David Werdiger has the magic touch. As a businessman in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Werdiger created a number of companies and each became more successful than the previous. However, Werdiger suffered a health setback that made him take stock of his life and re-evaluate his career. After working 10-plus hour days, six days a week for years, Werdiger knew he had to change his life.
Werdiger parlayed his success as an entrepreneur into helping other business owners. His book, Transition, became an International Bestseller and it received praise from all corners of the globe. Werdiger not only created an informative and helpful book for business owners, but he became an in-demand speaker. Werdiger shares his knowledge, experience and advice with audiences as he helps CEOs and company presidents take their lives back from the jaws of burdensome businesses.
Recently, Totalprestige Magazine sat down with the highly sought after speaker, writer, and business coach to pick his brain about a number of topics. Werdiger spoke to us in-depth about his career, book, one-on-one coaching and how he changed his life from burning the candle at both ends to the one he leads today.
David, you have been a successful entrepreneur, bestselling author, and in-demand speaker. Firstly, tell me how you started your career and about your early ventures?
After completing university studies, I was itching to get a job. I started as a software developer for a large stockbroking firm, then spent a year at the same firm in the research department as a quantitative analyst, which was a relatively new thing for the time – late 1980s. While working on that job, I started importing niche software development tools from the US on the side. Before too long, I decided to bite the bullet and leave full-time employment to focus fully on the software import business as well as custom software development. Unfortunately, the import part of the business eventually fizzled, so I decided to focus on software, which was what I knew best anyway. But really we were just selling time, and there is only so much of that one can sell. In the back of my mind, I wanted to be a software vendor instead.
In 1989, you established the Billing Bureau company as a solution to problems businesses and individuals have when it comes to billing and payments. How did the concept for the company and software come about? How difficult was it to get people to invest in your vision in the late 1980s?
On one level, it came about purely by chance, but on a deeper level, it was destiny. The custom software development business was purring along for a few years, and I had a few other developers working for me. I had moved into a new office, but because the fit out wasn’t yet complete, my developers were using some unoccupied space elsewhere in the same building. As it happened, someone else was also using that space, and he was in the process of establishing a new phone company. He approached my people and said, “Can you develop a billing system for me?” I met with him, discussed the requirements, and although not having done anything like that before, responded with a resounding “Yes!”
On reflection, my entire career as a software developer revolved around dealing with huge datasets. Firstly at the stockbroking firm, then as a quant analyst. In my own business, the projects that came my way involved lots of data, so it seemed only reasonable that I would end up building a new business making sense of millions and millions of phone call records.
The businesses – both custom software and billing – were self-funded, so getting people to invest in the vision wasn’t the challenge. The billing business got started in the mid-1990s, just as the Australian market was deregulating. After developing and selling the initial billing systems the traditional way, we adapted the delivery model to a service bureau – what people nowadays would call SaaS. It was exactly the delivery and pricing model that startup telcos needed, so it was easy to get their buy-in. As an entrepreneur, this is a perfect example of there being signs of the direction you could or should be going in your business. At the end of the day, you just have to be open to these signs and act on them when the opportunity arises. If you do that, the direction of your business and life could be set on a path you never thought of but thoroughly enjoy.
You created three seven-figure businesses from scratch and you are a self-professed serial entrepreneur. What was life like for you during those heady times? How many hours and how much work were you putting in each day?
It was pretty crazy. Once the billing business was going well, other related opportunities for new businesses popped up, and I just had to take them. Like many business owners, I got caught in the trap of working in my business and not on it. I was working 10 hours a day on average, six days a week. In addition, we had a young and growing family. Fortunately, my wife was comfortable in the role of mother and homemaker – when we travel, she lists her occupation as “CEO of Domestic Affairs”. We are Sabbath-observant, so one day a week, I was able to switch off from the computer and work, and had some quality family time. The more I worked, the more I appreciated that weekly respite.
There was a time when you were incredibly invested in the businesses you created and ran. Due to the strain, you experienced health issues that took you away from the day-to-day stress of the companies. How did the strain of running large companies affect your health and make you rethink how you work?
I was able to maintain this for quite a few years without really feeling the effects. When things are going well, you just keep forging ahead, taking on more and more, and you feel invincible. But then it sort-of crept up on me almost out of nowhere.
I clearly remember the moment when I noticed the first symptom – standing at the elevator with my briefcase in hand waiting to go home, and there was this strange weakness in my hands. It started to affect me more frequently while grabbing or holding objects. That led to a diagnosis journey that took several months and a number of specialists, and was itself, very scary. It messes with your head as much as with your body, and you imagine how your life could be decades in the future. Needless to say, it was a very different picture from what I had always imagined.
The diagnosis was a rare, degenerative autoimmune disorder – but rather than giving me some certainty, it was a dive into a whole new world of unknowns. There is no known cure for this condition. Treatments work, for a period of time, and then cease to be effective. No one dies from it, rather they tend to end up crippled for life. The treatment regime was quite unpleasant – it took several days each month because of the side effects. But more than that, the whole episode was a wake-up call to the lifestyle I was living. It simply wasn’t sustainable for me to work 60-plus hours a week. My body was probably telling me this for quite a while, but I didn’t listen until it got this bad. So, part of dealing with the condition was learning to listen to my body.
I was already on a journey of stepping back from some of the day-to-day aspects of the businesses, but this was like a call to arms to change my approach to how I worked and how I engaged with my businesses. It was the start of reshaping my business life completely.
David, you work in consulting businesses as a direct effect to the health issues you faced. Tell me about the consulting work you do with companies and how can you change the way a business is run?
I work predominantly with business owners, because change within a business comes from the top down. Many owners end up being indispensable in their businesses and are slaves to the business. This can come at the expense of their families and their health. So, I help owners develop a vision of their wealth creation plans – vis a vis their business – and how they want their lives to look, and help them understand their priorities. We use this to review their own role as leader of the business and the leadership structure. Often, their goals and priorities need realignment to help them realize they are building a genuine asset, not a lodestone around their own necks. The goal is to make your business sale ready, even if you never actually sell it. By doing that, the business becomes a tool that allows you to live life on your terms.
You are a bestselling author and your book, Transition: How to Prepare Your Family and Business for the Greatest Wealth Transfer in History, has been widely regarded as a fantastic business book by major media outlets. Why did you decide to begin writing books and what can the average businessperson learn when reading your works?
I actually failed high-school English, so ending up as a published author has been an incredible journey for me. My writing developed late, initially through business blogging. I’ve written over 300 articles on my site and several other blog platforms. Now, I just love writing and sharing ideas. Pity my English teacher is dead – he’d be pretty surprised to hear that! After finishing a Masters of Entrepreneurship, I decided the next challenge would be to write a book instead of doing a PhD. Actually, my second book is well underway and that’s a big idea book about the impact of social media on society. My aim with that book is to get people thinking about the things that are happening in their lives that usually just pass them by.
Transition came about due to the experiences I had from being born into a family with a successful and eventual multi-generational business. There are many latent issues in families that have wealth and/or a family business, and rarely are these issues ever discussed. Too often, the focus is on the day-to-day. But you can’t keep sweeping issues under the carpet. So, the book is about helping family members of all generations develop an understanding of the generational differences in a family, how to bridge those differences, and build a stronger and more resilient family. It’s about having a healthy attitude toward family wealth and the family business, so people can avoid the old cycle of “make it – grow it – blow it”. The fact that the book became a #1 International Bestseller and was the #1 book in all of Amazon during its launch is still hard to wrap my head around. To hear about how it’s changing the lives of others who are going through the process of transitioning their wealth and business to the next generations definitely makes it worth the effort.
Speaking to groups and companies, along with consulting, keeps you in-demand around the globe. Who are some of the businesses you have spoken to, and what lessons do you share with them?
I’ve spoken at many conferences for high-net-worth families and business around the world. I cover topics such as the culture of wealth, how families – especially subsequent generations and family offices – understand entrepreneurial risk, and how to adapt to generational shifts in the approach to investment and philanthropy. I have some talks coming up about dealing with death, and about greed and envy in wealthy families. All of these issues exist in most families, but people are loath to talk about them. I love bringing those issues out into the open, so families can better deal with them; because once those things are dealt with, the business is much more free to grow the way it needs to, in order to better serve the family. My experiences speaking led me recently to create a private mastermind group exclusively for owners of high-net-worth family businesses. The more I spoke with people after my speaking engagements, the more I realized that there are little to no resources for people like us. There’s little opportunity to work through personal feelings within a small, safe group of people in similar situations. So, the mastermind is that safe space and a sounding board to really work through the challenges we face so we can become more effective leaders and communicators.
Can you tell me about your Master Your Business, Master Your Life Coaching Intensive program? Who are the ideal people for this program and can the lessons learned be adapted to all types of businesses?
This is an intensive one-on-one coaching program specifically for business owners who are caught up in their own business. I give them the benefit of my experience and help them take back control of their lives, so they can avoid the, often disastrous, consequences of burning the candle at both ends. The benefit is a stronger business that has far greater intrinsic value. The lessons – in terms of company leadership, delegation, value creation – are applicable for all businesses. Sometimes, it just takes having an unbiased, additional set of eyes on the challenges your business is facing and someone who has “been there and done that” in order for your business to move forward. That’s what my one-on-one coaching program does.
As a consultant, coach and serial entrepreneur, what is the biggest problem most business owners make today and how would you fix them?
Business owners don’t spend enough time on company culture and governance. They develop risk mitigation plans, but often don’t realize the risk that sits with them, if they have to make sudden changes to their own lives. Being indispensable means you can never take a vacation. It means the business loses money when you’re not attending to it constantly. It means that if something happens to you tomorrow, the business won’t survive.
The solution is to understand the governance and custodianship aspect of being a business owner. It’s not just about running your business on a day-to-day basis, it’s about building and creating something of value to you and to the world you serve. So culture and governance have to become conscious and integral parts of ownership, rather than afterthoughts.
Finally, as a consultant, what advice do you give to anyone starting a new business in 2018?
Lots of business owners seek to mimic tactically what other successful people have done, but that is impossible because success is achieved within a certain context and that context can never be replicated. What they should do instead is understand why businesses fail, and seek to avoid making those mistakes. I also believe that you should learn from others who have already achieved what you are looking to accomplish in your business and life. In today’s world, information is readily available, but real experience and wisdom are in short order. Having mentors who have your best interests at heart, who can guide you, teach you, and push you through your own barriers is more valuable than all the information you can find online or in a textbook.
For more information on David Werdiger, please go to his website www.DavidWerdiger.com. If you would like to purchase his book, Transition: How to Prepare Your Family and Business for the Greatest Wealth Transfer in History, please visit www.TransitionBook.co.