“Entrepreneur.” This is a word that Malcolm Bean, Director at Beanmkrgy Pty Ltd, probably never used 20 years ago. But as he lives and breathes the essence of being an entrepreneur for more than a decade now, he recognizes how he perfectly fits into what the word connotes.
The hotel professional professes, “Being an entrepreneur is being what I like. It is who I am. I didn’t know that until I’m into the journey and it makes me really, really happy. And that’s the simplest equation for me.”
Working for himself suits Malcolm perfectly well. Looking back, he has never defined what it was that he wanted until he found his proverbial entrepreneurial space under the sun. Growing up, he would always find ways to earn a living. On weekends, the young Malcolm would catch yabbies and sell them to people in order to make money. “So, there was always those little struggles and drive along the way,” he puts in. “I didn’t like school. I hated it and I performed very badly academically. When I was little, I always wanted to do things a bit differently. I didn’t understand it myself really, until now, so it’s been a natural thing,” he recounts.
It was during his 20’s when he started into his entrepreneurial path, working professionally in the hotel industry and then owning some catering businesses and cafes. But he hit a snag early on that nipped his entrepreneurial journey in the bud. “Long story short, I ended up going broke,” Malcolm articulates.
He altered course and trudged the path of the corporate world. But the pull of having his own enterprise was too strong, luring him back towards the entrepreneurial track. “About 10 or 12 years ago, I took another chance, left my sort of comfortable corporate life and went off to pursue some of my entrepreneurial goals or dreams, which was a hotel investment and property development in the hotel industry,” he narrates. At the same time, he started with his second venture, hospitality sales consulting business. A couple of years after, he invested in another boutique hotel in north Australia.
Malcolm prefers some of the freedoms that entrepreneurship provides, although there’s actually less freedom due to more obligations, as others believe otherwise. Yet, he loves the flexibility of time, as far as how he wants to use it, and the opportunity to be creative and to carve out his own path. True, it always has lots of challenges and stresses at different times, which is a common story with entrepreneurial life, but Malcolm enjoys it a lot, believing he is doing what he thinks he should be doing.
When it comes to hardships, he has many to cite. Since hotels are very capital-intensive businesses — covering land, infrastructure, and payroll as major concerns — cash flow is considered as the biggest challenge. When he invested in a boutique hotel 12 years ago, he had to sell some of his assets, including a very nice house, just to funnel cash into the business.
Despite taking these risks, he confesses that it worried him tremendously. “I’ve gone broke once or thrice before, in my 20’s and 30’s, with my catering business and things like that. So, I’ve scared myself a lot. The scariest thing about this was when I tried to sell all my assets and roll the dice, in relative terms, on everything I’ve had, basically. At the same time, I was getting remarried and taking on a stepchild and then having our own child as well. All the time, I’ve been doing and risking everything I have in those years. There were stresses involved in that, so yes, I’ve been down the black hole a couple of times and never been far away from that, to be frank. That’s been the toughest thing, but just knowing that this is what I should be doing with my life, that’s what really feeds me from an energy point of view.”
His direct family has no entrepreneurial background to back him up in those endeavours. “It’s interesting, now, as I reflect on it. My family was probably against me doing this sort of things because they’re more about mitigating risk, not pursuing risk.”
After two months of his first business, they were running out of money again. With a lot of staff and a big payroll to take care of, given that it is a high service industry, Malcolm had to do some smart maneuvering in order to stay cash positive. “It is a very acute challenge,” he admits, “We borrowed more as we’ve gone along, and tried to spend that money on things that created more cash. We reinvested the limited amount of cash into the areas that generated a lot of more cash so we could grow and develop sustainable, strong businesses.” More often than not, they’ve been successful in this regard.
Maintaining a lot of people is also an ordeal. In the hospitality industry, it’s not only the amenities that attract customers but also the service and the people themselves. Getting the right members into the team is something that they always had to focus on. What they look for in their team members are not just the technical skills and background, which are important assets of a hotel practitioner, but also the values set and work ethics one possesses.
With that, he recognizes the great significance of knowing one’s people; one of the learnings he picked up during the early years of his career. “My boss 20 or 30 years ago was good at leading people. He underscored the need to focus on knowing your people in an intimate way – what motivates them and what is important to their life – and align your self with them. It wasn’t superficial. It wasn’t a high-chart document. It was having a true independent relationship with the key people in your team.” The challenge, however, is that for a business that works round the clock, seven days a week, and one that never closes, interacting with all team members in a hotel is a bit limited.
Some of the other lessons he picked, he had to learn them as he committed several slipups along the way. By far, his biggest mistake was investing in a hotel business model where he didn’t have a world-class expertise and unique competitive advantage. Whilst his first hotel investment and his consulting business worked for him very well, the third business was not a smart move on his part. “The best strategy in that business investment would be to walk away and I didn’t because the numbers looked fantastic,” he admits.
Because he and his partner couldn’t get out from that investment, they had to make it work, which they eventually did, something that Malcolm counts as an achievement. But the time and effort poured into that was a huge one, which could have been utilised in more productive undertakings. If he could turn back the clock and travel back in time, Malcolm reflected that he would probably do less or just do one business at a time. “And really, really do it well. I would be able to put all my energy into one business as opposed to having started with three at once.”
He feels bad for the precious time wasted on endeavours that were less strategic because he puts a value on time. Thus, he cited timeline as his biggest disappointment. In his ventures, while the strategies turned out to be right, the timeline to execute them was longer than he had predicted or planned. He believed he could have achieved a lot of his goals at a quicker timeline, but there are things beyond his control and it’s a hard reality he had to face.
With that, clarity in the objectives is one of the lessons he recognised as a noteworthy element in planning. It was in EO Melbourne where he found clarity in everything he does. “It’s my 7th year in EO and the values it has given me have been enormous. It has changed my behaviour by maybe 60%. I feel really fortunate with my forum that I’m involved with. It’s been amazing; it’s been life changing from a business point of view. And it has probably helped me a lot privately, as well.”
Along with that, he sees the need to stick to strategy while maintaining a clear view of where one’s unique opportunities and assets are found. He recognised this based on experience because whenever they lose focus on their strategies, they suffer; but when they walk back on that path, they meet success. “It is important to be working harder on the strategy at the beginning, and then scrutinizing that strategy for your business model that it will really work, therefore, getting clarity. Then, you have your very precious time to channel it into things where you can go far,” he counsels.
With objectives and strategies in place, he then highlighted the magnitude of talent sourcing, selection and getting teams aligned. “Rally your teams and pull your energies into doing things that would drive you towards your goals. Stop all things that would mean playing around or getting sidetracked or getting lost, and get real back to that which is more important,” adds Malcolm.
And with all these learnings, he couldn’t have done this without the courage to take risks. He has done so because he is doing what he loves to do, which fuels his drive to keep going on this journey.
“You must really enjoy what you really want to be doing, whether you’re a doctor on an entrepreneur. It is great if you are able to find that space in the world that’s yours and should be. When I’m feeling the stress and frustrations, I have to stop from time to time and think and remind myself that I’m in the right jungle. It’s just that I’m struggling, but I’m in the right place and that’s a lucky thing to be,” he discloses.