When it comes to growing a business, Jonathan Rubinsztein has seen it all. As a 17-year-old, the South African native started his own textile company in Cape Town before moving to Australia where, at the age of 30, he took the leap into business ownership once again, co-founding Oracle consulting business Red Rock.
Red Rock is now part of the UXC Group, employing 600 employees across 11 different offices and turning over between $100-200 million each year, and Rubinsztein leads the company as chief executive.
UXC Red Rock is the largest Oracle consulting business in Australia and New Zealand. Oracle is possibly the largest provider of enterprise management software and we implement a huge range of Oracle products. We also have a very large management services business that provides someone to actually help you with your Oracle products in your own environment.
I was one of the four founders. The other three guys were all ex-Oracle at the time and I was the only one who wasn’t ex-Oracle. I came from a strategic consulting background.
We used our own funding and we sold the business to UXC in 2004. The other founders all left the business at different stages over about the next five years. I have been involved with UXC for about 10 years now.
We saw a space in the market. We believed that in the Oracle market itself, there was an opportunity to help customers implement the technology but not just from a technical perspective.
I have always had an entrepreneurial bent. I was born in Cape Town and when I was 17 I started a little textile company in South Africa.
I ran Ruby Manufacturing until I was about 22. I had a couple of shops that sold textiles and clothing. At the same time I was completing my undergraduate degree.
I have been fairly fortunate to have the opportunity to run a business as well as study business. I’ve had both the academic and real life experience concurrently and it’s given me great benefits.
When we talked about commercial law or accounting in my studies, I had the opportunity to trial things we were talking about in my own business.
Even now, I am a mentor at the Business School at the University of Sydney. I’m quite interested in the academic side of business, but putting it into action. I think there can sometimes be a gap between what happens in the real world.
I left South Africa and came to Australia, where I landed a job at Andersen Consulting. It was my first corporate job.
Part of the reason for that was when I arrived in a new country, I didn’t really know anyone. I got offered a great job as part of a great learning group in the management consulting area.
I come from very-much a waterfall, formal business strategy background. For 15 years I followed a traditional strategy process.
But today I have a very different view. I still absolutely believe in thinking through strategy but very much as a lean startup concept. Strategy is about testing. Having a hypothesis, testing it and refining it. It’s an iterative process.
It’s much faster to release a minimally viable product, test it and then refine it until it works.
Timelines have changed. Twenty years ago you may have spent a year looking at strategy and execution, but in that time you haven’t done any testing. We no longer have that luxury. We’re working in dog years, six or seven times faster.
You need an ability to be agile and to respond. You can get a product to market much faster but you can pull it much faster too, either fortunately or unfortunately.
We recently acquired Convergence Team, which has particular capabilities in the utility, engineering, mining and construction space. We see that area as quite buoyant so it has added to our capacity from an industry perspective.
They also have an office in Singapore and work across south-east Asia. We believe we have definite growth opportunities in south-east Asia and therefore it gives us a base and a team of 18 people in Singapore.
We would absolutely look at further acquisitions where they make sense by getting us into a new market, either a geographic market or a technological one.
We will look at strengthening our team in south-east Asia but in Australia, our Western Australian business is growing very rapidly. We have 50 people there and we expect it to double in the next year and a half.
Our traditional market is in New South Wales and Victoria, but Queensland is also looking very strong and New Zealand is a big market.
What keeps me awake at night is making sure I live by my core values. I wake up if there is a scenario or people in the organisation not aligned to those values and I feel the area is one I can improve on.
As the organisation grows, we’ve become a lot clearer about what is important. How we differentiate our culture, what good behaviour is and what bad behaviour is.
From a leadership perspective, I think the style of carrot and stick doesn’t work anymore.
You need three things to motivate people: autonomy, mastery and purpose. People need to feel autonomous, they need to master a skill capability or technology and they need to feel a personal purpose that is aligned to the organisation’s.
If people are motivated, they do incredible things.
At UXC Red Rock our core value is to ‘have fun, seriously’. It sounds possibly trite or cliché, but we are a consulting business and the reality is, if we are having fun while helping customers achieve outcomes, then cool things happen.
A business has a responsibility to its shareholders to make money, but in making money, other stakeholders might also benefit.
I can make money and improve the world I live in, or I can take it a step further and also make it a nice environment for all stakeholders.
We have to think about the ripple effect. We live in a world of finite resources and destroying those resources to become more profitable is not necessarily a good thing.
I am actively involved in a fantastic charity called Mission Value that supports a community in South Africa where 70% of people are HIV positive. And I give back in a number of other ways, including as a mentor to a bunch of people and small businesses.
I have been fortunate to have had great mentors support me so it is almost a pay-it-forward model.
The thing that makes a business successful is the people working in the business. There are so many examples of the best product in the world but the business goes under because of the management team.
The older I get the more I realise you can have an organisation that is motivated, where people are excited, you can control your own destiny, be proud of what you do and build a successful business.
It becomes a lot less about yourself as a leader and more about the people who work with you and supporting them.