Exploring the qualities of successful leaders
With Brett Kelly, CEO of Kelly Partners.
Hear how Brett Kelly, founder and CEO of Kelly Partners, got to speak to some of the most influential Australians at the age of 22 and how this inspired him to create his own business. In this fascinating episode, Brett also explores what he’s learnt about people management from some of the world’s best leaders and how he maintains a passion for his work.
Matt Heine: Hi and welcome to this episode of Between Meetings. Today I'm delighted to be joined by Brett Kelly, CEO of Kelly partners. Welcome to the show, Brett.
Brett Kelly: Hi Matt, how are you?
MH: Now Brett, we've got a whole range of things that we could talk today, talk to. I thought though for our listeners, it would be great if we could just get a bit of background on yourself and how you started Kelly Partners.
BK: Matt, I left school at 18 and I was going to be a barrister, but I ultimately wanted to end up in business, so I took an undergrad cadetship at Price Waterhouse. I spent five and a bit years there. I moved to an investment banking independent corporate advisory business working with some really amazing people, but I lost my job and I then didn't know what to do. My dad said to me, "Here's a great book." That book basically said, "Meet people who have been successful and find out what they did." Now having worked in an investment bank and corporate advisory, I thought it was another job that looked shiny on the outside, but really wasn't that much fun on the inside. I thought, what I'll do is I'll write to 80 prominent Australians, and my letter basically said, "Look, my name's Brett Kelly. I'm 22. I'm unemployed. I'm keen to learn if you'll spend an hour with me and answer my 11 standard questions, I'll put it in a book and get it out to other young people who are keen to learn. Give 50% of the profits to a charity." That was in 1997.
I made five and half thousand phone calls, got 34 of the 80 people I approached to speak to me face-to-face one-on-one. People like for the Victorians Jeff Kennett, Malcolm Fraser. Up here there was Gerry Harvey, John Symond, Aussie Home Loans, Rod McGeoch who led the 2000 Olympic bid and HG Nelson, Peter Brock down there in Victoria. All sorts of interesting people. What I was trying to find out was, what is it that makes people who can achieve their goals different?
So I walked away from success as the idea but rather, what is it that helps people achieve their goals? What is it that makes them different. As a young person, to be able to get face-to-face and ask someone like Bob Hawke, "When did you know you wanted to be prime minister, and was it the sort of job that you thought it was going to be? Did you enjoy it as much as you thought you would? Was it worth all the time and effort you put into it?" I thought would be a worthwhile exercise, because I had read a book where they said, "Be careful the ladder of success that you climb because if it ends up, up against the wrong wall you have to climb down and move the ladder."
I was then, dad gave me this book and one of the things that popped out was, learning leads to earning. Read a book every week, which I've done virtually every week ever since. I started meeting these amazing people. Now, most people don't grow up next door to an Olympic champion or a billionaire or a prime minister and so they don't really know first hand what it is to be able to achieve your goals. If you think about the meaning of life, or what can make you happy, or whatever your goal is, just knowing how to get from where you are to where you want to be, or do those things that are in your heart that you really feel passionate about, you don't learn that at school. I had a couple of degrees, a Masters degree. I was a chartered accountant. I just didn't know how to do that.
I wasn't the son of anyone in particular. Although my dad was a great guy, loved me, gave me a great education and some great inspiration, I just didn't know what to do. So, basically I put all my money into that. Raised some money, self published it, made it a national number one best seller, did 200 professional speaking engagements off the back of it. Then I went back ultimately into chartered accounting, which I'd read everything Warren Buffett had written since I was 16. I thought chartered accounting was a great business, but often badly done. So, really, I thought, look I'll get qualified and ultimately look to own a chartered accounting business.
What I found was, chartered accounting is a really dynamic industry, full of energetic people that really want to change the world. Actually that's not what I found. I found quite the opposite which is, it's an industry that, while it's enormous and there's an incredibly privileged opportunity to help the client, largely the accountants sit there more concerned about themselves and half asleep than they are about the client. So, in 2006 my boss had said he'd make me a partner if I did X. I did two X and then he said, "Oh I need to change the deal because I didn't add up the numbers right." I said, "Mate, I can't really work with somebody I trust." He actually said to me, "You could go across the road and start your own thing, but you got a young child", nine month old, my first son Thomas, "You might not get a cash flow, so you might starve. So maybe our offer is not so bad." If somebody treats me like that, it's not always the best way to relate to me.
So, I actually did go across the road and within 12 months we were, I think the 75th largest firm out of 13,000 firms in the industry. We went from zero to 4.2 million in billings in 12 months across the North Sydney and Central Coast office and I basically took all of the silly ideas that I had and said, "Well what would happen if I just tested my own ideas?" I wasn't confident that I could do it better than other people, but I was sure as hell confident I couldn't do it worse.
So, basically I sat down with all these books I'd read, over 3,000 books. I'd met some of the most extraordinary people in the country by then. I'd written two books. Launched first one at National Press Club with Senator Natasha Stott Despoja, the second one was launched at National Press Club to a live television audience of about 300,000 people by Malcolm Turnbull at that point a first term back bencher. So I had this amazing and different experience for a chartered accountant that I basically brought to Kelly Partners.
The whole concept of Kelly Partners was, we would focus just on helping private business owners who had a particular mind set. Somebody that really wanted to go somewhere and do something. If you don't have energy and you want to do something, you shouldn't call me. Then I said, what I would do is, I would look to all these heroes that I had. They were all people I hadn't met, but that I could meet over the internet or through a book. So the strategy was firstly based on Sam Walton from Walmart. He said, "Build the best back office, and have a distributed network and get big before anyone else did." So I said I'll have all my offices 50 ks from each other in the growth belt of Sydney, so Central Coast, Norwest, Penrith, Campbelltown, Wollongong. He said, "Go all the places your competitors won't and get big before they notice."
So, we were a very large firm before we ever had a firm in the Sydney CBD. I didn't feel like I needed one in the CBD because, hey I was one of only four kids picked out a thousand to have an undergrad cadetship. I got nearly 100 in my TER, came first in every subject, captained cricket, soccer, debating et cetera, so I never felt that I had to be in the CBD to be smart. I thought your brainwork was in your head and it went wherever you went, so it's probably not dependent on where your bum sat.
So, I had this concept from all the reading I had done on all the private equity founders and their businesses that I'd put a 51/49 structure in place where we'd run one brand, one IT, centralise the back office so that we could double the profits and get rid of two thirds of the working capital, and then focus our partners as owning 49% of the businesses wherever they operated, where they would just have to look after the clients and their people, and that would give them 40% of their week back. They'd earn more money than they were when they were running it themselves, and that they would have a really leading system that we developed, focused on helping that type of client get from where they are to where they want to be.
So, that's kind of the background. We started with these crazy ideas. I wrote a little book to start the business, called Your Money Your Choice, basically talking about what an accountant really should be for their client. Then I trained our guys internally with that. That was inspired by McDonalds, you know really train your people. I wanted to have service like the Ritz-Carlton, seven steps to great service, because in professional services a typical thing that professional services don't do is professional service, but the five star hotels do and your clients know what it looks like and what it feels like. Then, I said I wanted our financials to run like Berkshire Hathaway, because that was my great inspiration. I wanted our marketing to be as consistent as Apple at every touch point.
What you'll notice is, I haven't referenced any accounting firms, because I was looking for the great leaders and the great businesses and I wanted to do in accounting what the great leaders and the great businesses do. I looked at accounting firms. I'd been in the industry since I was 18, so 12 years at that point, I was 29. I didn't see them as great businesses. None of them had a brand rated in the top 50 brands in the world, or top 100 most valuable brands in the world at that point. So I thought, "Right, let's get inspired by companies that we really admire like Accenture, like Burberry, Ritz-Carlton, Berkshire Hathaway, McDonalds, Walmart, et cetera."
So look, if you're a little bit crazy, as you'd know Matt, you start a business and the great thing about being in a business is you get to test your own crazy ideas. I'm a real ideas person in terms of, look at the intellectual challenge of good thinking and then see if you can operationalize it. So we've got a 34% CAGR in an industry growing about three and a half percent. We've done that over 14 years and we IPO'd the company in June 2017, so three years listed now. I was asked yesterday, I did a similar podcast and a lady wanted to talk about, "When did you know you wanted to go public?" I said, "When we wrote the first business plan, it was based on platinum asset management's prospectus and my plan was to grow for 10 years and then list." That was Stephen Covey, one of the early books I read, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People said begin with the end in mind.
So, look there's a drinking from a fire hydrant, fire hose. That's kind of the background.
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MH: Brett, that was an incredible intro and a back story that I hadn't heard before, and there's so much in there that we could actually go into, but if we go back to the very start, the story about writing out letters to all of those famous people and actually getting a hearing with them I think is absolutely incredible, particularly for a 22 year old, shows extremely deep insight. Was there any common themes that you saw across all of the people that you spoke to and that you ended up putting into the book? What was the commonality that you found that led to success?
BK: So really two things Matt. The first one is that, if you want to get people to speak to you, it has to be about them. What I recognised, that even though these people were amazing achievers, like if you think about you and your dad and what you've done with your business, you've probably not had time to write that family story. So I perceived that these people, while many people might have written things about them, they had never had time to really tell their story. So what I was offering them was an opportunity to tell me their story, and that I would put it in a professional format and give it back to them, for them and their family so that they would have it. Really the exchange was that they would have their story, and still many of them, it's the only time that story's ever been written.
I would have the opportunity to meet them and feel their energy really, and feel their vibe and see how their offices worked and be in their inner sanctum to just get a sense of what that looks like. I remember, I went to see Bob Hawke, and he had 12 diaries behind his PA. I said to her, "What's with the diaries? Are you sending them out for Christmas?" She goes, "No, they're My Hawke's diaries for the future years." When she showed them to me, he had appointments five years in advance. So that taught me that, if you think you're busy, you don't know what busy is. I was 22. I thought I was busy because I had something on the next day. So that was the first thing, was to make an offer to somebody that really addressed their issue.
I'd read a book, a fantastic American speaker, and he said, "If you want to be successful, you've got to make other people successful." So his actual quote is, "That if you help enough people get what they want, you'll end up getting what you want." But most people are very self-centred, so the first thing was to perceive that even in a very lowly, 22 unemployed, I've always had a lot of energy, and I'm not silly, but I didn't have anywhere near what these people did. I had no publisher, no reputation, no background in writing a book, so they were trusting me. First, I thought, I could give them something, which is a bit odd when you don't really have anything.
The second thing is that I would phone them and say, "Hey Matt", say your PA, "Hey Johnny, I'd love to speak to Matt. Have I got you at a bad time?" So give them a chance to get off the phone. Then they'd say, "Oh no." I'd said, "It's Brett Kelly here. I've sent you this letter asking for an interview. Look, there's no reason that Matt should speak to me, but if it takes his amusement, and he's got nothing better to do, then perhaps he'd be able to spare an hour to answer my questions. If he can come up with better questions, I'd be happy that he can replace my questions." So, not to take yourself too seriously and have a sense of humour.
Then, what I would do is, let's say they say, "Oh look, I haven't had a chance to talk to Matt." I'd say, "Okay, look Johnny, it's 10 o'clock on Tuesday, how about I call you back next Tuesday at 10 o'clock." Now they just want to get you off the phone, so they'd say "Yeah, whatever." But you call somebody every Tuesday at 10 o'clock and after four or five times of that they think, "This guy is serious about what he's doing", and they would organise the interview. So that's a real insight there.
Then in terms of what is the thing that makes these people different, I wrote to Warren Buffett. I said, "Dear Mr Buffett, basically you're my hero. I read this great book. I'd love you to sign my book and send it back. I've enclosed a reply paid envelope. If you could humour me and let me interview you, that would be amazing." The guy wrote back. Signed my book. Sent me a beautiful letter, which I published in my second book. What it showed me was that the very best, not the moderately good, but the best of the best, forget about the rest, they're incredibly generous with their knowledge, and if they perceive you as somebody that will listen and take that insight that they offer you and do something with it, they'll be unbelievably helpful to you.
So, really, I learned that everything you want to do, you have to do with people. Nobody is self-made. You do things with people. So, genuinely your ability to lead and manage people is by far the thing that differentiates any of these people. They have a huge regard for people and a warmness towards people. They can be as tough as all hell, but people know that they are people that care about them. That was the thing that changed, I think, my insight and trajectory, was that I had all these qualifications and experience and I was a smart, hard working person, but I didn't realise that it was far more important to be able to work with other people and help them maximise their capacity as part of a team, that was the thing that made the difference. You can't have a big business typically, and not be very good with people. So, that was the big thing.
I came out of that thinking, I really have to just be focused on getting good at working with people.
MH: How have you gone bringing some of those lessons into your own business? You've obviously built up a very big network of accountants. Are you constantly having to amend or change your leadership style, and does it change based on the people you meet? Or, how do you approach it?
BK: Yeah, so Matt what happened was, I just got convinced that your personal values were just absolutely critical and that most people didn't ever really spend time to reflect on themselves or anything else. There's a great Henry Ford quote that says, "The hardest work in life is thinking and that's why so few people do it." So I'm reading all these books and they're all sort of saying the same thing. You need to know deeply what your personal values are, and you need to challenge yourself around those and define them, and let those be the thing that animates you.
So from the beginning, I tried to work out, I guess a conceptual framework. If I wasn't doing what I'm doing, I'd be an academic. I love ideas and I like to understand how things work. So, my first book was called Collective Wisdom. I've written four books in that series now. Second one was called Universal Wisdom, Seven People that Changed the World. Third one was called Business Owner's Wisdom, 16 Business Owners. The latest one I released in June is called Investment Wisdom, Nine of Australia's Leading Investors. I hit upon this idea that life was about growing in wisdom, deep understanding and that really that's what a worthy life was about. So, I was asked by somebody one, "What do you live for?" I came to call these power questions. So I wanted to be able to answer that and for me, it was to grow in wisdom, because I think the only real crime in life is to be dumber when you're old than you were when you were young. So, for me, learning I learned was a huge motivation.
Basically I sat down and I said right at the beginning that I wanted to work with people that wanted to make other people better off, so that were other people focused. So people for others. I believe that, through all the reading that I'd done, that really meaning in life comes from making a difference to other people. I wanted to work with people that would do what they say. A lot of people talk about integrity. To me that's really doing what you say you will do. The third one is I wanted to work with people that understood what I'd learned, that you could do more with people as part of a team than you could as an individualist by yourself.
I basically diagnosed that I thought the opposite of those ideas was sort of the heart of society's problems, most people's individual and family problems and certainly most business' problems. So I said, "Right, how do you build up your business? You need to have a culture", people talk about now, but I really talked about, "You have to strong ideas of what your mission is, and what your values are." Our mission was clearly to help private business owners who want to go somewhere and I believe that we would be completely different if we had other people focused people that could do exactly what they say, even if it costs you something, because your values don't matter if you won't pay for them, and it would work as a team.
So, then I put that through our hiring practises, through our rewards structure, our annual appraisal first deals with those values, and if you haven't scored four out of five on those values, then I don't care how you've progressed in any other part of your career, because I'm not going to promote you. I'm not going to hire you if I perceive that you're more interested in yourself than you are in others. I'm not going to hire you if you talk disparagingly about your team as opposed to how you've worked in teams that had helped you. I'm trying to get an evolved human that's really focused on contributing.
So that's the big one. I guess it could sound esoteric, but really, it's those ideas that resonated. Then how I try to live that out in practise is, to pay real attention to our people. We've got 240 odd people, or 230, 240 people. Look up on the board. It will be up on my board there. I just want to know those people. Still, if you get employed by us, I say to my people team, "Hey, I want to talk to that person. Stick them on a Zoom. I want to see them. I want them to know I exist and that I care." I still personally recruit people at every level of our business. If you walk past me and you're excellent, I'm going to try and hire you.
So, I think, from a leadership point of view, if you don't lead in the space of ideas and people, and then hold yourself accountable to doing what you say, even if it hurts, then it's I think difficult to build a sustainable business. Now, I'm not talking about making money. When I started, I said I want to build a business that can be great for 100 years. I'm not actually trying to make money. I'm trying to build a great business, and I believe if you do that, you'll make some money, because that's an outcome, right? But, my time frame's 100 years. It's not five minutes.
MH: Brett, I think certainly talking to you, you clearly live and breathe the values and I think you've done a great job explaining how you seek to embed those values into the business. How are you going about growing the next leaders? If you really are focused on 100 year business plan, how do you bring the next generation up?
BK: It's a great question. So Matt, the chief constraint in our business, and I think any business is, you don't want your revenue growing faster than your talent. So a lot of businesses want to grow, and they'll talk to you a lot about their revenue, but they won't talk to you about how they're growing people. So through the business, every one of our people, every team leader has to have a one-on-one meeting every single month with every one of their team members. It's a defined structure. It lives in a folder like this, and it shows you what's got to happen. So, if I walk into an office, I can grab that and I can see if that person's being led in the way, and developed in the way, that I would like them to be. There's a one page development plan in there. It should be in there, in writing, in their folder.
So the first thing is, it's hand to hand combat, one-on-one development that starts with the leadership of the business with each of their people. Then we run quarterly catch ups for the director group. I run a quarterly catch up for our manger level people. I'm running a half yearly catch up for our seniors, which is the next level down, an annual retreat for the partners. So, on a quarterly basis, I'm meeting for four hours, a half day and a lunch, with all of our managers. What I'm trying to do is identify talent, identify people with aspiration to go to the next level, because to drive the growth in our business, our growth is really only limited by our ability to grow the next generation of team leaders, of partners, equity partners. So, I want to grow them through the business, not do the lazy man lateral hire.
Of the 45 partners that we have, I think I've made 41 of those people partners over the last 14 years. So to me, my focus has always been that 80% of my job is people. Attraction and development and making sure my people know they've got a compelling future. Now, they have to know that you are interested in them, and that if it was better for them to go to another business, that you would tell them that. If I have somebody that I don't believe can take the next step in our business because we don't have the business that would best develop them, then I will tell them. I'll say, "Mate, I think you should be in this type of business, doing this type of work, and if you need me to make a call or whatnot, you work it out and I'll help you." I just believe that if you... I was told it was a very Pollyannaish view, that if you really do help people and develop them, whether they're in the business or they end up out in the world, you don't end up worse off.
That's been from day one. I wanted to have the accounting firm where the best people could do their best work, and that was an insight that I really don't believe existed, certainly at the time, and now... I picked up a great young guy into our business the other day and I said, "Right, this is what will happen", blah, blah, blah. Then his firm said, "Oh yeah, yeah, we'll do all that for you." He called me and said, "Oh look, I think I should stay here because they've promised to do what you promised to do."
I said, "Yeah, but you've been there three years and they didn't do it. What you are now is, you're in a reactive business, where someone's reacting to me. I'm leading, they're reacting. What do you want to be? Do you want to be a leader, or you want to be a reactor?" He went, "Yeah, good point. I'll sign the contract. I'll send it over." All I had to do was pull this out. I said, "See this mate? It's a system. I'm doing it and I've been doing it for 14 years. I can prove that I can take a guy from your level and move you all the way through to a partner in a defined period of time. Write it down and commit to it."
So I guess that's the doing what you say bit. I just like people and I think that helps. It's not always the case in the professions that are very technical, that people necessarily even like people, let alone have their best interests at heart.
MH: Brett, super competitive in the professional world. Everyone's trying to attract the best talent. How do you go about finding talent outside of your networks, particularly through great programmes? How important is brand to you?
BK: Yeah, so Matt brand is important to us, but we do strange things. We'll take undergrads but not grads. We don't participate in anything that anyone else does, because I don't want to put my brand next to them. You see, if I go to a grad shindig, where I've got a conga line of other accounting firms and I'm one brand amongst those brands, then I'm saying that I'm like them, and I don't want to be like them. I want to be a great business. So, I know because of my experience in the industry, that these businesses are shiny on the outside and not so shiny on the inside. So, I will look at whatever anyone else is doing in a great business, and I'll do that. I don't consider chartered accounting firms, or accounting firms in Australia as great, so the only reference I will make to them is if they're doing something, I don't want to do it. I want to do the absolute opposite.
So I don't do grad fairs. I don't go on campus. We've got a great social media presence, great podcast, the Be Better Off show by Kelly Partners, you can find that. I know you know about it Matty. We've always had well signage offices. We're in the top 100 BRW or AFR every year. We do a good job of PR but not over the top, and really if you're a young person or any person that wants to join, that's serious about your career, then it would be difficult for you not to find us. I kind of use that as a bit of a benchmark. If you can't find me, you're obviously not serious about your career, because there's no-one in the history of our industry in Australia that has started a chartered accounting firm, built it to the size and the quality that we have, with a focus and depth that we have, ever.
So it's going to be a bit odd for you to have a recruitment agent ring me and say, "Well Johnny's really smart", and I'm thinking to myself, "If Johnny was smart, he would have looked me up on LinkedIn and sent me a message", because otherwise Johnny doesn't really know the industry. The really great people, funnily enough, we've recruited 14 people in the last 15 days, and 12 of them came direct. They come to my text message, my LinkedIn, or somebody tells me about them, and I might reach out and phone them. I just think, on the people part, you really have to want to find the best people, as a priority within your role as a leader. I certainly say that my job as a CEO is the attraction, development and retention of our best people.
MH: I think that's great advice. Brett, you're obviously doing a lot of things very well. What are the things that you want to be doing better?
BK: It's a great question. When we look at our business, we would like to, without pre-figuring too much, we are working hard on the next generation of digital experience for our clients. Again, I want to do, essentially what Burberry did in fashion, which is to make our clients able to work with us in a seamless way, in an omnichannel way if you like, where our offices are imagined as stores rather than offices. Where our digital presence is seamless, and you can have the accessibility that you desire. Now, I know that our clients very much like the phone funnily enough. It's very personal and immediate. They like a face-to-face meeting. They like a Zoom meeting and they want a digital environment that supports that. Really what we're working on in the background at the moment is the next level experience that really redefines the customer experience in our space.
So that's what we would like to be doing better. We are working on it. We're not too far off where we hope to be, but yeah we want to change the game. That's I guess our next challenge. We have a business called Kelly Partners Investment Office, which is an investment business and we're about to go out with our second find. We did 24.3% return on the first one, which is really leading in that private/public space and we want to be able to bring our insight to our client base and investings and build another very substantial business in that space.
I guess I came to our business with an investor's mindset and that's something that particularly excites me. So I would like to be doing that better, in that we really want to have a second fund that's more substantial and differentiates us in that space.
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MH: Brett, you touched on your digital experience before. Fair to say that technology adoption is probably five years ahead of what it may have been. What are the big changes that you've seen in your industry off the back of the Covid-19 crisis?
BK: Yeah, so I believe that technology in our business and in most, is really an accelerator and in the context of Covid more like an accelerant. It's like petrol on a fire. But, if I give a person that's not customer centred in their heart, in their soul, I give them access to Zoom, it doesn't make them any better. We are in a personal service business, and the values and behaviours of our people are just absolutely critical. They're much, much more important than whatever channel they're delivered through. I think it's a common misconception when people look at our industry to think that, I often have people say, "Oh all that's going to go digital", and you say, "Well all of what bit in particular?" They're not sure, because like most people you don't really understand a business that you haven't deeply operated in. I love, there's an old song that says, "Everything old is new again." I believe that with digital, is that those that preach revolution are normally people that don't like the King and want to be the King.
I don't believe that the digitally enabling tools that we are continually now accessing change the outcome that the client wants, which is an advisor that's wise, not just smart, that has a real heart for them and their family and their future generations and that can deeply integrate advice that adds huge value. How you do that is less important than why you do that. In particular, what it is that you're able to put together. We can bring a team to bear in an integrated way without ego with a heart for the client, that I think is unmatched in our industry.
MH: Brett, we might change tack for a moment. You've spoken across a number of topics, including the fact that you've read circa 3,000 books. I'm intrigued what your day looks like.
BK: Yeah actually, you get up early Matt. So look, it's a bit embarrassing. I think difference is really important. I think diversity is a word that's used a lot, but people don't really understand it. When they say diversity, you'd know as a public company they really mean gender. They're not talking about having people that come from different backgrounds, different postcodes, private schools, public schools, different parts of the world, fat people, skinny people, tall people, short people, religions, genders, orientations, whatever. The more people I find talk about difference and diversity, the more most often I find they mean people like themselves. So, I'll share my day with you without recommending it to anyone. I think that most importantly, you have to discover your own values and who you are, and live deeply in accordance with that, and in an authentic way to yourself.
I had a brother die at 45 in a car accident when I was 30. I was a kid that just came out with a stupid amount of energy. My mother has said forever, that I played every single sport. I did swimming squad in the morning, cricket in the afternoon. We only trained two afternoons a week. I trained every afternoon for cricket. I would find a team and bowl at them. I would do my soccer training and then play with other soccer teams. I would do athletics and soccer and snooker and ten pin bowling, and whatever you threw at me, I was just a stupidly active person. That's not everyone. I was also very good at reading, from a very young age, and I just loved books, and I still do. It's a huge passion of mine. If you don't like books, watch YouTube, which is just as good, and today you can see almost everyone in human history speaking live to get a sense of them, which is something I had to do by interview in my first book. Now you can sit there and watch them on YouTube, which is incredible.
So, look, I get up very early. I typically get up at five o'clock. If I sleep in past five o'clock I feel like I have lost the day. I always start the day the night before. I genuinely say to people that a great day starts the night before. I plan my year in advance. You probably can't see on my desk, there's a big coloured calendar. So, plan your year in advance. Get clear on your goals. Book your holidays. Mark your holidays out, book your holidays and pay for them a year in advance. Book your health checks. Book your workouts. Work out what's important to you. Most important to least. There was a great, St Thomas Aquinas, a great philosopher said that, essentially to paraphrase, you don't want to live in balance, you want to live in right order. So what's the most important thing to the least.
So for me, I want to stay healthy, so I plan my year. I plan my holidays. I book and pay for them. I plan my gym. I put them in diary. I tell anyone if they book over them I won't attend, I just won't be there. I try to go to bed at the same time every night, before 11 o'clock. I get up at five. I read every single night. If I don't read, I feel like I've failed. I will read at least a chapter of something every night, normally two. That gets me through a book a week, typically, because you know you're going to have a bad night. You know you're going to have a good night and you know on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon if you can get a little bit of peace you can finish the thing.
Then, it's the clarity of the goals. By booking your holidays, I found that by having more holidays, I get more done. So, I've had typically 16 weeks holidays every year for a decade, and if you ask my wife, she says I always work, which is true, because it's a passion. If you text me, I'll text you back, but I don't experience it as work. So anywhere in the world I can be doing stuff with the kids and the family, but it means I break my work up into these really intense chunks, which are typically 12 weeks in length, school terms, and then I go and do the next thing. It means I have to focus on what I want to get finished. Most people, the hard part is to finish something, not to start something. Most people don't put a timetable on everything. I have all these rules. You're not allowed to tell me the end of the day, the end of the week, you've got to tell me a specific time. You've got to book it in my diary. It's got to be before 12 o'clock on Thursday, because I don't want to be chasing you at five o'clock on Friday.
I know one of my team came to work with you Matt, so you can ask him. He knows what it's like. I'm all about, oh you're going to do that. When are you going to do it? People talk about time being money, but time really is much more important than money, and I guess when my brother Mark died at 45, I was 30 and I said, "Why don't you live as if you could die at 45." Most people live as if they're going to live forever and they're not. Time is limited. Death is certain. So, look, I'm particularly intense as a person. I know that. I love what I'm doing. I don't experience it as work. I would rather be doing this than playing golf. I play golf, I play a lot of things, but I've found something that I really love. So, that's my typical day.
Then, my diary is booked by the moment. It's colour coded. There's not a minute spare, and I have a list of tasks and I have lists everywhere. I have piles and I just do the pile and keep moving. But I love it. I like helping people get their goals, which is my focus.
MH: It's an incredible focus and I think, whilst we're about to run out of time unfortunately, again one of the things that's come through very strong and very clear throughout this chat is just, and maybe this is too strong a term, but your love for people. I'd be interested just to hear a little bit about what you're doing in the community and some of the scholarship programmes that you're running.
BK: Yes, so Matt, it's a nice way to put it, because there's this great Greek definition of love, which is to want the best for others. So for me, that's the animating theme of the way I want to live. No matter who I meet, whether they're a billionaire or prime minister or the person that looks after the least job that you might run into during the day, I want to frame my life in a way as to make them better off and to want the best for them, whatever that might be. I went to Israel in October 2017. I had an absolutely fantastic time because I just found the energy of Israel and the craziness of those people to actually be very similar I guess to the vibe I guess I'm naturally dialled into. I felt very much at home. The history of the historical sites, and religious sites and the great cultures that have emanated from that part of the world, but combined with this never say die and relentlessly innovative mindset of the people, very much is the way I think and behave.
I love ancient wisdom and I try to apply it in the place that I find myself. So, I just absolutely loved it, and I thought I was at the time, say 42 and I thought, it would have been absolutely stunning if I'd been able to see this as a 16 year old, when I was at school, and I really believed in 1990, that businesses made a great social contribution and that, while business leaders were always being attacked for being money grabbing scumbags, many of whom are, I actually perceived that the businesses that people ran, at often quite great cost to themselves and their families, were making a genuine social contribution.
I basically came up with the idea, I looked at the Rhodes Scholarship Programme and the Schwarzman Scholarship Programme, so Rhodes to Oxford, Schwarzman to Tsinghua in China, and said, really the great place to send a 16 year old would be to Israel, where they could study the historically significant sites and the great history and culture that's come out of that part of the world, and also see this incredible technology ecosystem and this relentless innovation of the Israeli people to make the best of their scenario. I thought, "Yeah, wow!"
So, I came up with this idea that rather than wait until I was 70 to give back, I often think a lot of people steal a lot, and then give a little bit back, I thought I wanted to live rather than small, mean and scared, I wanted to live big, large and generous and bold. So I said, "What would happen if I just duplicate Schwarzman scholars, but I'll call it Kelly Partner Scholars and I'll send", what I could afford, which is five young kids who are studying business and applied and showed me the project that they wanted to investigate, I'd send them there for a week, partnered with the Australian Israel Chamber of Commerce and one of the leading schools here, Moriah College here in Sydney, and said to them, "How about this for an idea?" I found that Moriah, this again kindred culture who thought, yeah that's a bit crazy, but that's awesome. I said, look I'll pay for it.
So Kelly Partners committed half a million bucks over the next 10 years to send five kids a year. We've done it three times so far and it was incredible. At first people thought, okay that's crazy, then these kids came back and to see their stories and to see their faces and to hear their stories. We have an annual dinner. They share their stories. It's been amazing. So the vision is, this year we've committed to fund my old school to do five kids a year from there for the next decade. So we've now committed a million bucks.
I've written my new book, Investment Wisdom, 100% of the proceeds go to our scholarship foundation to fund scholarships and what we're trying to do is basically raise two million bucks as a caucus that can then fund 20 scholarships a year forever. It's a 100 year project, so that I can say, "Look, we're going to send 20 kids every year to Israel for ever, so that they can go, build bridges, meet people, experience it", really I think a place that can dramatically change, especially an Australian kid. We're a long way away from the world perspective, and then say to those kids, you can use technology to build a business that can make a positive social impact and come back here and do that.
See the kids that have been there. Two of the girls were saying to me, "You know, I never was even interested in how technology and business could make a difference", and they've gone to study subsequently in an entrepreneurs programme at Tel Aviv University, who's a partner in the content of that programme. It's been amazing.
So, in every business that we're involved in, we ask the business to substantially support at least two socially positive organisations that are making a difference in that location. We put very, very substantial dollars behind it, which frankly I don't ever really add up, because a lot of people have said to me, "Well how do you see the business growing continually at 30 plus percent a year? How does that happen?" They think there's some sort of spreadsheet scenario that explains that, but I genuinely believed that you don't do better by not doing good, that in fact my Pollyannaish thesis was, could you do extraordinarily well by doing extraordinary good.
If you did, wouldn't you just end up a happier person with more meaning in your life that had more friends and more people whose lives you'd positively impact, as well as having substantial financial resources, because frankly, if you think that the greatest challenge in life is to make a bob, when you're in Australia, the greatest country in the world, probably the second or third richest country in the world, with every natural advantage, peace and prosperity, and wonderful people and access to opportunity, then you've got an impoverished view of the world.
So that's what I'm trying to prove I guess with the business, that you could take good ideas and do really good things for people and probably do quite well out of it over time.
MH: Brett, I think that's an incredible spot to stop. Thank you for what has been an absolutely fascinating discussion. Really appreciate your honesty and congratulations on your success to date. Look forward to hopefully chatting again.
BK: Thanks Matt. I really appreciate it. You guys have built an amazing business. I very admire what you've done, so I really appreciate the opportunity to spend some time together.
MH: Thanks Brett. Appreciate it.
Views expressed are of the interviewee and may not be the opinion of Netwealth or its related companies.