“In this interview I’ve chatted with Mark Pope, serial entrepreneur, CEO, sought after business coach and MentorConnex mentor.
Mark has personally inspired me on many occasions and had a huge impact in getting MentorConnex off the ground, and getting my life on track! He has an interesting and refreshing perspective on life and business, having personally endured his fair share of challenges along the way, and learnt to powerful lessons as a result.
I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I enjoyed chatting with Mark.”
– James, Founder of MentorConnex
Tell us about your business history?
My first business was as a contract cleaner. I was at uni and had the typical bar job at a pub in Melbourne. The cleaning contract came up and I got it.
So I would go to the pub early to clean it for a couple of hours, then I would go to uni, then two or three nights a week I would still be behind the bar. I think that was when I first realised I had a strong work ethic. I actually enjoyed the bar work, relating with people, and having a laugh, it’s a great skill to have. I also realised how much I hated cleaning public toilets and vomit. They were days when people could smoke in pubs as well.
I graduated as a chiropractor in 1986 and spent 20 years in WA. I learned so much about myself during that time, working with people, understanding some of what drives us and what scares us as humans. I learned to really think holistically, not just about health, but about life as well, business too. Everything impacts on everything else, and we try to compartmentalise our personal concerns, our relationships and our careers, and you just can’t.
In 2008, I had a break from practice and I joined a small training company, which I went on to lead as CEO. We grew it to a national consulting business, still a basis in training, but a massive value adds in helping businesses transform their culture and processes through training; and, also helping them implement projects to improve the business. We had a number of ASX-listed clients as well as SMEs in a range of industries from manufacturing, mining, ship-building, and so on.
What are you up to now?
In 2016 I retired and spent fours years traveling the world and ticking off my bucket list. And whilst it was fun, it just didn’t fulfill me in the way I expected; certainly not in the way that helping others does.
So I decided to get back into consulting in 2020, helping CEOs with their businesses and their personal space; improving their effectiveness there and impacting both their relationships and their businesses too.
What is the single biggest lesson you have learned in business?
Stick to your values, don’t ever compromise them because at the end of the day, not only have you compromised yourself, supposedly for the sake of the business, but it tends to bite you on the bum in the end anyway.
What is the single biggest lesson you have learned in life?
Life is what you make it. Your sense of self creates your happiness, is the basis of having good relationships with the people you love, and drives your business success. It starts with that one thing, that comes from your self-love, purpose, spirit, mojo, whatever you want to call it.
The worst business decision you ever made?
Buying a business in Melbourne in 2006.
I was recently separated, lonely in a city that I hadn’t lived in for 20 years, stressed, depressed, and thought that buying a good cash flow business would keep me busy and I would enjoy the money it was making.
I was so down and out though, but with more than a touch of arrogance about my ability, that I didn’t do thorough due diligence and it was a disaster from start to finish.
What did you learn from that?
Be humble, ask questions, listen to advisors. Don’t make major decisions when your life is in the toilet, and keep your family and good friends close when everything is upside down, which happens to pretty much everyone at some stage in their lives.
How do you pick yourself up after a failure?
It takes time, you need to give yourself that time, if you can.
Talk about it, don’t bottle it up. Learn humility, vulnerability, and intimacy. They’re often seen as signs of weakness in business, but learning those three things, and remembering to practice them has given me so much strength and confidence not only in my business but in my personal life as well.
The best business decision you ever made?
I think it was joining the training company at the age of 49 to try something completely new and different.
Over the next 8 years, I became CEO and we transformed the business into a business improvement consultancy with clients ranging from SME’s to large corporates such as BlueScope Steel, Austal Ships, The Brickworks Group, and many others.
In that time our turnover grew by a factor of nearly 10 with a national footprint as we focused on good communications, increased responsibility to the team and delivering terrific value to our customers.
It gave me the opportunity to really stretch myself after a successful career in a completely different industry. It wasn’t always great, there was a lot of pressure but I learned so much, about myself and about another side of business altogether.
What did you learn from that?
That you’re never too old, and some things, especially people, and what drives them is universal. The importance of communication, shared vision, openness, integrity. It also got me back in touch with my purpose, which among other things is to make a difference.
When I was a chiropractor you are directly impacting on people’s health, but one of the things I really loved was changing the way people thought about their health. I like to change the way people think about business but much of my mentoring is also changing the way people think about themselves and their lives.
In business, we make that our focus and then try to fit our relationships and our own wellbeing around that. Partly because I think that we derive so much of our identity, our self-esteem through our business and career.
It’s all arse about-face.
This might sound cliché, but getting in touch with our purpose, our sense of who we are and what is important, also having good self-love, self-care, whatever you want to call is key.
When we come from that space it gives us confidence and certainty; and it is the basis of healthy relationships, not only at home and with our friends but also with the people we lead. It is what being authentic really means.
What is the key to business success?
Recognising that we live in three worlds…
Our personal world, our thoughts, fears, emotions, drives, beliefs. This impacts on our relationships, we are social animals, we need connection.
The strength of the connections we develop comes from our integrity and openness, authenticity. When we have these two worlds in sync, our ability to be present, authentic, attractive, and effective is immeasurably enhanced.
Anything you read about leadership is based less upon what you say and is more concerned about who you are.
You need to understand yourself before you can understand others.
One of my favourite quotes is “Who you are speaks so loudly I cannot hear what you saying”.
Why is this the most critical?
Because it’s everything.
People are attracted to others that have clarity, not just about their business, but who they are personally and their place in the world.
When you meet someone like that, you will buy from them, you will follow them, you will listen to them.
That authenticity just comes through every time. In my personal space, they are the people that I want to hang out with.
Why is this so important to you personally?
The best times in my life, both personally and commercially are when I’ve had this clarity.
The worst has been when I’ve had my head up my bum and operating out of fear. Fear of not being successful, not making enough money, fear of what other people might think about what I was doing. The fear and shame distorts our decision-making, sticking to our values keep us on track.
When we are under pressure is when it becomes harder but even more important.
What are some of the ways you see business owners making mistakes in this area?
We make these mistakes when we are stressed when we are under pressure and don’t know what to do next.
We can easily make short-term decisions out of expediency, without thinking about the long-term consequences, both commercially and personally.
It helps to have someone you can trust, that you can be totally honest with, about the business issues and the personal issues. Not always the same person, but we need to unload and get support to get the best outcome.
It can be lonely running a business. You want to hide concerns from your team and keep them motivated.
The reality is that your employees often know more about what’s wrong than you do!
How can business owners do this better? Top 3 tips?
Improve communication throughout your business by setting clear objectives about business performance, your own performance, and have that cascade right through.
Listen to your people in the business. Share the problems and see what they think you should do to make it better.
Stand back and get a broader perspective of your business by discussing it with people that have experience but aren’t stuck inside with you, unable to see the wood for the trees.
What advice would you give yourself on your 21st birthday?
I would have liked to have been told that I was good, smart and that life will work out. That I shouldn’t be afraid to be open and ask for help and to find people that are smart and authentic and hang out with them.
What’s one thing you do every day, without fail, that helps you perform better?
To be honest, I don’t do it every day, but I journal regularly.
I think and write about what is stressing me… I list 3 things I’m grateful for, I think how I can show kindness today, how I can support my emotional, physical and chemical wellbeing today and how I might need to ask for someone’s help.
I also think about what I can do to help my business, and how I can be a better leader.
This helps me get the perspective and clarity I need to be as effective as I can be at helping myself and helping others.