Not every billionaire is wise and generous, but this one is
I am in a privileged position to be mentored by Jack Cowin, and I don't say that lightly, as I know what an honour it is to have someone with his pedigree giving me important lessons and advice on business and life. However, the honour is not about who he is to the outside world that don't know him, as quite frankly, I couldn't give a 'rats ass' as to how wealthy he is or how much money he has made - and that is what most people tend to attach to his name. Those things lack importance in my life, and to his. I am certain that he would not care about how much money he makes, instead he is more interested in the journey and never having to work a day in his life. He genuinely loves what he does, and as a man in his seventies, to still love what you do is quite special.
What he gives me is grounding, perspective and insight into things I don't know, need to be reminded of, or that may cause challenges in the future. He is humble, kind, generous, giving and interested. The latter is of course, what makes him stand apart from all the rest and I noted that at the conference he talked to everyone including one of the speakers primary school aged children. I have met many people in his league, and he is one of the best when it comes to being humble.
Rural and Regional Queensland attracted keynote Jack Cowin to present at #NQECON2016
I asked Jack to speak at the inaugural North Queensland Entrepreneurs Conference which my team volunteered to put on for The World Incubator. The aim was to inspire people in regional and rural Queensland to either start up a business, improve the business they are already in or if they work for someone - bring new ideas to the table.
He immediately said 'yes', and we booked the conference around his schedule. My first concern was heat. In Townsville, it's quite hot in November, and I really wanted him to see the town in its best light. Putting this conference together was hard work, and all of my insecurities came to the forefront. I was terrified that it would fail. Not that speakers would not turn up, but the audience wouldn't see the relevance, the gap too divided. But that ended up not being a worry at all.
The conference didn't fail. People did turn up. Word-of-mouth and social media did get around and we had a number of champions that encouraged friends and even competitors to turn up.
He missed my speech
I didn't know when Jack arrived, but he said when he walked in the room he was surprised by how many people were there, and a little disappointed that he missed my speech. As it would happen, the order of speakers had to change at the last minute as the Hon. Bob Katter, MP, needed to be in Canberra, and Megan Burton from Atlanta had a personal reason why she had to cancel her flight just days before. All legitimate reasons that I totally support, but it does cause chaos. Lucky for me, in the back of my mind, I knew that there needed to be a tech speaker and a retail speaker, and my good friends Linus Chang and Kylie Marie Elms filled that gap quite easily.
However, what it meant for me was that not only did I have to open the conference, I had to also do a keynote first up and sort out the few technical issues we were having with setup on the fly. That happens when you are having a regional event, where the infrastructure isn't quite what you see in a sophisticated setup. We also ran out of time on so many things, as we have a day job too.
I was sad he missed my speech as he was flying in from a whirlwind return from overseas, meetings and speeches in Brisbane, and then The North Queensland Entrepreneurs Conference. That very minor disappointment went away because I realise that he knows my story and he lives it through me sharing openly my successes and challenges.
Jack Cowin intimidated me
For years, I was intimidated by Jack Cowin, although he still mentored me and was someone I would go to if I had a problem personally or professionally. I had him on a pedestal and still do, but with my own confidence and comfort in my own skin developing, I have lost the intimidation and really can say anything to him whether I fail or succeed. I know I am never judged, only encouraged and empowered.
We now can challenge each other without me feeling like I am being slapped over the wrists. I take on-board nearly everything he says as he is so much wiser than me, but I also trust my gut instinct as well.
Before his speech, I gave him a breakdown of the crowd and with a tongue in cheek said, "no big-noting, the crowd doesn't like that". Of course, he has never, ever told me of any of his accomplishments or even said that he had succeed in something. He sometimes tells me about challenges or I read about something and ask him about it, and he sets the record straight.
No big-noting allowed
With his light-hearted sense of humour, he started his presentation with "Mellissah said I wasn't allowed to big-note". The crowd laughed. I think they laughed more at the fact that I had the audacity and confidence to say that, not knowing that it was very much a tongue-in-cheek conversation. Nearly everyone in the room other than the speakers, had never met a billionaire before, and quite respectfully they thought the comment was funny and that he clearly had a sense of humour to laugh at it.
Jack's speech will have an impact on North Queensland for many years to come. His suggestion that we focus on tourism from the Chinese market, growing our own produce and invest in agriculture, sell education to the world and a number of other pearls of wisdom made a huge impact on the crowd. Everyone had take-home value, and that is exactly what they came there for.
10 Life Lessons by Jack Cowin
His 10 life lessons are something we should all live by whether we are entrepreneurs or not.
- If you lose your health, nothing else matters.
- If you lose your integrity, no amount of success will be meaningful and no amount of success will matter. You have to look in the mirror and be happy with what you see. Be humble. Know that you have to be able to deal with people, so learn that trait.
- Control your own destiny.
- Be prepared to take some risk, but don't bet the farm.
- There are no shortage of good ideas, but never fall in love with a good idea. Don't fall on your sword because you fell in love.
- Don't wait until the dogs are barking at the door to do things.
- Get some money out of the business, so that when a good idea comes your way, you have money to invest in that opportunity.
- Model what you are doing to do, and test it. Don't put all your money on something without research and testing the market.
- Family: Find a tolerant partner and be kind to your children, because they are the one's who are going to be checking you into a nursing home.
- Focus: You can't be everything to everyone. There is no single formula for success in business - remember that.
And last, but not least "Never, never, never give up".
He also reminded us that "big companies bet that the little guy will give up" so always keep that in the back of your mind.
Jack Cowin was followed by another speaker, Tania Nugent. A television veteran and humitarian who works tirelessly in bringing important issues to the forefront. The comments from the crowd were that they felt like "Angelina Jolie was giving a keynote speech at the United Nations" and I have to say, it felt like that. Every woman had tears in her eyes and every man, a lump in his throat. She talked on her family history and what role her mother and grandmother played in bringing women's issues and equality to the forefront. Her father, an Englishman who married a native PNG woman and United Nations Ambassador, had to endure a segregated community that didn't allow "whites to mix with natives". The role her family played in pushing for equality and breaking down racial barriers is momentus. If you ever get a chance to hear Tania Nugent speak, both Jack Cowin and myself think she is one of the best speakers we have ever heard in our lives.
Thank you Jack Cowin and Tania Nugent. You both are incredible friends, and once Alex Waislitz asked me the question "who I would pick to have at my table if I could choose anyone in the world", and I picked you both. We all lack time and that is the most important thing in the world when it comes to people that matter.