Damien James has always been a dreamer. He thinks big and he’s not afraid to follow the beat of his own drum. It was these inherent traits that led him as a kid to two dream career choices – to be an AFL footballer or a business owner.
He soon came to realise he didn’t have the natural ability to be a footballer, so he turned his attention to starting a business. At 11-years-old he registered his first business, an environmental engineering company (a profession in which he had no qualifications), and while it never traded, it motivated him to one day start a successful company.
Rather than studying business or commerce at university, James decided the best course of action was to enrol in a course which would give him qualifications in a growing industry. This led to James studying podiatry, to maximise on the advantages presented by an ageing population. On the day he graduated in 1997 he launched his own podiatry business which specialises specifically in providing podiatry services to aged care homes.
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Now, James aims to contribute to a world where people in aged care are “joyous and optimistic”. He believes in providing emotional support and comfort to his clients, not just trimming people’s toe nails.
It hasn’t been an easy road, but the business now turns over $4.5 million annually and employs 55 people. SmartCompany spoke to James about bouncing back from rock bottom, finding the right staff and persisting through adversity.
Name: Damien James
Company: Aged Foot Care Australia
Location: Port Melbourne, Victoria
Before leaving for work each morning, James reads over his personal and professional goals for the financial year to help keep him focused.
“I get to the office around 9am and the first 20 minutes are spent preparing for the daily huddle.
“In the huddle the support team reviews the company-wide metrics for the previous day. For example some of the metrics we look at are the podiatrists’ KPIs, business revenue, and the number of new facilities we’re servicing,” he says.
From 10am James meets with his own team and reviews their progress on their weekly targets.
“Then from 10:30am to 11.30am we have an hour of power. We turn off all phones and emails, and focus on the important work, rather than the urgent tasks.
“We work on tasks which help us to achieve our 90 planned goals,” he says.
Before starting Aged Foot Care, James was like every university student. He liked “drinking beer, playing pinball and chasing girls”, but the day university finished, his priorities changed.
“Like most new business owners, when I started I was chief cook and bottle washer. I was doing absolutely everything.
“Then as the business grew and I got more podiatrists on I was able to relinquish some of the responsibilities. At this point I focused on the sales and marketing, which was the aspect I enjoyed the most,” he says.
However, a few years ago James’ role changed again. He brought on a team of “high performers” – sales staff who he says are much better than him.
“In the past six to 12 months I’ve had more time to focus on leadership. For me, leadership requires a bit of work,” he says.
Throughout his business life so far, one of James’ greatest challenges came in 2006 when he was the victim of a serial fraudster.
“In 2004 I also started up a chain of sports podiatry clinics and had clients such as Pat Rafter and Lleyton Hewitt. This was taking up more and more of my time, so I promoted a person within Aged Foot Care to run it, but this started to unravel in 2006,” he says.
“I discovered the guy who I made general manager was a serial fraudster and he stole $300,000 from the business. This guy went on to set up in opposition to my business and offered my staff $2000 a week to quit and work for his company.”
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