Jack Cowin is a bloke who’s been around the block. At the age of 79, the Canadian-Australian entrepreneur has managed to amass a net worth nearing $5 billion – an impressive fortune which has been defined by a handful of key achievements: introducing Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) to our sunburnt shores circa 1969 – for which we’re eternally grateful – establishing Hungry Jack’s as the domestic answer to the international Burger King franchise circa 1971, seizing the reins of Dominio’s Pizza, and serving as Executive Chairman to one of the country’s largest privately-held businesses in Competitive Foods Australia. Despite all this and more, Jack Cowin isn’t quite ready to hang up the works boots just yet – in fact, he’s got a few life lessons to impart.
Speaking to AFR Rich List Co-Editor Julie-anne Sprague on the renowned financial publication’s brand new How I Made It podcast series, old man Cowin imparted some wisdom upon the masses to explain – get this – how he made it. So, without further ado… mouths shut, ears open, and notepads at the ready. It just might be the most valuable read of the year. If nothing else, perhaps you’ll gain a better understanding of how a prolific billionaire who didn’t just inherit his coin operates.
13 Life Lessons From Jack Cowin
1. If you lose your health, nothing else matters
“How much money would Kerry Packer have paid to get a new kidney? Include techniques such as meditation or physical training into your life to maintain your mental and physical health.”
2. If you lose your integrity, no amount of success will be meaningful
“Success will produce a hollow feeling when you look in the mirror. What would Alan Bond, Brian Quinn, and Laurie Connell say on this subject? What would they say is important to them today if they were around?”
3. Control your own destiny
“Most satisfied people I know have control over their lives and affairs. We are probably all seeking the independence to do what we want to, when and where we want to do it. 90% of the population are in jobs, activities, or relationships out of economic necessity. They stay in a job they hate. Have a vision or dream of where you want to go. Develop your passion.”
4. Be prepared to take some risks
“Life is an adventure and a challenge. When you are young, you can afford to fail because you can start over again. When you are old, you need the stimulation.”
5. But there are caveats to risk
- Don’t bet the farm
Things go wrong with the best-laid plans. Spread the risk. In cricket terms, you don’t have to swing for a six on all occasions. Singles and doubles will get you there. Don’t underestimate the power of compound interest.
- There is no shortage of good deals or ideas
Don’t fall in love with a business. Don’t put yourself in peril chasing something.
- The number one priority is survival
The first job of a CEO is to make sure that the company stays in business and survives. Understand what threats can take you out of the game, and what decisions, if wrong, could be terminal.
- Think through the worst-case scenario action plan
Accept that without risk, and the possibility of failure, maybe success will be limited.
- Don’t wait until the dogs are barking at the door to do things
Banks don’t give out umbrellas when it’s raining. When they pass around the bickies ($) take some, as they probably won’t be passing them when you want or need them.
6. Counterbalance the risk
“Get some money out of a business that is risk or market adverse. Counterbalance the existing investment in your business. You will sleep better at night.”
7. Keep some powder dry
“Make sure you have an opportunity fund, or the capacity to raise money when the right deal presents itself. Be prepared to model, test and prove that people will pay real money for the product before a boots-and-all commitment. Take a step-by-step approach rather than putting it all on the nose to win.”
8. Find a tolerant partner
“You need a partner who can appreciate your search for success and fulfilment. Be good to your kids as they will be the ones checking you into the nursing home. It can be very unfulfilling trying to enjoy yourself when nobody else likes your company.”
9. Never ever give up if you think you are right
“Big companies operate on the basis that the little guy will fold. Showing up eliminates 85% of the competitors who won’t go the distance. The flip side of this is don’t die on your sword in pursuit of mission impossible. Be prepared to cut your losses. As Kenny Rogers sang, ‘You got to know when to hold them and when to fold them.'”
10. Laugh at yourself
“Don’t get caught up in your self-importance. Try to be humble even if you don’t believe it. Be able to laugh at yourself.”
11. Life is about dealing with people
“You can solve the biggest problems if you can maintain a smile and a sense of humour. Try and surround yourself with smart people who complement your skills. Pay attention to the big stuff. Delegate the mundane. Delegate, but don’t abdicate.”
“Learn to focus. Take a lesson from Warren Buffett and Bill Gates. Get a mainstream business that produces cash flow; be a rifle, not a shotgun; the taxman helps share in losses instead of capital; beware of new girls, prettier theories, and diversions.”
13. Understand the business
“And understand the fundamentals including market cycles. There have been three great bubbles: The paper deals of the mid-80s; the dot.com boom; and the mid-2000 US housing fiasco.”
And in the end, life is an adventure. It’s all about the journey, not the destination.
You can check out the episode of AFR’s How I Made It podcast featuring Jack Cowin (and his life lessons) below.