Swimming with sharks: Glen Richards explains why every entrepreneur needs a mentor

Think you can succeed in business on your own? Dr Glen Richards – one of Australia’s most well-known and successful business leaders – begs to differ. 

Richards is best known as a judge on Channel Ten’s Shark Tank, but it’s his savvy business acumen that landed him a spot on the show. As the founding Managing Director of Greencross, he turned one small vet practice in Townsville into an empire consisting of 300 pet stores and 200 veterinary clinics. 

Since retiring from his executive role at Greencross in 2014, he’s been spending his time as a professional investor, mentor and director with a number of companies, and is currently the chairman of ASX-listed companies Healthia and People Infrastructure. 

He’s seen it all in the business world – and if there’s one thing this shark knows for sure, it’s that no man is an island. Speaking at the Brisbane Business Hub’s latest On the couch session, Richards explained that every business owner owes it to themselves to find someone they can turn to for advice and inspiration. 

“Small businesses often stay small because they can’t accept advice and mentorship,” Richards said. 

“A great mentor challenges you and pushes you to think about where you can go. You know, I had a golf lesson the other day, and my instructor said, ‘Glen, you want to hit the ball straighter and longer’. I said, ‘Yeah, of course. What are you on about?’ He asked me where I was hitting the ball at the moment, and I told him I was aiming it down the fairway, just to the right of the bunker. He said, ‘I need you to look up, and start aiming for that cloud up there in the sky’.

On the couch with Glen Richards

“After about 15 balls, I was hitting golf balls longer and straighter than I ever had before. I said, ‘Are you some kind of a magician? What have you done?’ And he told me, quite simply, ‘I lifted your line of sight’. 

“Business is like that. You have to have mentors that can challenge your thinking and lift your line of sight. You need people around you who’ll say, ‘You’ve got one site, but why couldn’t you have two?’ And then they’ll go through the planning cycle with you and point out the things you might bump into. Great mentors open you up to more opportunities, they expand where you can go with your business, and they help you to de-risk your journey.”

Business is like that. You have to have mentors that can challenge your thinking and lift your line of sight. You need people around you who’ll say, ‘You’ve got one site, but why couldn’t you have two?’

Rather than relying on one mentor, Dr Richards advises business owners to have multiple voices that they can turn to. 

“I call it a menagerie of mentors,” he said. “You can’t find one person who’s across every single subject, so instead, you find a diverse group of mentors that you connect with, whether that’s weekly or once every six months. There are young people in the business community that I’ll go and have a coffee with every three months, because I love seeing their progression. I’ll leave them with a few difficult questions, and try to offer an opinion that will hopefully make their life a bit easier as they go through their business journey. 

“You know, when I started my vet practice in my 20s, I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I thought I knew everything… but the reality is, the older I get, the more I realise that I don’t know things. It wasn’t until I rolled into my 40s, and now my 50s, that I seriously started listening to people. Authentically listening, not just pretending to listen, and taking advice. 

“In my 20s, it would have been a waste of time to give me advice, because I thought I knew everything. When I look back, I think I could have achieved what I did with Greencross five years faster – easily – if I had the right mentors around me. Probably 10 years faster. I could have done it in my early 30s, not my mid 40s, if I had good mentors around me to de-risk my journey.” 

On the couch Glen Richards

Crucially, Dr Richards believes that every conversation with a fellow business owner – whether it’s a sole trader or a CEO with 3000 employees – is a chance to expand your knowledge. 

“You should take at least one learning away from every single conversation,” he said. “That’s what I’ve found. If you’re having a conversation with someone and you take the attitude that you’re smarter or better than the person you’re talking to, you’re probably not going to get anything out of that conversation. But if you love listening, and you come into a conversation with the view that you’re going to learn something from this person, you usually will. 

“The important part of a community like the Brisbane Business Hub is the opportunity for business owners to bounce off each other. That enriches your thinking, and it enriches your connections, because the person you’re chatting to might have someone in their network who can help speed up your journey or solve a problem you’re having and make your life a little bit easier. 

“At the end of the day, it’s about bumping into someone and having a coffee, because you never know where that conversation is going to go. Places like the Brisbane Business Hub help to facilitate that, and that’s why they’re so important.” 

To request a free mentoring session with one of the business experts and industry thought leaders who are available to help you build your business across every industry and sector, visit businessinbrisbane.com.au/mentoring.

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Brisbane Business Hub

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