Cautious Optimism – and What Really Matters

John O'Neill

Almost 20 years ago, coming off a high after being involved in delivering the most successful Olympic Games ever, I was a somewhat brash entrant into the world of entrepreneurialism.

In recent years I’d learned how aligning good communications with commercial objectives could help deliver amazing outcomes.

I felt I was ready to be a commercial player in my own right and had driven the spinoff creation of new digital business from a media company that had executive produced – at that time, the most heavily trafficked website in history.

In the process, I found myself in business with a leader who taught me a life lesson I appreciate today more than ever – and didn’t appreciate enough at the time.

His name is Phil Kiely and he was an HR guy who had risen to run Oracle in Australia and New Zealand and then set himself up as a venture capitalist. He was an investor and chairman of our company, which came to trade as NetReturn and was ultimately sold to the finance software business MYOB.

One of the initiatives Phil set in motion was the acquisition from administrators of the assets of a former high flying digital agency, Ion Global, which had collapsed in the aftermath of the 2001 tech crash.

PHOTO: “ZOOM Meeting between Komosion and Social Dingo – Craig Greenhill, Nicole Browne,
John O’Neill, Darren Fryer and Tuan Lam”

At the time, Phil asked me what I believed was of most value among the assets we had acquired?

“We bought IP that would help us champion online self-service business models,” I said. “We got access to software and furnishings at about one third of their market value, and we got recurrent revenues from a range of clients …”

“No,” Phil told me. “The greatest assets we acquired are people”, by which he meant the team that had run the former business and their customers. In the face of COVID-19, Phil’s focus on people resonates with me more than ever.

“The greatest assets we acquired … were people”

In May 2020, in Australia, we know there are still tough times ahead but I feel quite a few of us are starting to feel cautiously optimistic that we will get through this and may, in a range of ways, be better for the experience.

Our team and customers are sharing vulnerabilities as well as expertise and creatively working together in quite selfless ways. In the face of such massive adversity, there’s a spirit of generosity and humanity which is spurring new thinking and ways of working.

And I don’t just mean so-called “digital pivots”. Of course, our increased use of digital technology has proven vital. But, for me, it is deep and genuine connections between people that have been really important. It has clarified what really matters most in business – and in life.

Since I wrote in March that we were happy to offer free Strategy Sessions to our clients – to be a sounding board on any issue, concern or positive opportunity they might be thinking about – we’ve provided half a dozen such consultations.

We have spent time with teams from a national charity, a social media start-up, a national industry association, a shuttered hotel group, a local government and global OH&S content and training business.

I can honestly say never has our work felt more rewarding. That offer remains open and, as I said before, we don’t want your money for this.

John O’Neill, Managing Director