A story of Boats, Bankruptcy, Building and Business coaching
By Roland Hanekroot of New Perspectives Business Coaching
It’s fascinating for me to think back through the twists and turns of my life in small business.
My journey in business started midway through 1984. I’d come to Australia right at the start of that year, with my wife and 2 year old daughter, from Holland. I’d had no experience of business in my life before that and nobody in my family ran their own business either.
I was 25 and my only significant qualification was that I’d finished my cadetship in Journalism in Holland and worked as a journalist for several years on various broad sheet newspapers.
But my hobby had always been boats and water and I’d spent a lot of my youth and spare time travelling and working on and around boats in various parts of the world.
We’d come to Australia partly because I wanted to make boating my full time career. Once I we settled in Sydney I went looking for opportunities to find work in and around boats and I took a job working for a marine painter, working out of a big marina in Sydney.
I lasted about 5 months. Spending my life scraping barnacles off the bottom of million dollar yachts was not what I emigrated to Australia for. But by this stage I’d gotten to know the harbour and foreshore of Sydney a little and I’d developed a brilliant business idea for a mobile boat maintenance workshop.
I’d formed this fantasy of pottering around on a little work boat with lots of tools and repair gear on board and doing regular maintenance and small repairs to all the private yachts swinging around on moorings in the harbour.
The birth of Roland Marine
I managed to get the little finance I needed from someone I’d met along the way and off I went… The birth of ‘Roland Marine’, my first ever business. I bought an old little 25ft fishing trawler with an enormous (and clapped out) old diesel, carried out some alterations and bought some gear, painted the trawler bright orange and yellow and baptised her the RM1.
All my fantasies had come true… I was the captain of a diesel smoke belching mobile workshop on Sydney harbour.
I lasted about a year and a half, but somewhere towards the end of 1986, Roland Marine and the captain of the good ship RM1 were broke.
I’d assumed that the old saying “build it and they will come” was actually an established business management theory and that people would somehow flock to my door and be happy to part with enormous amounts of money for the privilege of having me wash their decks or charge their batteries.
Sadly they weren’t.
It was the first time I had it demonstrated to me that having a good idea doesn’t create a good business. (It’s been a lesson I’ve had to learn a few more times in the next 30 years)
By now, I needed money and I needed it fast. I managed to get a loan from the Commonwealth Bank to pay off the creditors and free me up from the ballast of Roland Marine (Sadly, the RM1 was no longer by this stage). But now I had a loan to the bank that needed paying off, and I still had a family to feed and my wife was pregnant with our second child.
So I took two directions at once… I quickly managed to get myself a taxi license and at the With my newly developed skills in carpentry and associated crafts I set myself up as a handyman and carpenter for odd jobs during the day, while driving taxis at night.
I ended up driving taxis on and off for a couple of years and slowly developed from handyman to doing small carpentry contracts for home-owners, learning about building codes and standards along the way (I remember proudly showing my mother, who’d come over from Holland for a holiday, some of my handiwork, building a new garage somewhere in Randwick, and being severely embarrassed because it turned out she knew more about house building techniques than I did and she pointed out some basic errors in my construction).
Slowly but surely, I became a better carpenter and builder and I managed to obtain my carpentry license and later my full builders license. And slowly but surely, I built a business that became successful. I brought in two junior partners and during the nineties we built many significant renovations and alterations and heritage restorations around the inner city areas of Sydney.
Along the way we’d had a lot of fun and and created something quite special in building in Sydney, capped off with some amazing experiences around the time of the Sydney Olympics (more about that experience some other time). But by 2003 I’d had enough of building and the complexities and challenges of the business… I wanted out. Luckily for me, one of my junior partners had come to a similar conclusion, except that he just wanted out of the partnership and was keen to develop the business further under his own steam. In a very short timeframe we sold the whole of the business to him and I was out.
Coincidentally I also got divorced from my marriage of 25 years around the same time, so I suddenly found myself free from all the encumbrances of life and I even had a little bit of money in my pocket.
What an amazing time in my journey and my life.
But very soon, the question: "what next?" reared it’s head. The little bit of money I had wasn’t going to last for ever.
I really had no idea what direction to head, but decided to give myself a year to work it out. I remember saying to myself: “Maybe if I go and sit on a piazza in Italy for 6 to 12 months, the universe will show me what to do next".
Piazzas in Umbria
I did go to Italy and I did sit on Piazzas for 6 months and the amazing thing was that the universe did talk to me. It really did and the next stage on my journey in business started in Perugia in Umbria.
What happened was that I met someone from Denmark who told me about her life coach. By this stage, I’d never even heard of the concept of coaching other than in sport and found out more.
The more I researched and read about coaching, the more excited I became. When I came back to Sydney at the end of 2004, I enrolled myself in the first of many coaching courses and I took on my first paying client sometime during 2005.
Over the last 11 years, I have continued to develop my skills and experience and thinking. What I do now has evolved to be a mixture of coaching, mentoring, consulting, counseling, hand holding and brainstorming. I have combined my coaching training with my experience in small business and my ever growing interest in business management and of course my ‘life experience’. And I’ve created this thing I do to help small business owners get out of overwhelm and to find the Fun in their business again.
31 years after getting of the plane in Sydney, I am reminded of the philosopher who said: “Every time you think you can see you life laid out in front of you, like a map; You can be sure of one thing: It’s not your life you’re looking at”
I wish I could remember the philosopher’s name, because I’d love to know what else he’s had to say.