Welcome back to Leader Talk! In episode 10, we were delighted to speak with Jarrod Sanfilippo, the Managing Director at Burbank Group.
Jarrod manages all nine companies that form Burbank Group spanning across VIC, NSW, ACT, SA and QLD, so he is well-versed in driving success across multiple industries and state expansion. Burbank’s motto ‘no place like home’ acts as a macrocosm for Jarrod’s ability to make his employees feel at home while working. Jarrod does this by uniting people and driving small changes that make a huge difference to productivity. Throughout our chat, Jarrod focuses on how he elevates productivity by starting small and how small and medium-sized business owners should go about digital advancement.
Want to learn more? You can read or listen to our chat with Jarrod on Youtube, Spotify, Listen Notes, or Player FM. It’s also available anywhere you listen to your favourite podcasts via Buzzsprout.
Authored By Jarrod Sanfilippo, Managing Director of Burbank Group.
“Be aware of how you show up” is the motto I strive to live by. Humans are social creatures who feed off each other. The energy we bring to a space affects everyone around us. That’s why it’s important to take a few moments to recharge before entering a room. Whether I’m greeting my family after work or heading into a meeting with my colleagues, I don’t want to bring overhanging issues and feelings into each new space I enter. I want a fresh start and I want my presence to help create an environment where everyone feels safe and supported to share their ideas.
Living by this motto has also helped me build enriching relationships. These relationships allow me to continuously learn about the skills I need to run the complex, multi-faceted business that is Burbank Group. However, Burbank Group wasn’t always the large group of companies, with several companies ranging from land development to finance entities, that it is today.
My dad and his stepbrother – the two Eddies, Eddie Sanfilippo and Eddie Puhar – joined forces and started Burbank in 1983. Back then, Burbank was a small Melbourne-based business, specialising in homebuilding. At first, they only concentrated on townhouses before moving to detached housing as well. However, with their entrepreneurial spirit and skillsets (my dad was an accountant, and my uncle was an electrician), they soon realised that home building also needs land. So, they started a land development business. From here, Burbank grew to encompass plumbing and electrical, finance (to help people meet their mortgages), insurance repairs, self-storage – and on it goes! More recently, we’ve also added Digital Minds Solutions, a software design and development company, to the Burbank Group family.
Here, I’m going to focus on the leadership skills I learnt from my dad and uncle – the skills that helped them transform Burbank from a small business into the sustainable, innovative group of companies it is today. “Be aware of how you show up” is just one of the many lessons that I still follow today. In this article, I’m also going to focus on the mindset that will help small and medium-sized business owners implement digital advancement. By this, I’m referring to how we use technology because small and medium-sized businesses need to ensure that their technology updates are an investment rather than an unnecessary expense.
A champion team, not a team of champions
My father, the former Managing Director of Burbank Group, modelled an empathetic leadership style that I learnt from. He was always very good with family, relationships and networking because he treated everyone equally. Whether it was through reading or interacting with others, my father was a man who loved learning from everyone. No matter what job title or seniority someone had, he never looked down on anyone. He understood that everyone has their own unique skills and perspectives to bring to the table. My dad also taught me that rewards and recognition go a long way. Always acknowledge people’s wins and successes, thank people for contributing ideas and for putting in their best effort.
At Burbank Group, one way I follow my dad’s example is by having an open-plan office. People are often surprised to hear that there is no corner office, separated by glass walls, at Burbank. Instead, everyone (including me!) uses the same style desk and same chair, all working together in the same office space. Creating this open environment is important because it signals that everyone should be treated equally and with respect, and it creates a space where everyone can freely collaborate, which helps the whole team feel more engaged and connected.
The open plan office space also makes it easier for me to sit and listen to my employees. I’ve never been afraid of hiring people that are more intelligent than me because I can learn from them, which helps me grow as a leader. My goal is to connect with others and inspire them to give their best. Too often, I see empathy dismissed as a “soft skill.” That couldn’t be further from the truth. Businessolver’s 2021 State of Workplace Empathy study found that 92% of employees would be more inclined to stay in their jobs if their bosses displayed more empathy.
My dad also showed me that self-awareness is key when it comes to improving oneself as a leader. Becoming more self-aware helps me understand my strengths and weakness. People around me also help me build on my strengths and they show me how I can best navigate my weaknesses. I know that when teams are free to respectfully challenge each other, this helps everyone grow.
Be driven by productivity
For small and medium-sized business owners, digital advancements can be expensive and disruptive. But I’ve learnt that we can ease our companies into change if we start small. How can we ensure that technological advancements can start small and minimise disruption? Let productivity be our guide. With all developments, we should focus on what we need and ensure that it’s geared towards maximising productivity. If a new technology isn’t saving time or maximising productivity, it’s costing us. Understanding how all the pre-existing levers in the company work together to drive outcomes is essential when bringing on new technology.
How can small and medium-sized business owners drive productivity through technology? My advice is to observe the bigger fish in the sea and see what they do to drive growth. Small and medium-sized business owners are often quick to dismiss the success of bigger companies. They think, “They’re bigger. They have the resources to do x, y, and z. I couldn’t possibly achieve that with my company.” When we start spiralling down this rabbit hole of thinking, we should remind ourselves that big companies started out as small businesses. Everyone starts small before they get big. For example, if you’re a small or medium-sized business owner, you could start with a simple Excel spreadsheet that plans out your day, week or month.
Digital advancement is a critical driver of growth. But it doesn’t happen unless there is a strategy in place to ensure that it’s properly embedded in organisations. Before we take on new technology, we need to ask ourselves where time needs to be spent to maximise outcomes. We should never bring on new technology for the sake of wanting to be ahead of the game. We should always make decisions from a place of wanting to help people have better experiences in their jobs and importantly, providing a more superior product offering to our customers. It’s just the same as in property, where the money is in the buying, not the selling. With technology, you’ll make the most of your investment if you know what the software is going to do, and you know that it’s simple enough for everyone to use.
Invite employees to share in the digital revolution
Integrating new technologies can be daunting and challenging. New technologies can change processes, affecting the way people perform in their jobs and how employees interact with one another. So, how do we ensure that everyone is willing to engage with digital platforms? Once again, it comes down to keeping it simple.
I liken digital integration to spaghetti bolognese, my favourite meal. Spaghetti bolognese is a dish that sings for itself, without the need for complex or fancy flavours. I apply my preference for simple flavours to my approach to technological integration in the workplace. If the technology is simple and easy to use, people will jump on board. If the technology is too elaborate and difficult to use, people will turn away.
At Burbank, we get people from different areas to trial and test new technology. This turns them into brand ambassadors for our new, digital updates. People want change if they know that it will benefit them. If the results aren’t there, change the path you’re on. When a new technology is successfully trialled, it quickly permeates the entire business. Even those who are more resistant and scared of change are inspired to embrace the new technology. When one person becomes a technology hero, others feel more comfortable jumping on the growth trajectory. Learning from people we trust is the best way to adapt to a rapidly changing world.
Children are our future customers
One of the biggest mistakes a leader can make is thinking that their workplace’s technology is set in stone. Technology is forever evolving, and we can learn from others about how we can make things more efficient. I’ve learnt from my children that the younger generations are much more aware of what’s happening now – in terms of social media and new technology. Tapping into how children interact with online brands is essential. Children are our future customers, and they’re growing up in a world that is driven by technology. We should never underestimate the perspectives of children. While they may not know the intricate details of what we do at work on a regular basis, they’re well-positioned to assist in understanding the fast-paced nature of technological advancement.
I began this article with the first skill I learnt from my father and uncle: The need to “be aware of how you show up”. In part, this motto I live by is about being empathic. By understanding the realities employees face, empathy allows us to be the boss we want to work for. According to the Harvard Business Review, approximately 90% of the differentiation between outstanding and average leaders is due to emotional reasons. Why is this? It’s because empathy helps us understand what matters to our team and what motivates them to excel.
I also know that paying attention to how we show up helps us adapt to changing environments. This is very important for small and medium-sized business owners, who need to be mentally prepared and ready to quickly adapt to unforeseen events. For example, who saw COVID-19 coming? I’m sure not many of you could have predicted a global pandemic and the impact it would have on the business world. But if you develop the mindset of being ready to adapt and “show up”, you’ll find it easier to navigate difficult periods and recharge, by spending quality time with your family and friends.
So, tomorrow, before starting work at your small or medium-sized business, ask yourself this question: How can I best show up?