Up close and personal

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Here is the irony – planning to put your feet up in retirement is one of the toughest business challenges you can face.

Issues such as succession planning, surrendering management power and gearing the business for takeover all require attention. Just ask Paul and Mel Jowsey, who are planning an exit strategy from their business Jtagz, a Queensland manufacturer of durable nylon ID tags that are shipped around the world.

With the input of specialist business coaching, Paul has conceded that too speedy a departure from Jtagz could be detrimental professionally and personally. While the business will ultimately be able to survive and thrive without him, a staged takeover is required.

Jtagz is one of the lucky ones. As one of three finalists in Yes Coach, an Optus competition to support small and medium businesses, the business received 12 weeks of professional coaching from Switzer Business Coaching.

Paul has no doubt that coaching has helped prepare him for the transition to retirement. 

“I think the idea of retirement in five years is far more realistic now, and the concepts that I pretended in my heart were real previous to this course, I am really embarrassed about [now] because they were totally unachievable,” he says. “And really, I would have flopped out the back of semi-retirement on my belly.”

Help, please

No-one can accuse Paul Jowsey of getting an easy start in business. He inherited Jtagz from his alcoholic father, whose health issues had contributed to a business badly in need of emergency assistance.

The company, based in the Central Queensland coastal town of Yepoon, started out making small nylon registration tags for dogs. Through hard work over many years, Jtagz now supplies a variety of ID tags to different industries in 34 countries. A big break occurred when mining giant BHP Billiton approached Jtagz for a line of tamper-proof tags that can be used for asset tracking and as a safety tool to monitor equipment inspection times. Other companies are embracing the tags.

“So everything’s getting tagged, all your materials and appliances – so we’ve expanded that at a phenomenal rate globally,” Paul says.

With distribution into the US and Europe, rapid growth has brought its own challenges, including supply chain, international law and intellectual property issues. It has also put the focus on Paul’s management skills, which are being honed through the business coaching initiative.

Personal coach Lesley Ann Grimoldby says Paul – an acknowledged control freak – still has some management issues to address.

“He’s expecting that his managers can just manage if he tells them what to do, and yet he needs to lead by example,” she says. “There has to be leadership and management from him and he needs to teach them how to manage.”

Lesley Ann describes Paul’s management style as being a combination of “very casual and autocratic”.

“You can’t just impose systems on people,” she says. “There needs to be some collaborative work done on those so they feel some ownership of them. He’s made such leaps.”

For his part, Paul agrees he has come a long way since starting the coaching program and being asked to identify his ‘business personality’.

“And I said, ‘Oh, you know we’ve got some nice music going, and everyone just kind of grooves along, it’s cool’. And Lesley Ann said, ‘No, but what’s your business personality?’ And I didn’t have a clue. But now I know.”

He has come to realise that the business must be more than just a personal plaything.

“Now it is the business itself – separate from me, completely professional. And it’s a wonderful business and it deserves the best staff it can get – including myself.”

People power

As part of Jtagz’s evolution, Paul and Mel have embarked on a staff empowerment program featuring one-on-one meetings with employees to address their work issues and encourage professional development.

With overseas arms of the business, building a deep management team is essential. Paul explains: “Our first priority is to bring our manager up to facilitate my being able to focus on the European business development. And I’m training him so now the symbiosis is pretty much exact. He’s happy, I’m happy. Mel’s developing her financial resources with a consultant, and that’s developing extremely well. We now have the tools – the budget, the spreadsheet, and the cash flow…”

Such measures have brought some perspective to the business. Paul has started to see Jtagz as a business than is as strong as the sum of its parts, rather than being centred only on him. The advantages are two-fold: he can be more objective about what is required to improve the operation, and staff are more engaged and capable of fostering their own growth ideas.

Paul concedes: “There comes a stage in life where you just don’t have the pizzazz, you just don’t have the rocket in the pocket any more. You’ve got to get on and be real about your life. We burn out and other people come along and they have better ideas and they are just as honest and they are not as egotistical as the business owner.”

While the Jowseys are open to succession plan options, they do not expect the business to move offshore – at least not in the next five to 10 years. Their young boys, Harrison and Charlie, may even be part of the business in years to come, while selling the business outright is another possibility.

Whatever option wins out, Paul is now confident that proper preparation will allow for a smooth shift into retirement.

“We are heading toward semi-retirement for me in three to four years and then we will tailor it from there on in,” he says. “But yes, we can really do it now, no problem at all.”

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