What can Elvis teach us about business?

“I’m as helpless as can be
I become a puppet on a string”

From Elvis Presley’s Song “Puppet on a String”

Last month it was 40 years since the death of the “King of Rock-n-Roll” Elvis Presley.

What does Elvis have to do with business?

Elvis died of a heart attack at the relatively young age of 42. Exemplified by his estate at Graceland, Elvis became known for a life of excess and luxury, owning three pink Cadillacs to a private jet. This lifestyle finally caught up with him. Combined with years of substance abuse and poor dietary habits which resulted in multiple ailments including glaucoma, high blood pressure, liver damage, and an enlarged colon, he went from a 1950-1960s sex symbol to an overweight unhealthy man who died a premature death almost bankrupt.

It is a sad story of decline through excess and poor choices and could parallel a business failing for similar reasons. For example, Kodak grew fat on a film based processing business model and despite inventing the digital camera filed for bankruptcy in 2012. However, there is another more positive lesson from the Elvis Presley story.

When Elvis died in 1977 he had less than a million dollars in his bank account and probably would have been bankrupt within a few years had he lived. However, in 2016 his estate earnt more than $US27 million ($A34 million) with total record sales heading towards 1.5 billion!

Was what is the lesson or message here?

Businesses must be able to continue to prosper and grow without the owner or CEO having to be working in the business.  Like the words of the Elvis song “I became a puppet on a string’, (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lj3TrdM2ivQ) businesses should not be reliant only the owner or CEO.

The Elvis Presley business continued to grow significantly after his death.

What is the takeaway message of what I call the Elvis Business Model?

Have a business that can operate without you working in the business on a day to day basis. In other words, a business continuity plan.


What are you, as a business owner doing about creating a business that can operate without you on a daily basis?


Another lesson from the farm……

“There’s nothing like putting your bare feet into fresh cow dung on a cold day. It’s great “
Makhaya Ntini – first ethnically black cricketer to play for South Africa

In a previous blog I wrote about constant renewal using lessons from the farm and I now have another ‘farm story’ from my childhood.

One of my jobs was to ‘pen up the calf’ each evening. This was done so that when my father milked the calf’s mother in the morning it would have enough milk to collect for our growing family of four boys. Rounding up the calf each evening was often a challenge. Regularly the calf would be cunning and refuse to go through the gate to be penned up.

The cow paddock was also a world of excitement for young boys. A creek to cross, dive bombing plovers in mating season, the odd angry bull, a mob of kangaroos with joeys, snakes……….

What a challenge!

However, the paddock other dangers. Yes, it was full of ‘land mines’ (our nickname for cow manure) — ranging from the very fresh to the dry and dusty.

It was fun to trick my youngest brother. He sometimes followed me around on my afternoon chores. On one of his first adventures into the paddock with me to pen up the calf for the night I encouraged him to jump on a week-old cow pat. Not being entirely convinced, he tapped it with a stick. It sounded hard so he then, with my encouragement jumped on it.

Two things happened.

Firstly, he was shin deep in cow manure and secondly, I doubled up with laughter — apparently the look on my brother’s face said it all. What a mean older brother. I certainly had some explaining to do to my mother when we got home.

The cow paddock in many ways was a great learning ground for a life in business. It was a very practical lesson –

‘what you see is not always what you get’

Are you careful enough in assessing opportunities and problems which are your land mines?

Are they what they seem on the surface?

Procrastination and egos cost businesses..


“It does not take much strength to do things, but it requires a great deal of strength to decide what to do.”
Elbert Hubbard : writer, publisher and philosopher

How often, as business owners and managers do we procrastinate on making decisions because of the feared consequences?
Sometimes we procrastinate making the most obvious decisions and further compound indecision by allowing our egos to rule rather than practical common sense. Let me give you an example.

Recently a friend was caught up in a situation that not only cost the business significant money but was a major distraction for the business in general. An employee who was still within their probationary period was responsible for bullying two other employees causing them to leave. Despite advice that the offender should be terminated without recourse as they were within their probationary period, the owner procrastinated and the offending employee remained employed after their probationary period. The owner then decided to act on the advice and terminate the employee, who immediately filed for ‘unfair dismissal’. Australia’s employment laws make it quite difficult to terminate employees after their probationary and court imposed penalties are high.

The owner was advised to make a one off payment to make the problem ‘go away’. He refused, stating it was against his principles to make such a payment. Lawyers were engaged, time was spent to present the case to the government tribunal and everybody was distracted. The indirect cost was considerable. The offender then doubled their demand for ‘go away’ money. The final outcome was a large legal bill, plus a payout to the ‘offender’ and wasted time and effort by the business owner and advisors.

All this was avoidable. The offender should have been terminated within their probation period. (https://5-dimensionz.com.au/2014/06/23/the-effect-of-disruptive-employees-in-the-workplace/) Their actions had already resulted in two long term employees leaving the business which was poor management. The second piece of advice to pay out the claim would have also solved the problem. However, pride and ego rather than common sense ruled the roost.

In business sometimes we have to put our pride and ego aside and make a decision that is best for the business. I have been guilty of this in my career, however several painful experiences have caused me to reflect my actions.

Can you think of an example where you procrastinated or allowed your ego to either delay making a decision or discarded common sense advice and made the wrong decision?

Christmas is coming again…………


“What I don’t like about office Christmas parties is looking for a job the next day”
Phyllis Diller – comedian

Last year I wrote a blog before Christmas about using Christmas as a time to invigorate your staff and business and celebrate their achievements and commitment. A time to build goodwill (https://5-dimensionz.com.au/2015/12/10/christmas-its-that-time-of-year-again) and for managers to ‘rise to the occasion’ and display leadership.

Despite Christmas being a time of joy and celebration it can also be, unfortunately a disaster for both businesses and staff. Every year we hear stories of work Christmas parties that go wrong…..drunkedness, inappropriate and embarrassing behaviour, work accidents and the like. Often management or the organisation is blamed for the outcomes. It all the more disappointing when it is traditionally a period of cheer and goodwill.
So what should you as a manager or business owner do to protect yourself and staff from a bad outcome for your staff at Christmas?

What are the ‘rules’?

Below is a link from Broadspring Consulting that has some Office Christmas Party Success Tips:

Christmas Parties And Avoiding The Hangover

Also remember as an employer, the onus of proof is on you. Christmas parties should be more than about having fun. It’s a good time to reflect on achievements of the business and staff. This should obviously come from the most senior manager, whether the CEO, owner or Department Manager. It’s a time to display leadership and celebrate your business and staff’s achievements and also to thank them for their efforts. It is also an opportunity to set the tone for next year.

So what are you planning for your work Christmas party that will achieve these aims?

Are all your eggs in the one basket?


“Don’t put all your eggs in one basket”

I love travelling. Travelling allows me to experience unique cultures, see beautiful and interesting sights and most importantly meet interesting people. It’s amazing what you can learn from listening to other people’s experiences.

On a recent trip to Zimbabwe I was fortunate to be sitting on an aeroplane next to a local businessman who was returning home from South Africa. In conversation he gave me his family’s life story. He had several businesses, some urban property assets and was managing to survive despite the severe economic circumstances. His family also used to have several farms, employing hundreds of people. With the encouragement of the government, these farms were ‘taken over’ by so called ‘war veterans’ in the early 2000s with no compensation. In other words, his farms were stolen and hundreds lost their jobs.

Apart from obvious injustice, his position emphasised an important strategy for business owners. I had initially seen this strategy used by a former employer.

The strategy was “don’t put all your eggs in one basket”

Unlike many farmers who had lost their farms in the ‘farm invasions’ the Zimbabwean businessman had survived because he had diversified his businesses, thereby protecting his wealth. Likewise my former employer had carefully separated his business into various categories – operating business, fixed assets, property investments and stock exchange investments. If the operating business failed, then the rest of his wealth was not threatened.

The lessons learnt from my former employer were implemented in a subsequent business. This could not have been done without a very disciplined approach as at times our business struggled. Too often I have seen business owners draw out of their business for private use such as expensive cars, children’s school fees and overseas holidays and then get into trouble with the tax office and creditors when the business struggles financially.

Have you got ‘all your eggs in the one basket’?

If you have, perhaps you need to reassess your situation……

Visualising your goals…….


“If I could have seen France, I would have made it”

Francis Chadwick: long distance swimmer

 Francis Chadwick was the first woman to swim English Channel in both directions. Her first attempt failed after spending 14 hours in the water. The attempt was made in thick fog and ironically she was only 3 miles from France when she abandoned her attempted crossing. Her comments on finding out how close she was to her goal was:

“If I could have seen France, I would have made it”

There are few better examples of the importance of setting goals and visualising those goals. Last month I was trekking in the McDonnell Ranges near Alice Springs in Central Australia. Not only was it an amazing visual experience but it was also a time to reflect and enjoy the company of interesting people, as well as the physical challenge. Each day we set out to walk the 18 to 20 kilometres in a harsh desert environment. This meant setting goals for the day.

On our second day we got up at 5.30 am and trekked 8 kilometres through a gorge over rocky and steep terrain onto open spinifex covered slopes to the summit of Mt Sonder. This mountain was the highest point on the Larapinta Trail with 180 degree views over 100 kilometres of the surrounding country.


At times it was physically quite difficult however it was made easier as we had a goal. We could see the mountain in front of us. Unlike Francis Chadwick’s first attempt at swimming the English Channel we could see our goal and kept going. The magnificent views were one of the rewards for our efforts.

Everybody should have goals whether it’s to obtain a degree, be financially independent, buy your first house or start a business.

Without clear goals you are less likely to achieve your potential or anything else for that matter. Too few of us set goals in life or in our work. Importantly, by not having written goals we are even less likely to achieve our potential.

The alleged quote from Lewis Carroll’s book Alice in Wonderland explains the situation clearly:

“If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there”

However, I have found that although writing down goals is important it is critical that you also have a plan with milestones to help you meet your goals. In climbing Mt Sonder, we had various milestones to reach certain locations by set times to ensure we climbed it in the time planned and to complete our descent before the heat of the afternoon set in.

In concluding one often overlooked part of goal setting is to visualise your goal. I have found that visualising what the completed goal is a powerful motivator. In selling our business I visualised what it would be like to finally be rewarded for all that hard work

……….a bit like climbing Mt Sonder where we visualised the spectacular  views and enjoying a well-earned rest. To be able to see the mountain helped with the visualising the goal. Francis Chadwick in her second and successful attempt at swimming the English Channel, could see the English shore.

Can you visualise what the completion of your goals looks like?

Three things my mother taught me about business……


My mother taught me to appreciate a job well one – “If you’re going to kill each other do it outside – I have just finished cleaning!”

In Australia its Mother’s Day on 8th May. This is the day that you should thank your mother and reflect on what a wonderful person she is. Apart from appreciating a job well done what else did your mother teach you?

As a business owner and manager can we learn from our mothers?

My mother was a school teacher, a city girl who married a farmer in rural New South Wales in the 1950s. This was probably not the life her father, a senior public servant had envisaged for his youngest daughter. Perhaps this background helped her in teaching her sons about life.

Here are three things my mother taught me that have helped me in business.

  1. Strong work ethic

My earliest memories of my mother were of her looking after her four sons and making significant sacrifices. Mum went back to work when my youngest brother went to school primarily because her income would help support and educate our family. The uncertainties of rural life with droughts and low commodity prices meant ‘off farm’ income was essential. She would drive off every day to teach, come home do her domestic chores and then plan and mark schoolwork well into the night. This hard work had its own rewards; providing an education for her sons, satisfaction of educating and inspiring the children she taught and providing financial stability for the family. There is no substitute in business for hard work with a clear goal in mind.

  1. Perseverance

Rural life is often hard and at times an unrelenting grind as the lines in the Eric Bogle song “Now I’m Easy” say

“Of droughts and fires and floods I’ve lived through plenty

This country’s dust and mud have seen my tears and blood”

Through the heat, the droughts, low prices, flies and dust Mum persevered supporting Dad, and providing physical, emotional and moral support to the family. Mum would say, ‘Put your back into it and keep going’, and I’ve taken this thinking into business. Even if the worse appears to have occurred, stay calm, focus and carry on. Don’t sweat the small stuff, and don’t get caught up in the crisis. With focus and hard work, it will pass.

  1. Fierce self-reliance

My mother was fiercely hard working, independent and had a strong sense of self belief often introducing new ideas into a conservative rural community. She instilled in all her sons these qualities of independence and self-belief with a strong emphasis on the value of education. When you’re young and starting out in a new job or a new business it can be hard to remember in the face of critics, how important self-reliance is.

So on Mother’s Day think about what your mother taught you when you were growing up and thank her. Mum’s qualities taught us to trust in our decisions and do not hide from our mistakes. As Mum would say:

“It’s not the mistakes you make, but how you deal with them”

implying that a high work ethic, perseverance and fierce self-reliance will see you through.

As a business owner or manager can you use the qualities your mother taught you to improve your business?

Christmas………..its that time of year again

Xmas“The thing about Christmas is that it almost doesn’t matter what mood you’re in or what kind of year you’ve had – it’s a fresh start”

Kelly Clarkson – American song writer and philanthropist

As business owners and managers, the Christmas period can be either a period of joy and celebration or a disaster.

Every year we hear stories of work Christmas parties that go wrong…..drunkenness, inappropriate and embarrassing behaviour, work accidents and the like. Often management or the organisation is blamed for the outcomes. It all the more disappointing when it is traditionally a period of cheer and goodwill. In Australia it is also the start of the summer holiday period so generally everybody is in good spirits.

The Christmas party provides a great opportunity to build on the season of goodwill and to say thank you. Any manager who does not take this opportunity has failed as both a leader and a manager.

I can remember a Christmas Party where the staff looked forward to the event, bringing their families including children and grandchildren to enjoy the jumping castle, rides, ice cream and soft drinks. The free raffles were always fun until the business owner’s numbered ticket was picked from the barrel. He promptly walked up and collected his prize. His managers were horrified and embarrassed because it displayed a lack of self-awareness and leadership. They also witnessed the negative reaction from the staff and their families. A better option would have been to say “draw the raffle again” – putting your staff and families first and showing that you are a leader.

Another example was related to me by a friend. At their staff Christmas party, the CEO came down and had her meal, chatted briefly to her general managers before disappearing back to her office. All without thanking staff for their efforts or wishing them all the best for the Festive Season. This was left to her deputy. This total lack of leadership was noted by the staff attending. If you do not show respect to your staff it will not be reciprocated. A quiet and sincere speech of less than a minute would have given quite a different outcome.

So what should you as a manager do for your staff at Christmas?

Celebrations aside, the traditional period of goodwill is an excellent opportunity as a manager to ‘rise to the occasion’ and display leadership. Talk to all your staff and their families. Display graciousness and sincerity about your staff’s efforts. Wish them the best and paint hope and opportunity for the future. It is a time for renewal and evaluation so take advantage of this great opportunity………..

And to all the readers of this post, thank you for reading my posts and I wish you and your families the compliments of the Season and best wishes for the New Year.

Note: this blog is out early for Christmas as 21st December is probably too late for most subscribers

Can you compare the game of cricket to business?

“If there is any game in the world that attracts the half- baked theorist more than cricket I have yet to hear of it”

Fred Trueman

The Cricket World Cup is currently underway in Australia and New Zealand (February-March 2015) so it is timely to compile a piece using cricket as a metaphor for business. Think of the game of cricket – there are 3 main parties involved the batting side, the fielding side (with bowlers) and the scorers (sorry this may upset the scorers – even some batsmen upset them: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G_r-l7S2U8s).

Can running a business be compared to the game of cricket?


In business you have active participants – employees and customers. In cricket you have active participants that make things happen – the bowlers and fielders on one side, and the batsmen on the other.

In business you also have parties that are not active in running the business – for example chartered or compliance accountants and solicitors. In cricket you also have a party not active in the game of cricket. The scorers – who keep the score.

Do chartered accountants perform a similar role to scorers in cricket?

Scorers only record what is happening they never give advice on what to do for the future or participate in the game.

What do chartered accountants do?

They record what has happened in the past. They do not actively participate in the game of business. So if chartered (or compliance) accountants offer business advice, I would caution against accepting such advice if they do not have business experience.

This may seem a harsh statement about accountants – let me give you an example.

We are currently renovating our bathrooms – rather boring don’t you think? No, because of the story the builder told me about his accountant made me feel sorry for him. Just under 10 years ago, his son set up a retail business. They both went to their accountant for ‘professional advice’ on how they should set up the legal entities for the business. His accountant came up with a corporate or business structure ‘on the cheap’ saving them $1,000 and making them joint directors of the new company and the existing building company.

The sad story is that the retail business failed after initially being very successful. Due to the linkage between the two companies, the father became liable for the debts of the retail venture pushing him to the brink of bankruptcy – all to save $1,000 and nearly lost his hoouse. The advice from their accountant was certainly not professional or the correct advice. It highlights the risks of compliance accountants calling themselves business advisors (or legal advisors), especially as many have not actually run a business other than their accounting practice (see blog regarding the business skills of my former accountants https://5-dimensionz.com.au/2013/08/23/deja-vu-all-over-again/). This is very risky for unwitting business owners.

Receiving business advice from a compliance accountant as distinct from compliance type accounting advice could be a risky strategy.

Do you go to a dentist if you have a sore back or a cold?

Then you should not go to a compliance accountant for business advice, unless they have the necessary experience and qualifications. Our builder’s accountant not only failed to give professional advice because he did not forsee what can happen if a business fails. Perhaps he should have recommended our builder seek legal business advice?

Enjoy the Cricket World Cup and let’s hope the scorers keep score!

Remember in business (and also in your personal life) see advice from professionals in their field……………it is less likely to put your business (or your health at risk)!

The 5 Whys

For want of a nail a shoe was lost,

for want of a shoe a horse was lost,
for want of a horse a rider was lost,
for want of a rider an army was lost,
for want of an army a battle was lost,
for want of a battle the war was lost,
for want of the war the kingdom was lost,
and all for the want of a little horseshoe nail.

Confesio Amantis

Have you heard of the 5 Whys?

The 5-Whys is an Analysis Method used by Toyota Motor Corporation to find the root cause of a problem, not the symptom. It digs beneath the outward symptoms to find the cause. The premise is that systems fail, not people. It is a very powerful management tool and is closely related to the Cause and Effect Fishbone diagrams


The method involves asking “Why …?” five times in succession.

This may sound simplistic; however it requires thought and intelligent application in order to ask the right Why?

As the questioner, you may need discipline and persistence to follow the methodology. The answer to one question leads you into framing the next Why…?

It may not be possible to ask or answer the next question immediately as you may need to collect and analyse additional information to ensure the question is answered properly. This may also require brainstorming.

This methodology requires practice and the more you use and apply it, the more you’ll begin to find the real underlying (root) causes of problems. By the time you get to the fourth or fifth Why…? you are very likely to be looking at management practices rather than just symptoms.

Here is a simple example.

Problem: The car won’t start.

1. Why? The battery is flat. (Symptom)

2. Why is the battery flat? The alternator is not working. (Symptom)

3. Why is the alternator not working? The alternator belt is broken. (Symptom)

4. Why is the alternator belt broken? The alternator belt was well past its useful life and had not been replaced. (Symptom)

5. Why is that?

Root Cause: The vehicle was not maintained in accordance with a maintenance schedule. There is no effective maintenance system in place.

Remember the Space Shuttle Challenger tragedy in 1986, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_Shuttle_Challenger_disaster
when the space craft exploded shortly after launch and was watched live on TV by millions?

This was caused by faulty ‘o’ rings and was a systemic failure of management systems in the space program.

Using the 5 Whys.
When solving a problem using the 5 Whys, a common error is to stop too soon. People keep taking the first or second simple answer, blinded by the symptoms or settling for the first ‘apparent’ cause. Don’t accept ‘it’s just human error’ or ‘they made a mistake’. Mistakes happen this is why robust quality systems are needed. Systems must be designed with built in controls that help prevent the problem occurring in the first place, detect it if it does occur and then do something effective to stop it recurring.

Remember, you are looking for the root cause and simple answers are most likely to be symptoms (i.e. the outward signs of a problem that has been observed) and are unlikely to be the real root cause. Good quality management systems insist on a systematic approach to dealing with nonconformity involving corrective and preventive actions. This can lead to massive improvements in an organisation’s performance.

The example of the flat battery illustrates how a system of maintenance would have prevented the problem occurring. Money would have been saved on repairs, time would not have been lost whilst having the vehicle repaired and staff and customers would not have been delayed whilst waiting for the vehicle and so on.

Can you think of a problem in your business or workplace where you could uncover the root cause using the 5 Whys?