Good life's a Simpl one for IT-loving doc

REBECCA STEVENSON
Last updated 11:37 01/07/2013

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In 1979 an 18-year-old Bennett Medary landed in New Zealand on a return ticket from the United States, purchased by his father, a man he had met a handful of times.

Medary, the product of his parents' summer fling, had finished high school a year early and started university.

He never planned to stay in New Zealand. But after his return ticket was cashed - his dad needed the money - he was stranded here.

Not a bad thing, he recalls, with free education and student allowances. "Everything was free. It was unbelievable."

A good 35 years later Medary has built his life here, and a successful business, Simpl.

Simpl spans Medary's two primary loves, medicine and IT, with a focus on "e-prescribing" electronic prescriptions which he says will help the health sector share vital patient information.

Simpl is a substantial business, with revenue over $10 million a year, and growth in 2012 of over 20 per cent.

What have been the biggest obstacles in running your company?

Twice I have faced extreme financial challenge, which has happened because of insufficient cash flow. While the business was functioning well it seemed that almost suddenly money didn't arrive when it was meant to and expenses were due. And this took me by surprise.

This is when life has become extremely stressed and the risk of failure is very real and evident, and survival is paramount. The potential impact of this on people and their lives is devastating. This sort of situation is debilitating and demanding, but it also teaches a lot of lessons.

And if I am really honest, another obstacle has been me. Most recently I have found it difficult to evolve my role from being the founder of Simpl to chairman. Truly removing myself from the business and letting go, so I can play a wider industry role, has been a personal challenge.

My philosophy about obstacles is they are are opportunities that provide strength and wisdom. For me, the greatest obstacles have also been the most enriching and humbling.

Name one thing you've learnt while in business and from who?

I've learnt that the experience of business, with its many challenges, can bring humility. This lesson came from Sir Angus Tait, who was humble enough to spend time talking to me when I faced my most serious financial challenge.

The short version of the story is that I gave him a call simply because I was trying to find some advice about the situation I faced. He didn't know me and he didn't have to take the call, but he did.

He told me his story and what he had done to overcome his own challenging situations. He then said very reassuringly I would get through it, and it would be ok if I didn't; and if I didn't, I would get through dealing that, and that was ok as well.

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This simple support gave me great belief that I could overcome what was staring me in the face. It taught me that people with big stories, have had big obstacles and also have big wisdom.

What are your business and personal goals?

For me, these two sets of goals are very inter-twined and you can't separate them. As my grandfather used to tell me "you can't jump over your own shadow." Try it, it doesn't work

So whatever I pursue I want to do well. It has to have merit, be worthy and tangible in terms of achievement. It also has to allow me to grow, provide lessons and give me the ability to share and enjoy. It will help me develop as a person and support the lifestyle I enjoy. What we call work-life balance is exactly that as long as we acknowledge they are not counter forces.

At work a constant goal is to create what I call magical moments. A moment like this could be celebrating the win of major tender, finishing an amazing piece of work that's been praised by a client, giving a great presentation, or eating, drinking and laughing over a team lunch, when everyone is telling stories. Magical moments are self-defining and team-defining.

I've learned that it's possible to build this connection with the people you work with and with this connection comes passion, performance and results. And because so much of life is focused on our work, we deserve to have these magical moments at work.

Right now my business and personal goals revolve around a new phase in my career when I have removed myself from executive responsibility at Simpl and I'm involving myself in governance, advisory and consulting roles. I am enjoying having the freedom, flexibility and capacity to engage with other people to learn new things, enjoy pastimes as well bringing new form of value to the roles I have with commercial, public and charitable organisations I am involved in.

Overall, I want to play an important role in enabling New Zealand to become a far more developed digital nation than it is currently. Playing a bigger picture role has become increasingly important to me so I can use the skills and knowledge I have to help New Zealand play to its strengths and improve our economy whilst protecting the special Kiwi lifestyle we know and love. I'm really passionate about that.

Do you have any tips for budding entrepreneurs?

Be very clear on why it is you are considering going into business and what you want to achieve from it.

You should embark on an endeavour if you are truly passionate about it, can stick with it, learn as much as you can and practice to become an expert. If you work towards being really very, very, good, at almost anything at all, then the financial aspect will take care of itself, along with emotional and spiritual rewards.

But be honest with yourself about your interest, passion and commitment, all of which have to be real and sustained. If this is real, please do have the courage to go for it.

What have you sacrificed to be an entrepreneur?

By my early 40s I had become far too focused on the business. I was very unhealthy and over-weight and I ended up in hospital after suffering a blood clot.  I also had tendon and back surgery.

I became too remote from my family and I ended up with a divorce and three very unhappy children. My business life had made me unhealthy physically and mentally, at huge cost to myself and my family. But I didn't recognise this until I was brought to account through life's circumstances. It was only afterwards that I was able to reflect on what went wrong. The result was that success in one aspect of my life actually felt like failure. So there was deep sacrifice, a lot of pain and enormous learning.

My advice is for anyone embarking on an entrepreneurial career is to take stock of who you are and what you have, and invest time in considering what you are foregoing in order to achieve your goals. If it is what you intend, then that's fine. But if the cost out-weighs the benefits, and the sacrifices are too great, recognise it and do something to sort it out.

Are you prepared for failure?

I have always been prepared for failure and I've been through some near failure experiences and I have also failed in some other ways. Failure is fundamentally upsetting and drains confidence. The key to being prepared for failure is to build resilience. I believe resilience is fundamental and should be taught more in schools. If we can become resilient at an early age we would be far more prepared for life's experiences, which in turn would help the success of future generations.

What do you do in your downtime?

My family is incredibly important to me, including my three grown up children who are all still in New Zealand. I'm also an "outdoors person", so whether it's fishing, diving, cycling, boating or enjoying outstanding NZ food and wine - I just love taking advantage of where we live. In a few weeks' time I am off with a group of New Zealanders on a cycling tour around the 100th running of the Tour de France. Over eleven days we will ride along much of the famous course and climb thousands of meters in the mountains - this is my idea of downtime.

Do you think businesses should "give back" to the community?

People have a subconscious desire or need to engage in something beyond themselves, so giving back may not be the correct term.

This is one aspect of what binds community and if we can satisfy this need in the way we work, so much the better. A good example at Simpl relates to the work we do in the health sector, where making a difference for people is more obvious. That makes people feel good about their work. It's always good to have your own activities outside work, but doing good with colleagues helps bind the team together even stronger.

One of Simpl's latest projects is taking part in the Cure Kids Great Adventure Race, a multi-sport team event over six-to-nine hours in the Hunua Ranges. Lots of sponsored teams try to raise up to $10,000 for research into life threatening illnesses. The benefits to the people who participated were enormous!

I'll have a new personal experience when I take part in the Big Sleep Out for the Lifewise Trust on July 4 this year. As an American this is a great way to celebrate Independence Day!

What has been your biggest disappointment since you started your business?

It would be inappropriate to be specific, but at times I have become disconnected from my true self in terms of where I sought to take the business and our team. The subsequent situations that arose were not severe but ultimately forced me to take action in order to restore congruence that had been lost. The worst of these circumstances was probably more emotionally stressful and mentally debilitating than some of the financial challenges I've mentioned.

The lesson from this is as an owner of a business you are also the leader of the team and you have to absolutely protect core values and behaviours. It is not about being right or wrong. It's about protecting congruence and relationships, and those who represent your brand. Nothing is more precious.

Where is your favourite place to relax?

On my boat surrounded by family and friends, having just landed a five pound snapper, celebrating with a cool glass of wine in my hand, a big smile on my face and laughter and music ringing in my ears, as the sun warms my face.

What is one thing readers would be surprised to learn about you?

At home I can burst into song about my family, and sing about anything on the spur of the moment. It's as if life is a musical and there is a song for everything. My children just roll their eyes!

- © Fairfax NZ News

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