Spark Interview with Ian Healy

He spent ten years as a fixture in an Australian Cricket team that was entering a golden era of International success, Was named in the Australian Cricket Team of the Twentieth Century and has been inducted into Australian Cricket’s Hall of Fame in Bowral, but Ian Healy’s career was far from over when he retired in 1999. As a media commentator with channel Nine and a small business owner in partnership with brothers Chris and Cameron Johns, he was just getting started. Ian spoke to Spark recently about the transition from sport to business.

Spark: Many sportspeople have difficulty transferring their sporting success into post-sport careers, did it take you long to move into your media career after retirement?
Ian: No, I went straight into commentary the next week.

Spark: Did you have any training for that?
Ian: No there’s no training. They totally throw you in. I had been doing reports for them for a couple of years leading up to my retirement, so I’d done a little bit of media work – again without training and no feedback. Television’s renowned for not telling you what they want or how you are going. I think it might be because if you’re not comfortable, they don’t want you. They don’t want to tell you anything. If you find something that you can do for them and have a niche, then they might keep you. I don’t think they want to shape you in their mold. They just want to see what you‘ve got and what you can deliver.

Spark: So why the decision to start Hoppy’s Carwash CafĂ©?
Ian: Chris came to me with his business plan. He saw this concept work when he was in Melbourne as the CEO of the Melbourne Storm. He talked to Kev Walters and they both came to me with their business plan for the first one and I just said, ‘Let’s go. I’ll get involved.’ I had been a partner in the Greg Chappell Cricket Centre and I don’t mind (working in a) business and they knew that. I knew them from their football days when we did plenty of cross-promotions with (the Broncos). All our mates said, ‘What are you thinking? A car wash!’ And there were some nervous moments in that first twelve months.

We had to change a culture, change a behavior. Queenslanders quite liked washing their cars on the driveway at home. We knew water restrictions were coming. They were already in place in Melbourne and Sydney. But (their arrival in Brisbane) was eighteen months after we started. Changing a behavior is the most difficult thing you can attempt in business. You want to go somewhere where you don’t have to change a behavior. But we took it on and we’ve got out of it ok.’

Spark: Did you find that the skills that made you a successful sportsman helped with building the business?
Ian: I think the skills we c\had in sport certainly would translate perfectly into business, but in a small business you don’t find time to implement disciplines and qualities that you’ve learnt. Cricket goes for five days, but you’ve got two days to meet and learn and teach those things. The thing with our business is that it’s seven days a week, with shift workers and casuals that aren’t here every day, so you can’t get to them all if you want to teach a session on leadership or discipline. It’s the time factor in small business I reckon that’s so difficult to manage. You can get caught up in the day-to-day. Our business is a high volume quick turnaround. Just supervising that is enough of a challenge let alone finding the time to get people to stay longer for training.After six or seven years now we’re just getting a corporate structure where we’ve got to fall out of love with our separate sites – Chris Johns in Bowen Hills, his brother Cameron in Toowong and me in Norman Park – if we’re ever going to expand.

Spark: Obviously you’re looking to expand Hoppy’s. Where are you looking?
Ian: Yeah, we’re ready to expand. We’ve got to get ten or twelve up and running with our existing standard. We’re looking everywhere. We think Brisbane can probably sustain another one full service model, but there are heaps of different concepts in car washing and we want to branch out a little bit in what we offer. Chris has been extremely good in what he’s started here in Brisbane. In the time we’ve been going, no-one else in Australia has built three full-service car washes, so he’s done very well and we’re looking at other cities, without trying to step on too many toes, as well as looking at some of the regional centres.

Spark: What do you think is needed to expand Hoppy’s, or any business for that matter?
Ian: First of all recruit managers that can do the job of an owner and not think you’ve got to be everywhere every day. Trust people and give them a good run at doing a good job, and then providing feedback and rewards. Hoppy’s is a labour-intensive job that you can get stuck in, but that old adage, ‘Work on your business as much as you can rather than in it.’ You’ve got to do both.

Spark: Do the three of you follow that adage?
Ian: We’re starting to. That may be with our accountants, or it may be with our lawyers when we’re looking at signing a new lease. We did a three day camp with our partners and mahnagers two years ago. That was supposed to be an annual thing but we haven’t done it again. Chris gets busy around footy finals time and I’m business with the cricket. In between we really want to get these businesses going! But I think we do a good job on strategy, even if it’s not a formal get-together.

Spark: When it comes to success in either sport or business, what do you think is needed?
Ian: Talent is never in question if you’ve made it to the top in what you are doing. Passion is. I think some cricketers, their careers didn’t last as long as they could’ve with their talent, because they weren’t enamoured with the everyday grind. I think you’ve got to enjoy what you’re doing. It’s never going to last if you don’t do that. If you can find a business or a job that is suited to your enjoyment levels and your skill set, and if you can tailor what you’re doing to what you enjoy, you’ll never look back and you’ll be hard to beat.

By Neil Donnelly

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