Three questions from Kerry Packer

26 05 2013

I attended an interesting conference the other day. While most of the conference alternated between content and hard-sell (which was quite tedious – and may be the subject of another posting later), there were a couple of speakers who were not there to sell anything. Of these, the best speaker by far was Mark Bouris.

Mark Bouris is the Donald Trump of Australian television’s “Celebrity Apprentice”. I don’t watch this program, but a surprisingly large number of my female friends do – apparently just to watch Mark. Fair to say he was easy on the eye – also personable, interesting and relevant. I had little knowledge of him and therefore no preconceptions or expectations, but of all the speakers, he was by far the best and most interesting.

And easy on the eye. But I digress!

Mark told one story which really stuck with me. I can’t of course recant it word for word, but have aimed for the emotional truth instead.

Mark’s first great business success was Wizard Home Loans. If you are in Australia, you will probably have heard of this company. One day his friend James Packer, son of Kerry Packer (Australia’s richest man at the time) approached him to buy 50%. Mark gave an entertaining exposition on what it was like making a deal with the Packer Empire, but eventually a deal was struck and he was summoned to the office of the great man, Kerry.

The office he described as massive, in dark manly colours and lined with expensive paintings of deer being disembowelled by hunting dogs and other aggressive hunting types of scenes. Mark approached the desk and was given a seat to sit in – which felt some inches lower than the chair that Packer – a very tall man to start with – sat in. Very 1980s power games!

Kerry, according to Mark, asked him three questions.

1. What business are you in? Mark said “mortgage industry”.

“NO” came back the answer! “You are in the hopes and dreams business. You are selling hopes and dreams in the form of homes.”

The aim of this question, according to Mark, was to get to the emotion truth of the business – and only then can you effectively connect with and sell to your audience. He went on to say that for instance a coffee-shop owner was in the business of nurturing – what could be more nurturing than giving someone warm drinks? Therefore if you are in the nurturing business, that is the atmosphere you need to create in the shop.

The second question:

2. Who are your customers? Mark said he got this one right – he knew the demographics etc.

The third question:

3. Have you ever failed in business?

According to Mark, Kerry later explained this question to him. A leader who can lead in good times is all very good – but it is easy to get people to follow you in good times. If you can get people to follow you, if you can be an effective leader in the bad times, when the business is going down the tube – then you really have good leadership skills.

Like him or loath him, Kerry Packer was a very successful businessman. I found this anecdote provided a fascinating insight into the way he thought about business and leadership.

So if you happen to have a chance to hear Mark Bouris speak – it is worthwhile. He was better than the headline speaker at the conference, Richard Branson, whose presentation was unfortunately over-controlled and free of new content.