Many people will no doubt be looking at the BRW Fast 100 and thinking: “Wow – how did they manage it?”
There is an air of mysticism attached to breakthrough business growth. We wonder how these particular companies achieve such impressive figures – what made them special? Was it because their particular industry is booming? Have there been changes in the competitive environment? Or do they have an amazing product or service that is transforming their sector?
I’ve spent most of my past 20 years developing the science behind business growth, and I can safely tell you that, while external forces can indeed lift a company through fast expansion in the short or medium term, businesses that sustain this growth and become $100 million or $1 billion companies share a number of common factors.
Since launching the new UniSA Centre for Business Growth in July this year, I have been travelling the country speaking to the CEOs of companies turning over between $5 million and $50 million a year. As I’ve worked with these business leaders, I’ve noticed patterns emerging that are holding back Australian businesses from reaching breakthrough growth and achieving their potential.
So, peeking through the veil of high growth companies, and their leadership – this is what every Australian CEO should know if they want to become a BRW Fast 100 contender:
1. Being a fast-growth CEO takes particular skills
Too many business leaders think their job is to make all the decisions and be at the centre of everything. As a CEO, you need to understand how your roles and responsibilities change during the various stages of growth. When you’re growing rapidly, planning, effective communication, and appropriate delegation help keep everyone in the company aligned.
2. Be prepared for your luck to run out
It’s too easy in times of plenty, when the market is sending business your way, to turn into an order taker not a business builder. If you are going to keep your business moving up the growth curve, you need to be prepared for a market change and have a growth strategy that targets various customer segments. Take advantage of today’s momentum to build the solid foundations that will help you overcome tomorrow’s challenges.
3. Think big
The majority of Australian SMEs I’ve spoken to said their goal was to become a $25 million to $35 million business. Some were shocked when I suggested they had the potential to add an extra zero to the end of their target. One of the most important changes to make to become a high-growth business is to change your mindset. As soon as you begin to think your business could be a $100 million business, you start to challenge yourself and your team and set yourself on the path to success.
4. Supersizing is not the best path to growth: do things differently
For many Australian companies, it seems like the growth strategy is to supersize, to sell more of current products or to ramp up the value of existing customers. If you are serious about growth, you need to think about identifying new customer segments, developing new products or selling new products to new customer segments. As Steve Jobs and Apple implored people: “think different” – as a CEO your ability to create a company culture that encourages trying out new things is vital.
5. Pass it forward by sharing your success
I don’t know if it’s Tall Poppy Syndrome, but one thing I’ve really noticed is that Australian CEOs are much less willing to talk about their success, to share how they grew their company with their peers. As a nation, Australia needs more CEOs to stand up and be counted, and talk about their experiences growing their company. By sharing lessons of growth and becoming role models, leaders who have found the keys to growth create more opportunities for everybody. And it’s never too early or late to share what you’ve learned.
For CEOs who are ready to take the leap forward – change takes courage. It’s important to acknowledge the fear of risking everything to continue growing. You need to be willing to risk what you have already achieved for something that may be a bigger achievement. At the UniSA Centre for Business Growth we are creating programs to help more Australian CEOs aim for the BRW Fast 100, to give them the skills and tools they need to let go of certainty, and run fast and smart in order to become the next Australian $1 billion success stories.
Dr Jana Matthews is the ANZ chair professor of business growth at UniSA and director of the UniSA Centre For Business Growth.
Article written by Dr Jana Matthews.