Advisor Insights with Chris Eldridge: Business Owner, Director, Advisor

Advisor Insights

Published 06 November 2019

Chris Eldridge is Director and Co-Founder of 4impact, a mid-sized technology company servicing some of Australia’s biggest brands. Chris shares his business journey which includes growth, ambition, transition and ultimately succession. For the last several years, he has had the support of an Advisory Board to provide strategic advice and guidance as Chris and his team navigate “what’s next” for the business.

Chris also lends his experience and advice to support other entrepreneurs as an Advisor on their Advisory Boards. Chris gives insights as a business owner in conversation with Louise Broekman, Founder and CEO of the Advisory Board Centre.

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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Read the transcript

Louise Broekman: Welcome to Advisory Board Insights. I have the honour of having Chris Eldridge with me today from 4impact. Welcome Chris.

Chris Eldridge: Good morning and thank you.

Louise Broekman: Chris, it’s terrific that you’ve had an advisory board for a long period of time. It would be great to share your insights around that. But maybe first of all, if you can just share a bit about your story.

Chris Eldridge: Well, my story, I’ll try and keep it reasonably short, but I grew up in Hobart in Tasmania, did an electronics engineering degree down there. I spent four years in Adelaide afterwards working for a company building prototype electronics for the DSTO. So, I worked on submarines and all sorts of other bits and pieces in a previous life. And I came to Queensland in end of 1996, when Boeing relocated its headquarters to Brisbane. And I thought I would actually only be in Queensland for a couple of years and end up somewhere else. But here I am 23 years later. Now been in Queensland as long as I spent growing up in Tasmania. So I’m not sure what that makes me.

Chris Eldridge: And it’s been great. Queensland’s been very good to me in terms of opportunity. And I’ve gone through a couple of career bits and pieces, moving from technical delivery roles, if you like, towards more the business leadership sales type things. So learnt a lot of lessons along the way. Some good, some bad. We started 4impact as a business in 2005 and so we’ve been going 14 years now. So, lots of ups and downs in the journey and working out what it is is our point of difference and where we can play in the market and make an impact, not just for financially, but also make an impact for our people, for our clients and for our community around us.

Louise Broekman: So you’ve been in business for how long with 4impact?

Chris Eldridge: 14 years. August the 25th 2005.

Louise Broekman: Not counting.

Chris Eldridge: Not counting. Got a good memory.

Louise Broekman: You’ve been in business for a long time and then you decided to establish an advisory board. Can you just talk us through why you made that decision and what that experience has been like for you, Chris?

Chris Eldridge: Yeah, I think the thing for us is that, and I’ve alluded to some ups and downs in the business and we’d grown quite quickly and you get a bit of success and sometimes you believe your own rubbish, if that makes sense. And there was a change in the market seven or eight years ago, which really took the business backwards if you like, impacted us quite a lot. And we rebuilt from that, but we kept on hitting a threshold around the $30 million turnover mark that we couldn’t get past. And so we got introduced to yourself to look at the advisory board process and kind of going through that assessment of where we are, where the common gaps were, it gave us an awareness, I think, that perhaps if we kept just doing the things the same way, we were going to get the same result.

Chris Eldridge: So we looked at the advisory board because really we wanted to grow. I’m a great believer, I’ve held in 14 years, that this business can be something different and we weren’t quite realising our potential. So we needed to look at it differently. And so we put in place an advisory board some time ago to help us with that, to help us with the growth. And so we’re growing, which is really good and some of that is directly attributed to the advisory board. Some of that is also how we look at ourselves and look at our business. So I don’t really care about which is which, because they have the impact and the process forces you to self examine. And I think that’s the important thing as well.

Chris Eldridge: So, we’re back on a path of journey and hopefully a bit better prepared this time around for growth and not believing our own stories, but testing that, and the advisory board processes can be very valuable for that. Some external people. Our particular advisory board has no one from our industry, which is a strength, I think. It’s potential weakness as well, but some people that can help us to look at things differently. Say, “Well, this is the process of business. Have you thought about this, have you thought about that?” And asking the right questions of ourselves.

Louise Broekman: It’s interesting when you’ve been successful in business, a $30 million business, hat off to you, Chris, and then still wanting to grow. Taking on advice from external advisors is a big leap for some people. So, do you have any tips for business owners out there?

Chris Eldridge: Yeah, I think I got a piece of advice when we started this business and I’ve held onto it and I have to reflect on it myself because we all get trapped a little bit. And it was that ego in business is toxic. And it’s as simple and as hard as that. And so, it’s about being able to say, “Well, what am I doing this for? Is this about me or is this about the business?” And I think the corollary into that is, in business as you grow, and we all hear the stories of the super successful people who do it all, the Elon Musks of the world, but ultimately, I think for most of us, you have to make the choice. Do you want control or do you want wealth?

Chris Eldridge: And you probably can’t get both. So if you want to control everything that goes on, and that’s fine, but you’ve got yourself a job. If you want a business that gives you the rewards as a business owner and a shareholder, you need to be prepared to give up that control, or large parts of it to other people who can help grow it beyond what you could. And then you get the opportunity to hopefully get some of the benefits from a wealth perspective. But as soon as you hang on to getting both, you’re going to struggle.

Louise Broekman: It’s good advice. And I guess you’ve been at the receiving end of that on advisory board table. What tips do you have for the advisors and the advisory community, Chris?

Chris Eldridge: I think the main one, especially depending on the size of the business that you’re advising, is that it can get very easy to get trapped in advice that makes sense logically and pragmatically, but understand where a business is at and the challenges it has in terms of growing, access to capital, cashflow, et cetera. Sometimes businesses just can’t afford to implement the things that make total business sense. So you have to have ways, say, “Well, okay, how can we bootstrap our way around that? If we did this one, would that release… we might have to do something completely different and to the side to release enough capital to solve the problem we’re really trying to solve.” And I think if you’ve come from a big corporate environment, there’s an assumption that there’s funding and capacity to do these things, but you’re asking someone who may have not had the funding and to solve multiple problems at once. And that’s kind of the entrepreneurial journey, is it’s a juggle. I call it, it’s like the Chinese plates.

Louise Broekman: It’s interesting. It’s got to be practical and I hear it often from business owners when we put together advisory boards for them that they want to be understood, not judged, by their advisors.

Chris Eldridge: That’s very true. And I think also is to understand the emotions of the business owner that you may just be advising, and not judging, but how’s it being received. So your languages you lead into that advice is really important as well, because as soon as you get someone putting the barriers up, they’re not listening to what you just said. So if you can prep it and intro it and smooth the message out, that can be powerful as well, because you want people to learn the lesson and hear the advice.

Louise Broekman: It’s a conversation, not a competition. And I think that is an important thing.

Chris Eldridge: Yeah, which comes back to ego as well. Ego and business is toxic, not just for business owners, but for advisors as well.

Louise Broekman: Terrific. Chris, thank you so much and I’m looking forward to seeing the impact in another 12 months time of how you’re going with your advisory board.

Chris Eldridge: Thanks very much, Louise. Appreciate it.