Invercargill entrepreneur Bill Richardson built his love for trucks into a hugely successful business – New Zealand’s largest privately-owned transport company, in fact.
After his death in 2005, responsibility for the company fell to his daughter Joc O’Donnell, our executive director here at Transport World.
As the world weathers the storm of the COVID-19 pandemic, now more than ever it’s important to take time to reflect. For Joc, that means not just drawing on the past: lessons learned through her own experience as a business leader in times of challenge, as well as the instincts she learned from her dad.
In fact, Joc recently came across her father’s “top tips for business” – a list of the major lessons Bill had learned throughout his career.
“When I read them, I just thought, ‘yes, yes, yes – agree, agree, agree’ as I ran down each point,” she says. “Each ‘lesson’ is still so relevant today.”
Now, Joc shares some of the key guiding principles she applies to business – particularly in times of uncertainty.
Bill’s number one principle when it comes to business? To ‘follow your nose’ – and always trust your instinct.
Whether subconsciously or not, that’s Joc’s leading business strategy too – although paraphrased slightly, the sentiment remains the same.
“I always say, ‘if it doesn’t smell right – it usually isn’t’,” Joc says. “I do tend to go with my initial feeling when confronting a challenge.”
That first principle of business leads nicely into the second.
“You must not be scared to make a decision and move on it accordingly,” Joc says. “You are not always going to get it 100 percent right, but that’s okay. It is better than making no decision at all. Certainty, one way or the other, is better than not knowing.”
The Global Financial Crisis of 2008 underscored the importance of being agile and acting on decisions, rather than to-ing and fro-ing.
“Like I said, I do tend to follow my initial reactions when challenges pop up, but I do try and gather as much information as I can to see if that decision is reinforced as well. There are two sides to every situation, and I try to turn my decision on its head and come from all angles, just to make sure I’m making the right one,” she says.
“That means it does take me a bit longer to make decisions, but they are quite measured – I weigh up all the pros and cons,” she says. “My approach is very much ‘do it once, and do it right’.”
Another one of the business principles Bill Richardson adhered to, Joc says it is crucial to continue to foster relationships – with staff, with customers, and with partners – especially in times of difficulty.
“Even if relationships change, make sure you continue to talk to one another,” she says.
“Maintaining a dialogue means you’re fostering a stronger bond with the people around you, whether those people are your staff or your partners or your clients. If you don’t take the time to nurture those relationships, they aren’t going to survive.”
A relationship also has to be a two-way street, Joc says.
“Everybody’s got to make a living, and both parties in any agreement need to be happy. If you want your business to be strong and sustainable, any deals you make have got to be a win-win for both parties.”