It’s been over 30 years since I wrote and published my first business book. Since 1989 I’ve also published over 400 business books, so you’d think I’d be able to answer this question pretty easily.I was asked this question a few months back when I visited Auburn West Public School as part of the Books in Homes program that I am a role model with.
In short, I was nurtured by a group of passionate, intelligent and committed people and organisations.
To digress for just a paragraph. Books in Homes® is a charitable foundation that provides books of choice to children living in remote, disadvantaged and low socio-economic circumstances. The program ensures crucial early literacy engagement and the development of reading skills needed for lifelong achievement.
As a Role Model I have the opportunity to attend a ‘Book Assembly’ where we present the students with their bag of selected books and, sometimes, speak with groups of the students.
It was at one of these classroom sessions that a student asked me, ‘How did you start out writing business books?
I had to think a bit before I answered as I’d never been asked this question before or thought about it. Here’s a slightly longer version of what I shared.
It started with a question/an opportunity
‘So, what do you think about taking on a research project in Sydney for a couple of years and then coming back?
This was the question I was asked back in 1986 by my boss. He knew that I was not sure about my next step and was several steps ahead of me. In fact he had been exploring ways in which he could help me progress and had found one that he thought I’d be interested in.
The research project was to take on the role of a research associate for a project that the ASX had commissioned – the history of Australian entrepreneurship from 1788 to the present day (at that time 1989).
It wasn’t something I’d ever thought of let alone moving to Australia. That said, it sounded interesting and I thought ‘why not?’
Three months later I’d packed my bags and was on the plane to Sydney to take on the ‘job’ after just one interview with Greg Lindsay, the head of the Centre of Independent Studies who was running the project. Greg was the ONLY person I knew in Australia and I’d only met him a month before.
Then I wrote my first book
Over the next three years I spent all my time reading and researching everything I could about Australian economic history, business, businesspeople, entrepreneurs and specific business histories. More importantly I connected with and interviewed many of Australia’s leading business historians, academics, entrepreneurs, business people, politicians and industry advocates.
What an introduction to a new country and a ‘new’ subject. My first business book, now out of print, is Champions of Enterprise. Australian Entrepreneurship 1788-1990.
Business history was not my speciality prior to arriving here. I had a First Class honours degree in Russian politics. Go figure. Well, what did ‘figure’ was that I had the capacity and ability to research, engage, explore, think and synthesise. And I had the support, encouragement and engagement of the CIS and key people within the ASX. I also had the engagement and involvement of Professor Max Hartwell, the lead on the project. Max was an Australian-born economic historian who held (among other positions) the chair of economic history at the University of NSW, professorial fellow of Nuffield College, Oxford University, editor of the Economic History Review and visiting professor at professor of economics at the University of Virginia and the University of Chicago.
Founding a business book publishing compan
Two years turned in to three. The research associate role morphed into a co-authorship role, and then into being the publisher. One of the entrepreneurs I interviewed had asked me what I was going to do next? By this time I had change my mind about ‘going back’ to New Zealand and a role in politics. So I said ‘I’d like to start a business book publishing company as I’ve been asked to produce a number of business book.’
I had no idea just what this meant but it felt right.
12 months later Focus Publishing was formed with Steven Rich as my business partner. I stopped writing business histories and started a business. Focus Publishing grew to be one of Australia’s leading business book publishing companies. Steven and I remained business partners right up until the time of his death in 2006. What a journey.
The decade of change – the 2000s
The latter 2000s were the perfect storm for me. My father died, Steven died, traditional print publishing was morphing at a rate and in a way that no-one could get a handle on. The came the GFC. Focus changed ownership (that’s another whole story).
I focused on what I am passionate about and what was I good at
I went back to the future, researching and writing business histories. But could I still do it? After all I hadn’t written for over 20 years.
Hard-wired for writing
Turns out I was better at this than I thought. 10 years and 29 business books later I’m in exactly the best place I can be. Researching, reading, interviewing, thinking, synthesising and writing on business for companies including AS-listed companies, Commonwealth Bank, Breville, Westpac, Santos and Cleanaway, as well as private and family businesses: Craig Mostyn Group, Kennards Self Storage, Wilson Transformer and more.
And, as it happens the business book publishing passion also morphed into a new business, The Book Adviser was born. I help business people through the process of planning, writing, publishing and marketing their books.
It all seems so logical when I read back on what I’ve just written.
However, when I look back on the choices I made I realise that at all times I followed my passion for the love of learning, engaging, words and writing. The area that I focused on was business but it could well have been Russian politics. In fact I remember that I was offered a position as a lecturer in politics at a NZ university before I had finished by Masters degree. I instinctively knew that an academic career was not for me even though I didn’t know what was for me.
So, how did I start out writing business books?
Someone suggest that I could and I gave it go.
I’ve focused on business books and business histories in one form or another over the past 30 years. More recently, realised that I can help other business people give it go and help them avoid all the mistakes I’ve made along the way.
As Henry Ford said:
“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right.”