The Experts

Maureen Jordan
Women's Business
+ About Maureen Jordan

About Maureen Jordan

Maureen Jordan holds a Bachelor of Arts (Economics) and a Law Degree (Honours) and has carved a niche in the media to balance her world of work and family.

Her company, the Switzer Group, owns divisions in media and publishing, financial services and business coaching.

During her 20 year involvement in media and publishing, Maureen has held Editor in Chief roles for esteemed publications such as Charter Magazine for the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Australia and has authored several books including Women Entrepreneurs, which she wrote for the Federal Office of Women, Small Business Start Up Guide published by Allen & Unwin and Finding And Managing Your Mortgage, Wiley Publishing.

As group publisher of Switzer Media and Publishing, Maureen has initiated and managed the publication of specialty books, magazines and content for some of the country's leading organisations. Clients include Optus, Mortgage & Finance Industry Association, IBM, Hewlett Packard, the Commonwealth Bank, Telstra, AMP, IP Australia, Yahoo 7, the University of NSW and law firm Griffith Hack.

Such is Maureen's commitment to business that in 1996 she was inducted into the Australian Business Women's Hall of Fame in Melbourne, as well as being a finalist in the Sydney Business Review's Business Women of the Year 2003.

Early in her career, Maureen taught in both the secondary school system - public and private - as well as teaching at the University of New South Wales.

Maureen's knowledge of small business and the economy, combined with her legal skills, has enabled her to not only put a firm footing under her own long established business, but has also given her the credibility to assist others.

Coles splits from Wesfarmers

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

As Wesfarmers moves towards demerging its supermarket division, Coles will be a standalone company for the first time in a decade. According to IBISWorld analyst, Tom Youl “the new entity will struggle to fend for itself against its competitors, if it doesn’t keep up with the momentum of recent successes like The Little Shop campaign, and the newly demerged Coles will have to capitalise on the momentum gained via this campaign to gain ground on industry leader Woolworths.” 

Interestingly, despite the success of the Little Shop promotion, which saw its sales spike over 5%, the boss of Coles has said that they won’t be continuing with this innovation.

In case you missed it, here’s an explanation of what lies ahead for this WA-headquartered company.

“The demerger comes after Wesfarmers recently announced it was seeking faster growth among its other divisions, such as Bunnings and Officeworks, hoping that the break away from the capital-hungry Coles will allow them to seek more aggressive expansion strategies. If all goes according to plan, Wesfarmers should retain 15% ownership of Coles, which is expected to be listed on the ASX in late November,” Youl said.

This selling off of Coles comes at a time when competition is rising and the Germans are coming!

“Coles has been a significant cash generator for Wesfarmers over the past decade but has begun to stagnate, losing market share to Woolworths over the past three years. To regain lost ground and prepare for incoming threats, AmazonFresh and Kaufland, Coles is expected to invest heavily in capital over the next five years,” Youl maintained.  

And don’t forget, the other German, Aldi, has been making great inroads into our shopping habits, for example, did you know Aldi is the greatest seller of snow gear in this country?

The new Coles entity will likely operate with three main divisions: supermarkets, liquor and convenience.

“The Convenience division has declined over the past five years as a change to the commercial arrangement with petroleum supplier, Viva Energy, reduced Coles’ fuel revenue. Conversely, the Liquor division, encompassing the company’s liquor retailing and hotel operations, has exceeded expectations and grown strongly over the past five years,” said Youl.  

Despite strong growth over most of the past decade, the performance of Coles’ supermarkets division has been sluggish in recent years.

“At the beginning of the decade, Coles’ price discounting strategy resonated with consumers and division revenue increased sharply. However, Woolworths also invested heavily in price discounting on top of store refurbishments in 2016 and 2017, and has wrestled back most of

the market share initially lost to Coles,” said Youl.  

This also coincided with Woolies appointing Brad Banducci as its new CEO, which has spelt trouble for Coles.

As a result of the split from its parent company, the onus is now on Coles to respond to competing strategies and plans for performance growth. The company has suggested it may invest up to $1 billion in store and on consumer experience upgrades, as well as operating efficiency improvements. Notably, Coles is planning to build two automated distribution centres.

“While this can be seen as a response to Woolworths’ automated warehouse, set to open early 2019, these cost-reduction measures are also in response to industry disruptors, AmazonFresh and Kaufland. These players are expected to offer low prices, further pressuring supermarket profitability,”Youl said.

IBISWorld research has found that The Supermarkets and Grocery Stores industry is expected to turnover $103.4 billion in 2018-19, and grow at an annualised 2% over the next five years.

“While a forecasted rise in disposable income will likely provide opportunities for industry players, Coles must reinvigorate its branding and pricing strategies in order to bring lost foot traffic back to its stores,” Youl said. 

Anyone expecting Coles to be better retail beast after it loses its parent has to factor in how it will be able to compete in a much tougher environment, which will also have Amazon selling stuff that Coles and its rivals currently flog.

Even after the demerger from Wesfarmers, Coles is expected to remain one of the biggest companies in Australia. The company currently employs over 112,000 staff, making it our third-largest employer.  


What will Coles do to stand out from the crowd, other than engage in ruinous price competition? The Little Shop campaign actually boosted sales but the new Coles CEO, Steven Cain, who started work last month, said Coles won't repeat the big gain in sales in the December quarter because they won’t sustain the campaign. That implies the cost of the success was clearly too high.

However, there were pay-offs.

“The benefits of the campaign was two-fold, as Woolworths reported a downturn over the same period, with an estimated growth rate of 1.3% compared with 3.1% in the last quarter of 2018. Nevertheless, while the Little Shop campaign has been a success, it remains to be seen if Coles can translate this won battle into winning the war,” said Youl.  

The one interesting lesson for all the competitors in the supermarket space is that there are alternatives to price competition but it requires thinking outside the square and understanding your customers. Who would have thought little plastic versions of Weet-Bix and Vegemite given away when someone spends $30 would work? Someone who understands their customers!

For anyone thinking of investing in the spun off company, here is Paul Rickard’s view, in the Switzer Report yesterday, on Coles going forward.

“Coles will be attractive to investors who want a stock with a higher, fully-franked dividend yield. However, the industry dynamics are against Coles and it is not clear what the path for earnings growth is. Coles will also be facing the prospect of additional capex as it builds its new distribution centres. Those looking to exit their new Coles investment might want to act early.” 


Want to be richer and more confident?

Monday, October 15, 2018

From Wednesday to Friday evening last week, while the rain beat down day and night, I MC’d the 2018 National Conference for the Association of Financial Advisers (AFA) at the Royal Pines Resort on the Gold Coast. Established in 1946, the AFA is Australia’s oldest association representing financial advisors and the value of financial advice.

At the conference, the AFA launched a research White Paper called The Value of Advice. The paper centred on the effects on ordinary Australians of getting advice. Conducted by specialist financial services research firm CoreData, a global research and consulting business (with offices in Sydney, Perth, London, Boston and Manila), the paper revealed that these effects were profound and long lasting, in not just the financial sense, but emotional and behavioural as well.

CoreData conducted a quantitative study of 946 mass affluent Australians, looking at variations between advised and non-advised customers, along with 15 in-depth interviews of Australians receiving advice. It then conducted advice modelling of common scenarios using common financial planning software. Founder of CoreData, Andrew Inwood, presented the research to the 600-strong audience at the conference. 

“Three scenarios were chosen,” Inwood said. “’The Big Check Up’, designed to model the effects of getting advice in the last part of your working life; “The Loss of a Partner”, designed to model the effects of a married couple with two children in their early 40’s; and “The Upstarts”, designed to model the effects of getting advice as a couple with young children in their early 30’s.”

Inwood said that CoreData took a deliberately conservative approach to the modelling, building in the cost of advice, consistent returns, consistent cost of living and returns and removing any assumptions of extra assets from the death of parents or exceptional returns. 

“The research really shone a light into the three benefits of working with a financial planner,” Inwood said. “People working with a planner are better off, emotionally, financially and behaviourally.”

“Emotional benefits relate to day-to-day wellbeing and happiness. Research participants indicated significant emotional benefits. Peace of mind and confidence with managing finances was a major value proposition of financial advice.

“Financial advice leads to better financial decisions. Advised clients typically pay less tax, have little to no bad debt and have their money working harder for them and end up better off, if they stick with the plan for any reasonable period of time,” Inwood added.

CoreData’s research revealed that the behavioral benefits are longer-term structural habits. “The research revealed that working with a financial adviser trains better behaviors. Advised clients are more in control of their finances than unadvised individuals.”

Inwood told delegates that the evidence for advice presented from the research was particularly compelling for those who started the advice journey early.

“In all three scenarios, we tested the results that showed that advice provided very real financial benefits, particularly for the younger customers – but the effects on their state of mind and financial confidence were most interesting.”

“For example in the “Upstarts” model, the research showed that if the subjects stick with the advice practice, they will be more than $700,000 better off at retirement.  For the “Big Check Up”, they would be $127,000 better off. And for the “Sudden Loss” scenario, the single parent would be $29,000 a year better off.”

And then the surprise findings were highlighted: “In this research, it was found that 50% of mass affluent Australians (those earning between $76,000 and $149,000 a year) would have exhausted all their savings within three months, if they lost their job. That number halves for advised Australians, with 50% being able to cope for more than six months.

“The financial confidence and behavioral data is substantial, with 82% of those with advice stating that they were confident about retirement and 54% stating that since receiving advice they were saving more.

“The data is very clear,” Inwood concluded. “Australians (who seek advice) are relatively richer, better insured and more confident.”

One last point needs to be made in light of the Royal Commission into the financial services industry. Like lawyers, accountants, doctors and tradespeople, there are people of different quality and integrity and it’s wise to be aware that not all experts behave well.

The fact that some financial advisers have not covered themselves in glory should not stop you for looking for a trustworthy adviser who, if they’re professional and work in your best interest, should be able to make you materially more comfortable. And with that goes happiness as well as confidence.


Do we really care about first homebuyers?

Thursday, October 11, 2018

The Local Agent Finder Real Estate Sentiment Report, done in August this year, found that the 1,000 Australians surveyed are extremely sympathetic to the plight of first homebuyers, with 71% believing that the government isn’t doing enough to help. More than half said they’d like to know the buyer of their property and two out of three displayed a willingness to offer a discount to genuine first buyers, with nearly one in four comfortable for that discount to be between 5-10%! Who would have guessed that? 

CEO of Local Agent Finder, Matt McCann said “…many people were well aware of the capital gains that they had achieved in recent years, and this was affecting their attitudes toward selling and first home buyers. 

“The survey results suggest that Australians who are looking to sell are looking to do so as soon as possible, so they’re likely well aware of the downturn in the market of late.”

“The prospect of rising interest rates may also be contributing to this view, with over half of respondents saying that they were ‘stressed’ by the prospect of rates increasing. 

“The same group seems extremely aware of the effect the property boom has had on first home buyers and wants action to keep the Australian dream alive.”

Other findings from the survey were:

1. 78% of respondents felt the government should do more to help retirees downsize.

2. 84% believed that the government isn’t doing enough to limit foreign investment into Australia’s property market.

3. A majority said they’d consider or prefer a private sale to an auction. Respondents over 55 years old were 400% more likely to prefer a private sale. 

4. 28% want the negative gearing system to remain as it is. 19% want negative gearing to be removed completely. 8% want negative gearing to be scaled back to new properties.

5. When it comes to advice around property advertising, sellers trust real estate agents more than family, friends, and property listing websites. However, while vendors typically pay property advertising costs in Australia, there may be upcoming pressure on agents to absorb these costs, with nearly half of respondents believing agents should pay for advertising. Two out of three sellers were unaware that they could ask the agent to cover advertising costs.

6. When sellers are choosing an agent, they ranked the agent’s track record as the most important factor, followed by the strength of the relationship with the agent then the agent’s commission rate and customer testimonials. 

Interestingly, the latest statistics on home loans shows that the proportion of first homebuyers in the market is at a six-year high!

Meanwhile, investor housing finance rose 0.1% in August, with annual growth remaining at a record low of 1.5%.

So the trend is changing and maybe those surveyed need to change their sources of information. I’d recommend Switzer Daily, though I could be biased!


Interest rates: up, down or stay the same?

Thursday, October 04, 2018

RBA Governor Philip Lowe continues to warn mortgage holders not to be complacent about our long period of low interest rates. In 15 separate speeches and statements this year, the Governor has warned that the next move in interest rates will be up, rather than down. director of research, Sally Tindall, says she thinks that while the hike to the cash rate is still a long way off, now is the perfect time to protect yourself against any rate rises. 

“Even the RBA concedes there won’t be any change in the “near-term”, but the Governor isn’t delivering these warnings for no reason,” she said.

“He wants people to start paying down their mortgages now, to reduce the impact future rate hikes will have on debt-laden households.

 “It’s almost been eight years since the RBA last increased the cash rate. That means anyone who took out their mortgage after November 2010 might not fully appreciate the consequences a rising cash rate can have on the family budget.

Chief economist of AMP, Shane Oliver, holds a different view: “We see no reason to change our view that rates will remain on hold for a lengthy period. I am even tempted to the RBNZ approach that the next move in rates “could be up or down”.

“The RBA will yet again leave interest rates on hold when it meets tomorrow. While recent economic growth and jobs data has been good, we are still waiting for inflation and wages growth to pick up and the slide in home prices risks accelerating as banks tighten lending standards, which in turn threatens consumer spending and wider economic growth. As a result it would be dangerous to raise rates and we don’t see the RBA hiking until 2020 at the earliest and still can’t rule out the next move being a cut.

Meanwhile, our third expert, Peter Switzer of Switzer Home Loans, says “I’m more positive on the Oz economy than Shane so my view is that rates will rise next year. 

“Many economists think the first official interest rate rise will be 2020 but I (and the likes of NAB’s chief economist, Alan Oster) think it will be mid-to-late 2019.”

Switzer and Tindall both agree that this period of low interest rates is a good time to throw any spare cash at your mortgage, using a redraw facility or offset account.

“Making extra repayments early on in your mortgage will also mean your money will work much harder for you in the long run.

“It will also give you a buffer to deal with any further out-of-cycle rate hikes from the banks,” Ms Tindall adds, pointing to the savings set out in the three scenarios below as a huge reason for doing this.


Mortgage stress: who’s feeling it the most?

Thursday, September 27, 2018

When Aussie mortgage holders were recently asked how they felt about their home loans, 56% confessed that they were feeling the burden of their mortgage, which limits their lifestyle. While a majority is feeling the pain, 44% perceive their mortgage as a benefit. 

The study also found that almost one in 10 Aussie mortgage holders are simultaneously renting and investing in property, which Gateway Bank sees as signaling a shift towards alternative routes of entering the property market.

Paul Thomas, CEO of Gateway Bank, maintains that these findings reflect the consistent increase in household debt across the country: “In the pursuit of getting their foot into the property market, some Aussies have become over-indebted, leading us to record high household debt-to-income ratios of 189%. Add to this the steep decline in household savings, which is currently at 1%, and you have yourself a recipe for mortgage stress.” Thomas said. 

The results also indicate a shift towards an alternative means of property ownership – rent-vesting. Almost one in 10 of those surveyed were renters who also owned investment properties. Half of these rent-vestor were Millennials 38% were Gen X and 10% were Baby Boomers.

Thomas attributes the popularity of rent-vesting to increasingly strict lending restrictions and a desire for more affordable routes of property investment but warns people against entering down the path without the proper knowledge required to succeed: “The Australian property market is flatlining for the first time in years and lending restrictions are tighter than ever before, so savvy Aussies are looking for other ways to get a foothold into the great Australian Dream.

“It seems that for almost 10% of Aussies, rent-vesting has presented an opportunity to enter the property market. However prospective rent-vestors should be wary before going down this path, as it does require a lot of consideration. When we look at data from our study this year, rent-vestors are under a greater deal of stress (65%) compared to the general mortgage holder population, which is just a small indication of the challenges presented by rent-vesting,” Thomas concluded. 

And which city houses the most mortgage stressed Aussies? Adelaide residents topped the stress list, with 63% of residents considering their home loans to be a burden. Sydneysiders are more chilled out (54%) than Melbournians (58%) and Darwinians 61%, and even more chilled out than mortgagees in Brisbane (61%) and Perth (62%)!

When asked to comment on these statistics, Peter Switzer, founder of Switzer Home Loans, said: “The concept of mortgage stress is relative to what in your life was given up to own a house. I would argue that modern generations have lived through a period of greater materialism compared to older generations so the sacrifices involved in paying off a mortgage could be harder for them to digest. It doesn’t mean that they are unable to pay off their home loan, it might just be emotionally harder to do so.”


We built this business on rock‘n’roll

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Peter Switzer and I started our business in 1983. Over the years we built our brand – the bedrock of our business. Like most fair dinkum Aussie business owners/entrepreneurs, we rolled up our sleeves and did the hard lifting, day after day, year after year. Our values were cemented into our brand: the principles of fairness, transparency, honesty, trust. These values are part of our business DNA. When we went through tough times, we rolled with the punches and kept persisting, coping the losses until the good times rolled back. 

In those days, Switzer was largely a content business – supplying editorial to newspapers, radio and TV stations but we had developed a strong brand in the business and finance space. In 2004, by popular demand, we opened Switzer Financial Planning. Our point of difference was “no commissions, no percentage fees, no product flogging”. We were pioneers in the industry. And it was hard work educating Australians that paying for advice, on an hourly rate basis, worked in their favour. Many people said they preferred paying commissions (even three times as much) because they didn’t have to pay directly from their wallets. It was equally hard having employees in the business who were paid good money to do their job but were delusionary in their belief that they built our business and therefore they could walk away with our clients. One of them in particular got his Australian Financial Services Licence on our time and walked out the door with $200,000 in fees. And we rolled with the punches yet again.

On Sunday morning on a plane back from Melbourne, where we have city and suburban offices, I was reading the cleverly headlined article in the Fin Review “Hayne leaves insurers running for cover”, I recalled my own experiences with CommInsure over the years. No matter how bad the storm or tempest that did damage to my house, CommInsure always tried to knock back my claim until I did such a song and dance that they paid to get rid of me. That’s not how insurance is supposed to work. 

Then I recalled a time in NZ where Peter was the keynote speaker at a conference for an Australian insurance company. That night we were invited to the awards dinner, where we sat at the main table. To the embarrassment of our host, when one award winner was asked if she’d like to say a few words, she coarsely spat out: “I’d like to thank all the suckers who buy life insurance.” In the light of the Fin article and the revelations of the Royal Commission, those words of this inebriated insurance saleswoman still ring clear.  

I can’t help but wonder when brands like the banks and insurance companies started to lose their way. 

Over my publishing days, I’ve written and/or published numerous books. One of them was The History of AMP – not the most scintillating story but I like to think we did a great job with the end product. My involvement with writing not just one but two of these books is known to few. I’ll keep this story for another day. My point in raising AMP here is that I spent quite some time in its archives, unearthing rich history that link the then AMP Society to the core of Australian life. The motivations of the founders of AMP were indeed noble ones – to help widows and children. And the archival history reveals the amazing work that was done by the Society through its early days and right through both World Wars. But then it became a publicly listed company and the public relations machine flew into full swing, with everyone but the widows and children the target of strategy and concern. “Sell more policies, get more commissions, rope those suckers in.” Because they were now being assessed by the stock market, agents were enticed by fat commissions to write more business, get more profit. 

Larry Fink, CEO of Blackrock, spoke some interesting words in a recent letter to shareholders: “The time has come for a new model of shareholder engagement – one that strengthens and deepens communication between shareholders and the companies that they own. I have written before that companies have been too focused on quarterly results; similarly, shareholder engagement has been too focused on annual meetings and proxy votes.”

There is too much apathy of all sides of the equation – and that contributes to corporate rot.

Fast forward from AMP and a few years on Switzer won a valuable contract with another publicly listed company. This time it wasn’t a financial institution but it had the same cultural problems. On signing the contract, we were lunching with key executives, one of whom asked me for the name of the PR company who built our brand. He commented on the market perception of our brand, having done their market research before getting into bed with us. They were quite impressed. On my revelation that we’d never used a PR company and that the brand was a reflection of the values of the owners, they looked amazed – but they didn’t get it. 

You can’t ‘bluff’ a brand, you build it. You can’t create truth, you breathe it. The DNA of Switzer is from Peter and me, and from our parents before us. It’s what’s in our children and their children. You don’t artificially construct DNA – you breed it and you hope to attract the same DNA with people you hire in your business. It doesn’t come with clever advertisements and jingles, puffed up press releases or wining and dining journos. It lives and breathes in its owners or custodians. And if the guardians of the brand fall asleep, the brand starts to rot and no amount of PR can help it recover. The recovery process requires those at the helm going back to a company’s DNA, to its origins and to resuscitate the purpose for its existence. Our purpose is to lift the financial understanding of Australians and our values are wrapped around that purpose. We don’t chase money; money chases us.

In a much-watched Ted talk, organisational consultant Simon Sinek points out that people buy not what you do but why you do it. Great brands such as Apple, Virgin and may I be modest enough to add Switzer, historically were driven by something more than just flogging stuff. It’s about the rock solid relationship with the customer and delivering on that relationship. It’s about dealing or rolling with every customer as if they are your loved Mum or Dad, Nanna or Poppy. It’s about the widows and children. It’s about doing what’s right.

As that great lawyer in The Castle summed up: “There is no one thing. It’s the vibe of the thing. It’s all part of it. That’s what I’m getting at and that’s my point. It’s the vibe.”


The Voice and The Biggest Loser

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Over the years I’ve been in business, I’ve met a cross section of people who’ve either been part of a passing parade or have stayed put and worked with us for years. On the way back from our Melbourne office yesterday, I was looking at the diversity of people who surrounded me on the Virgin flight. Yes, I was in economy, where everyone was sitting quietly doing what passengers on planes do. No doubt each one had a story to tell, either as a boss or employee.

As my thoughts drifted while the plane seamlessly passed through cloud after cloud, various people, mostly from the early days of Switzer, started wandering through my mind. Strange things can happen at high altitudes!

First to appear was a wonderfully odd man who’d applied for a job as a graphic designer. As I said, this was a long time ago and my experience with doing interviews was in its infancy, though I haven’t really changed my style much, despite the fact that I’ve learned a lot about people. 

To this day, I still ask people what their passion is because I firmly believe that if the work you do on a daily basis is your passion, then you’ve got it made. Most graphic designers are artistic types so on asking him this question, I thought this chap would say he loved music or art or welding metal into contortions. I was so off the mark here. Having already told us he was Polish, he stood proudly with hand on heart declaring that his passion and the love in his life was Poland. I felt moved at his nationalistic zeal but a little deafened when he belted out a full verse of his motherland’s anthem – in Polish. What a voice! Wiping the tears from his eyes on completion, he announced that this job was not for him and he was going home to sing for his country. I’m not joking, this actually happened and my colleague Jess and I were left wondering what we’d uncorked. While we didn’t give him the gong, he certainly didn’t score well on the potential employee front.

On another occasion, there was a candidate who’d applied for a sub editor’s role, and won the job! She was young and attractive but had an air of sadness to her. While only in the third month of her probationary period, she’d given her manager an avalanche of feedback about us – all of it negative. Now I treat feedback as the breakfast of champions and I’m open to hear the opinions of others about what we can do to lift our game or improve our business. But her manager was finding the constant negativity a little hard going and asked me if I’d have a chat with our relatively new staff member. Naturally I back our managers so I did this. 

I explained my above view about feedback to Sally (her stage name, not her real name!) but gently said that there had been only negative feedback, which led me to ask her if she was happy working with us. She burst out crying. And she cried and cried and cried. Tissues were sought and offers of cups of tea made. I apologised saying that in no way did I mean to upset her but just wanted to see if she was happy. On using that word again, the floodgates opened and there was another torrential downpour. We were left floundering.

Then Dr Jekyll turned into Ms Hyde. 

With her back totally straightened, she told me I had no right to ask her if she was happy and flew into a rage. 

I called a halt to the meeting, caringly offering her time to regain her composure. She slowly packed up and left the office, not returning for two days.

In the meantime, an employee who’d been with us for some time, showed me an article written in one of those penny dreadful weekly/monthly magazines. The story focussed on contestants on a TV show, where the person who loses the most weight wins. And there was our girl, with ‘before and after’ shots of her, twice the size she was currently, weighing in at 110kg. 

My ‘happy’ question had obviously tapped a nerve and while the kilos had been shed, whatever prompted the enormous weight gain in the first place hadn’t been dealt with.

I know that employers have a duty of care to their employees and at Switzer we take that duty seriously. But sometimes we need to spare a minute for the employer, who runs a business often with their house on the line, has constant cash flow concerns, debtors, creditors, revenue pressures, taxes to pay etc. Plus they often have a family in their care at home too. 

Running a business isn’t for the faint-hearted. And if you care about people the way we do, you come across all sorts, shapes and sizes. And while you want to help them all, business owners can be so stretched. They say nothing can really prepare you for being a parent but the role of being not just a business owner but an owner with employees isn’t easy because you’re dealing with people. Sometimes there are bumps with the people you have on board with you and calmness is restored. But there can also be real turbulence and that can be so hard to handle.

And though most people are wonderful, life can put you into a variety of situations that you need to be fully equipped for in order to survive, not to mention thrive. 

I’d like to say Sal’s time with us went on for years and there was a ‘happy’ ending (oh, not that word again!) but I’m in the content and financial services space and while I try, some people need continuous counselling beyond my skills. Try telling that to the ‘fair’ work judge!


The return of the ‘nasty little bitch’

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Last Tuesday I wrote a piece about a response I received when replying to a job advertisement that we put up on SEEK for a position within our company. My article had quite a few reactions, all of them sympathetic to me being called a ‘nasty little bitch’.  Here’s an example of those who found Lizzy’s response rude and over-the-top:

“I guess initially I want to say you ‘dodged a bullet’ there. But really it saddens me that this candidate thought that it was okay to respond to you in that way…not once but twice.”

Alex, whom I’ve never met, while agreeing with Luisa above, put a twist on it:

“At 33 years of age, I am not a young person, but that article really didn’t sit well with me.  Although the response was undeserved, would you discount someone with children, because their attention may be diverted? Interesting insight into Switzer employment.  Thought you might want to hire a mix of talent, young, old, families and singles, business owners and start-ups, male and female.”

No, Alex, I wouldn’t discount someone with children and in fact I have a number of people in the company who have young ones. And yes, we have a mix of talent, young and old, families and singles, males and females. But no, I don’t have (and don’t want) business owners or start-ups in my company because their focus and capitalistic interest should be on their enterprises. 

Let me explain. 

After years of being in business, and indeed writing a number of business books, I’ve come to learn quite a bit. Take Justin, for example. He worked with us years ago for 12 months or so. One day he asked to see me to say that he found what we did inspirational, to the point that he had started his own business. But he explained that for financial reasons he wanted to still work in my business for three days a week while he built his up. Trouble was, his start up was in the exact same line as mine, producing exactly the same products and services. And what’s worse, I received a call a day later from a client I was close to who explained that Justin had been to see her to ask if he could pitch for business. He knew the contract we had was due for renewal and he wanted to take business away from us, while we were paying him. C’mon. 

And then there was Peter. He got his Australian Financial Services Licence while we were paying him. Of course, all this was on the quiet. When we approached him to see if he wanted to buy into our business, he replied “Why should I when I can walk away tomorrow and take your clients with me.” And that’s exactly what he did – left us taking over $200,000 in fees. And he was a financial planner, supposed to be ethical and honest.

Then there was Ben, who also ran a business on the side. He was found with a hard drive that he’d brought into the office, copying all our files, systems, procedures etc. that took us years to develop at considerable expense.

I’ll stop there and merely add: No, Alex, I don’t want start-ups and other businesses working within my company, whether they’re competitive with mine or not. Let them put skin into their own enterprises rather than trying to skin others. I want committed employees who share our vision and who are well rewarded for the hard work they put into growing our business for the betterment of all who are involved. 


Who’s the “nasty little bitch”?

Thursday, September 06, 2018

At Switzer we’ve developed a hiring process that runs really well. After thought and team involvement on what the new position requires, we put an ad up on SEEK. And yes, we get inundated with applications.

Except for those businesses using recruiters, that’s what most people do, I guess. But here’s where are our hiring process differs.

One of our team goes through these applications and short lists anywhere between 10 to 15 applicants (depending on the response). This is done purely on the quality of the written application. But how often can you be disappointed between what’s on paper and what you see and hear in the first interview!

So we invite all these ‘short-listed’ people into Switzer one evening for what we call a hiring seminar. The attendees get to see us and we get to meet them in the flesh. As many of our staff as possible stay back to be involved in this process – after all, they’re going to work closely with this new person so this gives them a say in the hiring process.

There’s a 10-minute talk by a senior person at Switzer about our values and culture, then each person is invited to a 3-minute fast-paced one-on-one interview with two Switzer staff, where three rapid-fire questions are asked. On completion, the interviewee can rejoin the group in one of our large meeting rooms, where others in our team are talking about the role, what it’s like to work for our company etc. The applicants are told they can freely ask questions from our staff, or if they don’t feel that our company and the role suits them, they can leave. To date, no one has ever left.

The process takes about an hour.

After all candidates have departed, our staff get together briefly to compare notes. Almost to a person, there’s unity on the three people selected to be asked back for a more in-depth interview.

This process has never failed us.

A few weeks back, we started the process. A tailored ad went up on SEEK. After the initial cull, this time I was sifting through some of the remaining applications. The role was in editorial, which is my beat so I was interested to see the mix of candidates.

While reading through one, I was quite impressed with her skills but she’d clearly stated that she was running two businesses. I thought for a while, considering whether it was wise to potentially have someone on staff who could be diverted from her 9-to-5 job with these side businesses.  I decided to email this applicant and put her to the test. If she replied saying that the businesses were purely a blog or a hobby, or that she even intended to close them down, then I would’ve asked her to come in for an interview. So I typed the following email:

“Hello Libby and thank you for your application. As this is a full-time role for someone who wants a career here at Switzer, we aren’t looking for anyone who has their own business. Kind regards. Maureen”

I was hoping that her reply might be “I do want a full-time role, Maureen, and I am interested in this position. I’d be interested in meeting you.”

Perhaps I could have gone into more detail with my email to her but from my experience, even getting a reply for an employer on SEEK is unusual. Most people only reply to those few applicants from whom they want more information and that’s what I was doing. What came back was something I didn’t expect:

“Wow that’s patronising and presumptuous. I wouldn’t want to work for such a nasty little bitch, who jumps to conclusions anyway. Good luck finding a robot to work for you.”

And then another email followed two minutes after:

“And just to be clear, I don’t care if you don’t want someone who has side things but you didn’t even ask questions about it, and you were unnecessarily rude.”

Mmmm…me, a nasty little bitch? And me rude?

As employers, we put ourselves out there and quite often we hire people who are ‘oh so wonderful’ in the interview process but after a grace period, they can turn out to be the employee from hell. And yes, an employer can be a monster too, but the employee has the option of just walking out the door. The bad hire becomes a headache to an employer and to the team, and it takes warnings through a draconian dismissal process to remove a piece of work from a business.

Aren’t I glad that this one showed me her true colours right from the start! I hate the word ‘bitch’ which is even worse when you add nasty and little to it. However, she did me a favour. I think I just avoided a potential disaster.


Do you suffer from FoMo?

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Have you ever noticed that people under 40 seem to be constantly ‘wired’ to the point that their souped-up states could have long-run negative health effects? My son says it’s not just this age group and to some extent I agree because everywhere you go, people of all ages seem to be constantly on their phones or hooked up to some device.

I mix regularly with other employers and business owners and their feedback reveals that many of their staff find it hard to concentrate. They walk into the office ‘wired’, they’re constantly texting, with their mobiles at hand all day (even if office policy asks for them to be kept in their bags during working hours) and they even wear headsets while working, presumably listening to music or podcasts. And even though using Facebook/Twitter/Instagram during working hours is a no go zone, they seem compelled to regularly log in to catch up with their thousands of friends to check out their activities or show others the sandwich they’re about to eat.

Another business owner friend recently said that a staff member described themself as a jack-of-all-trades, master of none. My friend commented: “It’s no wonder. They want to be involved or across everything because they have a fear of missing out. They’re constantly checking Facebook/Instagram. They’re repetitively texting, as if there are emergencies by the minute. And most of these ‘friends’ they hardly even know. It’s crazy how they just can’t operate in the moment and on their own.

Commonly called FOMO (fear of missing out), this social anxiety is pervasive among this over connected world. In 2013, the word “FOMO” was added to the Oxford Dictionary to describe an anxious feeling that can arise when you feel there’s a more exciting prospect happening elsewhere and you’re not there to experience it. And smart phones and social media feed this disorder.

Now I’m not even going to pretend to be a psychologist but commonsense tells me that for sanity’s sake, those who are constantly wired need to do a few simple things. The first one is easy: switch off their phones. I’m sometimes staggered that Telstra’s share price isn’t through the roof because everywhere you go, you see people walking around with a phone that looks like it’s an extension of themselves. In the workplace, constant use of phones is not only a productivity and concentration problem, it’s damn well annoying. A friend told me that he’d asked his employees not to bring their mobile phones into meetings because of the lack of focus resulting from people checking them. One bright spark thought this was archaic and so restrictive on their freedom, and said this to my friend, while simultaneously texting!

What the hell is going on?

In this world of instant response, social media has a lot to blame for this lack of concentration: the tweets, the Instagrams, the repetitive, irrelevant Facebook messages from people you hardly know or have no real attachment to but with whom you must constantly compare their day’s activities to yours. And how disappointing when you’re stuck at work in the middle of a cold dark winter watching these people brag about their fun-packed days in the sun on Mykonos. No wonder the anxiety virus spreads.

The FOMO addict needs help. And over connectedness– at least in the workplace — has to stop. Psychology Today lists 10 ways to overcome FOMO and here’s one of them: Do one thing at a time. “Since the 1990s, psychologists have conducted experiments on the limits of multitasking, and the studies are conclusive: Subjects exhibited severe interference when asked to perform even very simple tasks simultaneously. When people attempt to apply themselves to too many tasks at a time, they are usually not successful. When they are focused on a single task, and give their full attention to it, not only are they likely to be successful in producing a high quality result, but their level of satisfaction while performing the task is much higher.”

And for the jack-of-all-trades mentioned above, here’s a tip: Advancement in one’s career comes about from specialisation – understanding that there’s a need to be a master of things that make you stand out.

If this ‘wired’ state of being continues, one thing’s for sure: psychologists and psychiatrists are going to be inundated with work, not too far down the track.



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