Client Story – Jeremy Nichols, Composure Group

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When asked to describe his life using a film title, Jeremy Nichols, Founder and Managing Director of the Composure Group, answered “Life is Beautiful” and it’s not hard to see why. Jeremy has qualifications in Health Management and a MBA, he played for Melbourne FC during University and has been on the Board of the Club for 4 years. He founded Composure in 2013 after 20 years in the consulting industry. The group has a deep knowledge of human behaviour in an organisational context. They bring passion, energy and intelligence to helping organisations to play at their best, with a vision  based on Strategy, Culture and Leadership. When dealing with clients Jeremy sees culture as the elephant in the room “We all know it’s there but we’re not willing to confront it, we are not willing to talk about it, we are not willing to actually deal with because it’s often confronting”. He recently spoke with some of our younger staff members at Moore Stephens Vic.  

Tell us about your background
 
I graduated with a Bachelor of Applied Science, which got me into health management. My first job was to do health checks for executives, and I followed on by selling these programs – this was the late 80’s where you could sell anything to anyone.
 
I then moved on to financial planning before getting into consulting. After various chats with my best friend’s father – who owned a consulting firm – I knew what I wanted to do and said to him: “I’m coming to work for you!” I was 27 at the time, and he said they only took people over 30 because you need to have the experience. I told him I had plenty of experience and questioned why it needed to be measured in years (I was kind of abrasive and bold at this point in my life). But I knew that that was what I wanted to do, and after badgering him for 3 months he gave me the job.
 
He’s still my mentor today. Wonderful man. I basically went from not knowing anything to owning and running Composure. It was a pretty amazing experience. So to supplement that I did an MBA, so I’m more business orientated, I just happen to have lots and lots of experience dealing with people, and I’ve learnt a lot from the psychologists, HR, etc. However, I’ve learnt the most from my clients over the years.
 
What did you do with your first paycheque?
 
Bought a suit?!
 
What was the trigger that led you to starting your own business?
 
I started my own business after 25 years in the industry. For about 5-6 years my mentors have been saying “you need to get out on your own. At the time, the company I was working for went through some environmental changes; new CO and a change in culture. The environment was no longer acceptable for what I wanted to do.
 
Seeing as your business is based around culture how would you describe the culture at Composure?
 
Creating a business from scratch means you get to shape it the way you want to shape it. Part of my driver was to create a place where consultants can grow great careers and really develop themselves. To do that, you need a really great culture within. And you know it’s easy and it’s hard – it’s hard because the more people you bring in there’s always an adjustment phase and I’m much more a type of leader that engages people, but I’m also really clear about what I want and what I don’t want and making sure one of the critical things in creating a great culture here is making sure you don’t get the wrong people in.
 
It is much easier starting from the ground up in creating the culture you want – you have to get the right people and to get the right balance between people voicing their opinion, but also being able to enforce the direction that you want for the business. I think that’s the biggest problem faced by any business.
 
Why the brand “Composure”
 
I come up with my best ideas at 3 o’clock in the morning and composure was a key leadership quality we talked about in a previous business that I was part owner in. The business was Mettle group and John Eales, one of Australia’s greatest rugby players, captain of two World Cups, brilliant guy – well I was in business with him and given his sporting background we spoke a lot about composure as a leadership quality.
 
Composure in tough times is what distinguishes between what is good and poor leadership. In a sporting setting, it’s when you have to deliver and kick that goal. You need composure, and it doesn’t just happen, you need train for it and prepare for it. And that’s what we do, we prepare leaders for those moments.
 
What is the most challenging part of running your own business?
 
There are two things: Firstly, cash flow. Cash flow is the absolute killer. With Composure, it was my money, not someone else’s. That’s probably the underlying thing that makes me nervous, makes me hesitate, makes me not play at my best as much as I think I could. Even though we’re not a massive business, we are growing, and I have expenses and employees to pay. I think for any small business good cash-flow management is absolutely crucial, so I’m really conscious of it without being pedantic. But we now have an excellent system in place to be able to make it work, and the Moore Stephens guys have helped me create that and put in good financial systems.
 
The other part is constantly getting talent to keep driving towards a collective common goal, to have a common vision. I’ve managed lots and lots of consultants over the time, and we’re a unique beast, we’re not short of an opinion, and we will always have a particular angle, so it’s helping staff understand that their opinion is not always correct. One of my main criteria is that when hiring people, I look for employees who are more team orientated than individualistic – because it’s the only way it’s going to work in the end.
 
What is a mistake that you have made which turned out to be a blessing?
 
I’ve made lots and lots of mistakes as you do – I believe that unless you’re striving forward and willing to make a mistake, then you’re not pushing yourself hard enough. I, by nature, try to grow people by giving them opportunities and there are some people over this journey who have taken advantage of that. Sometimes it turns out a person isn’t who they say they are. So I’ve had a few experiences over the years where I’ve trusted people and saw the opportunity – but turned out to be wrong. Sometimes people can take you for a ride and end up costing the business money. From these experiences, I have learned to listen to other people’s perspectives or judgements of certain individuals. My wife is particularly good at this, she will always warn me, and intuitively she’s always right!
 
What’s the hardest thing you have ever done?
 
I’m working on a book at the moment – the working title is the power of culture – that’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Seeing as I’ve been talking about it for at least 5 years – I’ve finally realised I need help – I have a guy – we went away for 2 days and basically structured the book, working my way through the chapters. As a business strategy, if I get this right and people think ‘oh he’s got a book’ and it’s reasonably good – then that will set the business up in the future in a whole raft of different ways. So it is a good use of my time – it’s easy to say ‘I’ll work on this, or plan this’, but actually forcing myself to sit down and write is the hardest. And I like writing, so that’s the irony, but I’m finding it really challenging to get my head into it.
 
What advice would you give your 10 year old self?
 
Find your best way to study. I learnt by experience and observing others [comes from being the 6th child!]. In all honesty, I didn't discover how to study effectively until I did my MBA. If I'd known then how to study, who knows I might have been a doctor ... or an accountant!! 
 
Where has Moore Stephens added value to your business? Apart from managing cash flow?
The critical thing for me, by being in this space, is giving me more time. So if I’m not stressing about things like getting money in, getting invoices paid, paying people, I can focus on seeing the bigger picture. So you have to get the basics really efficient, and thinking how can I structure my affairs in a way that is relevant to me and what we can do to be able to set up for not only now, but for the future. The Moore Stephens guys – Michael Bryant - have done really well in setting us up for success.
 
For more on Composure Group  - see http://www.composuregroup.com.au
 
By:
Jordan Nankervis - Graduate
Stephanie Leung  - Intermediate
Greg Stanogias    - Senior Accountant
As part of MSVs ongoing staff development program