Smart50’s people lesson

If only you could bottle the energy pulsating through the room at the Smart50 Awards last night – I reckon it would be enough to sustain the average entrepreneur for an entire year.

It was a terrific night. The entrepreneurs in the room were upbeat, excited and even a little boisterous, which we love!

The spectacular level 46 venue provided by our long-time partners the Victorian Government showed Melbourne at its magnificent best.

And we even had a little scoop from John Lombard, the chief executive of our terrific sponsor and partner, Australia’s number one SME accounting and financial services firm WHK, which will be rebranding as Crowe Horwath in July next year. It was also great to have plenty of members of the WHK team in the crowd – these guys really get the SME mindset and understand the challenges of fast growth.

But the real stars of the night are the entrepreneurs we honour, and I love getting around and finding out a bit more about the stories behind their incredible growth.

Jeremy Bouris, the 33-year-old founder of our top ranked company Audio Active Australia, was genuinely surprised to take out the big prize. His business model is fascinating – he sells high-end hi-fi gear to a relatively small group of speciality retailers, and as such knows all of his 100 or so customers by now. That has its positives and negatives – close relationships are great, but Bouris knows that when things go wrong his team needs to be extra quick to resolve any problems.

Aaron Weller of web hosting and cloud computing company Crucial Paradigm came down from Sydney for the evening with a few members of his young team to celebrate the business’s inclusion on the list. Weller started the business in 2003 while at university, but even then was smart enough to see that he needed to find a way to lower costs to compete with larger rivals. So for almost a decade he has been working with a team in India – virtually of course, he’s never actually visited – who now understand his business intimately.

A common feature of all the entrepreneurs I talked to was clear: People matter, almost more than anything else.

As you read the profiles of the Smart50 today you will hear numerous stories of how a lack of talent can put the brakes on business growth, and how the wrong person – and this is a pretty common problem – can all but derail growth completely.

With this in mind, these businesses are doing everything they can to improve their retention efforts. The key way to do this is by giving staff a genuine say in the direction of the business.

Jonathon Green, co-founder of eCommerce site Eljo.com, which placed number six last night, sums up the message many entrepreneurs wanted to deliver.

“Listen to your staff. Give their voices the time of day,” he says.

“Whether that is issues at work, ideas to improve a system, and particularly out of work life. Always give them a reason for what they are asked to do; it helps them have a sense of ownership over a given task.

“And ALWAYS give them credit where it’s due. There is nothing worse than doing things for an unappreciative audience.”

If you want to take one lesson from the Smart50 in 2012, I think it is this: Do whatever you can to hold onto your staff performers, because without them fast growth is almost impossible.

James Thomson is a former editor of BRW’s Rich 200 and the publisher of SmartCompany and LeadingCompany.

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