An interview with Mark Bouris

Smart practice

Monday 01 April 2013

Mark Bouris, Executive Chairman, Yellow Brick Road

For Mark Bouris, business success comes down to timing. It may have been tough to establish a financial services business during the Global

Financial Crisis, but Bouris now sees financial services emerging again as a great industry. As a new generation of entrepreneurs emerge,

Bouris talks about how self-starters will always be the winners in life.

Having already achieved well-known success with Wizard Home Loans, what motivated you to launch Yellow Brick Road – and at the height of the GFC?

What motivated me to start Yellow Brick Road was the sale of the Wizard business to my rival, and what galvanised it even more was that 30 per cent of that rival was owned by a major bank. The whole point of Wizard was to give people who were turned away from the banks the opportunity to get a loan, so that became the catalyst for Yellow Brick Road. Once Wizard was gone, I saw an opportunity to build a new business to take up the position that Wizard had vacated – to give people the abilities and opportunities that Wizard had offered. But I wanted to do it for people in all aspects of their finances, not just their mortgage. So that was the goal when we started up Yellow Brick Road.

As for setting it up at the height of the GFC – there's no right time to buy anything, there's no right time to sell anything, there's no right time to set something up. The GFC happened at the right time for Yellow Brick Road because it showed people that no one was untouchable, and that was important. It ended up being the perfect time for us.

You've said in the past you get the best people to work for your organisations. What do you look for in the recruitment process?

I look for people who are able to listen, who understand their strengths and weaknesses, who don't get too precious about constructive criticism and who can take feedback on board. When I bring people into my organisation, I look for likeminded people who are willing to work hard and who want to take responsibility for themselves and their overall performance. They have to be working towards a common goal and reaching that goal has to be as important to them as it is to me. And self-starters, that's key.

What is the single most important reason for your success?

Wizard was successful because it was well timed. It was built during a rising tide with regard to property prices and liquidity. Australia was offering returns on mortgage assets and when you take into account their performance, it was better than most countries in the world so that made for a concoction of value and opportunity for third parties like Wizard. So I'd say I'm probably pretty good at timing. Yellow Brick Road is another example of that. 2009 was a tough period to establish a financial services business but now financial services is emerging again as a great industry. So in the end that's what it comes down to. Timing.

This generation is entrepreneurial by birth and technology gives people a lot of opportunities that we didn't have 30 years ago. That has changed for the better, but what has stayed the same is the work that's involved in starting and growing a business.

What was the most surprising experience you had during Celebrity Apprentice?

Contrary to its TV objectives, Celebrity Apprentice, for me, is a social experiment. The production and the network organise the on-air aspects of it and make good TV out of it. I'm more interested in the psychology of how big personalities operate when put in that kind of environment. What's interesting is that you always find that there are those people who play to win and those who play not to lose. They're equally valid strategies.

What's interesting is also how people build alliances and how quickly undone those alliances become. Women are far more honest and ruthless, while men are slower to adopt honesty within themselves, but once they do, they do not hold back. When you put that together with the raw passion that many of these people have for the charities they represent, it really blows you away.

You said, "There are those people who play to win and those who play not to lose." What's the difference?

Risk plays a big part in business and in life. Some people aren't afraid to take risks – they calculate the risk versus reward and make a decision based on how much they are willing and/or able to lose. Other people would rather just play it safe and test the waters before jumping in. Those are the people who play not to lose.

Whichever category you fall into there is a risk associated with it. Sometimes if you don't lead – you play not to lose – you can miss the boat. Equally, when you put yourself out front you paint a target on yourself and others will punish you. Both require courage, patience and timing. Both are also equally effective.

Holding on to wealth is often more difficult than it looks. What are some tips for holding on to wealth, particularly across generations?

Don't sell anything.

What advice do you give young people about starting a business?

This generation is entrepreneurial by birth and technology gives people a lot of opportunities that we didn't have 30 years ago. That has changed for the better, but what has stayed the same is the work that's involved in starting and growing a business.

A lot of young people tell me they want to start their own business because they want to be their own boss. They don't realise the time, effort and stress that goes into owning a business. Business owners have to take care of their customers, their staff, their suppliers – everyone but themselves. When you're a business owner, you come last. So for all the luxuries of being your own boss, there are many more sacrifices.

Anyone going into business for themselves has to ask: "Am I prepared to not take a wage for the first few years until I am turning a profit?"; "Am I ok with not having any holidays or annual leave?"; "Am I prepared financially for what the business will cost and what those constraints will do to my personal life?"; "Am I ok with working 16 hour days and six or seven day weeks?".

That's what starting a business is about and I can tell you right now, there is no glamour in that, no matter who you are or where you come from. So be prepared to be lonely.

Everyone has to have things they do outside of work that they love doing. For me it's spending time with my family, going to the footy and exercise – the same things that most people enjoy. But those things come after my work commitments; they anchor everything that I do. All the other things fit in around my work.


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