Dick Smith left school at the age of 15 and got a job in a factory. He soon realised that the only way he was going to do well was to own his own business. One day the company he was working for (West Way Electronics), which made two-way radios, decided it was no longer going to service Manly Cabs.
At that stage Dick, 24 years of age, saw his opportunity, and with $600 of his own money and $10 from his fiancée he set up a business fixing the two-way radios for Manly Cabs. After a while Dick realised that there was not enough money in it, so he started to sell car radios as well.
“I did quite well from the start; my accountant actually told me after 6 months that I had made more money then the Prime Minister of Australia.”
He then realised that even though he was doing well, making money through labour was not going to help him become wealthy. It wasn’t till he walked into an electronic components shop where he received poor service that Dick decided to start his own business.
Within 10 years he had 50 shops around Australia and eventually sold it to Woolworths for 25 million dollars. We interviewed Dick to find out his thoughts on business and what is required to be successful.
What is hard in starting and growing a business now in comparison to what was hard 10-20 years ago?
It is harder today because of globalisation, most businesses are huge. With globalisation there is so much competition and so many big companies that it would be very difficult to do the same thing.
What skills would you look for in a new business partner now vs 10-20 years ago?
I look for people who are disciplined, who work hard and can stay focused. They have get up and go, an enthusiastic energy and are happy to ask for advice. I think these characteristics are very important.
How do you deal with certain changes in business?
I love change because I am a risk taker, most people hate change. In business you have to go with change given that society changes all the time. I use to always look ahead of my time knowing that things were going to change.
What are the most important lessons you have learned in business and at what stage within your business did you learn them?
The most important lesson I have learned is to learn from your mistakes. I have made every mistake possible in business but I have never made the same mistake twice.
What was the main reason why you started your own business?
The main thing for me was to have freedom in what I did. Because I had no qualifications and did not do too well academically I thought that if I started my own business, that would be the best thing for me and where I was heading.
When I started my own business I had no idea that I would be wealthy. I saw a company called Howard Car Radio at Chatswood who had 4 employees. I said to my fiancé at the time, “wouldn’t be great if we could open up our own business and have employees working for us?”
My accountant actually sat down with me and told me that I was a millionaire, so up until that point I was not aware that I was even a millionaire.
What are some of the reasons why most businesses fail?
Most businesses fail because they don’t look at having decent profit margins and they don’t look at keeping the overheads low.
What drives you in business?
The adrenalin pumping excitement that success gives, I love responsible risk taking, I love competition and I love winning and being the best.
What is success to you?
You really judge success in a business by being profitable, you have to look at it in a monetary way.
What piece of advice would you give to entrepreneurs who are looking to start or grow their own business?
Ask for advice and model the success of others. Find someone who is successful and ask for advice.
Surround yourself with quality people, people who know more than you. My success is a direct reflection of the people I have mixed with over time, modelling others who are successful, keeping focused and asking lots of great questions.