Mental Health First Aid Training

#47 The Ultimate Entrepreneur – Richard Turner – Entrepreneur & Business Strategist (s03ep3)

Mar 30, 2023

Richard Turner is the ultimate entrepreneur. He is a specialist in market disruption, having founded four successful companies in Australia across four completely different industries. He has multiple awards including EY’s South Australian Entrepreneur of the year and 4th fastest growing company by BRW magazine, and is also the entrepreneur in residence for the University of South Australia. Today, Richard is fiercely passionate about helping people successfully start and scale companies – setting out the essential rules to give first time entrepreneurs the best chance of success. He has learnt many lessons in the last 40 years of business and shares some of them here with us. He has also recently published a book called The Essential Entrepreneur" explaining how to start, scale and ultimately sell a business. It is a book that contains all of the wisdom he wishes he had read when he was starting out.
"I would always say to my staff, “You're all entrepreneurs in my business, we need to change this industry, or change the sector. And you're on this journey with me, and very much part of the decision making the mission, the vision, the values, the business, planning, everything.” And I think that really impacts on people."
- Richard Turner


  • Richard’s passion is helping people successfully start and scale companies – setting out the essential rules to give first time entrepreneurs the best chance of success.
  • His most recent venture Zen Energy has a mission to become Australia’s largest clean energy retailer.
  • Richard is a specialist in market disruption, having founded four successful companies in Australia across four completely different industries.
  • His recently published book The Essential Entrepreneur, which is the book that he wished he had at the start if his career.


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Transcript from the interview

Disclaimer: The following transcript was generated using a specific tool. It serves as a convenient method for converting our podcasts into text and allows for easy text searches. However, we kindly ask for your understanding if any typos have inadvertently occurred as a result of the tool’s usage.


Graeme Cowan, Richard Turner

Graeme Cowan 0:46 

It’s a real pleasure to welcome Richard Turner to The Caring CEO. Welcome, Richard.

Richard Turner 0:55 

Yeah, thank you, Graeme, nice to be here. 

Graeme Cowan 0:58 

Richard, what does care in the workplace mean to you?

Richard Turner 1:01 

Look, I think care in the workplace covers two different areas, I would say there’s the business caring for its people and stakeholders, you know, the stakeholders, suppliers, customers, bankers, everyone, everyone who deals with the business, but particularly the people who work within the business, so caring for his people. But I think the second side of that is the business caring for the broader community and the planet as such these days. So there’s responsibility for the environment for many things out there in the community that the business needs to care about these this, the two sides.

Graeme Cowan 1:43  

Yeah, and I see that you’ve had quite a recent career in renewables and the alternative ways to get energy and South Australia has really taken quite a lead in that area. How did you come to choose that area to focus on a pretty serious, but why are you passionate for this area? Now?

Richard Turner 2:05 

Look, I love when I was a school, I was quite passionate and love maths and physics, which is a bit strange for most people, but I enjoyed technology. And the, I guess back in the early 2000s, this was before there was any solar battery companies or renewable companies, we really got the chance to pioneer the renewable industry as such in South Australia, because it was the first state to introduce a feed in tariff and other incentives for renewables early under the premiership of Mike Rand back in the early 2000s. And timings everything when you’re going into business. And so we’ll starting to read about climate change in the newspapers. And John Howard, Prime Minister at the time was starting to talk about the first incentives for reducing carbon output and energy consumption in the home. And I guess that combined with an interesting night I had with the kids in the cubby house at the back of the house. When I had no intention of starting an energy company, and particularly my background, really, I grew up in the food industry and my father’s company and my own first company in food distribution. So really had no background in energy at all. But I was playing with the kids one night at home in the cubby house at the back of the yard, and there was no light and it was getting dark. And they wanted a little light and a little radio or TV in the cubby house. And I thought, well, we got no power at the back of the yard. What am I going to do here. So we either run power to the back of the yard, which was a long way or I put like a battery or something in the cubby house. And so I said to the kids, the next day, jump in the car, we’ll go to the hobby shop, we’ll see what we can find and, and there was no solar systems, no kits, nothing back then. So, I really got in there talking to the chap who was helping me he actually wrote bones law on the whiteboard, which was watts equals volts times amps. And we had to find all these bits and pieces and going in there thinking I’m just going to walk out with a battery of some sort or whatever. Anyway, saw a little solar panel, not the big solar panels, you’d see these days because they didn’t exist back then was a little sort of 12 inch by 12 inch solar panel and I thought oh, okay, maybe could I charge a battery with that, you know, and I’ve sort of worked out pairing up all these bits and pieces of battery with the solar panel and an inverter and some wiring and cable and switch gear and came home and put this little 12 volt power system together. So you know, technically an off grid standalone power system for the cubby house, and it worked and the kids loved it. And so, I sort of stood back and put my business hat on and thought well there’s no technical barrier here to actually pairing a house with this kid and So I started exploring and my father in law was a senior electrician. So I sort of pulled him in and started researching potential suppliers and people who could manufacture this gear around the world and found a company called SMA in Germany that produce big inverters for the railway yards. And it just started producing very small inverters potentially for the home. And inverters are what converts DC energy that comes from the sun into AC energy. And then I found a company in China called ET Solar that had just started had one production line manual production line building these, I think 121 at the time solar panels. So, I started talking to both these companies about an interesting trying to get the Germans and the Chinese to work together back then that was the challenge in itself, but getting them to work together and integrate all these components componentry. So it all matched and became a system for the home. And then the challenge was how do I take this to market? Because no one understood solar energy back then it was really how do you make energy from the sun, it was really in the realms of Weird Science for most people. So I thought, Well, unlike today, when people do understand the component tree back then they didn’t. So, I thought, well, I need to take this to market under a brand that people could relate to. And understand. And branding is really critical in business, you’ve got to get the brand that relates and means something to people when end Zen energy, for me was an acronym at the time for zero energy balancing generation and demand. So energy independence, and but it also carried those really nice Eastern connotations, wisdom, enlightenment, a new way of life, all the things you wanted from a renewable energy brand. So the brand has been very good over a long period of time, we took it to market in a very simple format, under the Zen home energy system, with the proposal being that you could choose one or four systems that powered from a quarter of the average house to all of the average house. So it was one system, what size do you want? And it was very simple proposition. And the company just took off right product, right time. Right incentives, and it literally went crazy. And we that was the really the founding of the renewable energy sector in Australia.

Graeme Cowan 7:26 

Wow, what a fantastic story. And it’s one thing to discover something trying to help your kids in their cubby house, it’s another thing to then launch your business. And obviously, there’s a mindset there that gave you the confidence to do that. In our preamble, you talked about the importance of working in your parents business, your father’s business, a little bit of background behind that, and how that sets you up for a life of being an entrepreneur.

Richard Turner

Yeah, look, I think there was some really important lessons there. I learned at a young age. So, a bit of a warning for vegetarians. It was a wholesale meat processing and distribution business. And my father would send, and I had two older brothers, or have two older brothers sent us in there at a very young age. Primary school age, probably 10 years old would go in there and no favors for the children of the organist. So you made that very clear to everyone. And so we got probably overworked and underpaid, but we clean the walls, we wash the drains, I was packing the awful I was on the production line, I was did everything that you could do all the all the dirty rotten jobs. But working in an environment like that, as you could imagine, the mix of cultures that worked in a in a meat processing place was really representative cross section of Australia. So you had and learning from a young age, how to have conversations with everyone from all these varied backgrounds and having very positive conversations, and understanding their families, their backgrounds, what made them happy, and was a great lesson in life from a very young age, as well as understanding the value of hard work and the value of money. All those things combined, I think was a great foundation for my life, I guess, as an entrepreneur and starting and growing companies. But yeah, couldn’t have gotten better. At the time. I thought this has helped as a young kid but reflecting on it now. You think Well, that was that was probably a fantastic upbringing. 

Graeme Cowan

Yeah. And what did you learn about leadership from your father?

Richard Turner 9:46 

Look, he was an amazing man. He was very much the self-made entrepreneur. He grew up in the country very poor family moved to Adelaide when he was about 14. I think 12 or 14, he left school when he was about 14, I think went and worked at the abboitoir, drafting cattle around. But then all got a job at a butcher shop, learned about trading red meat. And then eventually, I’m not sure how or why but had the confidence to start a small red meat business trading business. And the company just grew and grew from there. And that company now has gone on to become what’s known as Thomas foods. It’s changed ownership and leadership. But it’s now one of the biggest companies of its type in Australia, it’s a multibillion dollar company to so to see that grow from literally the dining room table in the early days to what it’s become now was a remarkable progression to see. And it was made very clear to me I was the youngest, but the first of the three children to go to get the chance to go to university. So it was at a time in the early 80’s when computerization of businesses was just starting to happen. And we had just gone from the old with the you remember these green buttons on all Wang computer that was doing the accounts, they had the five inch floppy disk. And we just progressed to buying this big Hewlett Packard 3000 computer system like an almost like a small mainframe that filled up a whole room and, and, you know, we had consultants setting up and running it, but it was made very clear to me, they want me to go through this business course at university, learn how to operate this machine and become their first Systems Manager and start Systemizing automating all these manual procedures. So my first taste, I guess of, of innovation and entrepreneurship was really in those days of when I came out of university, and got to learn about this machine. And I was one of the first cohorts to go through and learn programming, you know, it was on basic those days, but going from punch cards to actually using a keyboard and coding. So it was a, it was an interesting time to come in and do that. But the livestock trading system, which was a very manual process for that company, cattle buyers would go around the country buying 10s of 1000s of head of cattle that we had to track, live weights, processed weights, yields all sorts of data, who bought these cattle breeds where they were from. It was a hugely manual process and took a long time to get insights from any data in any sort of short period of time. So one of the first things I wanted to do was automate that process. And that created or gave us the environment where we could get insights from that data very quickly. And it really changed the industry. And that was my first taste of innovation and entrepreneurship. But I just caught the bone from that I think and just love the idea of changing companies and changing industries. And that sort of, I guess, set myself up for what I did later in life and these other different companies.

Graeme Cowan 13:01 

And you have become a serial entrepreneur, you’ve had a number of startups, can you just give our listeners a bit of an overview of some of those startups and what industries they were in.

Richard Turner 13:12 

So after the meat company, which was my father’s business, my brother Greg and I set up a company called Regency food services, which I guess was the very early version of what is now been best or bid food in Australia. So it was food distribution business, we distributed food to all the major hotels, restaurants, takeaways, caterers etc. And we did a lot of innovations in that industry. from setting up the first 24 hour food distribution warehouse in Australia, understanding our customers were hospitality. They worked almost opposite hours of the clock to what traditional warehouses worked. So we went through all the enterprise bargaining process, we changed the way our business operated. We had telesales, people that would stay on for late shifts and be able to talk to chefs when they finished their night shift or their dinner, trade and create relationships through our quality management system. We were able to verify orders. As you can imagine, chefs can be grumpy people with the best of times. So, when they order their food, it’s like, you know what, I want you to slam the phone down on the answering machine. Of course, you’d get those orders wrong. And, you know, it’d be a problem the next day and you have to send expensive couriers all over the place, fixing things up. So, to have that ability to work with the chefs in their time zone was an enormous benefit. So that was one of the first things we did. We’ve had a lot of a lot of changes in that in that business. But we were the first total food service company where we were, like Coles and Woolworths, but on wheels and in catering quantities really were the first company with four temperature zones to be able to supply everything to our customers. So, the convenience of doing that was a huge step forward and the industry really changed the industry because back then if you’re a restaurant or a hotel, you had suppliers for almost everything, frozen foods and groceries and everything. So changing the way the industry operated and that way. Another really important thing in business, and about caring about your business and your people as well is asking yourself, What business Am I in and remaining true to your purpose? Because quite often, in a complex business, there are multiple businesses within a business. So if you looked at that food distribution business, there was probably four businesses within that business. And some things you’re very good at and you add value to other things are a distraction, and just take up time, and you’re not an expert in and you need to consider is that part of the core business or not? And do we need to outsource that. So, with that business, it was a purchasing business, we were very good at purchasing and having relationships with our suppliers, we were very good at running a complex multi temperature warehouse and picking system. We’re very good at sales. And that process and engaging our customers and converting and marketing. But the part of the business that we felt was always out of control was delivery vehicles, like we had a fleet of probably 15 Very expensive vehicles, multi temperature trucks that were you know, $150,000 each drivers. And of course, the drivers often were sick, the trucks would break down, there seemed to be a physical limit to how many deliveries the drivers could do in a day. And it just was always a distraction for us and would take us away from the areas of the business that we knew we ran well, and we knew we added value to so we came up with the concept one day of what if we outsourced this or even sold the trucks to our drivers? How would they accept that and we looked at a way of having a conversation with the drivers about if we paid you a percentage of the stop that you took out on the vehicles that equated to what you are now plus gave you the money for insurance and maintenance. Would you be interested in taking on the ownership of these trucks? And, of course, most people were concerned or worried or wondering why we were doing this, but you’ve only got to get the one or two the think that no, they could do double the deliveries in the day if they were being paid for it and think it through and take it on and become the pilots or they’re examples. And so suddenly, we did contracts with a couple of the drivers, they virtually turned into Superman overnight, they were doing 50 deliveries a day, instead of 20. They were earning a fortune, they were doing really well. Their customers became all our customers became their customers, they were rotating stocking their freezers and chillers of the customers, they were over servicing them, they were selling, upselling. And it became a remarkable innovation for the lack of a better word for the business. And so took away what was the distraction for us and turned it into a hugely positive thing for the company. And so all the come all the drivers over time, took on their rounds. And they enjoyed it, they got the satisfaction, they got the reward from it, and virtually doubled the productivity of the company in a very short time. So that was one thing we also developed. It was at a time in the 90’s where hospitality staff was a shortage pretty much like it is now and we had managers of hotels and restaurants saying to our sales staff when they were in there selling food, you know, can you have a conversation with the chef down the road, I would like him to work for me or go and try and poach the, you know, food and beverage manager or the waiting staff and so our sales staff are coming off the road saying hey, I’m being asked to try and poach staff or my customers. And we thought, oh, maybe there’s a market for a hospitality staffing agency. So I had a young girl working for me at the time, Christina name was that was helping us recruit her own staff. I knew she had a background in hospitality. And I said, Well, I think there might be a market here to set up a hospitality staffing agency. What do you think? Do you think the timing is right? And potentially would you like to run it for me because I have no idea how to run a staffing agency and she took a couple of days and came back and she said yes, I think the timing is perfect. And yes, I’d love to do that. So we set up Regency staffing as a lateral sort of business to Regency food services, and more as a service to our customers to give them a flexible workforce. So we employed all these chefs and food and beverage staff and we would hire them out to these companies or help them with permanent recruitment and get paid for it. And we I think we turned over a couple of million dollars in our first year of the staff placements. What we didn’t realize, though, when we started off on this was that the chefs are the people who order the food. So if you own the chef’s, you sort of own the food supply. So we had about 300 chefs out there, including 10, chefs at cuantas. And all over the place. That started showing their loyalty to what we had done for them and buying from us. And the company just took off again. So, we had all these innovations within that business that sort of positioned that exceptionally well in the market, people could see what was going on. And when Ben vest which was a South African company, that had just rationalized the food service market in the UK, and bought the biggest distributors in the UK, when they came to Australia in 99. It was or 2000. They were looking for a model in Australia that reflected their operation overseas, but also they knew would work in Australia. And they saw our company, we just won the Australian food service distributor of the year for the second time in a row. And they came and approached us and made it no secret that they wanted to buy our company and buy their business model. And over a year, they came back to us about five times with a higher offer each time and eventually bought the business it was it was a great exit for us. But I think most importantly, and I think reflecting the care for your staff and having the right people within your organization, the young will say girl at the time, I employed as my receptionist when she was 20 is now the CEO of what is now a multibillion dollar business in Australia. And she’s a gun amazing, and grew up within she went from receptionist to working as a purchasing clerk, the purchasing manager, and just grew through the business. And yeah, remarkable story of hiring the right people don’t always don’t just hire someone who’s going to be a receptionist, always within a company, I would suggest to hire people that can go multiple levels within the company, because that’s part of having the people who have a passion to change the sector, it aligns with their personal mission, they grow within the company, and they’re gonna perform at their best because that’s what they want to do. It’s not just a job. And it’s not just income, and in that, and that’s just a classic example of someone who is now running and getting paid an absolute fortune for running a multi-billion dollar business in Australia.

Graeme Cowan 22:22 

When you think back to your first interview with her, can you think of a moment which let you know that he was someone who could go a long way?

Richard Turner 22:32 

 I just her natural enthusiasm and the way she presented. And it was her interest in the business. And I think for people going in a working in a business, it’s understanding the business needs as well as your own personal needs. And then businesses have to make money. And they have to, you know, I would say to all my staff, you’re all an entrepreneur in my business, your job is to find a better way of doing your job and taking your, you know, this business mission, which is hopefully aligned with their personal mission on a journey of continual improvement and innovation, reinvention, and, and let’s make a difference to the world. And if we can get people on that journey with the company early and hiring people that have that vision and alignment with the business, you will have or should have, not all the time, but in most cases, you will have tremendous success with those people.

Graeme Cowan 23:27 

It’s really interesting that you tell that story about that woman, because in one of the episodes we published just before Christmas, there was a lady called Suzanne Steele. And she had a similar journey that, you know, she was hired by an entrepreneur, a six year old entrepreneur in the UK. And, you know, just took off and just went for it in a very similar story, what you describe, and she is now the CEO of Adobe in the UK. Unbelievable. It is yeah, it’s it for our listeners, I really recommend listening to her story as well, because it’s, it’s seriously hard to believe.

Richard Turner 24:10 

And entrepreneurs love seeing a reflection of themselves in people. And we had a brief chat before the interview. And I said, you know this, there are three types of CEO’s out there, there are the CEO’s who were the founders, the entrepreneurs who go into business with everything on the line. And the business successes are critical to them. So they are naturally looking for people who want to go on that journey who are passionate about the mission, the vision, the values, and just getting those three things right. And you know, is so important before you bring these people into the organization so they know what this business is all about and aligned with it and come into it. And then they will work from it. But there’s also the CEO’s who were I won’t say just employees, but our employees if they lose their job or they get moved on. They don’t lose everything with it. So there’ll be differences, people like that are probably looking more with a management lens or a management view as to entrepreneurs who are really looking at a reflection of themselves and people when their passion and their desire to change businesses to innovate. And as I said, I would always say to them, you’re all entrepreneurs in my business, we need to change this industry, or change the sector. And you’re on this journey with me, and very much part of the decision making the mission, the vision, the values, the business, planning, everything. And I think that really impacts on people.

Graeme Cowan 25:36 

Just from the stories you’ve told so far, Richard, we can see how you are a serial entrepreneur, and you’ve just bought out a new book called The Essential Entrepreneur, can you tell us why you thought it was necessary to write that book? And what were the main lessons you wanted to share in that book?

Richard Turner 25:54 

Oh, there’s so many lessons in that book. There’s 18 chapters in there. But everything that I wrote the book, because I wish as a young lad, someone had given me this book to read, and I would have learned so much from it. But reflecting on 40 years of being in business, back to all the things I’ve learned, and in starting, or being a part of the starting and growing have three business now that are virtually billion dollar businesses. It’s unique for anyone to see $1 billion business, let alone three. And being able to develop a platform that can grow into that size organization, there are fundamentals that need to be in place from the very early days to get that right, which is really what I’ve done with these chapters in the books that covers everything from the initial validation of a business model, making sure there’s a customer out there that’s willing to pay the price for this product or service that you’re thinking of offering. Developing the startup business plan. And I remember spending hours and hours and hours with my accountant sitting down with him working through how many of these things do I have to sell to make a profit and all the variations of that model? Is it going to be a product or service company because they’re very different things and worth different values. At the end of the day, when you sell a business, a product company can be worth five to 10 times its bottom line profit or service company because it’s generally reflect it’s generally only you it’s you or more people working for you, but you’re only making money when you’re actually working. So service companies generally only worth one, maybe if you’re lucky two times it’s earning. So if you can productize a service and I show some great examples of how you can do that within the book, you can change the value of your company, tremendously. Timing talking about timing, entering a market like Xin Energy, the energy market, as I said earlier, the timing was right. With Regency food services, the timing was right in entering and creating a total food service company and making these innovations within the market. You know, what my father did with his business, which was originally hoped meat company became turnaround row pastoral and then became Thomas foods. But again, timing of developing that business was right. Having the passion, the culture and the values, the brand position and the marketing, how to you know sales and marketing people talk about sales and marketing as being the same thing often, where they’re not they’re very different things marketing is about how you understanding who is your customer? What, who are they? What age, what gender? Where are they? How do you communicate with them, what things are going to motivate them to inquire within your business and creating that, desire to inquire and then the sales is how you then engage with them once they make that inquiry through your sales channels, and convert that right through for delivery. And after sales service. Very, two very different things, how to source suppliers and how to manufacture product, it goes through all these things to defining new markets if you’re going to change a market or innovate dramatically. It’s no point setting up a business just to compete with people who are already doing something in the same way. They’ve already got the customers and the suppliers and the finance and everything set up a big advantage. So you need to change the way the industry works. But if you’ve got to change the way the industry works, give it a new name, reposition it become the leader. I often say half my media spend was always on PR in positioning myself or my company as the leader of that sector that I’ve now given a new name. So, when we pioneered the renewable energy sector in Australia, we created this term called Home Energy that now was very broadly bandied around but we actually coined that term and even owned the words Zen home energy system or was in energy. So we were able to shut down people at the time that tried to start competing Copying Companies getting investment ready trademarks and patents, all these things. You know, there’s, as I said, there’s 18 chapters in this book that I wish I knew at the age of sort of 20. or there abouts the I could just read this and think, Well, okay, there’s all these fundamentals I need to put in place now. Including my mission, vision and values and having the right purpose and finding the right people to build on this journey with me. Yeah, just all critical learnings. But the books become a bestseller already, which is, which is fantastic. It’s up for International Business Book of the Year at the UK Book Awards, which I was amazed to find out. So, fingers crossed at the moment.

Graeme Cowan 30:43 

I will buy that book when we finish this interview I because I think it’s got, you know, so many relevant lessons, because one of the things about being an entrepreneur is there’s so much uncertainty isn’t there. You know, you have the best plans, but you can never be certain everything’s an experiment, you have to try it out. See if it works, try again. And to a large extent, much of larger businesses have been thrown into this world as well, not as much as an entrepreneur, but there’s just been so much change and uncertainty, and even the most sort of mature businesses, and having people that are passionate, but are also flexible. And self-starting is really important. What are the real lessons you’ve learned about knowing people that will fit into that mold when you interview them?

Richard Turner 31:39 

Yeah, as people who yeah, as you say, absolutely can be flexible and adaptive and understand that business, the business environment, the externalities, and I think this is a big lesson I’ve learned during COVID. And also with the renewable energy business, because government policy, subsidies, things change the route of you control constantly. And the business has to adapt and change. And that’s just part of if you want to make change in the energy sector, for instance, you’re going to need to go on that journey, and take on all these things, these externalities that are out of your control, and being able to adapt and be flexible, is just part of being in a successful business. I mean COVID changed so much for so many industries, we all saw the winners and the losers out of COVID, as the sector changed, and how so many businesses had to pivot and change and operate differently to either benefit. This is where you need to have plans in the bottom drawer to and you need to think about what things can go wrong and derail this business that are out of my control. And how would I react to those things because how you react and having a plan to react when these things potentially go wrong. And often propel your business beyond your opposition very quickly. So, it can be a real advantage, just having that plan for externalities, but also talking through that plan with your people. So they’re aware that these things can go wrong. And this is how we’re going to change. So, they’re all part of the plan of change. And all thinking through and really talking to you, to you or your people about and stakeholders about things that can go wrong, that can derail the business and how you will react and getting everyone’s input into that plan is critical. Because if they understand it, and a part of the planning for it, then when it happens, they understand why it’s happening and how we have to change.

Graeme Cowan 33:45 

How do you make it safe for them to bring up concerns or problems in their organizations?

Richard Turner 33:51 

Yeah, that’s always a tricky one, I would always have an open door policy where people can, I would like to present myself as very approachable no matter how big the business was that people could always come in and talk to me. However, not everyone’s easy or inclined to want to do that. So we would then make part of the quality management system a way for people to raise concerns anonymously, or via a process or submitting their questions or queries or concerns. So we would always make sure there was a way to be able to raise issues and concerns and that they were dealt with, either through the board or probably through a management committee of some sort beforehand, because some things could be dealt with quickly. Other things are more complex, but just having a way through the management system that people could raise concerns and, and whether as I said, whether it’s personally with directly or whether it’s anonymously, but that’s critical to have that.

Graeme Cowan 34:50 

And it is a very important element, isn’t it? Because as the organization gets bigger, you get further and further from you know, the market and customers, and to have people that are the direct facing ones and receiving their input has become a real critical element hasn’t it?

Richard Turner 35:10 

Yeah, yeah. Well, I would always like to, you know, as big as that company got and, and spread over multiple offers, it’s easier when you’re starting a company up and you’re all in one room and you can all talk to each other. And, and you know very clearly, we will stand as you start getting separate offices and particularly interstate to keep up that personal relationship and keep up that approachability. And also keep talking to people about the mission, vision and values. I mean, it has got easier with video communications and other things. But it’s an important thing to keep that personal relationship with everyone. And I think CEOs as the organization get bigger need to really make the effort to get out of their office and, and go all around the company all the time you do that morning walk, as far as you can go where you are, or take time to go to the other offices, or at least be on a video call where you can talk to and be part of the journey that everyone in your organization is going on. Yeah, it’s not easy. But as your company gets bigger, and as you say, you’re the CEO I guess more or less and or the leadership team gets more removed from the front end, it’s critical to get that feedback from the market and understand and interpret that market. Where, where’s the market taking us? And then what do we need to? What’s the, you know, we’re talking about new products or new services? How do we validate that? How do we test that? How do we make sure people are willing to pay for those things? What are services and products that we need to discontinue? How do we, how do we keep all that information live? And, and– and analyze it. Yeah.

Graeme Cowan 36:43 

What do you do if your own self-care keeping up your energy?

Richard Turner 36:49 

It’s hard. I would always and I always say this to my wife, when she sees me getting a bit under– I would always, if there’s issues in my life, and I get stressed or anxious about things, I’ve got to see your way through and I need to give myself may I talk about or use the analogy of throwing balls in the air, I like to throw a lot of balls in the air because then if I’ve got a lot of balls in the air, I know something’s going to land, and there’s going to be a way through. But if I sit there and just stress and stew over something and don’t open up pathways to know that I can get through, then you’re the anxiety levels just raise because you’re waiting for something to happen, rather than actually making something happen, you know, so throwing a lot of things in the air and making lots of inquiries making– So doing things that give yourself a pathway through depends what the situation is. That’s something where if it’s a financial situation or a business situation, you can do that you can make phone calls, and you can do pathways through if it’s a health situation or some other personal crisis, then it’s harder. I, one of the organizations I found it was called The Entrepreneurs Organization, which was the founding president in South Australia. It’s a global organization out of North America. And so probably the largest organization of commercial entrepreneurs that have larger businesses, you’ve got to be over a million US in revenue to be a part of the organization. Well, we had about 18 members here in South Australia, and but the divorce rate, for instance, with entrepreneurs is about double the average community divorce rate. So, you’re looking at about 80% versus 40%. Because by nature, they’re just very focused people a lot are on the spectrum. It’s just, it’s just and quite often, they just are so focused on their business, they work 24 hours a day, and don’t take the blinkers off, and are not looking after the people that support them. And things generally fall apart after a certain period of time. And I’ve been through that myself. So, I know exactly what it’s like. And I talk about that a lot when I do public talks about you know, making sure you are aware of what’s going on around you and the people who enable you to do what you do, and you’ve got to make sure you’re supporting them. So caring about people outside of yourself is a very important thing for entrepreneurs,

Graeme Cowan 39:22 

You know, I presented to that that group in New South Wales and their partners about three months into COVID beginning and I know a few people in it and they speak very highly of the organization and out of it and how they get businesses to grow. So interesting hearing about your founding role in in South Australia with that.

Richard Turner 39:43 

Yeah, well the structure of what I do as you probably know, they break down into monthly meetings of 8 to 10 people which is called their forum groups, which is like an unofficial Board of Directors where they share they put a topic on the table which can be personal or business and share their experiences in that I know within my forum, which I think I had eight people in my forum, six of us were going through divorces at the same time, you know, it was just extraordinary. So but that that sort of rate of divorce is common right throughout the organization. So it’s something that needs to be addressed and talked about. And I’m glad you talked to them, because that’s something they need to learn. It’s and it’s not hard. It’s not– sorry, it’s not easy for young entrepreneurs who were so caught up in their businesses to actually take the blinkers off and look around and make sure that the people that they actually care about are being looked after.

Graeme Cowan 40:41 

Yeah. When you think about things like exercise, and sleep, and what you eat, are there any specific things that you look for? 

Richard Turner 40:57 

I think is very age dependent. And I’m nearly 60, and I’m finding at my age, it’s more about mobility and keeping active, keeping mentally active, as well as physically active, but not over stressing myself. But just keeping, keeping fit and healthy. But I think, yeah, finding time to look after yourself is absolutely critical. If you want to perform, whether it’s in business or whatever you’re doing, if you’re– if you’re not looking after yourself, or making time to look after yourself, it’s going to make it that much harder to achieve the personal goals, the stakeholder goals that you want to do. So I you know, for me, personally, I’ve got an exercise bike that I ride three times a week. It’s great these days, I use the iFit platform. No, I don’t mean to plug off it, but there’s many different types of platforms, but it connects to your bike, you can go riding anywhere in the world from your lounge room, and, and have a really good, good workout. I also do push ups and a few things just to sort of a combination of aerobic and some basic strength building, but that seems to be enough for me, I, you know, it helps me but you know, certainly at a younger age, you probably would be more active and, and going to the gym and doing things. I think as you get older, you probably don’t want to go and show your body off to the gym. 20 year olds, but that’s — Yeah, but looking after yourself physically, and emotionally is really important. 

Graeme Cowan 42:30 

What do you value highly in a friend? 

Richard Turner 42:34 

I think trust. Whether it’s personal or a business relationship, I think just that there would mean something, I’m a bit old fashioned, that I even though you may have contracts and things in place, I like to look people in the eye and shake their hand. And when they say they, this is what they believe in, this is what they’re going to do. That they are that and they do that. And so I think trust for me is the fundamental thing that I look for in relationships.

Graeme Cowan 43:07 

What’s been a really significant crisis that you’ve had to go through?

Richard Turner 43:11 

I think personally, a marriage breakdown is really hard. I think you lose years of your life through a marriage breakdown, you know, both financially and emotionally. And particularly if you have children. business wise, the best example I can probably give, which is an externality example was with Zen Energy. Probably, that company just went crazy. For the first four or five years. And we went from zero to about $80 million revenue very, very quickly, we were the fastest growing company in Australia for two years in a row, the fourth fastest growing company in the country. And then suddenly, so what was happening in the renewable industry sector as the industry was scaling, the cost of components was coming down quite dramatically. So the paybacks on the systems that when we started were probably 12 to 15 years that, you know, only the early adopters would be taking and buying and it went to 10 year. So, it was got to 10 years, we saw the industry start to move. And when it got to seven years, it really started to take off. Now you’re down to about a two year payback. But during that process, as costs were coming down, of course, the government were looking at pulling back on rebates and feed in tariffs and different things. But every time they would make those changes, and they would make them you know, a block change, you know, once or twice a year. The general community would think are, there’s no rebates and solar anymore, so I’m not going to buy and even though the payback was probably better And what they would have had six months earlier significantly. So we would go from days when we’d have 600, people queued down the street with their forms in their hand wanting to buy systems to the next six months of having no customers. And it was just a turbulent time in the industry that many or most I would say, went bust through that period. And we navigated away through but God, it was tough. And a lot of lessons learned in in planning for these types of external events and how we were going to manage them how we’re going to fund our way through them. Cashflow became critical. And so lots of lessons learned through that experience. And I think that’s why I focus a lot on externalities, because it can really, the unexpected can change your business dramatically.

Graeme Cowan 45:52 

And so, in trying to prepare for those rapid changes, which may not even be expected, how do you do that? How do you make sure that is it running scenarios and thinking about what could be some options are going to happen? What’s the threat to our business? Is it like that? Or —

Richard Turner 46:08 

Yeah, it really is running scenarios. So thinking what, you know, what government policy, for instance, could really affect our business? What supply chains like we talk a lot about sovereign manufacturing now, which who would have thought we would be going back to looking at manufacturing in Australia when we’ve relied so heavily for 20 years now more on overseas imports? However, we can’t get stock from overseas and logistics are just failing terribly. So, do we look at alternative local manufacturers? Should we be looking at that now longer-term having options? What advantages do we have, obviously, bigger supply chain? Maybe a higher cost, but we can serve as our customers? Maybe better quality? Weighing up all those scenarios versus okay, if supply came on from overseas again, what advantage should we now created for ourselves in Australia? Should we have a dual supply chain? Yeah, so go through all those scenarios, but making sure those options are there learning from things that have happened, but also looking at what else could go wrong. So supply chain is one thing, government policies, another big thing, you see policy changing, subsidies, if they’re subsidies in your industry, that’s a real danger, because you learn to build a business around the subsidies as suddenly, they’re never going to be there forever. Usually, they were introduced to start an industry to scale. Like we’re seeing that now, we probably will see that with the hydrogen sector. So we’ll be going through solar, gone will be through solar, we’ve been through wind, we’ve probably been through home batteries to a degree, those industries have scale to the point where the product makes good sense to buy those products. The next thing that will probably be subsidized for a period of time will be hydrogen. So building hydrogen plants, which will most likely be a replacement fuel for diesel. So we can run trucks and buses and vessels and planes and things on an alternate fuel that that has the energy density, three times energy density than diesel, but zero emissions. So that’ll be the next sector. So how do you plan for that? Knowing that incentives will last for a period of time, and then and then change. So it’s not easy to plan for things that you don’t know are going to happen. But you just got to look at what can impact my business. And how would I change it if that if it did.

Graeme Cowan

It’s been an absolute pleasure catching up today, Richard, and I’m sure our listeners have been very inspired about your entrepreneurial insights. And, you know, I think, knowing that they can go out and buy your book, The Essential Entrepreneur, I think, is a great list. And I’m certainly going to be doing that. There’s one question that I always ask at the end, and that is, what do you know now, knowing what you know now, what advice would you give to your 18 year old self working in that meat processing plant?

Richard Turner

I think that’d be giving them a copy of my book. I’d say everything I’ve learnt the last 40 years is here, just read this. That’s why I wrote the thing because I am passionate about entrepreneurship. I’ve spent the last two years as the entrepreneurial residence at the University of South Australia. So through that time, I’ve mentored hundreds of companies, and they’re all going through the same thing. The main thing I’d probably give advice to these young entrepreneurs is validating your business model. Before you go into business and there is an age, a generational shift in the way that we do that. The younger university age people these days and it’s just the way they’ve been brought up now with electronics, but very reluctant to pick up a phone and talk to people. And when you’ve got to validate a business model, you need to ensure there’s a customer willing to pay the price for your product or service. But when you’re going through that evolution of the product development, and you’ve got an idea, and you create a test product or a pilot of some sort, you need to be able to test it on a group of potential customers, you might start off with family and friends that you’re comfortable with and get their input. But then at some point, you’re gonna need to take it to a broader group of potential customers. But you’ve got to be able to ask open ended questions and get answers. So because if you just email out a survey, you’ll get yes, no type answers, you won’t get these open ended answers to say, yes, I’d buy that if it was a different color. Yes, I would buy that if it was $10 cheaper. But I like what I can do, but cannot do this, this and this, you know, those sorts of things, you need to be able to answer those questions or hear those answers. And then, from those answers, ask more questions and keep going through that design evolution to the point where you get a product market fit that you know, this product when you launch it at this price is going to sell. And you’ve got commitment from the focus group that yes, this is, this is a good product, and it fits my needs. And yes, I would buy it. So, I think the best advice I could give to my 18 year old self, or 20 year old self is how to do that, how to validate, get on the phone, talk to customers, ensure that there’s an acceptance for this product or service. And then and then sit down and go through the mechanics of the business planning that you’ve got the most clarity of what you’re going to do next year, the one year plan, but also have a three year plan of what you want to achieve your mission, vision and values. What’s the journey you’re on making sure that people that join you are aligned with you on that journey. And everyone’s passionate about changing a sector or changing the industry. I think they’re the they’re the fundamental, most important lessons I could probably pass on.

Graeme Cowan 52:04 

It’s been an absolute pleasure catching up today, Richard, thank you for sharing your insight and wisdom and hard knocks along the way. Thanks for being part of The Caring CEO.

Richard Turner 52:16 

My pleasure. Thank you.

Graeme Cowan 52:18

Thanks for joining us today. I hope you’ve learned something new and heard some practical tips you can try with your team. If you enjoyed this interview today. Please rate us on iTunes, Spotify, or your favorite podcast platform. When you rate us It helps other people to find us. We also welcome any comments. If you’re interested in seeing details about our scalable WeCARE Mental Health Training Programs, please visit us at Our goal for these programs is to make them accessible, practical, and ongoing. If you’ve been impressed by a CEO that you would like us to interview please email details to Please subscribe by clicking the button below. We really would love to have you as part of the care movement. Thanks for joining us.

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