Welcome back to Leader Talk! In episode 2, we sat down with the esteemed Mark Burgess, CEO and Managing Director of Quickstep (ASX: QHL).
Mark draws upon his 20+ years of management experience to discuss tangible ways of growing and improving your small to medium business.
From sharing tips on what makes a great workplace culture, to providing suggestions on what resources you can use to advance your business, Mark enlightens us with ideas that every business can benefit from.
Want to learn more? You can read or listen to our chat with Verity Hare on YouTube, Spotify, Listen Notes, or Player FM. It’s also available anywhere you listen to your favourite podcasts via Buzzsprout.
Authored by Mark Burgess. CEO and Managing Director of Quickstep (ASX:QHL).
Every small business wants to make it big. Whether that means hiring a large team of staff, growing nationwide, or becoming a global success, everyone has a different definition of what ‘making it big’ means to them. Success doesn’t necessarily require your business to become the next Google, Coca Cola, or Disney, nor does success need to entail expanding out of your local suburb if you don’t want to. When I advise small to medium enterprises (SMEs) to start local, go global, here’s what I really mean.
A global mindset
For me, going global is a frame of mind, as opposed to the literal action of expanding internationally. Having a global mindset is a metaphor for seeking constant growth without limiting yourself. It’s about continually redefining the possibilities and your ambitions while making a difference with what your business is offering. By maintaining this global mindset, your horizons and prospects can expand perpetually. Even if you don’t want to take your business to the global playing field, your business can still thrive under a global mindset.
All businesses start small. Think of a few corporate giants you look up to; did any of them start off as big as they are now? No, they all started local – geographically local, yes, but also metaphorically local. The corporations we aspire to now most likely began as start-ups and small businesses. Perhaps they started their business with just one employee, or maybe they operated with unfounded ideas and uncertain ambitions. This is what I mean by ‘starting local’.
How Quickstep started local
Take Quickstep for example. As CEO and Managing Director of Quickstep Holdings, I’ve seen first-hand how the company grows through a global mindset every day. However, like any start-up, Quickstep began local. Founded in Perth in 2001, Quickstep started as a family business that wanted to revolutionise carbon fibre manufacturing. As a small family-run business that hadn’t yet made a breakthrough into the aerospace industry, Quickstep began as a local business.
After letting go of their inhibitions and focusing on their ambitions and passions, Quickstep struck through the industry to eventually become the largest independent aerospace-grade composite manufacturer in Australia. This ‘start local, go global’ trajectory plays a key role in Quickstep’s ability to refine its definition of success and achieve it. For a globally minded company like Quickstep, not even the sky is the limit (and not just because we’re an aerospace company!).
Leading with a global mindset
Now that we’ve established what starting local and going global means, this leaves us with some questions – how do you run a business with a global mindset? What does this look like?
A global mindset is not about world domination or getting rich. It’s just about continually moving forward, towards your unique definition of success. To do this, you need to run your business with an open mind and an opportunistic attitude. One way I do this at Quickstep is by listening to anyone and everyone for new ideas and perspectives. Don’t ignore anyone’s opinion. Everyone brings different ideas to the table, and you can only benefit from listening to them.
When I was interviewing for my position at Quickstep, I kept referring to my childhood experience of working with my dad. I watched and assisted him in running his business and then later selling it to my sister. As it turns out, it was this introductory experience that helped me get the job as CEO of Quickstep. I had a long list of professional management experience with large corporations on my CV, but my foundational experience working with my dad, before I was even in high school, was what stood out to my interviewers. Why? Because from a young age, I learnt to value people, finance, and learning – and it showed. This reiterates how someone’s title and experience should never affect the way you treat them, and it’s also a big reason why we should always be open to other people’s ideas.
Supporting the team
Leading with a global mindset is also about looking out for your team. As your business grows, so do your staff, and it’s important to ensure that you are collectively working towards a shared vision to achieve maximum success. It’s also critical to demonstrate genuine care for your employees. I believe that a good leader shows authenticity, empathy, and vulnerability because it’s these characteristics that will allow your employees to feel supported and empowered.
How do you show this empathy and support in a small or medium business? It’s not like many SMEs out there have the dispensable resources to recruit an entire HR department, or a people and culture manager. However, there are numerous ways you can support your employees yourself. For example, if you notice that an employee is going through a tough time, or seems distracted and unmotivated, consider showing them that you acknowledge their situation and you care for their wellbeing. I believe it really comes down to this demonstration of care. Something as simple as asking them if they are okay, asking what you can do to help, and being a good listener can make a huge difference. It’s not necessarily about solving their life problems, but rather about relieving their burdens and making their work environment feel like a safe place. By investing some of your time to talk to your employees, you can demonstrate that you care.
Fostering a transparent, authentic workplace can do wonders for your business. It’s not just your employees that will benefit from a great work culture. Harvard Business Review asserts that a positive workplace culture produces higher levels of productivity, whereas workplaces that increase stress and pressure result in less productivity. Therefore, every business can meaningfully benefit from establishing an authentic, open, and supportive work environment. One way I personally try to achieve this is by asking for help and showing vulnerability.
As a CEO, manager, or any type of leader, it can often be hard to ask for help from others. People usually look to you for guidance, and sometimes we have too much pride to show that we don’t always have the right solutions. However, in all my leadership roles, I have repeatedly learnt that showing vulnerability by asking for help when you need it is the key to a successful business. It encourages authentic relationships and trust. It demonstrates to your colleagues that they can also ask for help and that it’s okay if they don’t always have all the answers. By being an authentic and transparent leader, you will be rewarded with an authentic and transparent team.
What to do now
Having a global mindset is fundamental to business growth and success. However, it’s also critical to undertake practical marketing and development strategies to help your business grow. To get started with your growth strategies, think about questions along the lines of: What am I good at? Where is the need for my product or service? What differentiates my business from other competitors? Who is my target audience and how will I reach them? These questions will help you identify suitable marketing channels, promotional content, and strategies.
The answers to these questions can come from a variety of different resources and quite often, resources are closer than you think. I’ve learnt a lot just from talking to my family members, friends, colleagues, and fellow business owners. You can also look to specialists such as Austrade, industry associations, and state governments for resources. These could include translation services, trade missions, and promotional assistance. Better yet, these resources are generally provided to small businesses for free.
There are also countless promotional channels you can leverage to expand your reach. Digital platforms you probably already have, such as your website and social media pages, can be revolutionary to your business if utilised properly. Personally, I’ve encountered a world of opportunity just through using LinkedIn as a promotional channel. The great thing about digital platforms like LinkedIn or whatever online channel works best for your business, is that there can be essentially no incremental costs involved. When you do the research, you might find that there are excellent resources available that are far more accessible than you initially thought.
Starting local and going global is all about having an unconditional willingness to learn and grow. All businesses, small or large, will benefit from actively finding new resources and learning opportunities to leverage. I’m a big believer in always seeking new learning opportunities. No matter how many qualifications you may have on your CV, there’s always more to learn, whether it’s about business, people, the world, or yourself. Even if you think you know everything about one topic, that doesn’t mean there’s nothing else to learn. How will you stay on top of business trends if you don’t know anything about the world? How are you supposed to lead your staff or understand your customers if you don’t know enough about people? Unless you happen to be an incredibly well-rounded phenomenon, my advice to business owners of any scale would be to never stop learning and growing, especially as the world changes too.
Ultimately, I believe that when it comes to business, having a global mindset is foundationally about not limiting your own ambition. This can involve constantly learning, seeking new opportunities, fostering a deeply supportive and productive workplace, and collectively advancing with your team. Starting local and going global means that anything is possible if you have an open mind and an eagerness to go forward. Remember, with a global mindset, not even the sky is the limit.