In this week’s episode I talk with Patrick Quade, partner and co-founder of accountancy and finance business Synergy Group, who explains how Synergy came to be and defines what exactly it is that Synergy does so well. We also learn about the decision making processes at Synergy, as well as how they structure their business, how Pat values his people and much more.
0:00 - Intro and getting started
3:27 - What has inspired Pat to do what he does
6:22 - What Pat is looking for in the people that he brings in
8:02 - What Pat is enjoying about this time and the essence of this growth
9:25 - How Pat judges risk and what the decision making process at Synergy Group is like
11:41 - Improving on difficult areas and how to deal with weaknesses
13:34 - How to create time for self reflection and prioritising between the here and now and long-term goals
16:46 - What makes Synergy Group different in terms of its employee structure
20:02 - Starting Synergy Group and avoiding losing company mobility and customer focus
23:49 - How Pat values his people
26:33 - Key moments in Synergy Group, what Pat brings to the workplace and how he goes about his work
31:14 - Key people in Pat’s life and how he relates with them
37:29 - What Pat is most proud of and the legacy of Synergy Group
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Jonathan Doyle: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome back to the Canberra Business Podcast. Jonathan Doyle here once again. Great to be your host. Great to have the pleasure of your company. I hope you've been enjoying recent episodes. There's been some absolute gold. I think I have the best job in the world. I get to introduce, interview really interesting people and I hope that it's just bringing some genuine value to your business journey.
Jonathan Doyle: I think this podcast is about encouraging, supporting you. It's about telling the stories of great Canberra business people. It's about building businesses that impact the community, that bring wealth and value to you, to your staff, to the wider Canberra community. So, thanks for all that you do in your business journey. I know you don't hear that very often, it sounds a bit abstract but, without business owners like you showing up every day doing what you do, then the world would be a very different place.
Jonathan Doyle: So, I hope that this Canberra Business Podcast is just bringing value to you. Now, this week, we have another fantastic guest. We got Pat Quade from the Synergy Group. Synergy's doing work in the accounting the financial services sector. If you've been in Canberra for a while, I'm sure you've come across them. This time with Pat is just a really interesting discussion about his background, about how he built this business, about other people he built it with, how they resolve difficult conversations, how they built a sense of culture within the Synergy organization. So, as always, lots of stuff there.
Jonathan Doyle: Look, house keeping for me, do me a favor, would you please subscribe to the podcast where ever you're listening to this right now; Apple podcast, Android, Google Play, some obscure podcast player I've never heard of, we're probably there as well so, just subscribe for me and also there's a really simple little email subscribe box on the podcast page. You only get one email when we release a new episode, we're not spamming you with tons of useless stuff, it's just simply to let you know that the next episode is ready. So, please subscribe, please share this with people.
Jonathan Doyle: Really trying to get the word out, just to want more and more Canberra business people to hear these stories and to be encouraged by them. Also, please check out the website at canberraexecutivecoaching.com. If you feel stuck at any point in your business, if you need some help with mindset coaching, with strategy, business strategy, you're just feeling stuck and you need an outside voice to work with you to move you or your business forward then please reach out to me personally through the website. That's it from me so just sit back now, relax and enjoy this really interesting discussion with Pat Quade from Synergy.
Jonathan Doyle: Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome back to the Canberra Business Podcast once again. I've got Pat Quade with me from Synergy Group.
Jonathan Doyle: Pat, things are busy over there. You guys have been building right?
Patrick Quade: Yeah they have. Last five or six years have actually been rather busy.
Jonathan Doyle: Are you enjoying the ride?
Patrick Quade: Yeah, look Jon, I'm sort of hanging on to the tiger style, so to speak, so trying to keep up with it a bit but absolutely enjoying it.
Jonathan Doyle: Do you get stressed?
Patrick Quade: Absolutely.
Jonathan Doyle: You do?
Patrick Quade: Look, the sleepless nights where you wake up at 2:00 a.m. and you're thinking about what's going on tomorrow and how we're going to deliver on that particular requirement, it's a challenge.
Jonathan Doyle: I would love to say that's terrible, but that was me last night, 2:00 a.m., I'm just going, "I just woke up at 2:00 a.m."
Jonathan Doyle: People think business is a license to print money and it's just fields of unicorns and rainbows, but there's a fair bit that keeps you awake at night. Let's get to the backstory. Synergy is becoming a great Canberra success story and here on the podcast we're a huge fan of free enterprise. We think the more success you have the more wealth you generate, the more that the community builds. People can build family lives and all sorts of good stuff. It's growing. How did it start? Take us back to the start of Synergy. Give us the back story.
Patrick Quade: Like most businesses in Canberra, Synergy is definitely not an overnight success story. We've been around since 1999. We originally kicked off as a smaller, two-man band and originally just a tax effective structure to get out there and deliver some work. I suppose I was 12 months out of university, didn't really know anything any better. I thought, "Hey look, I can see what the Price Waterhouse's, the KPGs and the others do, there's no good reason why I can't do that."
Jonathan Doyle: So that first bit of time out of university, what did you do first?
Patrick Quade: I basically took a contract opportunity, so I went through the graduate intake programs and the other bits and pieces and had some offers there, but never really ... Growing up in a family that was always self-employed and running own businesses, I really didn't like the idea of working for someone. I thought success was about having your own business, having your own thing and doing what you want to do. Took 12 months to think about it and then met up with a gentleman, Anthony Wilson and he provided the opportunity to kick Synergy off at that time together.
Jonathan Doyle: Take us back even further. How many in the family?
Patrick Quade: Myself and my three brothers ... two brothers, two other brothers. There's three of us.
Jonathan Doyle: What's the age gap?
Patrick Quade: Myself then 18 months to my middle brother and six years to my youngest brother.
Jonathan Doyle: Competitive memories growing up?
Patrick Quade: We were always a sporting family and a fun family. Grew up in a house where dad raced cars and we always played competitive football, competitive basketball, any sort of sport. Always running around at the front or riding BMX bikes up and down the street.
Jonathan Doyle: Are you still a car guy?
Patrick Quade: Not so much a car guy. I enjoy nice things, but I like the more means of transport these days.
Jonathan Doyle: It's funny that some people get absolutely obsessed by it. Interviewing someone last week ... Is your dad still around?
Patrick Quade: Yeah, he's still around. Still based in Canberra.
Jonathan Doyle: Is he working or is he retired?
Patrick Quade: He's taking things pretty easy these days.
Jonathan Doyle: Looking back at him ... because one of the first podcasts we did with Jason from Evo, his dad was in petroleum and Jason took a lot of messages from watching him. Do you look back in what you grew up with, what were some of the key messages you think looking at family life, your father? What did you pick up from your home life that you've transferred that's come with you?
Patrick Quade: I suppose the overall work. If you really sort of put the effort in and try hard, you're always going to get the results and the rewards that are there and available.
Jonathan Doyle: Why do that? There's so many people ... It's not judgmental, but so many people don't have that mindset. What is attractive to you about this relationship between personal effort and result? Why not just do something else? What has inspired you to make this happen?
Patrick Quade: It's a sense of ownership and actually being able to make a difference. I've been able to sit down at the end of the day and say, "I did that," I and we more recently than I. It's the sense of achievement and also being able to win. Again, that natural competitiveness. Being able to say, "Hey, I took one step more than somebody else. This is something [inaudible 00:06:29]."
Jonathan Doyle: What is the essence of that competition for you? Competitiveness can trip over into compulsive behavior to some people, but it's driven you to create something and build a culture that's having a big impact. What is competition for you? What is it about competition that lights you up and gets you moving?
Patrick Quade: I think it's those continued successes. It's the little tiny wins throughout the day. You win a job here, you see somebody get a sense of satisfaction from learning a new skill. One of the core values that we hold dear in Synergy is these [inaudible 00:07:03] mentality. I think it differentiates us from our competitors in the market in so much as we don't need every last piece of work. We don't need every person to come and work with us, we just need to be able to deliver the outcomes that we do and the quality that we do and we know that we're going to end up with more in that first year.
Jonathan Doyle: So what is that? Abundance mentality, firstly, where did you learn that? In the personal development space, that's relatively well known. Where do you think you learned that a lot of people move in lack, they move in scarcity, so it's a mindset of, "I've got to get everything I can because there isn't enough to go around."
Jonathan Doyle: Where did you learn an abundance mentality?
Patrick Quade: I think it was probably just an awareness of what our clients were after. Being able to work with the market and know that, "Look, they're after an outcome. They're not interested in squabbling between the suppliers and they're not interested in people trying to do things to them, they want partners."
Patrick Quade: They want us to come in and work with them to deliver an outcome and, again, much of our business is actually about lifting them up and making them successful, not about individual glory for ourselves.
Jonathan Doyle: And you can't fake that, right? I've got a feeling that in business, I posted something about this today, if you're not trying to get the win for other people, eventually it falls apart, right? How do you sustain that? We're going to talk about the culture and more of the backstory, but how do you sustain, in your own people, this idea of we're here to genuinely get a result for the people who are employing us?
Patrick Quade: I think part of that goes back to picking the right people to begin with. Making sure that you've got the recruitment processes in place, making sure that you've got that fundamentally cultural assessment to be able to flag the right people.
Jonathan Doyle: So this is coming back to Jim Collins, is getting the right people on the bus in the first place and then getting them in the right seats. When you're bringing people into this Synergy culture, and anybody listening to this, this is an important question because you can apply it to any business. What are you looking for specifically in your people?
Patrick Quade: I'm looking to have the professional ability, the underlying work ethic, but they certainly need to be able to have fun, know when work starts and stops. Also, consulting is very much a people business, so being able to have that good rapport, that good interpersonal skill set and being able to work as part of a bigger team is really important to us.
Jonathan Doyle: Some of the stuff we've talked about in the prep is we've got this abundance mentality, this belief that there's enough work to go around. If we're doing a great job, we're going to get the right kind of clients, we're going to bring the right people into the culture. You also mentioned self-belief. This is a big one. Was this from how you grew up? You have a belief that if you work hard enough, if you surround yourself with the right people, you can get a result. Where does your self-belief come from?
Patrick Quade: It probably doesn't come from anywhere in particular. If it does, it comes from the whole lifestyle as a child and growing up through life. It's something that I've always had. I've always been in a supportive place. I guess I've always been able to get results, whether it's school or whether on the sporting field, if you play as a team and you do your training and do all the hard work then the results come. A bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you get a few successes on the board, then the self-belief grows and you take bigger risks.
Jonathan Doyle: It's a momentum thing, isn't it? It's like you said, once you get a few wins and things start to come together, you get a sense of I've done this once, I can do it again.
Patrick Quade: Absolutely.
Jonathan Doyle: I can always rebuild. What are you enjoying at the moment about the place that you're in with Synergy? I take my hat off to you because I look at the size of what you're building with your team and the sleepless nights and stuff, but what do you enjoy about this phase?
Patrick Quade: I think the diversity. I think we said probably six or seven years ago and said, "We want to be Canberra's number one commonwealth accounting firm."
Patrick Quade: We're sitting there with a group of accountants and auditors and a little bit of systems capability, but not a lot more. I got off the plane this morning after going to Sydney last night with our new creative team after they've delivered one of the ads on [inaudible 00:11:04], but something fundamentally different to what we used to do and what we used to be, but a real addition to capability and just something really exciting, in terms of being able to offer a broader range of skills and services to the commonwealth market.
Jonathan Doyle: So for you, what is the essence of this building? Some people are like, "I want to be a one-person operator."
Jonathan Doyle: What is it about growth and building that really excites you?
Patrick Quade: It took us a while to actually realize that we could do more with more people. I know that sounds a little bit silly, but being able to run a full transformation activity from end to end, or being able to drive a project of significance and a reasonable size comes with having the right skill set and the right mix of skill sets.
Jonathan Doyle: That concept of risk, you go back to Michael Gerber's [inaudible 00:11:53], one of those seven books for entrepreneurs is getting yourself replaced as quickly as possible and moving into higher leverage work all the time. First off, you've obviously moved out of that place of doing everything yourself and you've brought more people on. How do you juggle the sense of risk? You've got your payroll, you've got all this stuff happening. You've got, obviously, great people looking at the numbers, but how do you approach risk personally? How do you actually ... When you're awake at 2:00 a.m. or you've got a big decision to make, what's your relationship with risk?
Patrick Quade: I think it goes back to that belief I commented earlier on. We tend to be reasonable risk takers in terms of what we put on. We put in place the processes to identify when it's failing. If it isn't working then we call it early and we walk away in a way that works.
Jonathan Doyle: What's that decision-making process in Synergy? You've got, from my understanding, you've got a lot of very capable people. You've got a lot of ... dare I say it, you've got some strong personalities and that's how the growth happens, right? You've got people that know their own mind, they know the directions they want to go. When it comes to this big decision making, mergers and acquisitions, growth, what are some of the key elements of this decision making process as a group? How have you found, over time, that you guys have juggled those personalities? How do you do it?
Patrick Quade: I think we've got a very complementary set of personalities that apply there. We've got some people that are big picture thinkers. We've got some people that have a detail focus. We've got the risk averse skill sets and things that come to the floor. Being able to get all those opinions on the one page, but being able to respect each other's views on it.
Jonathan Doyle: Does that happen? There must have been times when there's some pretty what I call in my marriage, robust conversations. Do you have a couple of those occasionally?
Patrick Quade: Absolutely. I think that's an important part of business. If you can't be open, full and frank then you shouldn't be in business together. Being able to pull together partners that you actually respect their opinion and you value their opinion is essential to success, because if you're one person you really, really can't succeed, because you don't have that diversity.
Jonathan Doyle: I've got a big post-grad background in business, but I think that's one of the lessons I learned latest was you've really got to start to let go to grow. We were talking about that in the podcast yesterday that, yeah, you've got to bring the right people on. You mentioned areas that you find most challenging and you talk about HR and you were courageous enough to mention empathy. You strike me, a little bit similar to me, that you know the result, you know where you're heading. You know what you want to get done. How do you deal with ... You talk about empathy here and there's obviously going to be people in a bigger organization that maybe are not always pulling at the same rate or they're not seeing the big picture. Talk us through that empathy piece for you. How do you deal with your own weaknesses and limitations?
Patrick Quade: I think empathy is something that doesn't come naturally to me. I'm very easily a black and white person.
Jonathan Doyle: You've got two little kids now.
Patrick Quade: I've got two little kids, so the empathy is increasing, absolutely, but it's a skill you can learn. I think it's really being able to take the time to think about the process and being able to step through my decision-making processes and my thought processes with others, but also then being able to bring the right people onboard that are naturally focused on that sort of area. Focus on your strengths and be able to get those that can help out with the areas of weakness.
Jonathan Doyle: Talk about that for a second, because there's a lot of confusion where people are going, obviously, focus on your strengths, but also build your weaknesses. Guys like Gary [inaudible 00:15:16] and big New York entrepreneurs just says no, do your strengths and that's it. Where do you sit on that? Do you look at areas of weakness in yourself and you want to hustle on that? Do you want to grow in that or are you like, "I know what I do well, I know where the results are. I'm doing that and I'm going to hire around everything that's weak."
Jonathan Doyle: Where do you sit on the weaknesses and strengths question?
Patrick Quade: I absolutely believe you should play to your strengths. On the weaknesses side though, I don't think you can ignore it. You've got to be aware of it, you've got to be mindful of it and its impacts. You can't hire other people to be you or to take responsibility of a poor action or a poor decision that you make. Absolutely bring the right people on board to fill those gaps, but just be aware of it, be mindful and treat it, but focus on your strengths.
Jonathan Doyle: So how do you access that level? You've talked about self-awareness here. I look at your life and the size of the organization that you're working with. How do you find any time for self-awareness? How do you find time for reflection? Do you journal? Do you have a couple of key people you talk to? Is it your wife? How do you not fall into the trap of just the manic intensity of what's happening in a bigger organization?
Patrick Quade: I definitely fall into the trap of the manic intensive. What's that mean?
Jonathan Doyle: You do?
Patrick Quade: Absolutely, yeah.
Jonathan Doyle: Understandable.
Patrick Quade: But taking the time out. I kind of enjoy getting out on the bike and going for a mountain bike ride or a road bike ride. Just taking that hour away to think about nothing other than riding on the bike. That actually gives you that time to clear your mind.
Jonathan Doyle: Do you think when you're riding?
Patrick Quade: No, to be honest it's probably the complete opposite. I'm just focused on not falling off and enjoying the experience.
Jonathan Doyle: Some people would know, regular listeners know that I power-ride with Pat occasionally. I'm a pretty obsessive rider. When you're doing 60 k an hour and there's nothing to stop you but a thin piece of Lycra, it tends to focus the mind on the immediate riding so you get to focus. In that manic busyness of the day, what stops you from ... When you come in each day, help people understand, how do you run your time? Do you literally put out fires, crisis management? Are you the kind of guy that gets up super early, maps out some key wins for the day? What's your own self leadership like in terms of how you set up your day?
Patrick Quade: I guess I'm an early starter and early finisher. One of the commitments that I've got to my wife and family is to be home for dinner each night. That means that most mornings I'm up at 4:00. I'm into the office but, again, I find those first couple hours of the day, in terms of getting things done that I need to do myself, absolutely essential. Being able to clear the email, prioritize what's on the agenda for the day and see what's up for the rest of the week.
Jonathan Doyle: How do you make that decision? Pin you right there. That prioritizing decision, what are some of the filters that you use as a business leader to prioritize what you do on a given day, because there's so much coming across your radar. How do you prioritize?
Patrick Quade: It does sort of happen. There's always an element of squeaky wheel in that in terms of what's the loudest squeak at the time, but it's splitting that load between what needs to be done for the day in front as well as we need to be doing things for the longer term. We really can't be focused on the here and now all the time. I've got a brilliant team over there. They're able to focus on delivering the projects and running them day to day. They'll let me know if something is fundamentally wrong, otherwise I'm confident that they can get things taken over.
Jonathan Doyle: Was there a moment ... Can you look back and see a moment when that transition began for you? When you moved out of that early phase of probably juggling pretty much everything. Do you remember a key time when you began to ease off and trust that the people around you were taking care of things?
Patrick Quade: To be honest it's probably something we still struggle with.
Jonathan Doyle: You still do?
Patrick Quade: We run a really flat structure, so I've been able to keep all of us out of some of the day-to-day activities and to focus on the bigger picture stuff is a challenge that we're grappling with.
Jonathan Doyle: Let's talk about that, because that's one of the distinctive things ... the research I've done on you guys and some of what you've shared here, is it that when you were beginning you looked at the big four, before 2008 at least. You looked at the big groups and you saw these vast corporate structures and was it as simple as going, "We need to do something different here."
Jonathan Doyle: Talk to us about what makes the Synergy structure a bit different.
Patrick Quade: Look, I think there's a few things that make us different from those organizations. The flat structure gives people within the teams the ability to influence the shape and nature of the work they do and the way that they work. Also being able to effect the direction and the way that the organization operates.
Patrick Quade: Often in the large organizations, any of the multi-nationals, you are just a cog in the bigger picture and you really don't get to shape or guide where the organization is going. That's really important to us that people feel empowered to actually make a decision, identify an opportunity, take it and run with it.
Jonathan Doyle: Is that throughout the organization? You'd say from pretty much anybody in Synergy is what you've just said there, they're able to identify a gap, a lack, a need, a client need and act and action it. Define your flat structure for us.
Patrick Quade: One of the things that people struggle with when the come to us is we don't have a lot of policies and rules and frameworks and other things in place. We've got a number of principles. The key principle being common sense, of course. If it's the right decision ... One of the problems that people find is that they find these opportunities or they find this initiative and they go, "Who do I need to ask to get approval to do that?"
Patrick Quade: Look, you don't.
Jonathan Doyle: Please decide for me.
Patrick Quade: It's quite confronting, particularly those that come out of the multi-national companies.
Jonathan Doyle: Yeah, they're used to being just directed around.
Patrick Quade: Yep. Also the speed at which we can change direction. If something isn't working or something is a burning opportunity, we can go and chase it. We can form a team and go after it straightaway.
Jonathan Doyle: Kick it around. There's a few great quotes that come to mind. US Navy admiral, Admiral Grace Hopper ... You may have heard this one, famously said that, "If you have a great idea just go ahead and do it, because it's always easier to apologize than it is to ask for permission."
Jonathan Doyle: It's often better just to have a run. How do you manage that? There's a risk, obviously, inherent. If this goes too far, everybody's just making decisions all the time. What sort of checks and balances do you have?
Patrick Quade: We have the standard performance measures and monitors in place keeping an eye on who's doing what, whether jobs are profitable, whether they're working and we're keeping in touch with our clients. If you're getting that repeat business and people are coming back, it's a good indicator that the quality of work is there.
Jonathan Doyle: The broader principle of this empowerment of people to do their thing ... is that from you? When did this emerge in the Synergy story? Where did this let's have common sense, let's have people identify because they're the closest to the issues. Where did it come from?
Patrick Quade: I think it goes to that shared responsibility. One of the other principles that underpins this is a one in all in type mentality, which means that we share the success and we share the values. It's not about, actually holding somebody out to be accountable for a mistake. It's about admitting, "Hey, look, I made a mistake," being able to learn from it and not doing it again.
Jonathan Doyle: Take us back. We talked about the backstory to start. You're 12 months out of uni. You identify that you don't want to just recreate the wheel or be another cog in that system. What happened next? You partner up with Anthony, was it Anthony?
Patrick Quade: Yeah, Anthony.
Jonathan Doyle: What do you remember of those early conversations?
Patrick Quade: Should we go and just try and create our own firm? We can see these other guys in the market. They're doing it. They don't seem to be any different or better or worse than what we could be. Let's go and take a piece of the market.
Jonathan Doyle: Do you remember your first client?
Patrick Quade: Yeah, first client at Synergy was the Department of Finance.
Jonathan Doyle: Was it really? Talk us through that.
Patrick Quade: We had a CFO there that believed that we could actually do something. We did a lot of work on the development of the commonwealth property under the Howard government there. We had some interesting engagements there where we learned a lot in terms of what was required to be consultants, all the stuff that we didn't have any idea about to begin with. Certainly I didn't. Worked with some pretty solid leaders in the public service as well on a program which was significant.
Jonathan Doyle: Do you remember being nervous that first client? You've talked about self-belief and abundance mentality, but did you have a previous connection there? Did you just knock on doors? How did you get the ball rolling?
Patrick Quade: The previous connection was through Anthony, my business partner at the time. I'm 12 months out of uni. He was eight or 10 years into a professional service career at that stage and he had the relationship. We were able to leverage that relationship to get that initial opportunity and then being able to deliver quality work meant that we ended up on panels and all the others accessed from there.
Jonathan Doyle: Do you remember at any point being nervous or thinking, "What am I doing here," or did you always know you could make this happen?
Patrick Quade: We were absolutely nervous and the first time that you lose a contract that you thought you were going to win and you sit back and you go, "Look, I haven't got any money in the bank, how am I going to eat? I was relying on that contract."
Patrick Quade: The other thing is when you get a significant growth, so you bring five or six people on and you're looking at, again, the payroll, the [inaudible 00:24:23], the debtors and you go, "How am I going to finance this?"
Patrick Quade: It's the same thing as yourself. Any small businessman knows that cash flow is king and being able to sit back and say, "Okay, well I won't get paid for the next three to six months in order to fund the growth," and off we go.
Jonathan Doyle: I wanted to ask you something. You've identified that a lot of those big organizations lose that mobility, they lose that customer focus, they lose that problem solving and all that sort of stuff. How are you guys going to stop that happening to you? Have you thought about that? You're growing fast. You're in a good town for this kind of work. You're on an upswing. How do you stop yourself becoming the very thing you reacted against? How do you ...
Patrick Quade: I suppose it's trying to make sure that we can keep that agility, keep that ability for people to make decisions within their own domain. Keep that sense of empowerment so that people actually feel that they are able to make decisions and that we've got the platform, the work environment, the training, the skilling, the leadership development, all those things in place to enable people to get on with things.
Jonathan Doyle: What's the DNA of it? There's practical things, but to really create something, a new approach, to keep that momentum, is it as simple as you've just got to keep yourself connected to that founding narrative?
Patrick Quade: I think it's keeping that passion. Being able to keep people excited about turning up to work. It's as silly as having good beer in the fridge or having the right coffee in the coffee machine that makes people want to come to work and be proud of turning up to work or making sure that you're meeting your functions and your quarterly or monthly catch-ups and the opportunity for people to mingle together.
Jonathan Doyle: Let's talk about that. We came up with Jason when we talked on the first podcast. Let's talk about your people. We talked, again, with Jason and people have heard that first one where often entrepreneurs are asked, "How do you get staff to care for the business as much as you do?"
Jonathan Doyle: The great example of this, again, was with Gary [inaudible 00:26:33] who just said, "You're dreaming. You can't expect someone to care about the business as much as you do. This is your thing, you founded it, but you can get them pretty close."
Jonathan Doyle: Talk to us a little bit about how you value people. What do listeners need to do? What are some of the elements that allow you to really care for your people?
Patrick Quade: I know it's an old adage, we put people above the firm and client. It's because at the end of the day we are a professional services firm and if somebody is upset or they need something, they've got to come first. We put it in that order in so much as, "Well, we've got to look after the individual consultants, then we look after the business and the clients come third."
Patrick Quade: At times, clients will find that quite confronting. When you walk in and you're saying, "Look, I've got to pull this guy out. He can't work there anymore," because of whatever's happened that particular day and the client's saying, "Well, can you do something else to help us?"
Patrick Quade: We may or may not be able to deliver that outcome. We aren't a business without our consultants, so it's really just showing that belief in them, backing them and just demonstrating that on a day-to-day basis.
Jonathan Doyle: Yeah, so that they feel that they're genuinely supported. That they're looked after and that there's good beer in the fridge.
Patrick Quade: Absolutely.
Jonathan Doyle: These things are important.
Patrick Quade: You do have some difficult times where people get unwell or you have a bad business outcome and just demonstrating those core beliefs to the team you're able to show that you do actually walk the walk. It isn't just a theory, it's something that you actually believe. I think people see that, so when you demonstrate that behavior, they go, "Actually it isn't just words and theories and talk, it's ..."
Jonathan Doyle: They can relax. Once they actually go, "Something went wrong, I didn't get attacked, I didn't get hung from the company flagpole."
Patrick Quade: Absolutely.
Jonathan Doyle: I wanted to ask you, can you look back ... I've often shared when our first office was over at the National Press Club and we were ... this was about a decade ago, and we'd had a very strong start and then we hit some bumps and it was just mine and Karen was working on the business end. She walked into the office, I had my feet up on the desk, I had just spoken to my accountant and I had this look that I think only spouses recognize. She walked in, she had something to ask me. She just stopped cold and she said, "What's happened?"
Jonathan Doyle: I just looked at her and I said, "We're done. I reckon it's over," but it wasn't and we fought back and we had a lot of success after that. Do you look back? Can you remember some key moments when your faith was tested? When your self-belief was rocked a little bit? Where you faced some difficult times?
Patrick Quade: I've thought about that for a while around whether we had those key moments and I think we have been somewhat fortunate. We didn't make the decision to grow until probably eight or nine years ago. And for want of a better word, we've been successful ever since. We haven't had that critical moment that you speak about where we were saying, "We're going to board up the windows, shut up the door and walk away, that's it."
Jonathan Doyle: Unplug the phone.
Patrick Quade: We've definitely had setbacks. We've lost major engagements that we were counting on and you walk back into the office and you've got a team sitting there going, "Well, what do we do now?"
Jonathan Doyle: When do we start. And you go, "Who likes surprises?"
Patrick Quade: Yeah. The way that you bounce back from that is just keeping that positive attitude and getting everybody on to the next assignment and being able to just say, "Hey, we don't win them all, but there are plenty of opportunities out there. You guys are really, really capable. Let's just focus on tomorrow and not worry about what happened yesterday."
Jonathan Doyle: That's a leadership thing, right?
Patrick Quade: Absolutely.
Jonathan Doyle: I wanted to ask you, how do you keep your enthusiasm and passion? I do a lot of work globally around burnout cynicism. A lot of business owners can get to a point where they're entrepreneurials, but then they do burn out and they get cynical and they can crack over time. Where do you place yourself at the moment on that spectrum and how do you keep your enthusiasm?
Patrick Quade: I think personally in terms of being able to keep the enthusiasm, it's that we've got new and different things happening every day. Being able to keep that diversity of skills and people and activities on the go is something that really, really attracts me to turning up to work every day.
Jonathan Doyle: Yeah, you never know what's happening.
Patrick Quade: To be honest, most of the people in the office are a damn sight smarter than I am, which is absolutely the way that it should be. Being able to walk into the office and learn something new from somebody every day is a brilliant experience.
Jonathan Doyle: If that's true, what do you bring? What do you specifically think that you bring to that organization when you're surrounded by people you say are smarter than you in some sense, what do you bring?
Patrick Quade: The passion and the work ethic. Also just the, I suppose, I do contribute to the underlying culture of being able to get work out but have some fun too. Not to take ourselves too seriously. It's not often that we're not picking on each other, doing something silly, being a bit stupid, being able to enjoy work, absolutely. Or good hearted, not too many upsets. That works well.
Jonathan Doyle: I was talking to one of your staff the other day who will remain nameless. He was talking about there's people in your office that just love spreadsheets. I cracked up. I take my hat off. There are people, as you well know, who are the world gurus on Excel formulas.
Patrick Quade: We've got a guy who participated in the World Excel Games. It's super impressive.
Jonathan Doyle: There is such a thing?
Patrick Quade: Absolutely. It's concerning.
Jonathan Doyle: Are you a spreadsheet guy? From your background and the study, do you like that side of the business or are you much more focused on ...
Patrick Quade: I've got the accounting background. I lived and breathed spreadsheets for years. I did get past it after a while though. It's like moving on to bigger and better projects and [inaudible 00:32:14] systems and also the rate at which technology is driving these days, spreadsheets are a thing of the past.
Jonathan Doyle: I remember when Zero first came out years ago and I was just like ... it was like the hallelujah chorus, a ray of sunlight pierced the clouds and I'm like, "This this, it's simple. It's beautiful and it works."
Patrick Quade: Move that to the tab layers and then there's the artificial intelligence [inaudible 00:32:38] tools that you find out now. It's just super impressive.
Jonathan Doyle: On that stuff, the disruptive nature of cloud sourcing and staffing in other countries and stuff, how does that go? Has it impacted you guys? I ask you that because we've always had the tension between remote staff and people here in the office or in other offices. I still kind of like having people in the room.
Patrick Quade: It goes either way. A lot of what we do is in a commoditized product, so we talk about solving wicked problems, which by the inherent nature, are different every time. I find that the offshoring models work well to the sausage machine mentality where you're processing a similar thing on a regular basis. What we do isn't. It isn't the same thing over and over and fundamentally being able to have that relationship, being able to have that interpersonal rapport with somebody and genuinely understand what their issues or problems are, you can't do that offshore.
Jonathan Doyle: Yeah, there's something unique about it. It's also just having cultures and having people in the room and building that internal culture. Let's talk about some of the key people in your journey. Who are some of the people that have been influential where you've got to now that you can look back ... You've got an abundance mentality, but often with abundance goes gratitude. Who are some of the key people that have been part of your journey so far?
Patrick Quade: I think I'd have to start with Alice, my wife. In terms of being supportive throughout the growth period. Again, you know yourself, but doing your 80, 100 hour weeks when you need to just to get things done, to get things across the line takes a big toll on the home life and the ability to spend time at home. Having a supportive partner at home certainly makes it a lot easier.
Patrick Quade: I think the business partners. Being able to think about things differently. Bringing different dynamics, bringing a detail focus, bringing a risk averse focus, being able to bring a bigger picture, strategic focus to Synergy has been essential. I've been able to see that and, again, the openness and the candor. Being able to just have those conversations. Being able to knock things out. Not always agreeing on the right way, but always being able to walk out of the room with a unified view.
Jonathan Doyle: How do you do that? Yesterday I was talking to someone about ... I'm a big student of history. That was probably Abraham Lincoln's genius. Lincoln is seen, back during the Civil War in the 1860s, was seen as the ability to hold together this diverse group of people in his wartime cabinet. Each of them called individually brilliant. How do you have these difficult conversations, how do you ... what if you're passionate about something, the other people don't see it, are you driving for consensus? Are you expecting it will leave the room or do some people just go, "Look, I don't agree but I've been heard and I accept that we're gonna go this way and the cards will fall as they do."
Jonathan Doyle: Talk us through that ... whether people listening have got three staff, 10 staff, 100 staff, how do you work through difficult conversations? How do you leave the room not with deeply resentful thoughts of cutting people's brake lines?
Patrick Quade: A couple of big parts of that is the culture of respect. Insomuch as there's not a value placed on opinion or belief. It isn't that it's because you're a bad person, it might just be that I disagree with what the view is on the particular issue that we're discussing on the day. There's no judgment passed in that. People feel that ability to be open and transparent. Absolutely, you're not always going to walk out of the room with a consensus view. At times you've just got to go with what is the agreed position? What's the known dissent? If it doesn't work though, it's also being able to walk back in the room and say, "Hey, apologies, I was wrong. We'll think about that a little bit more next time.
Jonathan Doyle: Is that hard?
Patrick Quade: Absolutely it is, being able to admit that. Again, with the right people in the room, it's okay. It's something people accept. They say, "Appreciate that. Let's get on with what we're doing today."
Jonathan Doyle: I guess it drives respect, doesn't it? It must do that, right? If you can have difficult conversations ...
Patrick Quade: I think respect is what actually gets people in the room in the first place. You've got the right team, you've got the right business partners.
Jonathan Doyle: I think the other big commodity at the moment is the real capacity to listen, right?
Patrick Quade: Absolutely.
Jonathan Doyle: The older I get, the capacity to actually really try and get what the other person is saying ... I guess for you guys, that's clients too, right?
Patrick Quade: Absolutely. The difference between listening and hearing. A lot of people can sit there and nod, but being able to genuinely understand.
Jonathan Doyle: With Alice and your kids ... How old are your kids now?
Patrick Quade: Seven and five.
Jonathan Doyle: Seven and five, okay. That's a pretty nice age. You can do stuff at that age.
Patrick Quade: They're great fun, yeah. Two girls, Amara and Willow.
Jonathan Doyle: Do they sleep?
Patrick Quade: Yeah, they're great. They've always been brilliant on that and I think that's predominantly Alice's doing.
Jonathan Doyle: Regular listeners would know we had three kids under three and a half and we just didn't work. We literally went ... I'm not making this up. We had over five years until we got a single night's sleep.
Patrick Quade: That's horrendous, yep.
Jonathan Doyle: Recently we got a dog and my wife, Karen, totally figured out how to train this thing properly. This thing now sleeps perfectly. It's trained perfectly and I just said to her, "How did we miss this? We can do it with a Cavoodle, but we couldn't do it with three children."
Jonathan Doyle: I wanted to ask you, how do you go with switching off? You're a guy who's bringing so much, you're passionate, hard-working, driven kind of guy and building stuff. How do you go with your off switch? Mine's terrible. When I come home ... I'm an introvert by nature. I find it very hard to make that jump between the intensity of the day and ... How you going with that? How does it work?
Patrick Quade: The drive home is always an interesting time for me.
Jonathan Doyle: Being able to decompress.
Patrick Quade: Being able to decompress, finalize those phone calls.
Jonathan Doyle: Is Metallica on full boar or is it silence or what do you do?
Patrick Quade: To be honest when I get in the car, it's usually those last-minute phone calls. So listening to the seven or eight voice messages which have built up in the last few hours of the day, being able to call people back and close a few things out, all those things that need to be closed out. I think being able to walk in the door and have the two girls come up and give you a hug and then get on with dinner and baths and all the fun family things it does let me switch off for a few hours. I'm not going to pretend that I don't wake up in the middle of the night thinking about work.
Jonathan Doyle: I find saying this yesterday on a different podcast, that time of the night after you've had a big day and I read stories to my kids. I was talking to a guy who's an exercise physiologist and we were talking about sleep patterns and stuff and how your body needs to get into this wind down routine. I was like, "I get home from work and I read the kids stories and the lights are low and the next thing I know it's 8:00 or 9:00, you're trying to drag yourself out."
Jonathan Doyle: It's a challenging season of life, building a business and being the age you are, but you seem to be keeping it all together really well. Any other key people in your journey? Alice has obviously been a huge part. Some of the key partners. Are there any other people that you can look back on and say, "My story has something to do with these people," anyone else?
Patrick Quade: I suppose my broader family, my mom, my dad, my youngest brother. Being able to have a good mate like my youngest brother and be there as an example and somebody who's been successful in business has been a key driver. Being able to turn around and say, "You can do this too," is a great motivator for me.
Jonathan Doyle: The last few questions I want to ask you want you're really proud of in what you guys are doing at Synergy? Of all that you're doing, what are you most proud of at the moment?
Patrick Quade: We recently had a planning day and at the planning day we had Rob De Castillo who we were fortunate enough to have him come along and talk to us. One of the key questions that he put to us was, "What's your legacy?"
Patrick Quade: That's really what you're going to be proud of. At the end of the day, we can all make a dollar and that's neither here nor there. I think one of the things I'm proud of is being able to provide that platform and that environment for people to excel. Being able to be whatever they would like to be as a professional consultant, being able to pay their mortgages, being able to put their kids through great schools. Being able to have a great time doing it and do some really meaningful work and deliver those outcomes. We're 200 odd people strong now. That's a lot of families, a lot of success in the Canberra market. Being able to do that is fantastic. We've got our charity and community groups. We've got our other initiatives which add great value as well, but to me the real motivator, the real success is all those stories where people have built a career. They feel proud to come home and say, "I'm a Synergite."
Patrick Quade: It's nice.
Jonathan Doyle: I think you should be incredibly proud. I think the reason I started this podcast was I'm so passionate about free enterprise for those reasons. It's what you guys and your team and your partners are building that does pay mortgages, does put kids through school. I think you guys should be really proud of it.
Jonathan Doyle: In terms of the product you're delivering for people, what are you proud of? What is the X factor that you guys think you really do bring to clients?
Patrick Quade: I think it's the ability to work with them, to genuinely partner with them, as you touched on the understanding and the listening before. Being able to take those issues, solve those problems and be able to prop those individuals up to enable their success. Being able to do really, really solid work. It doesn't always have to be the shiniest and the prettiest and the most glossiest, but it's always, always top quality, really good substance and really helps them solve their problems.
Jonathan Doyle: I want to ask you something that just occurred to me. Alan Weiss is seen as the guru of the consultancy model. He's the guy that moved from billable hours, per se, to pricing models around the value of projects. Where do you sit on that? His take is once you go to a billable hours model, it's immediately inimitable to the client, because your job is to ... a less principled provider is going to try and bill as many hours as possible and that's what we see in the legal profession. Your [inaudible 00:42:31] model, your partnership model, how does that work for you guys? How do you sit on ...
Patrick Quade: It's complex. It's actually a really complex argument because the concept of value pricing implies an informed buyer that knows exactly what they want on day one.
Jonathan Doyle: Exactly.
Patrick Quade: So some of the really poor traits that we see from consultancies is they'll price low on a value-based proposition and they'll change throughout [inaudible 00:42:56].
Jonathan Doyle: And just grow the scope.
Patrick Quade: Yeah, absolutely. We tend to work with our clients. We do some value-based pricing, but we find that a principle-based approach to time, materials works really, really well.
Jonathan Doyle: Everyone knows where they stand.
Patrick Quade: Yeah.
Jonathan Doyle: My friend, back to De Castillo's thing to wrap up, what are you building here? There's a great line in the remake of Wall Street ... Remember the original Wall Street with Michael Douglas? The remake with Shia LaBeouf, whatever his name is ... There's a line that always stuck with me there where the evil Gordon Gecko replacement character is doing all this nefarious stuff and the young guy says to him, "What's your number?"
Jonathan Doyle: The guy goes, "What do you mean?"
Jonathan Doyle: He goes, "You guys, you always have a certain dollar amount that you're gonna ... then you'll stop."
Jonathan Doyle: This guy turned around and it all paused and there's this dramatic Hollywood moment and he just goes, "More."
Jonathan Doyle: That was his number, more. I was always fascinated because you're not that kind of guy. You have obviously built very deserved success. What's this legacy question for you? What do you want Synergy to be? What are you building? When you're 60, 70, what do you want to look back on? Have you thought about that question yet or are you just in the process of ...
Patrick Quade: We're just too busy chasing that carrot. I feel like the donkey with the stick and the string and there's the carrot and we just keep chasing it for the moment. Certainly haven't thought about stopping and certainly not in the foreseeable future, in terms of that growth. I think if we ever got to the stage where we became a corporate monolith where things were too difficult, where people didn't feel empowered, they weren't able to make the decisions and make the life choices that they want to, that would be a time to have a serious look at the way the business worked. For now, we've got a really strong platform, good framework, good culture. I can't see it slowing up anytime soon.
Jonathan Doyle: And plenty to do. You're not walking in there tomorrow asking if anybody can give you some jobs today, there's plenty in front of you.
Patrick Quade: There's a little bit to do, yeah.
Jonathan Doyle: Mate, listen, let's wrap up. I just wanted to encourage everybody listening ... especially we've got public sector listeners. You've got to check out Synergy. I'm going to have all their links here in the show notes and we're going to talk about it again in the outro, but Pat, you're a great example of why we love business in the Canberra region and probably no one ever says this to you, but thanks for having a crack and building something, because you are paying mortgages and building the community and doing something really cool. I'm sure Alice tells you from time to time, but thank you for what you're building. Wish you guys absolutely every success and people are looking for a great employer or a great business to learn from, please check out Synergy Group. We'll have all the links there soon, but Pat, thanks so much for coming in.
Patrick Quade: Thank you Jonathan. I appreciate it.
Jonathan Doyle: Thanks.
Jonathan Doyle: Hey guys, Jonathan with you once again. How good was that? I hope you got some value there. I hope you enjoyed hearing Pat's inside his journey, how he built the Synergy phenomena and I just hope there was something in there that's just given you an idea or some motivation to press your own business journey forward. Please make sure you subscribe to the podcast. Please go check out the links in the show notes. We'll have links to all the Synergy stuff. If you're on social media, please come and check us out at Instagram. We've got a really good Instagram profile for Canberra Executive Coaching, three or four times a day, just some really good motivation for you in business. All that stuff's in the show notes. Please check it out. Subscribe to the podcast, share it with people, flick this in an email to somebody say, "Hey, check out this new podcast," we'd love your help with that.
Jonathan Doyle: Please reach out to me personally if you'd like some help with mindset coaching or business strategy. That's what we're doing at Canberra Executive Coaching and I'd love to just sit down with you, meet up with you and work through some of the challenges that you're facing and see if we can help you get to the next level. That's it for me this week, I hope you enjoyed it. Thanks so much, Pat, if you're listening to this. Thanks for coming in and making time with what you're doing at Synergy. Everybody, we're going to have another great interview for you next week. They come out Mondays. I really hope you're going to enjoy it. For now, have a great week on your business journey. Hustle, work hard, support your team, bring a great product or service to people. Add value to people's lives and your business is going to flourish in time. I'm Jonathan Doyle, this has been the Canberra Business Podcast. Speak to you again next week.