“As a society we admire success, but then criticise the very traits that are the enablers of that success.” Jonathan Hallinan, Founder and Managing Director, BPM
The traits of a successful entrepreneur are double-edged. We should be strong leaders, but not egotists. Obsessive and productive, but not single-minded. In control, but not controlling. At the helm of BPM, I have had to explain—and often defend—some of my own approaches to business. I have even found myself defending my competitors when people have been criticising the very traits that I believe we share, and are some of the main contributors to our success. For it is a very unique set of characteristics that set us apart as successful entrepreneurs, and often the perceived flaws that many love to openly criticise in others are in fact the qualities we most admire and are needed to succeed.
These traits have proved to be my best tools in the marketplace, and those which I believe truly define today’s entrepreneurs. Without them, I believe that we cannot succeed in this incredibly sophisticated and competitive marketplace.
My enthusiasm, for one, has often been described as egotistic. I certainly take a much more activist approach to my marketing than the industry norm dictates. My films are audacious, big-budget projects. My towers are getting taller. I don’t compromise on working with the best architects and interior designers. I take such a personal approach to my métier because I take very seriously the legacy that I am empowered to pass on to our cities through the buildings I leave behind.
But having an ego is quite different from being an egotistical person. Egotistical motivations are derived from a superficial place rather than one of genuine intent and purpose. For me, developing iconic buildings that can stand proudly alongside the most majestic buildings in the world, is my life’s purpose. Without an ego, I don’t think I could have built BPM from the ground up, as a one-man operation to the storied company it is now, without suspending the belief that I could fail. I don’t think I could have navigated the political, cultural and economic terrain of this industry without a supreme conviction in my own powers. And I certainly could not have taken on the enormous commercial risks that I have without an extreme level of self-confidence and self-belief.
You will find echoes of me in everything at BPM, but to call it egotistic suggests that I am the sole force behind the work. In reality, there are scores of innovators contributing to our vision. An egotistical person is one that will seek the win at any cost. I do have an ego, but I believe in creating a win-win for everyone I do business with.
To have a grandiose view of one’s own talents is what actually forms the very foundation for entrepreneurial success. My burning desire to achieve is relentless because I maintain an unwavering belief that I am capable of fulfilling a potential far beyond my current position. I always knew what I was destined to become. I have fought every single day to realise that vision of myself. And I could only place myself in positions of extreme vulnerability to get there because of a profound faith that I would always prevail.
To experience the notoriety and status that inevitably comes with huge success becomes a drug to the entrepreneur. We set our sights ever higher, yearning for greater accomplishments and accolades that fuel our perpetual appetites for even more daring risk-taking. It is an exhilaration that becomes impossible to abstain from.
In our office hangs one of my much-loved quotes: “It takes the obsessed to reach the unattainable and then set their sights higher still.” That’s another maligned trait of a successful entrepreneur: obsession. So few are ready to admit that they are obsessed because it can mean sidelining all of life’s pleasures in favour of work. I have never made that distinction. My business and my life don’t accommodate each other—they integrate and enhance each other.
The obsession to succeed is completely innate for me, like any other appetite or instinct. To be obsessive by nature arms you with a resilience and tenacity that pure drive and determination cannot impart alone. And it is during times of trial and challenge that this distinction becomes even more pronounced. In the past, I have seen many people in business withdraw themselves too soon because they aren’t completely obsessed with the outcome. They allowed themselves to become casualties of the industry. I believe that entrepreneurs who are fearlessly obsessed with their work have all the weapons they need to ensure not only success, but survival.
To achieve success, an entrepreneur must not only be obsessed with their work but also obsessed with making it perfect. The best are not the ones who make grandiose promises. They are the ones who stand by their product or service and believe wholeheartedly that it is without failure or flaw.
As an entrepreneur, I don’t have much tolerance or sympathy for failure. On paper this may sound like a medieval approach to management, which one might think leads to fear, guilt and conservatism among my team. But failure is not part of our operative logic because I make it known that a “mistake” is really an opportunity in disguise. When an entrepreneur is able to reframe their thinking about what constitutes failure, they are able to see that the best antidote for it is persistent and unwavering determination. The only sure way to triumph over failure is by pretending that it doesn’t exist.
Headstrong leaders like myself are often branded with various labels, one of them being the “tyrant”. The difference between tyranny and entrepreneurship, however, is that the latter demands you have a compelling vision with broader, inclusive perspective.
The ascent to success is steep and daunting, and I’m sure every entrepreneur can remember when they first started. I was on site as the building and project manager when I established BPM in my late teens. Only when I opened an office and employed staff did I learn about organisational culture, strategy and leadership. To give us the best head start, I had to project a ruthless front in an industry that is still so eager to crush its upstarts. My personal style has mellowed, but members of my brilliant team have steeled themselves to the pressures of the job and my demands. It takes a very dedicated group to be able to thrive in this climate.
As a post-GFC entrepreneur, it is just as important to be reactive as it is proactive. You can’t control the future but you can determine how you weather the shifting storms of micro and macro forces. BPM didn’t become a leader in this industry by letting itself float aimlessly. A successful entrepreneur must be able to steer their team through the high tide as skillfully as the low one. A successful entrepreneur must be able to transcend every economic and political obstacle. These environments are ever-changing and the ability to be highly adaptable is one that has kept my business nimble enough to withstand any force.
Entrepreneurship is by no means an exact science. It often varies greatly from prescribed styles of management and even contemporary business leadership. A successful entrepreneur must sometimes defy the doctrines of modern management to translate a vision into reality, and must often do so in the face of critique and judgment. Fortified with the diligence and stamina that only a seasoned entrepreneur can be equipped, we become increasingly more robust as time prevails, setting our sights ever higher.
Next time you find yourself criticising another person’s traits, ask yourself if indeed these qualities are the very enablers of their success. Ask yourself if their characteristics are in fact the talents that have elevated them to achieve the impossible.
Jonathan Hallinan is the founder and Managing Director of Melbourne-based property development firm, BPM. Hallinan actively manages a $1.4 billion pipeline of residential projects across Australia and the United States, including vertically integrated businesses in property management, construction and finance.