David Tudehope on the keys to success
Persistence is crucial to starting and building a business that works, says the Macquarie Telecom CEO and co-founder.
Published in The Australian Financial Review by Sally Patten, BOSS editor.
As a commerce student at UNSW in the 1980s, David Tudehope, CEO and co-founder of Macquarie Telecom used to study in the library. One night he came across a biography of former US president Calvin Coolidge that had been left on a desk. Someone had left a post-it note on a page, to which Tudehope, distracted from his studies, turned.
Tudehope – who would go on to build one of Australia’s most successful technology companies alongside brother Aidan, propelling them into the 2021 Rich Bosses list and, for the first time The Australian Financial Review’s overall Rich List – found a famous quote from Coolidge that resonated with him. Indeed, he was so taken by the quote that he carried it around in his wallet for a decade.
The quote started: “Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not. Nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not. Unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not. The world is full of educated derelicts.”
What is Macquarie Telecom’s key to success?
Persistence, beyond almost any other trait, including a willingness to take risks, is the key to starting and building a successful business, Tudehope says.
“I think that drive, that persistence and determination is really everything in those early days because you’ve got so many challenges from so many places.
“There’s a lot of things that are quite fragile, so it doesn’t take much for things to unstick – you’ve got to have that persistence to recover,” says Tudehope, whose shareholding in Macquarie Telecom is valued at $326 million. This puts him in 22nd place on the annual ranking of the wealthiest executives in the ASX 300.
Tudehope and his brother established Macquarie Telecom in 1992. The commerce graduate and former corporate banker recall the early days when, with no money, he would travel from his home in Sydney on the overnight bus to Melbourne, stopping at The Big Merino in Goulburn for dinner. He would arrive in Melbourne, change into a suit, visit potential clients for a day and catch the overnight coach back home.
Persistence was required at other times too. Telstra, he recalls, was merciless in its determination to hunt down competitors.
“When you’re a small business, it can be life-threatening,” Tudehope says.
Then, in 2000, just as Macquarie Telecom opened its first data centre at huge expense, the dotcom boom came to a crashing end. Both small internet and corporate customers put a freeze on online investments.
“We had major corporates put their e-commerce and web teams on hold, in some cases for a year,” Tudehope recalls. “When the dotcom boom ended, it went from a gold rush to a gold crash. Suddenly [big companies] didn’t want data centre capacity.”
Another piece of advice Tudehope has for would-be entrepreneurs is to work out your “why”.
In other words: “Why you exist. That is also super important.”
Macquarie Telecom’s purpose.
To cater to “under-served and overcharged” markets. The telecoms business was established to help crack open the telecommunications market, then dominated by Telstra. The data centre business was designed to offer Australian companies, for the first time, a local third party provider of data centres with all the back-up capacity that encompassed. The cyber-security division, which has federal government clients, was established to offer an alternative provider of such services. At the time, one US company pretty much had a monopoly.
Asked whether Australians still have tall poppy syndrome when it comes to wealth, Tudehope says things have improved in the past few years.
But Australians are still hard on failure.
“I just think Australian society is very harsh on people who give it everything and fail. It’s getting better in the last few years, but it’s still nowhere near the US or the UK.
“[I’m not talking about cases in which] there is impropriety or people have done the wrong thing. There are just regular people who gave it everything. Their cafe didn’t work out, or their tech company didn’t succeed. It just didn’t work for them.”