Success means going through a few thorny tunnels
It's episode 42 of Leader Talk! On this episode we had the pleasure of speaking with Kenny Tosh, Director of Eco Walling Systems.
Kenny boasts an impressive career bringing luxury and unique walling solutions to the housing market. His unwavering passion for what he does in building the community constantly inspires his growing team to do the same.
In this chat, he shares with us his key lessons on how to be an effective and strong leader, and how to continue to grow your business in the face of adversity.
Authored by Kenny Tosh, Director of Eco Walling Systems.
Starting my company 16 years ago certainly came with its challenges. In 2006, I left a stable job believing I was better off accomplishing what I was doing by myself. I had the support of my clients and my lovely wife, but my stomach was absolutely churning, and I was scared.
Even with that self-doubt and fear, I persisted, and we managed to turn over the exact amount we needed in that first year. Ten months later, the global financial crisis hit, and I was scared all over again, and once again, I persisted.
Now, when I’ve got new or struggling employees or even when my children need a bit of a pep talk, I always point them towards the thorny tunnel. Whenever you want to achieve something that is difficult to attain, imagine it as going through a long thorny tunnel. The entrance is very nice and appealing, with flowers and fresh leaves lining the walls. As you keep walking deeper into the tunnel it gets darker. More and more thorns start to appear and you get pricked at every side. It’s scary and you don’t want to go through anymore, but you do.
You push yourself to keep going until eventually you start to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Once you pass through, you never have to go back. That thorny tunnel has helped me, and others around me, get through many times of uncertainty.
Many people get to the thorns and think, “This is too difficult, maybe it’s not for me”. That’s part of the reason why more than half of Australian start-ups fail within their first three years. They don’t push to move forward and never achieve the success they want to achieve.
It might be a cliché to say, but you have to push yourself. Whether you’re running three kilometres or five kilometres, at two kilometres your mind will be screaming “I don’t want to do this anymore”. Resilience is pushing yourself beyond that point. If you want to be better and do greater things, you have to go through that discomfort. Having such a mindset opens doors in many different business environments.
When I first started Eco Walling Systems, I would walk into rooms and think what am I doing here? Even with the self-doubt, I just kept putting my hand out and saying, “How are you doing? I’m Kenny Tosh”. Sixteen years later, people are now coming up to me and saying, “Hi Kenny, how are you doing?”
You can choose to hide in the corner and hope someone will notice you, or you can choose to do something. If you don’t push yourself to take those steps through the thorny tunnel, you will get stuck. Nothing will change.
Never, never, never give up
I started working when I was a young boy back in Scotland. In the early mornings before school, I would either deliver the papers or climb on the back of a milk truck and help deliver milk. I remember getting a job at a fish factory and my weekly four pounds turned into 12 pounds a week – that was some decent money for a 12-year-old! Even during the school holidays, my brothers and I would jump on a bus and go pick potatoes. That hard work ethic and resilience started back then and continues on to today.
What I learnt from those times is to never give up. In fact, I keep a sign in my office that says “Never, never, never give up”. There’s always a way. Unless you’re dead, you will always find a way to achieve what you have to as long as you try hard enough.
My greatest asset is also my Achilles’ heel - I’m so passionate that I never give in. I’ve had people say to me they’ve never met anyone so determined and aggressive to win a job as me. I’m relentless. Even though the company is at a point where it’s running really well and you don’t have to chase the jobs, it’s still my favourite thing to do.
We’re known for signs on every site. Everywhere you look, there better be an Eco Walling Systems sign. Even if we don’t have jobs there, I’ll still put a sign, drive down the street and come back up to see if I’ve got it right. When we first started, I got a sign made the same size as a whole fence panel so you couldn’t miss it.
I think all business owners should have that same passion for what they’re doing. A lot of people have money in the forefront of their mind, but if you’re not passionate, no one is going to believe you, let alone buy into what you’re doing.
Deliver on your promises
I could say “never give up” until you reach the end of that thorny tunnel all day long, but I actually don’t think that’s all there is to it. You need to deliver what you promise and to do that, I believe you also need to be honest and have integrity. You can be resilient all you want, but if you don’t bring all these together, it’s pointless.
Being a business owner means building loyalty in all avenues. A huge part of loyalty is delivering what you promise to your customers. My one big belief is that I should always be at the end of the phone. If you ring me, I will always get back to you. Just because you’re the leader of the group doesn’t mean you’re too high up to ring people back.
The reason my company exists is because we work with the purpose of taking away the hassle and make people’s lives easier. 62% of customers will pay more for better customer service and 69% are willing to pay more for convenience. People come to us because we make things easy for them, regardless of the price. Owning a business means promising to make life easier for your customers and making sure you can deliver on that promise.
You also have to deliver your promises made to your staff. Consistency is paramount to creating a team that is as loyal and passionate about the business as you are. Not only should you pay them when you promised to, you also need to consistently create a great work environment. If I walk into the office saying, “This is going to be a rough week”, everyone else is going to feel that. If I walk in and say, “The person with the most sales by Friday wins a bottle of scotch”, then of course everyone is going to feel lifted. If one member is down, the whole thing falls apart.
Inspiring your team is crucial for productivity and yet, a Gallup report found that 82% of employees see their leaders as uninspiring, with only 15% being engaged at work. With my team, they know I live and breathe Eco Walling Systems. They see me making sales, they see my crazy passion, and they see when I have their backs dealing with issues or people. I also go randomly to some of the leaders, teaching them everything from taxes and money management to leading their teams. Don’t just say you support them; show them you do.
One of our supervisors has told me that if he didn’t have the same circle of guys in the office, he wouldn’t still be here. He went through that thorny bush and didn’t feel like continuing, but the fact that he had a supportive team is what drove him to keep going. If they know you have their backs every day, it naturally breeds a familial and productive environment. If you help them, they’ll help you.
We always come across tough situations where we have to make quick decisions. A lot of the time, those decisions don’t work out in our favour, but we learn for the next time. If you keep persisting, have passion and integrity, and deliver what you promise, then you will be successful.
The problems you deal with can only get easier because with adversity comes change and growth. The more thorny tunnels you encounter and push through, the more you can do it with ease.
So, will you turn back, or will you take that step forward?