SDS44: Ron Gauci, Melbourne Storm, Former CEO
Simon Dell: So, welcome to the show, Ron Gauci. How are you?
Ron Gauci: I’m very well, thank you. Thank you for the opportunity.
Simon Dell: And you’re down in Melbourne, aren’t you?
Ron Gauci: I am.
Simon Dell: Whereabout in Melbourne?
Ron Gauci: I am in Williamstown. We’ve moved here recently, but very much a Western boy, if you like North Western.
Simon Dell: Right, and that’s something we’re going to talk about in a minute because the whole AFL thing with your background in the Melbourne Storm is really quite interesting. But I just want to get an idea, first up. The company that you run, AusMuse, which I assume you started yourself, has been going for 20 odd years now, is it?
Ron Gauci: Yes, indeed. So, muse is as I understand CEO god of lateral thinking, and Aus is obviously Australian. There’s not much science behind the name.
Simon Dell: Okay, cool. It’s a good name, makes a lot of sense. Can you give us a quick overview as to, and I know you’ve done a lot in those 20 odd years, but just an overview as to how you position that company?
Ron Gauci: I think the simple version is that coming from being an old teacher, I’ve always been about wanting to help people and organizations to grow, identify their full potential and realize that potential. So, the business started with the role I could play in helping people and organizations grow and develop personally and professionally. I think everything I do is an extension of that basic philosophy.
Simon Dell: Your background as a teacher, what did you teach?
Ron Gauci: I taught politics, law, legal studies and history, but I was also a year level coordinator at St. Bernard’s Christian College. Therefore, I had a range of other subjects. I also have a graduate diploma in theology which help with the teaching of religion there, so I was year level coordinator. It was a broad range of stuff.
Simon Dell: So, what age would that be that you were teaching?
Ron Gauci: In those days, it was years 10 or 11, so 15, 16, 17.
Simon Dell: Do you miss that?
Ron Gauci: I do miss the teaching side.
Simon Dell: There was a notable pause there, but keep going.
Ron Gauci: The notable pause is because I actually still am involved as a teacher, in a fashion. That’s the first part. My wife is a teacher. I have two sisters who are teachers. I have a daughter who is a teacher. That was a reason for the pause.
Simon Dell: Everybody has their favourite teacher and the ones that they remember with either fondness or loathing. Where did you fit into that spectrum?
Ron Gauci: That’s a great question. I went to St. Bernard’s as a student, I went back then as a teacher. I was also a footy coach there for over a decade. I was a parent there, I am now an uncle there. So, I’ve always gravitated around the school. But I think the reason for saying that is at the time, I thought I was a very challenging teacher who I don’t know was very popular. However, as these groups gather for their reunions now and I get invited to meet up with the students, it’s amazing what they remember and what they tell you is that I apparently inspired and encouraged them. I hear all this positivity. Now, I don’t know whether that’s because they’ve got better as they’ve mellowed with age, or they’ve lost their memory.
Simon Dell: Or they’re standing in front of you at the time and think that that’s what they ought to say.
Ron Gauci: Exactly, yes.
Simon Dell: So, what made you start that business in the first place? Was that something you’ve been planning for a long time, or did you just sort of fall into it?
Ron Gauci: I fell into it. Much of what I’ve done I’ve fallen into or fallen out of. So, I was a teacher, and I left teaching and fell into the computer industry even though I knew nothing about technology. So, pretty much everything I’ve done I’ve fallen into, but the business itself has grown out of people coming to me and wanting to be part of my services as distinct from me just pursuing a business.
Simon Dell: Right. So, you’ve pretty much grown this out of referrals, people who’ve known you or seen you somewhere else or someone who’s known you and recommended you. Is that that sort of..?
Ron Gauci: Yes, I think that’s right. And it’s fascinating because people have said, “Look, we need to find you. Have you got a website?” I say, “Yes.” I put up a website. I don’t actually do anything with my website. I don’t market it. I have it there for people to go to, and read, and be inspired from whatever’s there. I’m told by the people who run my website that I have something like 300-400 people hitting my website a month, and yet I don’t do anything to it. It’s a very fairly static website, so I think that’s how the model works, if you like.
Simon Dell: Is there something that you would — Because a lot of people would like to grow their business in the same way, based on recommendations. Recommendations, word of mouth, that’s the most powerful form of marketing. Is there anything that you do to nurture that, to grow that? Do you do a lot of networking? Do you keep up with catching up with people? How do you find that these people find you?
Ron Gauci: I’m not an active social media person but I am on social media, and I find tools like LinkedIn very important. I am involved in active networking groups. But I think the fact that I’m also on the speaking circuit, I get to speak to groups regularly. As a result of that, a lot of business does come from that. So, I will speak to my 10 guiding principles, for example, and someone will walk up to me and ask if I do coaching, and I’ll say yes, and then the rest is from there.
But in answer to your question, I think people don’t really understand or appreciate the value of the network. In Australia in particular, we talk about six degrees of separation, but I actually believe it’s only two. If you spend time in the networking circles, have a look at who’s inside your network, and who knows who, and who that you know knows someone else, it’s a powerful tool to just go and then have conversations. I’m a big believer that conversations create opportunities.
Simon Dell: Right, yeah. I used to work with a guy who was just adamant that anyone who ever wanted to go for a coffee or have lunch with you, you should always just take that opportunity. It may not benefit you today or tomorrow or next week, but in three years’ time you have no idea where that person might end up or what job they’re doing.
Ron Gauci: I’m not a coffee or a tea drinker, but my PA says for someone who doesn’t drink coffee or tea, you certainly have a lot of coffee meetings.
Simon Dell: It’s strange because a guy I met probably six or seven years ago when I was in a future role, and he was googling for something the other day and found my name, and I haven’t spoken to him for seven years and the next thing I know he’s calling me and there’s an opportunity there. Anyway, I completely agree. I think taking the opportunity just to sit down with people and talk to them without expecting any gain or without them expecting any gain is still a real powerful tool for growing your business.
Ron Gauci: I absolutely agree.
Simon Dell: I’m going to put three areas that I want to focus on from your background. Obviously, there’s a lot of big roles that you’ve had, and obviously the biggest from my perspective, looking at the list of your jobs is with Melbourne Storm. Can you give us a little bit of a background on how you got there and the state that the club was in when you got there? Because it was obviously in a fairly turbulent time of the organization.
Ron Gauci: Sure. It’s interesting you call that the biggest because for me, I thought that the bigger role was the one that followed that in NMIT, Melbourne Polytechnic because that is the more challenging one.
Simon Dell: We’ll come onto that one as well. That was in my top three, so yeah.
Ron Gauci: But I’ll answer your question. So, around 2009 after two or more decades in the technology industry, I decided I wanted to make a change because I’m a big believer that people should take opportunities to evolve and change. So, I told the people around me that I sort of roll outside of technology and preferably in sport. Of course, at that stage at 2009 also coincides with when I turned 50 so people thought I was having a midlife crisis, but I wasn’t. I was still with my wife. There was no red Lambo in the driveway or anything. I was quite stable at this point to morph into something differently.
And the role at Melbourne Storm came up in January when the then-CEO resigned to take up another role. So, I was in that process. By March, I didn’t think I was going to secure that role. I thought it was going to go elsewhere. And then in April 22nd, when the salary cap saga hit the news, of course the whole circumstance changed. The owner of the business at the time was News Limited. They were after a businessman or a businessperson who could effectively recover the brand, get it to some semblance of a business that Storm could be sold. And it was their ambition to actually get out of ownership of the club, at the same time it was looking to pass on its 50% ownership in the NRL to a commission. So, it was looking to focus on its core business and exit via divestment of Melbourne Storm.
Of course, when I got there and saw a financial position of the club, not just on the back of the situation with the salary cap ruling, but as a business, despite all the success it was having on the field, it wasn’t having success off the field. And I could see that the divestment strategy was going to hit brick walls not just from a brand perspective but from a commercial perspective. With the club losing money the way it was, not too many investors would look to owning a sporting club in that circumstance. So, we had to rebuild the business off the field as well as get stability back on the field to have success both on and off.
Simon Dell: What do you do with something like that day one? You’re walking through the door, it’s your first day. Where do you start with a project like that?
Ron Gauci: Well, I have a very crystal-clear memory of day one. It started with me meeting for breakfast with the new board and the coach. And at the time, just by way of context, as much as I was interested in sport and have a keen interest in sport, I didn’t how to spell NRL. I knew nothing about the game and it was evident very quickly and I felt — I don’t feel intimidated, but I felt that I needed to learn very, very quickly. So, in my discussion, that morning discussion with the coach, I made it very clear that I needed his help and help of others to get up to speed with the game.
And I put that card on the table early and I think the honesty ended up helping because they knew that they needed to assist me with that. Having said that, we then arrived at the club and I was taken to the secret backdoor entrance and met what was left of the staff for the first time. A number of staff obviously left as a result of the situation that occurred, and then the ones that were left felt betrayed. You could tell that they were disappointed with what had happened to them and the club and all their good efforts were… I think betrayal is the strongest word I could use because I saw the look in their eyes.
They were also very disappointed when I walked through the door, because the reality is that they were expecting some NRL champion to come in with the red S on the chest, and the cape, and save the club. When I explained I didn’t know anything about the game, I think they felt that this was now going to be a mammoth task. So, what I did do that day was I said, “Look, I don’t have any presentations. I don’t have any speeches, but we’ve got to get to know each other.” So, I effectively said, “Why don’t we just spend some time together? You can ask whatever questions you like, and I’ll answer them, and we’ll learn a little bit about each other.”
And I think that was a very powerful opening and I think carved the way for us to have an open, honest relationship from that point on. I guess to then answer your question, I work in three phases. The first phase is to observe and learn. So, I go and talk to as many people as I possibly can. I build mind maps of who all the stakeholders are and I just had as many conversations as I could. I went and met with people and those conversations were critical. The second phase is to then build a plan, and the third phase is to execute. At the same time, as I was learning and observing, I learned that these supporters thought that I was a NRL or a News Limited plant, so they wanted me removed immediately. So, I had to win their hearts and souls over as well as the people inside the game, whilst I was learning about the game.
Simon Dell: On that, I mean, there’s obviously… I think one of the themes of what you’ve just said there is this distrust for new people coming in, that they don’t recognize and people feeling that the club has broken promises and things like that. How do you rebuild trust in a brand after something like that?
Ron Gauci: I think it stems from that openness. I started to use social media to give people the opportunity to learn a little bit about me. We then had a forum for all of our supporters and members, and we gave them the opportunity to ask me whatever questions they wanted to ask. And we gave them honest answers about where the club was at. And I explained to them that they may not appreciate the answers but they were truthful answers, and I gave all the evidence to back up what we were saying. And I think in hindsight, the team and I thought that there was a turning point because we gave people the opportunity to have an open, honest discussion, get everything off their chest and listen to what the real issues were.
And the other part to that is we had a plan. So, what I’ve learned over the years is if you give people the truth and then give them a plan, and because I had a reputation of getting things done, so there’s that level of confidence that comes with that, then you’re on the road to recovery. And that’s why I honestly believe that we recovered extremely quickly from that issue and that period of time, and I think that made a huge difference. And all the other examples let’s say you might have read about other organizations I’ve worked with, their principles have all been the same.
Simon Dell: That must’ve been a fairly eye-opening point, and I suspect the vitriol directed towards you and the club in those early days must’ve been quite strong.
Ron Gauci: Totally. As I say, they wanted to have me removed. I was receiving death threats in social media. I was being accused of all sorts of things. So, look, you get thick-skinned, but I knew that at some point in time, that the truth will prevail if I just let people see who it is that I am and who I was. That’s why I take a lot of pride, not only in the success we had on and off the field. Because when… I should go back and explain. So, the task was to get the club back into a condition that News Limited could divest of it. And at the time, News Limited suspected that it was going to be around about a five-year process. Two years and ten months into my tenure, we were able to divest of the club.
I took a lot of pride in effect to, we not only divested the club or ahead of time, but we did so with everything at record levels. So, I knew that we had generated significant success beyond people’s expectations, that’s the first part. The bit that I didn’t expect and I wasn’t used to and struggled with, but it was good fun anyway, was the people wanting photographs with me, autographs. The whole celebrity thing as a CEO was not something I’ve been used to, but I took a lot of pride in effect that we went from then wanting to hang me to seeing me as some sort of club hero which I think was an overstatement of my role, but certainly I appreciated it.
Simon Dell: Was that emotionally challenging for yourself, those kind of — reading those things online and receiving those kind of threats? And how do you deal with that kind of thing when you see it?
Ron Gauci: I don’t really have an answer for you on that because I don’t know that I dealt with it well. Some people say I handle it extremely well. I’m extremely critical of myself. And people say don’t read this stuff, but I’m a person who likes to be informed, so I’d rather know than not know. It’s hard not to read, but I did anyway, and it gave me the opportunity to understand how people feel. I think you’ve got a better chance of addressing how people feel if you actually understand it, and appreciate it, and understand where they’re coming from, and then hope that they’re prepared to listen to the other side of the story.
Simon Dell: Just a final question on the Melbourne Storm. NRL fans versus NFL fans, is there one major difference between them?
Ron Gauci: Sorry, do you mean AFL or NFL?
Simon Dell: Sorry, AFL and NFL, yeah, the two sets of fans.
Ron Gauci: So, the difference between the NRL and the AFL fans?
Simon Dell: Yes.
Ron Gauci: Okay, got it.
Simon Dell: You can pass on this question for fear of…
Ron Gauci: I think both fans are extremely passionate. I have to say my experience of AFL fans is different to NRL from the perspective that in Melbourne, Melbourne Storm fans, very diehard Storm fans, very diehard Melbournians. And the experience I had with the Melbourne Storm fans had risk of alienating me with every other supporter is that the Melbourne Storm fans were very, very different to other clubs. So, the Storm fans were very different to the fans I saw at other clubs in the NRL.
In AFL, I think you have your fair-weather fans. I think there are those who are very passionate about their clubs but I think they’re so passionate that my experience of AFL supporters is that they tend to be so one-eyed that they tend to lose track of reason and logic at times. I honestly believe that my experience with the Melbourne Storm fans, they gave me a very different perspective as an Essendon supporter and what I experience as an Essendon member and experience from Essendon supporters as distinct from what I experienced from Melbourne Storm supporters.
Simon Dell: Okay. We’ll leave that one there for fear of more incrimination.
Ron Gauci: It’s going to end up in social media, I just know it.
Simon Dell: Moving onto the role that you then considered the biggest one there was Melbourne Polytechnic. Do you want to give us an overview of the state of the organization at that point as well and sort of the early days for you there?
Ron Gauci: And without breaching any confidences or any confidentialities, the answer I can give you is within the public domain in the financial reports. When I was approached in March of that year by the board and the chairman, they made it very clear. The chairman made it very clear that they were about to announce a substantial loss. I think it was in the vicinity of over $30 million and there was a real concern about the solvency of the business in the short to medium-term. So, with that in mind, remembering that this is a 100-year-old institute with some 900 staff, tens of thousands of students, to have a TAFE college in that position is I think pretty daunting, pretty disappointing, and the responsibility of so many people came into play.
That’s why I define that as probably the biggest challenge because that required a significant turnaround within a short period of time to save jobs, save the students and their studies basically. That was also in the marketplace or industry where TAFE colleges around the country were really struggling. And the various governments of the day in both Labor and Liberal went through this process from 2008 through to the time I arrived in 2013. There was that need to get the TAFEs to become self-sufficient. So, that in itself was a significant challenge. And as people who ran an education institution but not necessarily okay with running a business, that became a significant challenge as well, which is why they, I think, experienced the difficulties that they got themselves into.
Simon Dell: So, again, day one, what do you do when you first arrive somewhere like that? I mean, a completely different outlook, completely different set of people, different set of problems. Do you approach it with the same ideas and the same plan?
Ron Gauci: I do. So, the plan was the same, to just learn as quickly as possible. So again, I build my mind map: who were the stakeholders? Who do I need to get to? It was quite interesting that when I started the process of just meeting people and talking to them, the number of people particularly on the staff who jumped at the opportunity, because they felt that they hadn’t had been given that opportunity to be able to actually talk and share their issues and to share their experiences.
And the terms I used at the time is I felt that there was somewhat a culture of… Oppression is a strong word, but I just felt that people weren’t encouraged to speak up, and I created an environment where I wanted them to feel comfortable to say whatever they needed to say. I’m a firm believer that you can say anything to anyone. The skill is how you do it. I encourage people to just be open and honest and not fear for their jobs or fear for whatever fears they might’ve had.
But just to let me know, because the more they told me — I work better with what I know than what I don’t know. So, the more they told me, the more informed that I could become. And the other technique I use is what I call triangulation. So, by asking the same questions across the number of different stakeholders, you can very quickly detect the consistencies versus the inconsistencies, what’s truth and what’s fiction.
Simon Dell: Interesting. Were there any other areas aside from the financial and the cultural stuff in Melbourne Polytechnic that sort of needed addressing? How are they sort of positioning the marketplace? Was the brand still a respected brand or has that kind of tailed off? Because obviously, there isn’t the passion for education or institutes that there is for footy clubs.
Ron Gauci: Well, that’s right. Although the messages were still the same, it’s like, when I was at Storm, I was told, “Ron, you’re trying to run us like a business. We’re not a business, we’re a footie club.” When I was at NMIT, the message was clear, “Ron, you’re trying to run us like a business. We’re an education institution.” I had to teach all the organizations that made that sort of comments that you don’t have the institute, you don’t have a club unless you do run it as a business. And when I explained the financial position that we were in and they realized… In fact, there was a moment where we brought everyone together and I explained to them what the financial position was.
I said to them that we were going… People were going to lose jobs. We’re going to have to reduce the number of faculties. We’re going to have to do this. We’re going to have to do that. And at the end of it, I thought there was enough bad news there for someone to just bring out, have a shot, and to — that I sense an assassination opportunity. But in fact, the opportunity was there. The people said that it’s terrific to know the truth, terrific to feel like we’re part of the plan and we know that you are a person that gets things done. So, I was very encouraged by the reaction and response I’ve got. To go back to your question, and what I found was there was some terrific people who really did want to see the place succeed.
Even if they knew they weren’t going to have jobs at the end of it, they became part of the program to develop solutions which was terrific. I also found that the students loved the experience. Although we hadn’t tapped into those students who had left the institute and use them as ambassadors, so we built a program that I called From Inquiry to Alumni. So, how do we build a great experience for those who pick up the phone and want to know something about the institute that they may enrol, complete their studies, and become alumni? And that whole experience model I think made a significant difference. But by knowing that you’re dealing with good people with good intentions, that you can always get off to a very good start.
So, it really was about the financials. I’m a no data no decision person, so we started the process of pulling apart the financials. We worked out where the problems were and that’s where the opportunity started to arise, including the need for a name change to give ourselves some sort of exposure internationally. I say that because, and again to answer part of your question, I was told that NMIT owned the northern suburbs and that it was an institution in northern suburbs.
It was interesting that when I inquired, people didn’t actually know what NMIT stood for, whether it was Northern Melbourne, North Melbourne, whether it was an extension of RMIT. So, there was confusion in the name for starters. The other thing I did was I got a Google map and we’d created a map of all the education institutions in the area. And unbeknownst to the board and the executives, they didn’t realize that they were under siege. There was something like 1,000 competitors on their doorstep. And we didn’t own the region at all. So, we had to firstly make a decision, “Did we want to reclaim the region or did we want to extend our reach?” And we made the decision to extend our reach.
Simon Dell: Competitive analysis is a marketing 101 or a business 101 even. How do they miss that? A lot of businesses miss it, but how do they miss the fact that they weren’t as dominating the marketplace as they thought they were?
Ron Gauci: I think this is a synergy between sport and business. You can miss a lot of things when you became passionate about what you do and you don’t have a new set of eyes and ears come in. And the benefit I bring to organizations is I get told, constantly, is that I bring in a very fresh set of eyes and ears that looks at things, someone who looks at things very differently. And by putting up that map for example, it was a visual… I’m a visual person. By putting that up visually, I remember the board saying, “We knew we had competitors in the area, but wow, that’s a great looking map.” So, it’s about just not losing sight with the wood for the trees type stuff. You get so engrossed in what you’re doing that sometimes you miss the opportunity. In fact, often, you miss the opportunity.
Simon Dell: Yeah. Again, it’s amazing the amount of times that you can explain things to clients over and over again and then sometimes then you just put it on a piece of paper, and show it as a picture, and then they get it after having not got it multiple times before. Some people learn in different ways or some digest information in different ways. You just have to work out which is best for which people. The third one that jumped out at me on your very long CV was Federation Square.
And I say that not to say that you’re old, Ron, but I say that in a mark of respect. But yes, so Federation Square. You’ve gone from that sports area, then you’ve gone from an educational area, to then going to what I guess would be classed as a landmark or a destination. How did Federation Square present — what did they think they were?
Ron Gauci: Well, they thought they were a public space that made themselves available for whoever wanted to be there. The only problem is that it grew quite as a business to keep Fed Square maintained and provide the opportunity to do things for the community. So, at the end of the day, there is a commercial base behind it. It was interesting when I got to Fed Square, the small team there want us to know why we need to fix it. I was going to Fed Square when there was nothing wrong with it. And then as I had conversations with all the team and they started to express their frustrations with this and with that, and also looking at the financial position of the organization, it became clear that there was a problem that needed to be solved and we needed to be fresh with new ideas.
The fact that 10 million people go through Fed Square per year and we knew very little if not nothing about them was interesting. We had traders, and retailers, and food venues in the square and yet what our data showed when we did the analysis was that people were actually bringing food into the square, sitting down, eating, and leaving the square, which means they weren’t actually transacting when they were there. We had many community groups thinking they could use the square without actually providing any contribution back to it. So, we had to pull all of those pieces apart, and as a result of that, we built a master plan we presented to the government and some of that master plan has now been implemented. But it certainly created a very different message around what the square was there to do and what we needed to do to ensure that we had longevity and sustainability.
Simon Dell: From that perspective, and again, you’ve got a different level of passion. I guess people are passionate about open spaces and events and things like that, but from a brand perspective, how do you get that message out to people with something like Federation Square?
Ron Gauci: Well, this is where I’m a firm believer in experiential growth. A lot of organizations go through what they call transformations. What they look at is maybe operational transformation, structural transformation, financial transformation that may result in expanding their geographies, expanding their product suites, whatever it is that that’s what they call transformation. The most powerful transformation is experiential transformation and we’ll explain that.
All the data shows that if a person has a great experience, they will make a decision right there and then whether they’re going to do it again and they’ll tell someone about their great experience, and I think something that the data’s around — low 80% of people will do that. The data also shows that if a person has a bad experience, high 80% will not only not do it again but will go and tell 10 people. So, what we wanted to do was create a great experience where people came into the square. And the research we did at Fed Square at the time was that there were parts of Fed Square that people didn’t want to go anywhere near, they felt unsafe. The cobblestones were difficult to walk on, not good for wheelchairs. We had data that’s sent to us that whilst Fed Square was meant to be built to bring the river closer to the city, the buildings actually shut the river off so it became a bit of an eyesore.
We got really good feedback from people and said what they didn’t like about Fed Square. So, we then set about doing things and tried to change some of that perception in terms of some of the walking paths, the way that people got to various destination points within the square, the lighting of the square. I take pride in the new screen that’s gone up at Fed Square, that that is such a visual, visual revolution, if you like, and the work we did there with the producer of that screen is magnificent.
Some of the other initiatives that we put in place there including the ice skating rink, which was the first for Melbourne, extremely successful. We decided to do that on the dead side of Fed Square and we brought it to life at a time when people thought that was a crazy idea. So, we did all sorts of things to create different experiences. And what we noticed was not only an increase in attendance, but our revenue position increased significantly as did our profitability, so it does have an intrinsic link.
Simon Dell: The last kind of area I just want to touch on with you is that you’ve obviously picked up a lot of learnings from a lot of different organizations. When you look at somebody with a smaller business, and I know you’ve been involved in smaller organizations as well, but a small business that might have 5 to 10 employees… When you work or when you see people like that, what are some of the key things that you think some of these businesses could potentially improve on in order to grow revenue, or grow profit, and put themselves in a more comfortable position? Is there one thing that you go that you see all the time that you would recommend people work on?
Ron Gauci: Yeah, I do, and it comes back to people. So, at the end of the day, the mistake I see small businesses make is that they hire people that they can afford instead of people who can do the job. And it’s something that you can understand, but it’s what leads to failure in business. So, there’s ways around that, especially as a startup and a small business, but I’m a firm believer that you need to have the right people around you. Any success I’ve ever had has been purely because I hire people to do their job better than I do. I’m a person who would go to my 10 guiding principles, some of them are just spelled out there, but I’m a person who believes that you hire people who are self-motivated. I’m not there to motivate people as a leader, as a manager. I’m there to remove the demotivators.
And I create the opportunity for them to be their best and perform at their best. So, that’s the first part of the people component. The other part is I have a philosophy, a small footprint being execution. What that means is that whilst you may have a small business, the partnerships you create, the opportunities you create within your network can give you an opportunity to execute in a big way. And I’ll give you a case in point. I’ll use Melbourne Storm again. We had one events manager within the organization, that’s pretty much all we could afford, but in doing so, we had a terrific event manager who built a relationship with our partner. That business was made up of about 1,000 people and we turned game day into an event.
We had one membership person who had a relationship with an organization that was made up of 200 people, and for all intents and purposes, when a member rang, they got great service not knowing that there was 1 or 200 people behind the phone. So, I think if small business owners can work out where the partnerships are, how they can leverage those opportunities, small footprint, big execution gives the opportunity to appear bigger, seem bigger, and behave in a bigger fashion and that’s how you grow your business very, very rapidly.
Simon Dell: Great piece of advice. Thank you, mate. Thank you. Last three questions that I ask everybody. Your favourite brand, things that you haven’t worked with but things that you buy all the time or things that you look at and admire from a distance, what are some of those great brands out there?
Ron Gauci: I always start with Apple and I use Apple as a great example. It was an organization that was on the brink of extinction, and its founder came up with this silly idea to bring out a little device that made music portable at a time when the Sony Walkman dominated the marketplace. And you have to look at the concept and say, “What a crazy idea. Why would you take on Sony? We’re on the brink of extinction. How the hell do you think we’re going to make this work?”
It was from that device that we then got the phone, the iPads, a completely different experience of Apple and it reinvented itself to the point where it created a whole socioeconomic system, that anything with an ‘i’ in front of it now Apple seems to own. So, they shifted away from being a technology company to creating great experiences. And let me tell you, I just think that when it comes to a retail experience, I’ve spoken to Apple and I’ve heard them say when they create their stores, they don’t create them to sell devices or sell product, they create them to create an experience. They build them to create an experience.
And yet they have queues to get in and they sell a lot of stuff, and it’s about the experience. So, I think Apple’s a good example. And without naming other brands, there’s those brands that have actually turned their product — or turned away from product and move towards as an experience is the ones I admire the most. We’re seeing some of that now with Amazon, the way that they’ve disrupted the whole retail sector. I just think that they’re inspirational organizations.
Simon Dell: What have you got planned for yourself for 2019? So, 2018 is almost over. What’s on the horizon for yourself the next year?
Ron Gauci: Well, the problem I have, Simon, is I haven’t worked out what I want to be when I grow up.
Simon Dell: We’re all in that situation, but yes.
Ron Gauci: So, everything I look for, and it comes from the conversations they have, I just want to continue to remain true to my philosophy of wanting to make a positive, meaningful difference to people and their organizations. So, I want to help people to realize their potential, to identify what that is, how to monetize it, and be the best that they can be. Personally, I do get a real sense of purpose when people I work with then tell me how I’ve influenced them and how I’ve helped them. If I can keep doing that through my business, then I’ll have a good 2019.
Simon Dell: Fantastic. Last question: Where can people find you if they want to either employ you, or have got a question for you, or just want to listen to what you’ve got to say?
Ron Gauci: Listen to what I’ve got to say through your podcast, obviously, which is a good start. I guess the best way is to go to that website, it’s www.ausmuse.com that I use. So, ausmuse.com.au. The contact details are there and I welcome people to reach out, and there’s a phone number there to reach out and make a phone call. I’m also on LinkedIn, Twitter, and I have a public profile on Facebook as a result of the Storm days and the Essendon days so they can hit me up there as well if that’s what they’re more comfortable with.
Simon Dell: So, last question, if you’re going to watch any sport this weekend, what sport are you going to watch? Putting you on the spot here. Would you go back and watch… Do you watch the Storm at all?
Ron Gauci: We are still members. We still go and see the team. My family actually has a preference of NRL over AFL. And so, we’re converts, but at this time of year… So, you’ve asked the question at the wrong time of the year but I can answer it for you.
Simon Dell: It’s all horse racing now, isn’t it?
Ron Gauci: Well, it is, and I wouldn’t know the front to the back end of a horse. So, what I will answer with you is that we’re also members of Melbourne Victory. We’re very strong supporters. We have a good relationship with the club and we love our football.
Simon Dell: I didn’t bring it up, but also on your profile, you worked with the softball organization for four years?
Ron Gauci: So, I’ve been involved in a number of different boards in sport. I love my baseball over cricket. I love my football, soccer as we know in this country. My father was a professional player, so I did love all the sports we have available to us and Melbourne is the sporting capital of the universe as they say, so we’ve got lots to choose from.
Simon Dell: Alright, well, we finish that with a controversial comment like that. Ron, it’s been an absolute pleasure and if people are on Melbourne, they’ll see you on the terrace of some sport somewhere in Melbourne.
Ron Gauci: Indeed.
Simon Dell: Thank you very much for being on the show today.
Ron Gauci: Pleasure, thank you.