Three Questions Kerry Packer Asked Mark Bouris That Every Business Leader Should Be Able To Answer

Mark Bouris got Kerry Packer to invest $25 million into Wizard Home Loans in 1999. Bouris, now chairman of Yellow Brick Road, sold the company in 2004 for $500 million.

After the technical terms of the deal were agreed, Bouris was told by James Packer that he had to go and see Kerry.

As Bouris tells it, the meeting started with Packer looking at him across his desk in silence. He then took out a cigarette and smoked it, still looking at Bouris without saying a word.

When they finally started talking Packer put three questions to Bouris which he recounted last week in a speech at the Telstra Australian Business Awards finals in Sydney.

They are three questions that every business leader should be able to answer:

  • Do you fully understand the purpose of your business?
  • Have you got enough fight to maintain your passion when things go wrong?
  • Are you prepared to go the distance?

On the first point, Packer explained to Bouris that he wasn’t just in the business of selling mortgages. He was in “the business of people’s hopes and dreams”.

Packer also set him a challenge which would lead to him to The Netherlands where he would end up sitting for a whole day in the reception area of a major bank’s headquarters waiting to see the chairman because he didn’t have an appointment.

Telling an audience of people from small and medium businesses that passion was not enough was a blunt message, something that made this not just another business speech. Many business owners and leaders in smaller businesses will gush about their passion but Bouris was highlighting the need for a bit of mongrel when it comes to survival.

The story is in the transcript below, which picks up with Bouris talking about a question that dogs any business leader – how to deal with the day-to-day challenges.

The transcript starts a few minutes into the speech (when it became clear it was going to contain some business advice from Kerry Packer) and has some minor edits for clarity.

***

It comes up every day, many times a day, it pops its head up in the middle of the night. It spooks you, it evokes fear, the greatest thief of imagination that ever existed. How to? How to? It keeps tapping your shoulder.

The way you deal with “how to?” is to remember “why”.

To know why, you’ve got to understand what your purpose is. And understanding your purpose takes you right away, usually, from your product or service. It helps you learn how to market – and I don’t just mean on TV or online, I’m talking about how you answer telephones, how you address people, how you talk to people, how you talk to your staff, how you induct your staff, how you train your staff – how you want everybody to talk about the hopes and dreams of a business like Wizard Home Loans or Yellow Brick Road.

That was the first question: understand your business purpose.

The second question that he asked me: he said, “Son, you have presented to all these smart investment bankers and lawyers and accountants, a whole series of information and data with a great deal of zeal and passion.”

So we talk about passion. Passion’s important. We’ve got to be excited about something. You’ve got to be at a minimum excited about it. But he said, “Son, passion’s not enough. I want to know – I know that all this stuff you’re presenting to me so passionately, which is going swimmingly at the moment, which is forecast for growth at this level, blah blah-blah – I know you’re presenting it passionately. But I want to know, because something’s going to go wrong, invariably something’s going to go wrong: do you have enough fight to maintain your passion?

Do you have the fight in you to pick yourself up when you get knocked down? Do you have the fight in you when you think all is gone wrong to continue on with the grind? Do you have the fight in you to be able to lead your team when things are tough? Because leadership is not about telling people what to do, it’s not about organising people; it’s about people following you. And generally speaking, they look for leadership when things go wrong. And they look to see if you’ve got the fight in you.

Kerry had more fight in him than anyone I’ve ever known. If he believed in something that was disruptive in its nature – World Series Cricket, for example – he would fight, and he would never, ever, ever give up.

That’s what he wanted to know – did I have it?

And that’s an important thing in terms of survival in business, which then leads ultimately, if you’re lucky, to success.

Kerry PackerKerry Packer / Getty (File)

How much fight have you got in you? Don’t tell me how much passion you’ve got – passion’s important, it’s necessary – but it’s not sufficient. Fight is all-important.

The third question he asked me was this: “Son, all done. But how far are you prepared to go?

My third question. How far are you prepared to go to make this work?

I said to him: “I’ll do whatever it takes, Kerry, I’ll go the distance.” And he said, “Ok, well I’ve got an agreement here, which we’re going to execute, but I’m going to introduce a condition precedent. It’s going to be between you and me. If you don’t achieve it, then I want my money back, and you’ve got a year to do it.”

So I’m saying I’m going to go the distance, and he’s saying well, I’m going to test you.

The whole point of this is: we do need somebody to test our hypothesis in business. You might not like it. You could be getting tested by your competitor. A journalist, a newspaper or a media outlet might be testing you. People in your office might be testing you – above you or below you or next to you. It doesn’t matter. Your personal partner might be testing you. You need to be tested. We don’t need to have someone give us the answers, we need to have someone give us the questions.

Kerry said to me: “Ok son, so what you’ve got to do, within 12 months, you must buy an influential interest – or all of – the wholesale business that funds Wizard Home Loans.”

That happened to be owned by a Dutch bank through its subsidiary here in Australia. A very profitable business, it was a securitisation business, a wholesaler in those days.

I had 12 months to do it. Handshake. And of course a handshake with Kerry, it might as well have been carved in stone because you’re not going to get out of it.

Of course, he paid us in part cash and part advertising credits. It allowed us to advertise at a rate on his TV – with one of his properties, television or magazines. And he said: “I don’t want those credits back, I want cash.”

I walked out, the deal was done, announced, all that sort of stuff. I was trying my hardest to buy an interest in this business but it’s a bank – profitable business, the Dutch rarely sell anything, particularly in those days.

I tried my best. I couldn’t get anywhere. I thought, I’ve got to prove to this guy I’m prepared to go the distance.

So I bought myself a new suit, got myself a new travelling bag, bought a flight to Amsterdam, I went into the headquarters of this particular Dutch bank, sat at the reception, and asked the receptionist if I could see the chairman of the bank. I’d never met him before, didn’t know what he looked like.

She said, “Where are you from?” I said: “Wizard Home Loans.” That really got a quizzical look from here.

[I told her I was from Australia.] I’m sure she thought I said Austria. She said, “Have you got an appointment?” I said, “No, but could you ask? Please ask.” And I put on my best smile.

She asked through his secretary, came back and said he was busy. I said, “Don’t worry, I’ll wait.”

I just thought, I’m going to wait here every day, they’ll kick me out at night, I’ll go to the hotel, come back the next day. I’m going to see this guy. I want to at least get a No from him.

I sat there for hours and hours, and about 4pm in the afternoon he came down the stairs, and he said: “Is your name Bouris?”

I said yes.

He said: “What do you want?”

I’ve got 30 seconds to tell him what I want, and I was smart enough to drop Kerry Packer’s name in there. And he’d heard of Kerry – don’t know how, but he’d heard of him.

And he said: “Listen, I’m going to be in Australia in three months time doing my rounds. I’ll see my managing director. I want to go and meet Kerry Packer.

I thought: My God, that’s the last thing I wanted.

But they met up, and the managing director of the business in Australia, of the wholesale business said, “You’ve got a deal. You can buy 49 per cent.”

49 per cent was going to cost us about $25 million. We had spent 10, we’ve got 15 left, so we were 10 short of spending 25. Plus you’ve got to integrate these things, you need another 5, plus part of what I had left wasn’t cash.

So I was getting excited, I’ve got a couple of weeks to go, a month to go of the 12-month period. I sat down with Kerry, I said: “Good news, I’ve done the deal.” He said: “Brilliant son, brilliant.” Reached down to pull out the chequebook which, you know, Jack-be-nimble couldn’t jump over it was that big. He said “Who do I write a cheque out to?”

I said, “Wizard Home Loans.” And he writes out a cheque for $5 million. I said, “No, it’s 10. plus we need another five.”

He said, “No, son. This is my half. You’ve got until Friday to get yours.

Of course Friday can come around pretty quickly. We actually needed around seven and a half in cash. So I needed to come up with $7.5 million cash in a week. Which wasn’t an easy thing to do.

And what I did was I avoided him for two months.

My brother was working at ING, an investment bank, he was MD at the investment bank at the time and he actually was able to get another bank to invest in us. And we did this deal with this other bank, $60 million dollars they invested in us – they bought a third of the business – and I went back to Kerry and I said: “Kerry, here’s your cheque back. The good news is, you don’t have to invest any money, we don’t have to spend any of our money, we’re going to drop a third of the business to this particular bank.”

And he said: “Well son, I don’t do deals like that. I’m always 50% or 100%. I don’t do a third. I just don’t do thirds.”

I said, “Kerry, what we’ll do is you’re a third, I’m a third. That’s 66 and two-thirds. Why don’t we enter a voting agreement, that way we’ve got 66 and two-thirds and poor old European bank has only got a third.”

He said, “I like the sound of that son. Take the money off the table. Let’s do the deal.”

What he wanted to prove to me was this: Don’t ever say to yourself, or anybody else – when that third question gets asked of you, how far are you prepared to go? – don’t kid yourself.

What I had was the supreme tester. And it did one thing, apart from scaring the daylights out of me, it did one thing: it got the best out of me.

And in order to be successful today, in business, it’s very good to have somebody, whether you call them a mentor or a business partner – somebody to get the best out of you.

Because you won’t get the best out of yourself. You never will.

Great swimmers, great athletes – they need coaches. They get the best out of them. The great football teams. Somebody is there who can recognise the talent and will get the best out of them.

So the three questions:

  • Know your business purpose – the emotion that you’re selling or you’re providing to.
  • Know that passion is important, but not enough – you’ve got to have as much fight as it takes to survive.
  • And finally, you’ve got to be prepared to go the distance.

Everyone here who’s a finalist is prepared to go the distance. You wouldn’t have got into the finals unless you’d been prepared to go the distance and you made tremendous sacrifices. I congratulate you for that, because I know what those sacrifices can do. They can affect your personal life. They can affect your social life. They can affect your family life. They can take you away from a lot of things that you love.

But also, you know why you’re doing it. You love what you do – you know your purpose. And therefore you deserve to succeed.

Now read what Kerry says about gorillas.

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