Advisor Insights with Brendan Power: Entrepreneur, Advisory Board Member, Director

Advisor Insights

Published 01 November 2019

Some might say that Brendan Power is a born and bred entrepreneur. Growing up, his father, Bernard Power was always building and growing businesses. Over the last 25 years, Brendan has also built and successfully exited 11 businesses. Along the way he has invested in his own professional development- earning a business degree, MBA, Graduate of AICD and as an active participant in the advisory board community. More recently, Brendan has supported other entrepreneurs and business owners as an advisor on formalised advisory boards.

Louise Broekman, Founder and CEO of the Advisory Board Centre, recently spoke with Brendan to learn his top tips for business owners and advisors to support high quality, best practice advisory boards.

The Advisor Insights series are unfiltered conversations giving you a lens into real people and real businesses within the Advisor ecosystem.

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Louise: I have the opportunity to have time, one on one, with Brendan, who’s known, very well known as a serial entrepreneur and an in-demand advisor. Brendan, welcome to the series.

Brendan: Thank you, Louise.

Louise: Brendan, to start off with if you’re able to share your story, that’d be terrific.

Brendan: I’ll try and keep it as brief as possible, but I’m lucky enough to have grown up in a very entrepreneurial family. My father, Bernard Power, obviously started Power Brewing, but well before that as an entrepreneur, he actually brought Dunkin’ Donuts into Australia in the ’70s. He went to the States, saw an opportunity, and brought that to Australia. That environment I guess, led me to become an entrepreneur. I’m formally trained as well. I have a business degree, MBA, and I am a Graduate of Australian Institute of Company Directors.

Brendan: My aim always is when I start a business, is have an aim to sell it, and over the last probably 25 years, I’ve been very successful in starting about 11 companies, all of which I’ve sold. I’ve sold them in a variety of methods, management buyouts has been one, and I’ve even sold to publicly listed companies. I have a company at the moment, we’re the largest provider of online hospitality training in Australia, and we are the fourth largest police checking service in Australia.

Louise: That’s amazing. Brendan, I know when I met you three years ago, you were so in awe of your family, but what you have done yourself is quite incredible.

Brendan: Yeah look, and I must admit, I really enjoy what I do, and I love putting a team together for a business. I’ve done that again, for about 25 years, and hope I’ve still got another good 10-15 years left in me.

Louise: Absolutely. You’ve been involved on many advisory boards, and you are in demand in that space. What’s been your experience in the advisory board space for you, personally?

Brendan: It was a big change, coming from sitting on boards which are governance based. I’ve really enjoyed the opportunity to work with a variety of businesses, and to date over the last six … Sorry, three years, I think I’ve sat on six advisory boards of which I’m still on three now. Yeah, look, the space is amazing but it is very, very different to the corporate side. You have business owners who are asking you to basically help them run their business.

Brendan: Whether it be revenue, increase profit, change management, sale of the business. These people are really looking up to you for advice. Again, which is very different to a governance board, which is more about risk management and staying away from management. Advisory boards, you are actually getting involved in the management of the business to a certain extent. I’m really enjoying that interaction with owners, and I mean, I’ve sat on all sorts of boards from veterinary companies to virtual reality to financial services to agriculture to, the list goes on.

Brendan: It’s been fantastic. I think one thing about sitting on advisory boards is you must do your research. You must have an insight into that industry, and I mean some serious research. You may have a lot of skills, but unless you can translate that into that particular industry or sector or business quickly, you’re not really being an effective advisor.

Louise: It’s really interesting, Brendan. We had our Advisory Board Centre Thought Leadership Summit last week in Melbourne. You were there and there was a lot of discussion around having the insight, but then the foresight to be able to support the conversations around what’s next.

Brendan: Exactly right. That was a very important piece of the Summit, and I think that was extrapolated very well.

Louise: You’re now well seasoned in sitting on advisory boards and you can see the impact. What do you think the personal impact has been on the owners that you’ve been working with in that advisory board setting? What do you see?

Brendan: In the beginning it’s a challenge for them, because you usually are dealing with the owners, not the management, and sometimes you are going to question some of the decisions they’ve made in the past, and certainly some of the decisions moving forward. I think in the beginning it’s a challenge, but as I always say to all the advisory boards that I get on, the first meeting I say is, you can ask everyone, is the meetings will get better. They become more and more productive, as you get to know the owner’s personality and as you get to know the business.

Brendan: I sit on one board now and it’s the first thing I said to them, and I think we’ve had six meetings now, and it is relaxed. The job’s getting done, the owner has a lot of confidence in the advisors, and there’s much more free flow of information which you need as an advisor, and also as the owner of the business.

Louise: What kind of value do you think they ultimately get out from the model, from what you see?

Brendan: I think good advisors will challenge their perspective on their business, and the industry. Especially if you come from outside the industry. I think that’s very helpful. A lot of businesses are stuck in their industry. They don’t look outside the industry. I think I bring a lot of skills, from the hospitality industry, into a lot of areas. If you’re an outsider, I think you can bring new skills, new knowledge, new understandings, and I think that’s really beneficial to owners, especially if you’re been doing it for a long time.

Brendan: They’re going to the same meetings, they’re part of the same associations. Yeah, new insights into their sector, industry, and business.

Louise: That’s great. Those insights, I guess the advisory board structure generally is when you’ve got an independent chair and external advisors, so it’s always a team that are new as well, isn’t it? In providing a different perspective.

Brendan: And I think that’s an important role of the chair, to bring those different people together. You obviously want to bring different skillsets to the business, depending on what the business needs. But if they can bring people from outside the industries in, I think it’s better for the business.

Louise: I’m going to finish off with just asking you for your top three tips. Top three tips for business owners, and then we’ll go to tips for advisors. Let’s go to business owners first. What are your tips for them?

Brendan: Yep, and I’ve experienced this. If you feel after the first or second meeting that the advisor on your board is not the right person, tell the chair that the person is not right for the business. I think that’s really important. I think it’s good also for the advisor too. It’s no good being on a board where the flow of information isn’t right, or the mix isn’t right.

Brendan: I think for a business owner, be brutally honest with your chair as to what you need. “I need a marketing person.” Well, marketing’s very broad. I mean, I would say, is it social marketing? Is it digital? Is it mainstream? Really be brutal as to what you need. That’s two. What’s the other one? The other one is if you as the owner need advice, pick up the phone. Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and talk to your advisor, or send them an email and say, “Listen, I’ve got a question here.” Don’t wait for the next meeting, because it’s usually too late.

Louise: As an advisory board member, you’re there, you’re wanting to support and help them and it’s part of it, isn’t it?

Brendan: Exactly right.

Louise: I think the other question too about some people when they’re advisors say, “They’re my client.” It’s actually not a client relationship, it’s a peer-to-peer relationship, isn’t it?

Brendan: It really is that, and I encourage all the business owners that I work with to pick up the phone anytime they want to bounce something off me. Even just being a sounding board.

Louise: Yeah, okay. Top three tips for advisors?

Brendan: Tell the truth about your capabilities. I think that is a big one. I think a lot of people put down that they’re good at basically everything. That doesn’t help the chair and it doesn’t help the business owners. Put your top three critical things that you’re good at down, and that’s it. Don’t go off with other things. Because the chair and/or the business owner might look down to the seventh or eighth thing and go, “That’s what I need,” but you’re really good at the top three things.

Brendan: As an advisor, I would take every opportunity to meet with other advisors and learn their skillsets. Because you might need that skillset sitting on that board that you’re on, and I certainly have taken advantage of other advisor’s skillsets over the last three years. I think that’s really important. And I guess get to know the chairs. I think that’s very important as well. Get them to know your skillsets, because they’re the ones ultimately who are going to be recommending you to the business, or matching you to the business. I think that’s a really important thing to do.

Brendan: And unless you go to the Advisory Board Centre meetings, the Summits and things like that, you’re not going to get to meet them, and they won’t get to meet you. I think I’ve done that fairly well over the last three years.

Louise: It’s been fantastic, you and every Chair and Advisor are an important part of this advisory board community. We need that diversity to be able to support businesses with those areas that everybody specialises in different areas. Brendan, thank you so much for sharing your story.