Is London ready for Julius?
It was 2004 and I was flush with cash, having sold ENTECH and just completed a Government funded training tour of the top end with Crocfest. My registered training organisation had just moved into our Rydalmere campus, freshly accredited and were running Certificate III courses in technical training, theatre and events.
With my usual bluster and overconfidence not yet fully diagnosed, I had all the optimism of a cat in a cellar full of mice. We were doing the planning for our first full time intake in 2005, for the Diploma of Technical Production, Theatre and Events. I'd closely noted the outstanding successes at SAE – School of Audio Education, and JMC Academy. The dialogue I was having as I visited every major venue and production supplier was uniformly upbeat. I was on a roll.
Whilst leaving most of plotting the full time course with John Grimshaw, my head of college, I set about The Next Phase. Massive upscaling. Where better than Brittan? We are aligned in many ways, and the theatre industry there seemed to have the same training gaps I imagined here. "We're going to PLASA (a tradeshow that I had modelled ENTECH upon) in September", I told Janelle (wife #2). "And we're going Thai Royal First Class!"
It was. Nested in the nose of the 747 we were pampered and catered, champagned and canape'd. All before the caviar. Stuffed full and sozzled we settled into our suite at The Peninsula, the fragrances of Bangkok washing up from the river below.
The genesis of this immediate expansion into London was sown a few years earlier when Caroline (wife #1) and I were duchessed by John Offord, the chief executive of PLASA. He flew into Sydney, checked into the Brittish Club in Macquarie street, and met us at Level 41 in Chifley for an expansive – and expensive – dinner. He paid. PLASA at that time had a deal with P&O Events, a storied UK institution, who ran PLASA under contract.
Offord wanted to buy ENTECH and install Caroline as Asia/Pacific head. It almost happened, and is detailed in my book, 'This Could be Serious' in chapter 29: 'A very British Matter'. But it had opened my mind to the synergies, leading to this foray.
The plan was to find a joint venture partner, at a time I had a lot of faith in 'single purpose partnerships', best defined as 'very limited ventures that existed for one purpose'. Indeed that was what SECTECH Roadshow was, created in 2014 and supposedly robust in purpose. That model collapsed last year in an ocean of lawfare, so my 2004 self could have benefited from some long foresight. Who wouldn't?!
First I needed the imprimatur (approval) of the Association of British Theatre Technicians. I worked all my connections and decided the muted noises I got in return were encouraging. A meeting was scheduled. The Thames Foyer at the Savoy did a nice afternoon tea, so I invited the assistant secretary of ABBT for a chat. The fact I had the underling should have encouraged caution was whisked away, and I charged into all the reasons why the UK needed my technical training, and all the reasons why only someone from Australia could bring this on.
It was underwhelming. Marybelle looked uncomfortable through the entire Devonshire tea service. It reminded me of the meeting I'd had with Anne, a Director of the Audio Engineering Society (AES) of New York. She scheduled a breakfast meeting with me at the Sydney Hilton in 1999 to discuss aligning ENTECH with the Australian arm of AES, only to discover minutes prior that I was non-persona grata with AES. She had called the President who advised her that I was an enemy. Which she told me, in halting talk, because she had been shot in the face in a home invasion in Vegas the year prior.
Clearly ABTT (and AES) didn't share my simple sunny optimistic visions. I have no idea why. But wait, of course I do. It's 2023 and I know myself now, sitting with Katie (wife # 4) who has a very sensible grasp of reality. So I moved on to the next steps in the UK College expansion. A partner.
Somehow I flushed out a production company in Surrey, about an hour out from London, and a series of discussions happened which stumbled over how much I would or should reveal, and how we may validate our values together. I was fixated on common purpose and equity, and couldn't figure out on my own how to structure this kind of deal. More significantly, I didn't have the right network of older mentors to turn to. I was mostly on my own – Janelle was mum to four girls – three of hers and one of mine who lived with us.
Back in Sydney the pathway to greatness was getting complicated, as John and I reviewed the framework and the planning for the Diploma classes. Not to mention the enrolment targets that Amalia, our college manager, was chasing. Steve, my GM, had a worried look all the time which was his natural disposition, but I started to get cold feet on the whole idea of expanding before you actually started.
And that's what a 'start-up' looks like today, a visionary with a big mouth stands up and does 'elevator pitches' and runs decks of presentations with info graphics and colourful stuff. Oh, and wife #3 didn't get into this or many tales, because she (Karen) was with me once the college got properly moving in Sydney, through to the end of it. And for a while longer. Those were the quiet, difficult years, when the dreams become a hard-scrabble day to day reality. When I went personally bankrupt. Not much fun for K.
These are the travails and the cul-de-sac's of entrepreneurism. You have a blinding vision and then you get snookered by details. Bit like our ENTECH America project which (see Chapter # 52, 'USA MOONSHOT') almost got there – and thank goodness it didn't because Covid would have wiped us all out.
My next big idea? None of your business!
Postscript: I bought ENTECH back for 1.5c in the dollar.
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