Keeping up appearances

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A stubborn streak is just part of Taylan Atar’s make-up.

When told, as a young boy, that he could not do something he would go out of his way to defy the naysayers.

As an adult in the early 90s, the script had not changed.

Trying to pay his way through university through a part-time business installing alarms, a salesman approached him with an offer to buy an Optus phone dealership. Atar was dismissive.

“I told him to leave me alone, to leave me in peace, and that if I wanted to buy a dealership, I would go through the carriers directly, and not through some guy at the markets,” he says.

“He told me that the carriers most likely wouldn’t give it to me, and that’s when I decided that I would do it (anyway).”

As managing director of Solution1, Atar has proven his point. He and wife Megan control a group that delivers telecommunication solutions for customers through the Optus network. They own six Optus dealerships and an Optus Business Direct outlet, all of which makes him one of the telco giant’s most productive franchisees. 

Such success shows that Atar has lost none of his childhood determination.

“That’s just who I am – you tell me that something is impossible and I will make it possible.”

Balancing family life

Atar is certainly different, whether it is selling phones – or goats.

Goats? Through his stud farm Seven Hills, located in Tallarook, about 100km outside Melbourne, Atar and his family have created the perfect getaway from the pressures of mainstream business.

The venture started when Atar met boer goat breeder Glenn Martin at the Seymour Alternative Farming Expo, a huge annual showcase of farm machinery, products and services, and they struck up a conversation about the animals.

Atar explains: “We had a lot of weeds on our property, so we thought it might be a good idea to get some goats in for that. And (now we have) 600 boer goats and soon to be 2000.”

Spending four days a week in Melbourne and the other three on the farm, Atar says he and wife Megan made the shift for family reasons.
“It’s about life balance,” he says. “We’ve got three boys under the age of three, and a daughter who is 14, so we wanted to make sure that they stayed earthed and grounded. Also it was an opportunity for Megan and myself to unwind and forget the normal pressures of work.”

Not that they are just sitting around.

“We’re industrious people, so we can’t sit and enjoy things like normal people do, so we’re forever picking up sticks, building fences, putting in roads, splitting paddocks and fixing things on the farm or whatever. The goats were just a natural extension of that.”

Building a strong team

In business or on the farm, Atar has learnt the importance of having a clear vision. That vision includes having a contented and efficient employee base.

“We’re very much working on the business now rather than working in the business. We’re very big on growing our people and capitalising on margins.”

He says keeping his staff happy comes down to a very simple strategy.

“It’s about giving them what they actually want.”

Personal coaching courses have been a critical factor.

“We are trying to grow our people by, one, giving them the resources that they require with one-on-one help and, two, putting them through not only government courses but also Optus internal training and some external courses.”

Atar also draws from the experiences of Solution 1 general manager Steve Bakos, a highly skilled life coach.

“Steve’s been all over the place and he brings with him a lot of talent and discipline as well… Often that’s what these businesses really lack because of the young age group that we attract and employ.”

One of the biggest lessons Atar has learned is to lead from the front.

“It’s always about doing things first hand by example. When you called, I was up a ladder, changing a light globe,” he laughs, “even though I have three other staff members here who could quite easily do it. We’re still very hands on, and I think that’s one of the biggest reasons that we’ve engaged a business coach, so that we have a platform, a structure, a purpose as to what each person does, from sales staff right up to director level.”

Clearing business hurdles

Atar says running franchises presents a series of hurdles, but he maintains that finding the right employees is inevitably the biggest test for management.

“Our greatest challenge, and I think in any business, is the people side of it. That’s more prominent in our industry because we don’t tend to attract many mature people. And when I say mature, I mean 30-plus.”

Most of his employees are aged 18 to 25 and do not want the burden of a long-term commitment to an employer.

“We’re forever dealing with a demographic who want everything now, who want everything quickly,” Atar says. “You’ve got people straight out of uni who work in the business three to four months and then they want to become an area, training or HR manager without having to work through the process of working from the bottom up. That would be our hardest challenge.”

Keeping up with the technological advances in the telco sector can also be difficult.

“We are operating in an ever-changing environment. When the answering machine became redundant, we thought ‘what’s next?’ Then the cordless phone came along and after that it was the analogue network going to digital. It’s always like that. Pals, BlackBerrys, Apple iPhones, key systems, data – the list goes on.”

Such new products are a constant surprise.

“I’m always amazed at what’s out there. I’ll go back to the answering machine, the cordless phone ... We’re at 110 per cent saturation now – we just thought we’d got it as good as we can get it, and then (we get) the Apple iPhone, and it’s like five Christmases all over again.”

Learning from his mistakes

Working in a vibrant industry such as telecommunications ensures Atar will always be kept on his toes.

“It’s a tough place to be in, but it’s still very rewarding, it’s still very challenging, and to some degree it’s still very lucrative as well.”

Discipline has been one of his great assets. Of Turkish heritage, his father spent 18 years in the air force and insisted on a family culture built around respect and integrity.

“He was forever talking to me and giving advice on life and real-life experiences that he or others had gone through.”

As for the mistakes he has made along the way – Atar says they only make him stronger. He says there is a healthy dose of risk with allbusiness decisions.

“There are outside factors that sometimes influence your decision-making, your profitability, all of those kinds of things – it’s a risk. That’s why we’re entrepreneurs – we take risks. And the bigger the risk, the bigger the reward.”

Atar says, now, more than ever he wants a bright, profitable future through Solution1.

“Our vision for the future is ... to continue to be the best, to be market leaders, an employer of choice and to have the best possible people working for us that the industry can offer.”

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