A case study: by Peter Sergeant

There is nothing better than watching the world go by in the comfort of a beautiful regional community, where people care and look out for each other. A community where health and well-being are a priority. But, ‘pushing the envelope’ trying to get too much out of your business and your town can become very stressful, and lead to more severe illnesses, as I found out. The last thing you want is to lose all the significant aspects of life you have built up over the years.

Work with what you have to improve health and well-being

It’s not all about building new and better infrastructure. It’s about working with what you have, preserving and enhancing the things in a community which create a healthier living environment. This takes many hand and good collaboration.

But it does mean having plenty of walking and cycling tracks, parks and gardens, and places to simply relax, think, reflect and plan a healthier environment and a healthier lifestyle. Removing rubbish, planting forests, building botanical gardens preserving great scenery and wildlife all add up to the creation of a healthier ecosystem in which people can live their dreams.

When was the last time you just sat and watched the running water in a pristine creek and listened to the frogs? When was the last time you simply listened to the bird calls, or the rustling of the trees? These are the sorts of things which counter bad stress and lead to healthier outcomes. How many special places and walks are there in your community for healthier living?

You might not think a community has much to offer. Well, on your travels, look at the number of places people stop by the roadside to relax and recharge their batteries.

A Boab tree in the middle of the Kimberley WA, a lovely place to sit and contemplate the stressors in your life.

Find a beautiful place to contemplate the stressors in your life

Found in Western Australia, every boab tree is unique, just like communities. They have character and personality as you would expect of such an ancient creature. Some individual boab trees are 1,500 years old and older, which makes them the oldest living beings in Australia, and puts them amongst the oldest in the world.

Aboriginals used the giants as shelter, food and medicine. For the white settlers they served as easily recognisable landmarks and meeting points, and not to forget as impromptu prison cells.

I am always recalling the verandas on the fronts of houses in the south of the USA. Where people just sit and enjoy the ambience in their old rocking chairs. The people in your community also need to relax while staying in charge of their lifestyles.

The question is never why, but how does poor health impact the overall community? Everyone values their health, or they should, but few do very much about it and the load falls on the community and its health professionals.

There are a plethora of things that can be done in a community, to ensure it is a healthy place in which to live. A healthier community all starts with individuals taking personal responsibility for their own and their family’s health.

You can have a healthier life along with a healthier business as businesses can play a vital role in assisting people and communities to improve their health and their quality of life.

You can start to equip yourself to be better able to:

  1. Create a better health and well-being environment at home and in the workplace
  2. Identify causes of health issues you find challenging to deal with
  3. Communicate and help others with various concerns about their health and how they can be related to their business.

No matter how difficult life becomes for someone in the community, there is always something you can do to improve it. Check with your doctor so you know where you stand with your health and then adjust the way you work. You too can get the outcomes in life you want, just as I have.

I remember when I started my first business in 1967, an agricultural machinery sales and service business. How good it felt. I was 24 and just married. We had so much fun struggling to survive in those early years. I remember when the business started to take off. Nothing could stop me.

It became busier and busier. I had to employ more people; everyone wanted us to sell their products. Things were never better and others in the industry started to come and see how we were building this very successful business so quickly. Pressure and stress and poor health were something other people had and besides, I was too busy to worry about it.

Ten years on, we had established five branches and had our dream home. We had formed a great circle of friends and travelled overseas, we owned a 600-hectare farm, indeed all the trappings of success.  I remember saying to myself one day; “it doesn’t get much better than this”.  I thought I knew the true meaning of success; people used to say, I was ahead of my time. 

Drought can quickly undermine your health and well-being

Then it started. The biggest drought in over 100 years. The stress and pressure had begun to impact me. It wasn’t fun anymore. I was owned by the business and working for everyone else. My vision had turned into my worst nightmare. I missed my family, I missed my freedom, and I longed for a holiday. I became tired and everything seemed to be beyond my control.

It was time to act 

I realised I was flying by the seat of my pants, but I was a classic entrepreneur, and desperate to regain some semblance of control.  We had banks, accountants, solicitors, consultants and others advising us. None of them was able to show me how to get off the treadmill and deal with this drought. I indeed began to understand the meaning of stress and what the feeling of emptiness and loneliness was.

In 1980 the decision was taken. The drought was not going to stop. It was time to close the business, it could no longer survive. Had we continued struggling on we would have cost a lot of people a lot of money, particularly in the communities in which we lived and worked. How do you advise 40 long-standing loyal employees, “it’s all over, my vision is shattered?”

I went home to my family and said “It’s too hard doing it by myself, there has to be a better alternative. I don’t know what it is, but we will find it.”  Our friends started to gather, it was like a wake, their generosity overwhelming, but the pain, excruciating.

Look for a new vision to emerge

Within a couple of months, a new Vision was emerging. I enjoyed helping other business.  If only I could find the keys to stop what happened to us. It could restore normality with my family.  It would contribute something worthwhile and restore the sparkle in our lives. Certainly, I felt the stress and worry start to subside

During the next few years, I struggled to understand what had happened to our business.  It wasn’t all to do with the drought. Of course, there were always those people who knew the answers, or at least they thought they did.

I was regarded as a “good planner”.  Maybe I was, but at the time, not good enough.  Even though I had plenty of new ideas and was very innovative, my vision and business direction were quite blurred, in hindsight. 

We were very creative and innovative about operational issues such as getting more sales, improving our procedures and training our people, but health issues never crossed my radar. However, I obviously (to us now) did not spend enough time on the strategic direction of our business and our personal affairs, including health. Nor, I might add did we have the knowledge, tools, processes or advisers on health issues which are available to businesses today.

Outcomes I didn’t bargain on

Well along the way, I was stricken with bowel cancer twice, high blood pressure, diabetes, a malignant melanoma, two heart attacks and sleep apnea.  Oh, and I suddenly went stone deaf in the right ear a few years ago, which my wife Sue said was because I didn’t listen to what was good for my health and well-being.

The more research I did, the more I was convinced most people advising smaller businesses and most corporate and government people really had very little understanding of how a smaller business and its people really worked and the struggles they had to contend with. Most of them had never owned a business of their own. In most of life’s endeavours, people don’t fully understand unless they have been there. I know you only learn most things by doing.

Why do only 20% of businesses starting up survive?

It was the question I had to answers when I needed the most. There was much more to it than most people realise. Smaller businesses seem to quickly get on a treadmill, heading for failure and find it challenging to get off.

As it was with me, most businesses seek advice from professionals, banks and other corporate people, who typically say:

            “You need more sales”.

            “You need more capital”.

            “You need to improve your cash flow”.

            “You need to reduce your costs”.

Sounds good, but they can rarely tell us how to do it, particularly in a language we can understand and particularly when the owner is under extreme personal or business pressure. Without ‘how to…’ they only add to the pressure and stress. They can produce nice looking (and expensive) reports we haven’t time to wade through, let alone act upon them.   When you say show me, they tend to say “ah well”…. and back away.

Understanding health and well-being improves with experience

My Vision became stronger.  My commitment was also becoming stronger, but how do I get the message across?  How do I start to really help the small-medium businesses (SMBs) who make up more than 95% of all business and are responsible for more than 50% of jobs? 

We had several attempts to build a suitable business structure.  It was becoming obvious, any business structure had to provide for better, more practical advice and it had to be affordable. It had to include above all else, business people advising business people; people with experience who had been there and done it; people who had experienced traumas, failures, droughts, floods and the tough times; people who knew what small business was all about.

I started to build a team of like-minded people, people who were in business and understood, people who wanted to really help others to achieve their goals and their dreams.

The vision we had started to make sense.  We ran many hundreds of workshops and seminars, helped people in difficulty and showed people how to discover a clear Vision while understanding they had to address the health issues. We started introducing new opportunities and showed people how to be creative and take advantage of new ideas. Of course, I still run into people who will never make it for many reasons including being too negative, no vision, too lazy, won’t share their thoughts with others who could help, won’t disclose the real truth, to name a few.

Make understanding health and well-being a high priority

The personal health and well-being traumas I experienced and later observed with others started breathing life into my vision faster than I had ever imagined. A view of providing the support I never had and the support and help business people are looking for, particularly in times of drought and adversity.

Now in my 70s how do I feel?  Well, I still have a great family including 5 beautiful grandchildren. I get to meet many people and I get to see many great businesses, all of which are the backbone of our society. I sure have learnt a few things along the way about business and its impact on personal health and families.

I really have had a very fortunate life, particularly now I have learned you can run a great business and health problems can be minimised, if we make our circumstances more positive, not negative.

Quotable Quotes

“Give a man health and a course to steer, and he’ll never stop to trouble about whether he’s happy or not”. George Bernard Shaw

“Luck can’t last a lifetime unless you die young”. Russell Banks

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