Meet Bruce Poon Tip, the Canadian entrepreneur who turned a love of travelling into a $400 million business

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Bruce Poon Tip started his company travel company G Adventures 25 years ago with two maxed-out credit cards.

The risk has certainly paid off. The business owner and frequent traveller has won Canada’s Entrepreneur of the Year award twice and this financial year his company is on track to turn over $400 million.

SmartCompany caught up with Poon Tip while he was in Australia to get his thoughts on how entrepreneurship has changed in the past 20 years and why he once decided to fire his entire HR department.

 

I started the company back in 1990 when the world was a very different place.

People travelled differently. There was no internet, no email. If you wanted to travel outside the mainstream, you had to book it yourself.

When I went backpacking I saw there was a lot of young professionals in limbo.

So G Adventures was born.

What would I do differently if I started over? I’d do a lot of things differently.

I started the company on a college credit card. I made a lot of decisions on what I could afford as opposed to what was best for the business.

I’d go against what I learnt in business school.

I’d be more purpose-driven. In business school they teach you it’s unemotional.

Entrepreneurs weren’t sexy 25 years ago. Now everyone wants to be an entrepreneur.

I don’t think anyone can be an entrepreneur. It’s about ideas, ideation, innovation and rethinking how we can do things.

I think Australia is right on the precipice. Australia has all of the talent and the perfect ingredients.

But what you need to be successful is freedom and that involves government giving entrepreneurs the freedom to think differently.

You’ve got to get rid of conservative thinking for entrepreneurs to succeed. There’s a side to this country that is very conservative and that doesn’t necessarily mesh well with the innovative environment you need to make mistakes and invest in ideas as opposed to industries.

I fired my entire HR department in 2008. Traditional HR doesn’t fit in terms of what I wanted for my business.

I started two departments, which are the talent agency and the culture club. For me, our business model is wrapped around the business model of happiness and allowing people to create happiness at work.

We have operations in 20 countries but the one thing that is universal is happiness.

Company culture should be organic. It’s about having people feel they are part of something greater than themselves, making mistakes and connectedness.

The problem today is “company culture” has become a buzzword. People try to manufacture a company culture and it just can’t be done.

You have to love what you do. The world is too globalised and it’s too easy to be global for you to just be product-driven.

Love what you do and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.

Know your motivations. Why do you want to be an entrepreneur? So many people don’t know why.

Being an entrepreneur takes an unusual level of confidence.

You have to take ideas out of your head and make them make sense in the real world.

You need to be able to engage in high-risk, high-reward activities without flinching. That’s how the great entrepreneurs do things; they don’t stay within the confines of convention.

We’re currently partnering with National Geographic.

One of the most recognised and trusted brands called us. Not because we’re the best or the biggest, but because our values match theirs.

Entrepreneurs are notoriously bad at drawing a line in the sand because they’re trying to build a business and appease everybody.

But everything we’ve stood for, we’ve drawn a line in the sand. This will double our business over the next few years and it was all based on decisions we made that weren’t traditional.

It shows that values matter.

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Broede Carmody is a former senior reporter at SmartCompany. Previously, he was a co-editor of RMIT University's student magazine Catalyst.

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  • stephen connell

    National Geographic.respected brand? Yes but it tends to delve into strange areas at times. For example National Geographic produced “Lost Tapes” a found footage series where strange creatures,,Aliens and Giant bat creatures might have been seen and obviously filmed by people hence the “Lost Tapes” title.
    How does this program enhance National geographic’s credibility?