Family matters: how to build a successful business

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Trusted advice helped a dream become reality


Strong family values have been the cornerstone of success for twin brothers Geoff and John Jansen, and their wives Michele and Lianne.

These values have seen the twins develop their careers from a young age to become highly respected managers in the hospitality sector. They like nothing more than making people happy; from presentation to service standards, they see their customers as invited guests.

But although they now co-own own a pub in Newcastle, they never thought they’d work together – or even imagined themselves in this field of work after their conservative upbringing.

Their parents emigrated from Sri Lanka in search of more opportunities for their five children, and instilled a strong sense of self-discipline and high standards of behaviour in their sons. “We were quiet as church mice at school. Never put a foot wrong,” says Geoff.

“Our parents taught us that you always have a choice in life and it was up to you to make the right decision, be guided by your conscience,” explains John.

I never really knew Macquarie was a bank for someone like me.

While studying for the HSC, they began working at the Menzies Hotel in Sydney – aged 17. Despite their rapid increase in income, Geoff and John were constantly living day to day. When their father saw them spend all their pay every week, he drew the line.

“He said to us, ‘that's it boys, you've got to invest your money in property’,” recalls Geoff. “He lent us the deposit of $22,000 to buy the house across the road from our family home. It was probably one of the smartest things we’ve ever done.”

When they later sold that property, they were able to buy their first restaurant together. It was another milestone in a close working relationship that spans many decades. 

For Geoff, managing money – just like managing a pub – is about responsibility. “It’s about being diligent with spending,” he says. To help exercise this discipline they’ve both developed a strong partnership with mortgage broker Francis Raymond, who they describe as a friend.  

“He always gives us advice, bounces around ideas,” says John. “How much should we commit to the mortgage, should we overstretch to live a certain lifestyle? He’s always been our go-to person.”

I like being sensible with my money but I'm always too busy to pay it much attention.

Five years ago, the twins bought a pub in Newcastle together. Geoff had been a pub licensee since 1984 – at the time, he was the youngest in Australia – but he had never owned his own venue.

“We knew our capabilities in hospitality – to be honest we've both done extremely well for other people,” says John. “We know the secret ingredient, which I think we’d learned from our parents: treat people the way you’d like to be treated. It's nothing amazing, it’s as simple as that.”

Geoff looked for a venue with potential to grow. He knocked on doors and found one about to go into receivership; and so they went into in partnership with Geoff’s current employer.

They then asked Francis for advice and were surprised when he recommended Macquarie.

“I never really knew Macquarie was a bank for someone like me – I guess I thought of them as being an investment bank, quite prestigious. But the interest rate and the terms are absolutely brilliant,” says Geoff.

“Macquarie’s like a best kept secret – it’s like all of a sudden we've discovered it’s a bank for people like us,” says John.

Geoff had known he was paying too much interest on his home loan but hadn’t been able to resolve it through his previous bank’s branch. “I’m really lazy with things like that, but then I realised I was probably paying $10,000 a year more than I needed to. And I thought, that could be a holiday!”

John took the opportunity to consolidate his share of the pub with his home mortgage, and is now planning to extend that to do some renovations.

“I like being sensible with my money but I’m always too busy to pay it much attention. Francis always helps us with the fine print. So now I have the credit card, the offset account and it’s so easy, it’s no fuss. Even my wife says, ‘Macquarie’s so easy to deal with.’”

John admits he’s not technically-minded but he found the online banking very easy to set up, and when he phoned for help he was quickly guided through.

That responsive service has made everything much simpler for the twins. “We work long hours – 50 to 60 hours a week, travelling up to Newcastle, down to Wollongong,” says Geoff. “But I love it. And I know my wife and I are very privileged to have the lifestyle we have, but it hasn't fallen into our laps overnight. I respect what I have to do.”

They are now about to buy their second pub together. John sees these investments as a ‘calculated risk’. “You’ve got to be confident in the opportunity. Nothing’s 100%, but you work hard to make it a sure thing.”

Geoff says he’s learned not to get emotionally involved in a new investment decision. “Once you do, you’re sunk. It has to be a business perspective, look at the financials, and see what way you can steer the business to get a greater return. That’s what lets you pay back the bank.”

But he also knows the people are the greatest asset in any business, and he feels responsible for their livelihoods. “Without them you’ve got nothing. It’s like a house: without a family it’s just four walls.”

He says he sees the same commitment in the people he’s dealt with at Macquarie.

“John and I – we’re a little different but we think alike. I think it’s the same thing with Macquarie. We’re different, but they think like us.”

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