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7 Questions on Leadership with John Perry

Name: John Perry

Title: Managing Director

Organisation: Conquest Capital

I am Managing Director of Conquest Capital, a mid-market boutique Corporate Adviser in Australia, which focuses on providing M&A and capital raising services for typically private businesses valued between A$10 - A$100 million.

Post university, I qualified as a Chartered Accountant and joined KPMG in the UK. After 4 years I transferred to Sydney office (a long-held desire to work in Australia) in 1992 and then moved to a corporate advisory boutique before spending more than 11 years at Macquarie Group (Australia’s leading investment bank), where I rose to Managing Director. Subsequently I joined CIMB before setting up Conquest Capital in 2015.

Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!

I hope John's answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!


Jonno White

1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?

Managing people, but I should also add this is also generally the most rewarding. People management is easy when the team member is aligned with the business strategy, is talented, hard-working, and transparent in communications, but if a person is not a cultural fit, does not have the ability, takes the easy road, and/or is focused on their own personal outcomes, then it becomes difficult.

Managing non-aligned staff is a real headache, saps energy, and sometimes you have to have that horrible conversation that they may be better suited elsewhere. In my current business, which is relatively small, we can’t afford to have poor contributors, so it puts pressure on getting the recruitment of new hires right, which is generally based on a combination of technical questioning, good old-fashioned “gut feel” and a Sydney Swans (AFL team) “no dickhead” policy.

2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?

Mainly through incremental evolution through a variety of roles over my career. By ensuring that I performed my current role to the best of my ability and “delivered for my boss”, I was given increasing responsibility and recognised as somebody that could take on bigger roles.

3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?

My day typically starts the night before when I write me To Do list and try to prioritize what I would like to achieve, although I am not as organised as I would like to be, particularly in relation to continually moving forward with long-term projects.

From 7 am to 8.30 am, it is typically chaos helping get my 6-year-old daughter out of the front door to school! But I grab some breakfast (my most important meal of the day) read the BBC website for global overnight news and sport and check in on local financial updates.

It is not always possible to have as much structure during the day as I would like due to client calls, but when I can I try to focus first on the “big stones” (from Steve Covey - things which have the most meaningful impact on the Conquest business in the long term) for the first half of the morning before the day gets away and I have to respond to more client matters.

At lunchtime, I am very disciplined about exercise and this is scheduled in the diary as a meeting, typically with a group of people with whom I have been training outdoors for 10 years. If it wasn’t locked in the diary as a meeting, it would be too tempting to schedule other work and not to train when it gets to midday. My other priority (which running your own business assists with) is taking part in Tuesday afternoon to help “coach” my daughter’s mixed soccer team.

I get home around 5.30 pm and from then to 8 pm is focus on family time, dinner, putting my daughter to bed, etc. After that, I regularly work until 11 pm typically on less customer-facing matters that require less thought when you are tired. If I do need to draft a report or proposal at night, I never send it that night, but always have a “cold light of day review” before sending it to ensure I haven’t missed anything.

4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?

A key lesson for me is trusting people and stretching them out of their comfort zone so they achieve more than they think they can.

I recall my first day at Macquarie. I got in at 8.30 am as instructed and thought I would have a quiet day getting “my feet under the desk”. In contrast, my boss told me he had booked me on a transaction with PepsiCo and that there was a meeting at 9 a.m. which I would be fronting. He then told me he wouldn’t be attending and that I would be fine leading the meeting. I was fine in the end, but my nerves were shredded!

I try to apply similar principles at Conquest Capital – trusting the more junior colleagues with the responsibility to be able to engage directly with clients without my involvement (e.g. building a financial model, writing an investor presentation) and taking them out of their comfort zone. Obviously, I have complete responsibility for quality control and use my experience to supervise this from a 50,000-foot level.

But their feedback is universally positive and interestingly is a differentiator compared to our competitors who do not seem to allow their interns and more junior staff to interface directly with clients or attend client meetings. The other lesson that has popped up on my LinkedIn feed recently is a Barack Obama video, where he comments to younger workers “Just learn how to get stuff done……let me take care of that”. Great advice.

5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?

My favorite leadership book is actually a book from the podcast series “High Performance” entitled “High Performance - Lessons from the Best on Becoming Your Best”. This is a podcast out of the UK and comprises interviews with sports people, entertainers, business leaders, etc. where they discuss their views on what is “High Performance” and how to achieve it.

This is a multi-faceted book as it deals with leadership, team building, setting goals, dealing with adversity, motivating yourself and others, etc. as described by famous people. Out of these, I think my favorite lessons were from Barry Hearn and Christian Horner. Barry Hearn (founder of Matchroom and responsible for the global growth of snooker and darts) lives his life by the mantra “I burn longer than anyone else……I’m unbeatable…….. You can dim me, you can damage me, but you’re never ever going to beat me”.

Secondly, Christian Horner has successfully led the Red Bull team (initially as the youngest team boss) to dominance in the ultra-competitive Formula 1 by committing to success and finding a way to make it happen, typically through sustained, methodically planned, incremental improvement. All of the interviews in the series connect with me at some level, but particularly these two.

6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?

If you are with an employer, think about the person to whom you are reporting, look at what they need to do to be successful, and “work to replace them”. This will help your boss overachieve and be more likely to be promoted, which will open up a more senior role for you and also ensure that when you are promoted you are ready for that role.

You can then do this in your next role and step up. Rinse and repeat!

7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?

Leading the refinancing of an A$600m debt during the depths of the GFC as a business CEO. We were testing loan covenants daily and there was ongoing pressure and overbearing scrutiny from multiple stakeholders, including the business, lenders, the Board, and equity investors. The entire refinancing process took some 6 months, Lehman Brothers went bust halfway through the refinancing, and at times, it appeared as though there was no way to survive. But we did get through.

What did it teach me? It reconfirmed my view never to give up, ever. That despite issues seemingly being insurmountable, as a CEO you need to keep on leading and trying to find solutions. We did have a refinancing strategy and, whilst it did take time to implement, we eventually succeeded in bringing all of the stakeholders together to find a path forward that was acceptable to all parties.

This relied on careful listening to each of the stakeholders’ issues and objectives and considered communications to lead the parties toward the ultimate vision of what we were trying to achieve. It also taught me that sometimes when there are two options, an easier one in the short-term but a better one in the long-term, you need to be very careful in choosing the easier short-term “sugar-hit”, which is favored by other stakeholders.

Choosing a less favorable short-term option to benefit in the long term may not make you popular, but it is probably the right thing to do.

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