Advisor Insights with Phil Aris: Director & Chairman

Advisor Insights

Published 04 December 2019

Phil Aris is an experienced CEO and Managing Director (ASX) specialising in the Professional Services and Emerging Technology sectors working with businesses that have a passion and commitment to quality, sustainable growth and innovation.

As a Certified Chair, Phil has built a carefully curated portfolio of advisory board engagements based on supporting founders to achieve their business goals. In this Advisor Insights conversation with Louise Broekman, CEO of the Advisory Board Centre, Phil shares his views on the importance of building rapport and trust in relationships with business owners and tips for Advisors to add value to businesses.

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

Listen to the Podcast

Read the transcript

Louise Broekman: Welcome to the Advisory Board Insights. I have Phil Aris with me today. Welcome Phil.

Phil Aris: Thank you Louise. Great to be here.

Louise Broekman: Phil, thank you for taking the time share your story as well as your insights and your experience around Advisory Board. So let’s start off with that, sharing a bit about your background.

Phil Aris: Thanks Louis. I’ll go back a little bit to the early days, when I graduated as an economist from the university of Western Australia. I got a job on a graduate scheme with SECWA, which is the state energy commission of West Australia at the time. I got a lot of experience running around the different departments and learning things from treasury through to distribution, marketing, finance, et cetera. That was a great grounding for the first part of my career. I then moved into banking. I got involved with Challenge Bank, the listing of Challenge Bank and WI, which eventually merged with Westpac. I’ve worked overseas in London and Hong Kong on a number of stints on corporate advisory roles and for large multinationals, which allowed me to run around in Asia, for example, when I was in Hong Kong and set up businesses in different countries of Asia, including India, China, and Indonesia. Which was very exciting, a hundred miles an hour, and then spent a stint in London.

Phil Aris: I came back in to Australia, West Australia, then to Sydney in the early part of 1990s and kicked off once again in the banking world. Ended up running the credit card business at Commonwealth Bank and Gail Kelly at the time, she hired me. Once again, that was a great experience. It brought back a little bit of my banking world and then moved into a company called Thorn EMI and once again went overseas for a stint. Thorn EMI was a multinational, 56,000 people around the world. So I’ve worked for big organisations and smaller organisations. More recently I ran a professional service company for Count Plus, which was about 120 million turnover, 26 offices around the country, national business, predominantly accounting, financial planning, a bit of property and some FinTech investments, which was quite exciting. So a lot of experience in management, business development, directorship roles, managing director and CEO in both governance boards and also in smaller enterprises and big corporate.

Phil Aris: It’s quite a broad history, my background and I think I can give a lot to younger people, particularly in smaller enterprises. Giving them my experience and helping them initially just facilitate learnings for them. What they can do and can’t do, what’s worked for me, what I haven’t…what hasn’t been successful because every person has failures and what you learn from those failures and being quite open and brave with my discussions with young people. At the moment, I’m sitting on three different advisory boards as a chair. The average age is probably about mid-thirties to late thirties. One particular one recently is a little bit older, but young in spirit and a very entrepreneurial. They like to run a hundred miles an hour. You need the checks and balances. My experience in setting up advisory boards is initially it’s really about forming a relationship with the founder and the managing director.

Phil Aris: All my advisory boards are founders and major shareholders of their particular companies. Building that rapport with them early is very important. So you can get their trust, understand the key issues around their business, what’s worked for them, what hasn’t other things they might want to try, et cetera. Then establishing from that where the key areas of their business, they need more expertise. I don’t call myself an expert in any particular area, more of a generalist. You can tell that from my background, much more in management roles. But having said that, smaller enterprises is where I’ve rolled my sleeves up. It’s important to get that balance. And initially it’s a facilitating role. You ask them questions about what problems are they trying to solve? Why does their organisation exist? What’s the purpose of their organisation? What’s their culture? How do they want to develop it over time? What are the things that keep them awake at night?

Phil Aris: From there build some rapport and trust and make them a little bit braver in their decisions and start to think outside the box and bring on expertise when and where they need it. That’s very important. Finding that balance. It’s not an exact science, it is a bit of a suck it and see it. It’s different for different folks, but there’s a general story, which is they’re very open. We’re looking for somebody that has been there, done it before. Also telling them some of the stories that didn’t work and the things that I need to be aware of and to tread carefully.

Louise Broekman: Phil, what do you see as the impact the Advisory Board has on the business and the owners.

Phil Aris: At first they’re a little bit in denial about do they need an advisory board, what’s this all about? I haven’t a governance board, I have people that have mentored me in the past, et cetera, on and off type of thing. So initially there’s a little bit of pushback. They’re not sure how the process works. So it’s not to push them too hard to start with. It’s initially to get them to start talking about the business and start talking about the things that are important to them. As I mentioned before, what keeps them up at night, what really concerns them. Typically, it’s about things like, I don’t know if I have the resources, I don’t know if I have the skill set, I’m not sure if I’m making the right decisions. I feel a little bit on my own and I haven’t got the opportunity to talk to other people.

Phil Aris: That might be a consequence of they are the boss and they’re the person and therefore it’s difficult for them to get close to other people. Once you make…You sort of bring down those barriers is much easier for them to then start to open up and talk to them about advisory boards are more entrepreneurial. They’re talking about how do you become more innovative, how to become more creative in your business. How do you cut through? You don’t have to take all the advice, but it’s certainly opening up the ability for you to think and get the right people with you along that journey that can help you.

Phil Aris: It really is a holding your hand, giving them direction, making them feel a little bit braver about what they can and can’t do and saying to them yes, you can make these decisions and yes, it’s okay to be decisive and not sit on the fence and it’s okay to bring people in and around you and trust them and build a business and a culture that is what you want to do and you’re struggling to do. There’s people out there that can help you.

Phil Aris: A lot of them didn’t know about the Advisory Board Centre, didn’t know it existed. They thought it was a sensational idea, long overdue, and saw the benefits of it down the track. I think for us as a group, it builds networks. It also introduces them to other people that they would never have an opportunity to talk to or hear from. So all those things are very positive. So they’re very open it’s initially a little bit of a sales story as anything is, make them feel comfortable, get them to understand why it’s going to add value for them. It’s not threatening and it’s quite easy to do. I always start with don’t go too big to start with. Take it small, little steps. As win gets a win and as that confidence builds, then you might have more confidence to go for a fully-fledged advisory board, which takes some time.

Louise Broekman: It takes time. Phil, you’re right. With the adviser concierge, that we’ve been doing for the last 18 months, majority of businesses, 92% of them have never had an advisory board before. So they are so brave, aren’t they? When they first do something completely new in this space, normally they are in a phase where they are really going through a growth path as well.

Phil Aris: Absolutely, absolutely. 100% agree. As an advisory chair, I think the important thing is we open the door, we start that facilitation process, getting them feeling comfortable about how it works and say it’s not a big jump. You don’t have to take a big jump into it and you can test the waters, start off with the chair and get an understanding of what’s required, what’s involved, get some confidence in. Initially, it might just be you become a little bit of a coach for them, but that’s fine. But part of that coaching role is to say, I can’t do everything for you. There’s really skillful people in this network and have a lot of value. First of all its worth knowing that they’re out there, who are they, what do they do? Then start from there on how you can put a board together that can add a huge amount of value to your business.

Louise Broekman: That’s an important note about that evolution of that relationship and values. So Phil, you’ve been doing this now for a long time. What are your tips to business owners and also tips for advisors?

Phil Aris: The number one tip is don’t feel that you just have to be focused on people within your industry. I think it’s very important to say that there’s a lot of skill sets outside your industry and we tend to feel, it’s just human nature, I’m an expert in a certain area. This is my field and therefore I don’t feel I can get any advice from anybody outside that field. Now the Advisory Board is great because yes, we can bring in people from different industries and different sectors that have got expertise, but we also have a wide variety of skill sets across other industries and it’s really important to know what other industries and other sectors are doing. There’s a broad learning journey that they can go on, which is I think very important. It allows them to be more creative and more broader in their thinking process.

Phil Aris: I think that’s one tip. Be open, being very, very, very open, be very engaging. I always look for building a culture also, with the new organisation. The first point I always start with is what is your reason for existence? That’s a bit of the passion story. Why are you here in the first place? What are you trying to do? What value are you trying to bring? You’ve got to get that message right first in your own mind. Then as a leader, you then portray that amongst all your stakeholders, particularly your staff, and then obviously your clients and your suppliers and whoever else forms part of your service offering. I think that’s very important. The openness, the ability to look outside just your own house. There are other areas that you need to look at. I think also to be very cognisant of the world and how quickly it’s changing.

Phil Aris: I believe we’re in a technology revolution at the moment that’s going to get exponentially more involved and move quicker and quicker. You need to be at the forefront of that. You need to understand how technology is affecting your industry and your business and your clients and how they think. You’ve got to move forward in the curves. That’s very important. While all this is happening, you… And most of the people I deal with are founders. How do you portray who you are and your values across your whole organisation and filter that down to suppliers and clients in particular.

Louise Broekman: That’s interesting. When you’re dealing with a lot of the founders, which are generally on a scale up sort of stage when you’re so busy, it’s great to take a step back and really consider those. What advice would you provide advisors?

Phil Aris: Thanks Louise. I think crucially, advisors need to be relevant for the day. They’ve got great experience and history is wonderful, but they also need to know how the world’s working today and how it needs to move forward because mostly they’re going to be talking to young companies, young people who are going to be very up to date with what’s happening. And if you’re not, then you’d be left back behind. Have a thirst for knowledge, read a lot, talk to a lot of people. Get out and about, build your networks, understand what’s happening out there in the market because it’s moving a hundred miles an hour.

Phil Aris: I constantly do that. I’m always reading, news journals, articles. I’m understanding what’s happening out there in the market where the trends are even going to conferences on a constant basis when you can. I know it’s not easy to do, but it’s very important because if you don’t come across as being relevant or understand what’s happening in today’s market and you kind of give some insight as to what your opinion would be moving forward, then it’s going to be very difficult to sell you value so your clients and to your advisory boards in the future.

Phil Aris: That’s very important. I think, once again, the Advisory Board Centre creates a great network to do that. Then when we have our conferences and our meetings, people talk about what they’re doing, what they’ve learned. To get that conversation and communication going is pretty powerful. Have to do it well. So as a team and as a network, we need to build on that and get better at it because that’s why people then start coming to us rather than us having to push ourselves out there in the market. They’ll know that we are relevant and innovative in what we do and how we think and we’ve got people that really understand and get insight. Insight is very important.

Louise Broekman: Terrific. Phil, thank you so much for sharing your insights and I appreciate it when you’ve got so much on your plate, being an in demand chair as you are. Thanks again and always come back and let us know any more updates. This interview is an open table for you.