In the Slipstream – Episode 17 – Interview with a wise owl – Gary Tupicoff
Now here’s some great ideas for your firm, where we’re all about success on your terms. Get the knowledge, the tools and insights from special guests. Everything you need to become your very best, so come and build the business of your dreams. Settle in and listen now to In the Slipstream.
Hello and welcome to another episode of In the Slipstream FM. My name is Scott Charlton and I’m the Director of Coaching here at Slipstream Coaching. My guest today is Gary Tupicoff, founder of the firm which bears his name. Now Gary’s long since retired, but happily the firm carries on in the safe hands of Neil Kendall his former business partner. Gary, as you will find out, had a long and very distinguished career as a financial advisor. During this time he worked as a sole practitioner, as a partner in quite a large firm, and all sizes in between.
Gary’s also a man of principle. We’re talking an all the way to the High Court kind of principle. In fact avid students of Australian tax case law will recall Tupicoffs case, which was certainly very topical in the early days of my accounting career. I’ve asked Gary on to the podcast because he’s such a great thinker. He has terrific mental discipline to define problems very clearly, clarify what his objectives are, and work out how to negotiate the obstacles.
Along the way today we’re going to be tackling some of the big issues for public practitioners, growth, succession and retirement. Doubtless you’ll pick up other aspects of Gary’s wisdom throughout the discussion. I’m particularly pleased to invite you in to share this chat with Gary, the two of us go a long way back. These days Gary is a friend and certainly a mentor to me. I always come away from our chats thinking more clearly and with a much firmer eye on the big picture.
If I could give you a tip, it would be to follow what I do, and that is to jot down some of the ideas after listening to this chat with Gary. I’ve been in the habit of doing this after my Gary chats, and in preparation for this discussion I’ve gone back through my personal journals and found the notes arising from those chats. This has indeed been very illuminating, and let me share you three examples.
Being very purposeful in going about a major career move. When I was in the throes of leaving my previous role, before going on to create what became Slipstream Coaching, Gary suggested that I document what I wanted to happen. Looking back now on those notes, many parts of the plan that I wrote two and a half years ago have actually happened. Secondly, envisaging my perfect professional life. Doing this exercise, as Gary suggested, led me to conclude that I needed to give more priority and time to developing my concepts and ideas, and then turning these into outcomes.
These days my quarterly creative weeks are very much part of how I operate. Gary also challenged me about Slipstream Coaching’s stated objective of helping our clients to live a fulfilled, happy and purposeful life. This caused me to develop a program which will see our clients having one page personal plans to sit alongside their one page business plan. As part of this I’ve developed a one day workshop around developing this personal plan, which I’m really looking forward to delivering.
Whilst I’m very confident that you’re going to enjoy this discussion, the real benefit I’m thinking will be in the notes you take and the actions you instigate as a result of what Gary has to say. Now I’ll give you a fair warning that the sound quality is a little bit scratchy in parts, but it’s still well worth listening to, so let’s get started.
Gary welcome to the show. For the benefit of the listeners, would you please provide a brief overview of your career?
Hi Scott, it’s nice to be here. Look, I was born and educated in Brisbane. I thought I was going to be a chartered accountant. Started there. Did well in some exams, took the state as I remember and served in the state and another one, but I was really into tennis tournaments and fun more than that. In 1966 someone said, “Why don’t you go and try sales?” I never thought of it, but I got a job immediately at an interview, canned up the accounting, and started in selling with Olivetti and sold office accounting systems.
Moved to be manager of Olivetti New South Wales when I was 22, in 1967. Did that for three or four years. Moved back to Queensland and started as an insurance agent, would you believe, selling on pure commission. Then the business morphed over the years into the full financial planning business, and then later on to fee for service and no commissions or … And I retired in 2007, I sold the business in 2007.
That’s quite a journey from being a bright young thing in chartered accounting, that’s for sure. What would you say are some of your career highlights?
Look, I think making the step to go, to be a commission person, was so naïve I don’t know how I did it, but I did it and decided I would make a success of it. I think one of the reasons was that my accountant at the time told me, “You’ll fail.” I said, “Look mate, you’ll be wrong on that one.” I think the big achievement was … If I’d only known the statistics, the failure rate was huge in that business at that time, so that was a highlight.
Then I won lots of awards for sales performance and so on, lots of that, free trips and all that sort of thing. I think really, when I made the step to go into financial planning and then realized that this is different, this is not the sale of a product this is about advice. I used to give advice away, and lots of it with the sales, but now I decided this is not the right way, I should remove the conflicts of interest.
I think the other big achievement was getting the right business partner at that point too. I was flexible over the years, I changed and morphed, and I had realized I had changed.
There’s any number of things that we can possibly explore in what you’ve just shared, and I know that the work that you did as a practitioner, as you say, was advice based and went way beyond product solutions. Along the way, I think one of your talents is that you’ve been able to help your clients think more strategically, which is the way that you are orientated.
One of the stories that we’ve shared as mates, I was just wondering if you could share that for the benefit of all the listeners, the story of the lady whose statement of advice included the plan to find a man and get married.
Yes, well what happened there was, I was very busy at the time, and I think we’re going back here to about 1999, and it was a challenge. I had a financial planner working with me, who came into see me and said, “Look Gary I’ve got a client in the foyer, and I think you should see her.” I said, “Well why? I know nothing about her.” He said, “Well I’ve done a plan for her but I think she probably needs some insurance, but I can’t handle that emotional stuff.”
I said, “Well bring her in, but I’ve only got half an hour.” Because of that, he came and introduced her, and he walked straight out again, I couldn’t believe it, the two of us were going to be here together, and I had this half an hour of … I saw her age, saw the investments, so I asked her a question.
I said, “Look” and I’ll call her Mary, that’s not her real name, “Mary, tell me, we don’t have much time together, and I know very little about you, can you tell me, if we were sitting here three years from today, let’s say on the 26th of September 2000 and whatever it was what it was going to be, what would have to have happened in your life personally and professionally and financially, for you to say ‘Gary I’ve had a fantastic three years.’ What would you tell me?”
“What do you mean?” “Well, what would be the sorts of things you’d say, this has been fantastic.” “Well I’d get married again” she told me. I said, “I’ll tell you what, let’s write that up.” I wrote it up on the white board, then I said, “What else?” “I’d like to get out of my father’s business.” “What else?” “I’d like to start my own business.” Then she went through a number of other things. I came back and said, “Well let’s let the marriage be it for the time being, tell me about …”
A very important question to ask, is once someone tells you something, do not assume why they’ve said that. She said that she wanted to leave her father’s business. I said to her, “Why is leaving your father’s business so important to you?” She said, “We come from a Jewish family. He dominates. I have a brother who gets all the favours. I really just really … And I don’t count in that situation. I want to get out of that.”
I said, “Okay, so now I understand why you want it, but why do you want to start your own business? You could go and be employed somewhere.” She said, “I want to show my 13 year old son that his mother can do it, and that’s important to me.” I said, “Well okay, coming back to the marriage, when would you like to do that?” She said, “Oh 12 months.” I said, “Well who’s the guy?” She said, “I don’t know.” She was that realistic.
“How would you know him?” She said, “Well someone like you might be okay.” I said, “Would it matter what they might looked like? We just don’t know who they are.” We moved onto the lifestyle and I said, “When would you like to leave your father’s business?” “As soon as possible.” “When would you like to start your own business?” “As soon as possible.” I looked at the investments that were there, and the plan and it was for someone that was wanting to retire at 65. She was 45 and wanted all this.
I said, “I’m afraid that we’re going to have to get together again, but tell me what could go wrong if you did go and leave your father’s business, and what would happen if you did and started your own business, and then something went wrong, what would that be?” She said, “I suppose I could get sick, or I could die.” “What would that mean?” She said, “Well my son would go back and be controlled by my father again.” “Okay, so we need to do something about that.”
At that meeting, she was in tears by this stage, Scott, and so I realized then, while I may have been doing this sort of thing without a structure, that she said, “This is the most important meeting of my life. No-one else has ever asked me these questions.” In the future then I always conducted my meetings in that same fashion. Because I got to really what the drivers were, because I realized then that people who had the same facts and situation in age and finances, do not have the same goals and aspirations, and the advice needs to be different.
Wow, that’s a very significant answer, and the thing that interests me is that to take strangers, and within a short amount of time to be, or having a conversation of that significance, is really quite profound. After that realization, what conclusions or what approach did you take in terms of having more of those conversations? How might listeners actually apply what you discovered, in their own conversations do you think?
Scott, over the years I’ve thought about this in the context of other experiences I had myself. That is when I’ve been to someone who calls themselves professionals, they may be an accountant or a lawyer or a doctor or a physiotherapist or whatever. I can recognize in them that they, that the vast majority of them ask you, “Where does it hurt? How does this feel?” People like this think they’re doing great and they give you some treatment. That’s with doctors, accountants, and so on like that.
This is in hindsight, looking back. I have a little formula now that … A little definition that I partly pinched from someone else back 30 years ago, and it’s the difference between a practitioner, which I think perhaps partly I had been before, and a professional. Now I ask everyone now, and I continued to ask over those few years, those other guiding people that my clients were going to see, “Do you know the difference between a practitioner and a professional?” No-one ever does. I said, “Let me tell you. A practitioner will do the job right, but a professional will do the right job right.”
Now, so what I … So my job was to find out what the right job was. I had para-planners and other people who could do, what were the numbers and so on and so on, but really I saw too often that the client or the patient or whatever, was getting a cut and paste job, and really the time wasn’t spent finding out what their drivers were, and I could give examples later on if the conversation goes that way.
Wow, so having made this realization, the other advisors in your business would also need to have their, I guess their sights raised. I mean how did you actually go about sharing what you’d discovered and you’d adopted, to make it more widespread within the way in which your firm operated?
Well Scott, what I tried to do was remove myself from a lot of the administrative detail and only do the teasing out bits. Then the extension of that was to sit in with other advisors. I would pretty much not say anything at all, and I would note that usually what they were doing at the start was they were getting the facts, doing an analysis, saying, “Well we can help you with your tax, and we can do this.” Then the client would walk out and I’d say, or the advisor would say, “Well that’s terrific, that will get us clients.” I would say, “You’ll probably never going to see them again. All you dealt with was fact, fact, fact, fact.”
I’d try to sit in with those meetings, and then give coaching after the event. The good thing was, when I eventually got my financial planning business partner, Neil Kendall, and I’d say, so genuinely that he is a phenomenal planner and a great business partner to have had. He was on the same wavelength as well.
The two of us, we thought that way, and the staff got to know that that was the procedure. The summary at the start of any financial plan was about what their real goals were. Those things that they told us, in fact to give you an example, Mary wanted us to give a 50-page statement of advice or something, of course, to satisfy all the requirements, but whenever I saw her she said, “Do you know, I’ve still got the photocopy from your white board.”
It was an electronic photocopy board, “And I keep it in my dressing-room table, about my goals, and I pull it out and it just brings me to tears to see it.” That’s how important it was. We did that, and the front page, of course of the, started with the dosh, the photocopy letter.
Gosh, that’s a really terrific story. Let’s change the focus now, and you mentioned your long-term and ultimately your last business partner, you’ve had a few of these partnerships during your career, what in your view are the keys to a successful partnership in business?
Look, I did have numbers of business partners or joint venturers if you like along the way, and I think the thing that I learnt, again looking back, it’s all great with hindsight and it’s the thing that you do gain from all those experiences, particularly if you contemplate … It’s not much use having the experience unless you think about it, and I tend to do that. In the previous relationships, there was usually not a lot of time spent and not a lot of sharing of the real intent and the long-term goals of the business and the baggage.
In the last partnership I did, we spent a huge amount of time on values and what we wanted to do, and very specific. Then even down to having a psychologist interview each of us and then to give us a report back so that we could say, okay, so brains might be right, but how are you going to identify when things run a little bit … Whereas the, in the previous situations, look they were all good people, but sometimes for health reasons, sometimes for other personal reasons, the partnerships split up.
Okay, so other than what you’ve just shared, in terms of the time invested in values, which I thoroughly, thoroughly endorse, any other tips about getting in or indeed out of partnerships?
Yes, I think again looking back, the later ones, what I tried to do was not get on the other side of the fence of the partner or ex partner. For example, one of my partners was quite ill, and in fact wasn’t able to work. In that particular situation, it was very difficult for him because he wasn’t out and about, all he could see was that we … I had decided we needed to pull the business apart, because this was going to be a long-term thing.
He felt he probably needed legal advice, well he did, and I said, “You don’t need legal advice, we need legal advice. We will go together. You choose who.” “Oh really, no I thought I’d …” “No, we’ll go together.” Then when we had an issue about clients, well clients of our other advisors, and as I was obviously staying in the business we had to decide, well who’s going to look after these people. He had concerns because he was ill and so on. “Look, what if … You might have all the good clients and I might have all the bad clients or something.”
Again looking back, I did exactly the right thing. I got someone to print out all of the client list. It came out on that foldable paper … This is I’m talking 1992, this particular one, and I just went down the 26-pages, 26 folded pages of clients. I went to page 13, tore it down the middle. Put both parts behind my back and said, “Pick a hand.” He chose, he said, “I could pick all the bad ones.” I said, “You could pick all the good ones, it could be yours regardless.”
What he did, he chose left, I gave him, he got A to M, I got N to Z. We took that to the lawyer and I just said, “This has been agreed to, staple that to an agreement.” That’s what happened. If you can say, “Well, let’s do this together, we’re in this together.” As much as possible, that’s not always possible, but move along together and get to there, rather than confrontation. That’s the solve.
Wow, that’s profound. I have these visions of King Solomon, in yesteryear, so that’s, I think we can all take something out of that. I’d like to move on to something else that you’ve shared with me previously, and that’s your one to five personal rating system that you instigated for yourself and your partner Neil, and just generally what that did and the role that it played in your relationship.
Look Scott, one of the things … Because that in the past I had perhaps been rushed in to or been pushed into various joint ventures or partnerships, I said to Neil that what was going to be essential was that we both understood the outcome. He said, “Look, we’ve known each other for 20 years Gary.” “Yes, maybe, but that was in a different relationship. This is a deal breaker, I want a psychologist, an organizational psychologist to come and interview us both, and give us an opinion on where the good parts are going to be and where the bad parts could be in our relationship, so we know what we’re doing.” “Oh, well all right.”
We did that, I hadn’t even met the fellow before, we got a referral, he interviewed us both, he wrote a report for both of us, then we had to sign to say that he could share that with the other. Then he wrote a report that was for both of us, about how we would get on together. One to five came about because in the small print, and Neil was a much bigger picture person than me, it was fantastic, and I’m much more the detail person.
In that it said in the small print, one thing, that Gary likes to be friendly with everyone, and the thing is you will never know when Gary isn’t quite happy with things, until it could get ugly. I thought back then on my life, and I thought, yes Gary just goes along until he decides enough is enough. Then the full focus is on and there isn’t any backing down. There never has been.
I thought, Neil has never seen this, so I came to them after this and thought, I said, “Neil, I’ve read this report, seen all these good things that have come out, but this is one … From now on when you ask me “How are you going Gary?’ I won’t say I’m good, because I’ll always say I’m good. I’ll say, on a one to five basis, I’ll say I’m a four or a four and a half, or a one, which would be bad, and a five would be perfect.” “Oh we don’t need to do it.” “Yes, when I ask you.”
We used to do that, and if he answered good I’d say, “No, one to five.” Occasionally it might be, I’d be a four if only … But we won’t argue now. Very often, when that came up, there was a two, or vice versa, it turned out the other partner had the strength to come in and say, “Don’t worry about that, I’ll fix that for you.” Amazing, because we were complementary characters, and are, and are still very well.
That worked, and I remember a couple of times I just went in, and I said, “Before you ask, I’m a one, and I’m leaving now to go home.” He knew that one, it was easier for me to say a one than say, I’m really, really getting upset here. Because I probably wouldn’t say it, would I, so it was a way, by saying I’m a one, I was cool. It worked well. Most of the time we were fours and four and a halves, yeah.
Fantastic, well I was so impressed when you shared that with me that I instigated that with my business partner Sharon McClafferty, and that’s how we start all of our partner’s meetings, and yeah, I think it’s been very, very helpful, so the cost of implementing that is zero, and the benefits are, as you found with Neil, could be very profound.
Great, okay, so happily Tupicoffs actually has continued on post your retirement from the business, and that I think is thanks in no small measure to a successful transition from you to Neil. What were some of the keys in this being a win-win outcome for Neil and yourself do you think?
Scott, one of the things … When we got together, we spent a lot of time before we agreed, we had a thing called the project dancing bear, which was our project that we would write out, Neil I must say was the driver in this, and I would make amendments, all of the things that we agreed on, that this business should do, and all the outcomes this business should have, and what values this business should have. Then we would discuss it, and called it project dancing bear, in fact I’ve just looked at it this morning. I still have a copy of it. I don’t tend to throw out too much.
When, we had all of that groundwork done, so, and even down to the fact that I was only working four days a week, and there’s a story on that which I can recount later if you like. He accepted that that was the rule, and that was because there was a 20 year difference in our ages, and I was doing other things. When we decided to separate, and it was always the goal, that I would sell the remainder of the business to Neil, and everything had gone so perfectly, and it really wasn’t any great drama for us then to discuss the exit as well.
I still, in fact I’ve just had my most recent appointment with Neil, only last Friday, he’s my financial advisor still, and that’s been terrific.
Gosh, okay, all right. Well again, there’s any number of things we could pick up. Just briefly on the difference in your number of days that you’re respectively working in the business, that obviously was negotiated and worked reasonably happily.
Yes, look, for people in business, there’s a true story, and I do like to tell to tell stories, because A, they’re true, and they illustrate … And when I think back I said “Why didn’t I actually see that?” I used to go to Canada, as you may know, to get some knowledge and perhaps wisdom from someone who was away from the financial service industry and away from Australia. I used to hop on the plane every 90 days, from 1997 to the end of ’99, so for three years, on Thursday morning I’d catch a flight Brisbane to Sydney, Sydney to Honolulu, Honolulu to Toronto, get there Thursday night.
Did a course for Friday fly back to … The same route, back to Brisbane, and I’d get back maybe about 11:00 on Monday, so Thursday to Monday, and I did that for a time, and that was great. I mean it gave me an extra 10 years in the business, because I was looking to get out because of boredom and so on. I used to tell my staff how important it was that we do get to the values of our clients, and I said for instance one of the things, if the clients can afford to spend the money, maybe they shouldn’t keep working so hard, and get more balance in their lives.
Because I’d been telling this stuff, but they were, that they couldn’t, they had habits that wouldn’t allow them to. I used to say to the staff, “That’s what we all should be doing. Encouraging them, if they want to achieve the goals it’s going to cost them, and if they can afford it, well let’s encourage them to do that.” One day my practice manager came and said, “Look, the staff have had a meeting and they need to see you.” I thought, “Oh heavens, what’s happened here? Am I going to … Is there something, they’re all going to resign.” I said, “Well let’s do it now.”
Closed the door, no calls for me please. Now tell me, we’re going to … He said, “This is … We’ve all had a meeting, and you know how you’re always saying that people have go to live this balanced life, and if they can afford not to go and work so hard, etc, etc.” “Yes.” “Well we’ve decided that you should follow your own advice, so we’ve decided that you shouldn’t come in on Fridays any more. We’ve decided, we’re not going to make any appointments for you any more. Four days a week you can handle, we’ll just arrange appointments for you.”
I thought, “Well I’ve got permission.” I didn’t work Fridays again. Every weekend was a long weekend. That was back in 2000 maybe, maybe 2000. It was a great thing, sometimes someone has to give you permission to do something, that you can’t actually see that you should be doing. I think that’s where sometimes mentors and so on can be very handy.
I said I was really interested in playing in a tennis group on Thursday afternoon, and it was really good, though now I’m only four and he said, “Well basically if you’re dealing with people that can afford not to be working on Thursdays afternoons, and so you’re a marketing person, you should be going playing tennis with them.” I only worked three and a half days a week from then on.
I didn’t expect that … If people gave me permission you should be open enough to say “That fits, I’ll do it.”
Bravo, bravo. I can hear people writing furiously as we speak. I’d like now to pick up on this dancing bear. In an age when business is usually all serious and full of, dare I say Times New Roman font, you had this great big goofy red bear as a symbol of your business. What were you thinking when you introduced that as your logo?
Scott, yes I could have easily gone down the path of having … Well for instance I had, well what I decided to do, I … This was at a point where I realized that financial planning and advice didn’t fit with insurance agency commissions and so on. I wanted to find out what was it that clients liked about our business, and what didn’t they like. I think I’m talking here, it would be the early, early to mid 1990’s, so I had a full survey done of all of the professional firms that sent us clients, I think 20 or 30, and maybe 30 or 40 of my top clients, or the clients that I would say, these are my ideal, if I had ideal clients.
The survey came back, and it showed a lot of things. Then the people said, “What you need” that did this survey, they said, “You need a logo.” “Okay,” They came up with GT, like a fast car, Gary and Tupicoff. They did all these concoctions, and I said, “This doesn’t fit … You’ve done a good survey, but you’re not …” A friend of mine, Bill Bristow, ran a very big advertising agency, and I phoned Bill and Bill said, “I’ll give you our best graphic designer, you just engage her personally, and she’ll help you out.”
She then phoned me, and I said, “Well when do we get together.” She said, “I don’t want to meet you, because what you’re going to tell me is what you think your business does. What I want to see, and what I want to hear is what your clients think, so I want to see the full report.” Well the report of course didn’t show who was what, so I sent her the report and she said, “The other thing is I want authority to phone maybe four or five of each of them.”
I had to check with these people first, would you accept a call? Yes, they would. I went overseas with my wife, for six weeks I think, and I get a fax, somewhere in France, near Rocamadour actually, to say … And it was these red bears doing tumbles across a page, and my PA at the time wrote, I hope you like your new logo. No, that’s to risky, I don’t know about this bear tumbling across the page, so I thought what is this?
As soon as I got back, I did get to meet her then, the graphic designer, and so what happened was, … I said, “How did you come up with this red bear? This red bear tumbling, a big smile and …” She said, “Well, remember you told me that okay, you didn’t want to meet, I didn’t … We wouldn’t meet, but you told me there are two things that were important, one, there’s happy, because you only want to deal with clients that you enjoy dealing with, and they should be happy too.
The second one, it should be Russian, because they looked like your father, your parents I suppose were born in Russia. She said, “So that’s what it is, it’s a Russian dancing bear. That’ll do handstands, tumble, flip over backwards or whatever for the client, and most of all, and with a big smile.” I said, “What about the red.” She said, “Well the Russians are red, so I’ve taken that kind of bear that’s got …” The real strength of that is that because it’s so authentic, this is how they’re thinking, everyone used to ask me, “What’s this about a red bear?” Just as you have.
I’d tell them that brief story, and they would say wow. They knew that there was a basis, that we would stand on our hands, and we would try to make this experience appropriate for them. That’s that story.
It’s a good one, and might I say as an aside, the famous bear continues at Tupicoffs, in fact he’s become quite playful, appearing in various guises in Tupicoffs marketing material and course he’s out on the road. I encourage listeners to check out the red bear photo cub on the Tupicoffs website, where literally the bears been seen spotted at tourist destinations all around the world, and Gary I think you’re hand was in that in part was it not?
Look, I have to give just about 100% credit to Neil for this. We had the tumbling bear and so on when Neil came to join us, but it was Neil’s idea to get some of these cuddly bears manufactured, and we’ve got thousands of them. Then it was also his idea though to give them to our clients, and then for our clients to send in pictures from all over the world, and so there was a lot of involvement, and the people had a giggle about it and so on. It shows just where they were visiting and what was important to them. It was a good … No it was pretty much Neil 100% that one.
Right, right and you’ve only got to see the joy that that has brought, with the photos on the website, to see how successful that’s been. Just changing tack now, Gary there are a few attributes to my mind which are an integral part of your DNA, and I’d like to explore some of these if I may. The first of these is strategic thinking, your ability to step back and look at where you need to be heading. You do this in business and your personal life, even when it comes to master’s tennis, which you’ve mentioned already, is one of your passions.
Is thinking strategically something you do consciously, or does it just happen do you think?
Look, it has grown over the years, but it’s probably more sub-conscious now than it was, but I could give you a couple of examples of … Back when I was only 20, someone introduced me to a book, How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, by Dale Carnegie. At that time … And I read the book, and really I didn’t act on all that much of it, until a pressure point came, and then I started to use that technique.
Then I realized they used other techniques from various books, various sources, advice, mentors perhaps, and I start … And now I like to use a structure, and now when I face a problem I write it out, what I’m going to do, what the problem is, what I’m going to do about it, and then how I’m going to act and go about all that. Now it’s consciously, it wasn’t, but it’s pretty much now I apply it all around.
Can you think of an example …
I can give you that.
Yeah, yeah, that would be helpful.
Well look, one was, some people who may be listening to this will know that there’s such a thing as the Tupicoffs case. Back in the early 80’s I took X of a client. Because I was structured in a particular way they took exception to it, they wouldn’t deal with me, that’s my interpretation, properly, penalties and interests and so on. Basically because they wouldn’t, I instructed my lawyers to … And the lawyers were being practitioners, not professionals, to notify the commissioner that I’ll see him in the Supreme Court of Queensland, never mind about four different … Never mind about anything else, because they wouldn’t deal with me.
When I said that, he said, “You will lose everything. You will lose your house, you will lose everything.” I said, “How about you worry about fighting the case and I’ll worry about where I find the money.” I went ahead though, and it meant that the How to Stop Worrying or Start Living, one of the messages in that book, which I maybe had been, and I think I may have used it before, but this one stuck, I wrote one of the messages is, can you accept the very worst possible outcome?
Because if you can accept it, then you do every damn thing you can to improve it, and you always win that way. I wrote out what the worst was, and worst was that we lose our home. I wouldn’t go bankrupt though, but I could lose my home. Okay, so I was in my mid 30’s, I said, “We can do that.” My wife accepted that, and so I then wrote out all the steps that I needed to do and improve on that position of that I’ve already accepted the worst. It worked, it worked, I had to become a super-heavyweight, because I was a flyweight fighting a super-heavyweight who had huge amounts of money behind them.
I had to do that, so I had to then … How am I going to do that? I found the money, did the fight, I came out with no penalties, no interests, and effectively no great difference in my financial outcome. I wouldn’t recommend it for everyone, but that’s a technique that I found very useful.
Gosh, that’s quite a story, and I remember the case was something that as an administrating accountant, it was developing as I was keenly following it, so it’s very real for me, and to be part of Australian tax folklore is maybe not something you aspire to be, but there it is. The final piece of the puzzle of course is that you come up with a plan, but I mean there’s such an important difference between coming up with the plan and executing it. There’s a certain dedication, dare I say, or relentless drive about you, at this phase.
Do you have any tips for listeners in terms of ensuring that the plan gets executed?
Look, the best way I think I can answer that question is, and again these are techniques that I’ve either learned, perhaps refined or polished up a version from somewhere else, but I’ve been using portions of them over years. What I’m now using, and what I have used for the last probably 15 to 20 years is this, that I actually define what the goal is, and how I will know when I’m there. A very quick example of that is I had a pain in my shoulder, and I’d already had one surgery, and this was going on, 15 years later, and I had more pain and I wasn’t able to play tennis and so on.
Everyone had had a go, all the practitioners had a go, they’d rubbed it, they’d injected it, they’d done everything, but nothing worked. Tennis is an important part of what I do, I just enjoy it so much, so I wrote down, playing tennis, pain-free tennis, but that’s not enough. Then I had to write down how will I know that I’ve achieved my goal? How would I actually know, so that I absolutely know. I wrote out, I will know because I am in Sydney in October 2009. I think the year was, playing in the World Master’s Tennis, Seniors, competitive, and pain-free.
Now that’s about as specific as I could get, and so I had a goal that was very specified, and so I would know if I was successful. I then … The technique is once you’ve got this vision, and I could see myself down there in Sydney, hitting the ball and … Then okay, now again, what are all the obstacles in the way of achieving this? Once you start, you just drop them all on the page, and there is a format to doing it, drop them on the page, until there is not one other obstacle.
If I can overcome all those obstacles then I’m going to get there, okay. That’s the most important part, once you get position, once you get to the obstacles, boy you can knock them over. My first example was, actually I don’t have a … No-one has actually given me a proper diagnosis, what this is, an opinion. What is the problem? Again practitioners, too many practitioners and not enough professionals. I thought to myself, who would know about tennis shoulders? Who would know?
I thought, Tennis Australia’s Elite Academy would know, so I picked up the phone, phoned Tennis Australia’s and asked for the manager of their Elite Academy, Scott Friedman. I said, “Who do you send your elite players to? He told me. I said, “Would you recommend that man to me?” He said, “Of course, we send our top players there.” From then things started to turn around.
That was, now I had someone, I presented my goals to him, he thought about, this was very different. We proceeded … Now I had surgery ultimately, he fixed the problem. In fact I didn’t go to Sydney and play in the World Masters’s, once I got a result and I was back playing good tennis again, I thought, well do I really want to go to a group of strangers in Sydney that year? No, but it drove me there, and I went through all the other obstacles and achieved them all, so I was happy.
Gosh, that’s a really profound story. I guess to me, it indicates that …
Excuse me, but just if I may, I did write out the strategies before, next to them, then I’d take the action. Just there is a plan, and then I’d put times on it and so on. Go ahead.
Right, so clearly this is not just a skill for business, it’s a skill for life, for things that are important to you both business-wise and personally, you can apply the same type of structured thinking.
I do. In fact most of the time is it about personal things, because if you … Why are you doing business anyway if it’s not for personal? I mean why? Bring your values to it, yeah.
To explore this a little bit further, what sort of planning would you be suggesting to somebody who might be listening, who whilst they have their own business, be it by themselves or in partnership with someone else, but happily engaged in doing what the firm does, but with half an eye on the exit. What sort of approach might you take in that situation?
Thinking about that, now what I would do is exactly what we talked about right back at the start. If it’s a three year goal or a five year goal to exit the business or whatever I would ask themselves this question. If I’m sitting here with Gary or whatever, five years from today, which is the date, maybe the exiting the business … What would have to have happened in the business for me to successfully exit this business and be happy with the outcome?
Then it’s up to them to decide what those things are and get them on paper. Have a definite date, have all the things that … For instance to have a certain amount of money, to have a good relationship with ex business partner, are whatever, and what’s important to them. Once you’ve got that down, then get some strategies together to resolve it. I’d break them down actually, I’d break each one down and say, “Okay, to achieve that what are the obstacles in the way of doing that, to achieve that?
You see, it’s no different to my sitting down with those financial planning clients, and asking what would have to happen for you to say it was great. Only the question has slightly changed, it’s what would have to happen in such and such a date for you to be happy with the way you’re exiting the business?
Yeah, great. Okay, so that leads on to the second key attributes of yours that I’d like to explore, and that’s the actually goal setting itself. In this regard you actually write down your goals and regularly review don’t you?
Yes I do do, and again it’s not so regular, but it’s when I realize that I need to do things, then I do them. A very good example Scott, and again looking back and reflection are so important. Sometimes it needs something else to force you to do that. Now it was in 1984, 84 or 85, somewhere around that, I was asked to do a talk on professional advising to a group of other financial advisors. I think it was 86 actually. I thought, well a professional should know why he’s doing what he’s doing, and I thought, hang on, I’ve done this before. I’ll go back on it with them.
In 1971 I found I’d written down some goals in 1971, which I still kept, and I found them in 1984. Well that’s sometimes you can really use a list, and if something prompts you. I had to prepare for this talk for the room, and I’ve got them actually here, and I won’t go through them all, but in 1971, I wrote down, I want at new car, maybe a Volkswagen, for my wife. Remember I was 20 and I’d just started. A swimming pool. I wanted an architecturally designed acreage, I wanted a full and fashionable wardrobe, a piece of land at the beach, etc, etc,
Now in 1984, and I’d never though about this, I was approaching 40, I’d written my goals out, and remember I’m preparing for this talk, and I was feeling very flat at that time, I must say. I was still fighting the tax office, or just finishing that fight. It had been very draining, it had been nearly five years, and I was having to provide for the family and so on, and trying to be successful at the business. Here are my goals, queuing up at this stage, and I hadn’t really thought about this. Compare this to the previous one, about the cars and land and swimming pools and a place at the beach.
Here it is, 1984, less night work, more interesting clients, more time to do what I want to do, high peer recognition, better self-image, try to think as a businessman, no business to be done at home, leave the office leave work, be in the driver’s seat of your own life, not be driven, recognition of my work by my friends and clients as a successful businessperson.
Where was the money? Where was it? I hadn’t realized, except for preparing for this course, that all of a sudden, now wonder I’m feeling flat, I’m still trying to respond to stimuli from that industry where everything was about dollars way back then. Obviously looking at my goals, no wonder I … The dollars don’t drive me at all, so I stopped. As a result of the talk, I gave the talk, and then decided not to respond to … Try to even respond to the financial goals or stimuli any more.
If the stimuli kept going, and sometimes I wouldn’t even go on an overseas trip that I’d won. Or I didn’t … Wouldn’t go to to a conference or I wouldn’t get up on the stage or something. Because I though if it’s not what I want to do, and guess what you can cut one out. I cut my hours back, and I did cut one out, because I was looking at how to have better, interesting clients, be more professional, better self-image, all that sort of thing, yeah.
How do you just I guess check-in with that, this might be the answer, from time to time, to make sure that the stated goals are actually aligned with what you are feeling?
Scott, I’ve just done it again recently. I won’t be too specific, but what I decided to do, it became obvious to me that my priorities was not where I was spending my time. I was spending a huge amount of time in a not for profit I had founded, a large amount of time in a particular activity at tennis, that wasn’t giving me the … What I was looking for, satisfaction. There were a number of points, I had a property that we’re no longer using, that was just costing us and sitting there, and I was on the body corporate.
Those are just some examples. I decided, I’m going to actually compare, are these things still in my top three or four or five goals? If they’re not, drop them, and I have dropped them all. The amount of time now that I’ve got back, it’s so relieving, and then other things have come up, which because I made those decisions to drop those things, I’ve now got those resources, financial and emotional, to deal with the other things, to gradually do it and use it.
Yeah fantastic. As we head towards the end of this conversation Gary, I’d like to delve into being bold, because this is a podcast where I like to explore that. I’m just after an example that you might care to share, and perhaps we can leave aside Tupicoffs case, which I’d call maybe crazy brave, so where you’ve had to be bold in business for example. Circumstances leading up to the situation, what was at stake and the risk associated, and then ultimately the decision you came to, and how that worked out.
Is there anything that comes to mind along those lines?
Look, there are a few, and I suppose the one would be to do with the partnership with Neil, and the change in your fee structure, the way we charged for advice. That was a big leap into the unknown for us, and because I trusted Neil and Neil trusted me, we decided we would do it. I can tell you, we were so wrong about the financial side of things, what the fee should have been, but we hung on and bore the losses, because we were under charging, it just wasn’t part of what I had done before.
We pursued it because we had the goals, we were bold and we stuck to it, and we kept applying the test, what’s the best for the client here. We’re not to be conflicted, we will not be conflicted. It’s not managing conflicts of interest, it’s avoiding them, getting rid of them totally. I think that was a bold step, because I had been doing something for more than 20 years, probably 25 years, and here I was going to jump in and do this, and we followed it through, and it worked, and it worked great, and it’s still doing it for the Tupicoffs business.
It was contrary to what everyone else was doing, and I suppose also when I decided to do public conference speaking, professional conference speaking, to take that message to an industry that really didn’t want to hear it I think, was probably another move, yeah.
It sounds to me that once you’re resolved on the course of action, and you’re quite committed to it, then acting boldly is not such an issue, that in your heart you know what you’re looking to achieve, and it’s simply a matter of following through on that.
Look Scott, in .. And to give the credit, there’s a fellow called Emrick Weatherall, and in 1971 I think it was, I went to a talk he gave, and he was much older than me, he’s long since died, but he had a bad stutter, and so he gave a talk called Peeling a Way to Success. Because saying the letter P for him was just so difficult, he gave a 20 minute talk with barely a stutter. A little rule that I picked up from that, and I’ve used all the time, and it alludes to what you’ve just asked me.
He said, “Once you’ve got a problem, if you establish a procedure to solve that problem, you do that procedure often enough and it becomes a habit. Once you have a habit you know longer have the problem.” That’s what I’ve tried to do, if I can stipulate, tease out what the problem is, develop a procedure to do that, to fix that problem. Once you keep doing that long enough, it becomes a habit, and once you have a good habit you don’t have your problem any more.
By using that, the supporting that use as well, that works for me.
Very good. Very good. Gary these days you enjoy with, and passing on wisdom to others. For example, you recently facilitated a planning session for Sharon and myself at Slipstream Coaching, which was excellent by the way. What sort of engagements are you looking for, and who do you want to work with?
Look I think the … I think the vision that I had, based on the fact of what I’ve been doing since I sold my business, which is now 10 years ago, is if anyone’s seen the movie The Intern, with Robert De Niro, I thought it was so enjoyable, but to see the … All the skills, the wisdom and so on that that character brought to the executives in that particular firm, I see that that would be something that would be very, very satisfying for me.
To be a person in a firm, or in a number of firms, perhaps to be a guiding, or listen to a lot of the up and coming perhaps associates in law firms, or perhaps accounting firms, people who are not, haven’t got anybody to push on there, to give advice and they can come in confidence. I’ve done this in, a couple of times in the financial planning, sorry the financial services area.
People have come to me separately, the firm has paid for them to come along and they just talk to me, but I think more as an engagement thing that would be better, and it would give a lot to everyone, and I’d be very satisfied with at as well. An individual will work fine, but if you want to know what I think would be great for everyone concerned, that would be it.
Yeah that sounds excellent, and I’ve always had you in the wise owl category, so that would be a great way of people tapping into the wisdom that you’ve accumulated. What’s the best way of people getting in contact with you?
Oh it’s probably just phone me, or send me an email. My telephone number is, it’s all on the website, it’s garytupicoff.com.au is the website. That’s 0418 180 990, or the email is email@example.com. I’m happy to have a chat.
Fantastic. Look I’ll put all those detail into the show notes. Gary, regretfully, because I’ve really thoroughly enjoyed our conversation today, as I always do, we’ve come to the end, but I would like to thank you on behalf of the listeners, for what you’ve shared, and hopefully as a result of what you’ve covered, that you’ve provided some really quite thought-provoking wisdom for others to reflect on, and more particularly take action, so thank you very much.
Scott, it’s always a pleasure. Goodbye.
Well that concludes my interview with Garry Tupicoff. We certainly covered some interesting territory. The highlights for me were how Gary applies his approach to problem-solving in both his business and personal life, and how he’s not afraid to review and change his goals when it’s appropriate. Thanks so much for listening. Keep an ear out for future episodes.
I’ve already recorded some other interviews, and have several more lined up, so there’s lots of interesting discussions to look forward to. Until then, onwards and upwards.