted him to the Leadership 21 program.

“We started looking at all our procedures and processes in the business and realised we could be working so much better. And that was during the Leadership 21 program.”

Krijn says the program helped him develop his general leadership skills and strategic thinking, but also to understand himself.

“Learning to understand the business and how to build a team was what I really needed. How do you get an entire team heading in the same direction? But during the course, you really start to understand what is most important, which is really how you are yourself, and how you are as a leader and manager. It really makes you look at yourself.”

Jay Liu, Bing Boy, Victorian Manager, Melbourne

Jay Liu (L21, 2012) was sent on the Leadership 21 program by his boss, the owner of the Asian street food vendor Bing Boy, which opened its first store in Adelaide in 2011. Jay was the human resources and operations manager just as the franchise group began a major growth surge.

Bing Boy now has 12 stores in Adelaide and 18 in Melbourne, opened under the guidance of Jay, who is now Bing Boy’s Victorian manager. The company also has two stores in Brisbane and one in Perth, with plans to take on Sydney in 2016.

“The main thing I got from the program was learning to think strategically. I still have a formula in my mind, which has been very useful – first do the planning, then act, then do some re-engineering, then plan again, and then execute. It has always stayed with me because re-engineering is so important.”

Jay also values the business network the Leadership 21 program helped him build.

“You meet a lot of business people on the program, who are owners or real managers. You learn so much from them and share ideas and experiences. It's a great way to get to know more people and network. It involves real examples, practical knowledge and people with real business problems and challenges.”

Damien Moriarty, Director and Founder Killarney Homes, Darwin

In Darwin, where stubby beer bottles are the size of wine flagons, people don’t do things by halves. So, when you’re a home builder in a city that Cyclone Tracy destroyed in 1974, you don’t just build houses, you build ‘ground-level skyscrapers’, according to Damien Murphy (L21, 2012).

“Our building code is the most stringent in the country. We effectively build ground-level skyscrapers. Every 600 millimetres, I use 20 kilogram blocks and put 4000 of them in a typical house. A tremendous amount of engineering goes into every project.”

Damien runs Killarney Homes, a prize-winning company he started in Darwin with his brother in 2005. His drive and attention to detail helped Killarney post 85–90 per cent growth over the past year, and around 20–30 per cent for several years in a row before that.

Damien credits some of his company’s success to the Leadership 21 program.

“We had become very good at running the business and understanding financial statements, but we never actually sat down and tried to work out strategies to make the most of the money coming through.

“The program allowed us to change the mindset of the business. We tried to develop a strategic plan before, but our staff rejected it, and it failed. Then we developed a plan out of my Leadership 21 experience, and it was accepted and made a huge difference.”

Damien says the three-year plan changed the culture at Killarney Homes, which won an Australian Greensmart Award in 2014 and is a finalist in five categories this year.

“We build houses so much faster now. We’ve brought the build-time down from 185 days to just on 95 days. We're smacking them out.”

He says the program taught him to work ‘on’ his business not ‘in’ it.

“From a transcendental point of view, I only work on the business nowadays, I don’t work in it at all. It means making sure that processes get constantly re-engineered to complete projects properly. Every process we've looked at has massively improved the way we do things.”

John Grisold, Director and Founder, Chocolatier, Melbourne

Chocolatier is about to celebrate its 30th year in business, a journey in time that saw it grow from selling handmade chocolates from an old post office in Melbourne’s outer northwest to becoming Australia’s best-known maker of quality chocolates, produced in a large, modern factory.

“Our competitors aren’t some chocolate maker around the corner, we’re up against some of the biggest brands in the world, including Nestle, Mars, Ferrero, Guylian, all the big international players,” says company founder and director, John Grisold (L21, 2011–12).

“We started in the old Diamond Creek Post Office, and our vision then is no different to our vision today – to make world-class, European-style chocolates for hotels, restaurants, caterers, international airlines and all types of retail stores, including specialty, gourmet delis, department stores and supermarkets.”

John says one of his biggest business challenges has been moving from managing a surge in growth in the early days to maintaining steady growth now.

“When we first started, we were getting exponential growth, doubling our sales each year. But as you reach a certain critical mass, sales growth becomes a little tougher. All the same, last year, we achieved six per cent growth, which is really good, and everything we wanted to achieve. This year, we're aiming for slightly larger growth.”

As the owner of a family-run business, in which two of his siblings and now three of their children are involved, he says the Leadership 21 program helped him break out of the isolation that family businesses often experience and connect with other business operators.

“When you go out and do a program like Leadership 21, you find that the business problems you have are no different to the problems everyone else has.”

John says he especially benefited from working with the consultants who deliver the program.

“The whole approach to strategic planning was enormously helpful for me and our business – how you do strategic plans, how you roll them out, how you manage them and how they affect your culture.

“And the financial side was incredibly interesting. I just found the whole course to be inspiring, and it was very easy to bring the lessons back into our business and apply them. It was fantastic.”

He also liked the flexibility of the program, which he started but couldn’t complete in Melbourne because of business pressures. Melbourne Business School helped him rejoin the program in Sydney, where business had taken him temporarily, giving him a business network in two states.

John says Leadership 21 is a unique opportunity to be involved with Australia’s best business education institution and its community of experts.

“Melbourne Business School Executive Education at the University of Melbourne, it's first class, it's the best in the country. To be given the opportunity to get in there and be thrown among that is enormous.”