The Universal Business School Sydney (UBSS) commissioned Cyril Jankoff and Daniel Bendel to write a second book for them, a book on entrepreneurs. Its purpose is to give new local and international undergraduate and MBA students a feel of what everyday Australian business success looks like. To give a realistic view of successful entrepreneurship, the authors chose 15 successful entrepreneurs and interviewed them. This is the eighth interview. Each interviewee was asked the same questions and at a later stage the authors reviewed all interviews and summarised the commonalities. The focus of the cases is on Sections III to VI.
Key points from this interview:
- Enjoy the journey more than the destination.
- Balance mental wellbeing, good food, sleep, regular exercise.
- Give and receive support from your family and friends.
- Relax and don’t stress about small issues.
- Importance of understanding your customer’s customers.
- Importance of perseverance through difficulties that we all face.
Robert (Ramin) Roshan Founder and CEO of Byte, a successful medium-sized IT Consultancy. From a refugee to creating a successful digital technology company from scratch. A well - balanced Entrepreneur. “Don’t sweat the small stuff.”
I. Key dates
Ramin (who later changed to Robert after arriving in Australia) was born in Iran. In 1985 he came to Australia with his older brother. Although their plane arrived in Perth in the middle of the night, many people had gathered to greet them. Their friendly faces made a positive and lasting impression. The people at the airport were mostly the new refugee arrivals and their friends. At the time most of the refugees from Iran were young.
- After nine months in Perth, Robert moved to Melbourne, where he studied computer science and electronics.
- In the early 1990s, Robert worked for Bonlac Food before branching out on his own as an entrepreneur. His strong will and his perfectionism, which he admits may have made him difficult to manage as an employee, proved beneficial when it came to starting a business.
- In 1993 Robert founded Byte: “the business was just me”. The business started with humble beginnings in a backroom in a house in Kew with a single three-day contract.
- In 1999 Byte had its first major contract with Amcor and did a lot of Y2K work.
(Authors’ note – remember the Y2K drama?)
- In early 2000 Byte diversified in e-commerce as it was the “dot com” era! It was a significant focus on supply chain projects.
- The Global Financial Crisis of late 2000 made Byte move from only performing project work to doing project work, and managed services and recurring revenue work.
- In 2016 Robert appointed a good friend and mentor Greg Embleton as CEO, and brought Stanley Havea on board as Sales and Executive Director. This allowed the company to expand into both Sydney and Canberra. It also meant that Robert could spend more quality time with his family.
- Today: The company employs more than 100 people, with offices in Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra.
- Byte is a leading digital technology provider, partnering with Telstra, Microsoft, CISCO and Citrix.
- Byte’s success has meant it can offer internships, do pro-bono work and donate to charity.
- Robert recognises that the persecution he experienced as a member of the Baha’i faith in Iran is impossible to forget, it also allowed him the opportunity to come to Australia and start a family. He has fond memories of growing up in Esfahan, a city he likens to Melbourne, but Australia is home and has been for a long time. Further information about Byte.
II. Getting to know the person
1. What is success?
Robert says that to be truly successful people need to be authentic and strive to be the best version of themselves. He defines success as ‘the building and sharing of things’, and that the important part of this is ‘the Journey rather than the destination’. He applies this philosophy to both his business and personal life, as he considers that both require an investment in time and effort.
Those who know Robert understand how important family is to him. He has been married to his wife Ruth, artist and musician, for longer than he has been at the helm of Byte. All of Robert’s extended family now lives in Australia. He says: “It is a big family, as I have four brothers and one sister and their partners and children, about 20 of us in total. I love to spend time with my dad, who is 85 now.” Robert’s dad loves a game of backgammon. When Robert asks his dad how he is, he always says, “I couldn’t be better!” Robert must have inherited some of his optimism, because he says: “No one lives forever and I’m old enough to avoid regrets”. He says that “Family and work are the competing priorities you need to juggle when time is the most valuable commodity.”
2. What is your favourite TV show, movie or book and why?
- Book: Man’s search for meaning by Victor Frankl, which is a study of a Holocaust survivor and hope for survival.
- Creating a new mind by Paul Lample. This is a Baha’i text.
- Movie: Blade Runner (Original preferred)
- TV: Deadwood. This is an American western television series.
3. What are your hobbies and/or interests?
Robert is quite active, and he is especially keen on skiing and cycling. He considers himself a “new age guy” and loves cooking while his wife does the house repairs and maintenance.
4. How did you get through your worst times?
Robert emphasises the need for perspective. He considers that most of our day-to-day problems are relatively minor and unlikely to impact on the most important aspects of life, that is the health and well-being of family. For Robert, even the most serious business problems rate only 6 out of 10, allowing him “to keep calm”. He does not panic and carefully collects the information before making any decisions.
Robert is keen on listening to classical music in the evenings, this along with his cycling passion help keep him relaxed.
5. What keeps you awake at night?
Robert realises that there are some problems that he cannot do anything about – such as health issues and family matters. In the case of business, he says that if you are staying awake at night after 25 years in business, perhaps you should consider other ways of earning a dollar! He believes that sleep is essential, because interrupted sleep is likely to induce errors during the day.
6. What are your typical daily routines?
Robert has a weekly routine rather than a daily routine and aims for the routine to include flexibility. His weekly routine includes:
- Ensuring that at least 4 days of every week he cycles, and for this he usually rises at 6 am.
- Cooking three days of every week for the family.
- Maintaining his diary at a maximum of 60% full.
- Retiring by 10.30 to 11 pm, and winds down by listening or watching something interesting yet peaceful.
- Visiting his dad to have one-on-one time, including playing backgammon.
7. What advice would you give yourself starting out?
Robert would advise young people not to get too stressed about business issues and to put life into perspective. He considers that in his area of IT, it is unlikely anyone will die due to any mistake. Also, he says that young people should enjoy the journey rather than focus on the outcome. He feels that there needs to be a balance between the required motivation to create a sense of urgency, but not to create unnecessary stressful situations. He noted that many people need to create a certain edge to perform well.
(Authors’ note - think of John McEnroe, the highly successful 1970s, 1980s and 1990s American tennis player that used creating disruption as a competitive advantage).
IV. Business case examples
8. Provide a case you managed well and why?
In 1998, Byte’s first major contract was with AMCOR (now Orora Group). Today the packaging company remains one of Byte’s valued customers. Robert advises that the key to success is to understand the client’s business and their priorities. He feels that many people do not understand the need for an end-to-end viewpoint of their clients’ business. Robert says it is essential for him to realise that his customers’ priority is their customers. Therefore, he needs to understand his customers’ customers.
9. Provide a case that did not go well and why?
Byte was born in 1993, and the company grew quickly. He feels that in some ways, it grew too quickly. He recalls that within five years, it employed 40 people. “That was the result of Byte acquiring a company for a seven-figure sum,” says Robert. “Two years later, the only asset that was left of that company was a “lava” lamp that Robert kept at home which he now jokes about.
Robert and the infamous lava lamp
It would take Byte five years to recover, but Robert took the long view and at the end of the day, it was ‘only money’. He adjusted his lifestyle, changed his plans, and moved on. “You have to,” as he says. “You must accept that out of 10 decisions you make, 2 of them will not be good decisions.” He laughs and continues. “Unfortunately, this was an important decision, and it went wrong.” Robert says there will always be decisions which in hindsight were not great. However, it is a test to deal with the situation once it becomes evident that there is a problem. He feels that many people do not have the mental and physical fitness required to navigate their way out of these difficulties.
10. What conclusions can be drawn by comparing these cases?
The failure of the acquisition was a test of Robert’s resilience. He says that in business, you need a strong resolve and that it is important to view mistakes simply as obstacles that need to be overcome, or as opportunities to learn. He feels, and quotes “that if you do not have that mindset, I think you’re going to have a very tough time.” On reflection, Robert says self-belief was critical to his ability to move forward. He credits this to the love of his family and the support he received from the Australian people when he first arrived here. That support has given him the confidence to face many challenges.
11. What cultural issues did you experience? How were they overcome? How is Australia different? Were these business cases affected by cultural issues?
Robert grew up in the minority Baha’i faith in Iran. Because of this life was difficult, and he had to deal with a lot of prejudice. He built up grit and strength to deal with these challenges. Some people still have some prejudices, which he finds disappointing, but he treats everyone the same. He came to Australia as a 20-year-old and married at 25 to an Australian and has never had any major difficulty with the Australian culture. He does understand that sometimes you need to address people from different cultures differently. At Byte, there is a significant emphasis on the culture of the organisation and management team to treat everyone the same, and this includes the team in India.
Authors’ note: Compare Robert’s view of his Indian staff to that of the Warrier case study, being Case Study Number 1
Byte makes a conscious choice to employ people of all ages and nationalities, including those that find it difficult to get employment due to their level of language skills. When receiving their resumes, Robert feels a deep empathy with such people. “When I came to Australia, I could not speak English. You realise that their intellect is perfect as they have done all the training, but they cannot communicate well. Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have a job.” Robert says that he has learnt to employ people based on character. He has a soft spot for employing people with English as their second language.
Inclusivity and investing in people are two of Byte’s values. Accordingly, Byte strives to integrate religious and cultural practices into the working day, to ensure employees feel at home. It is not unusual for Byte’s Melbourne meeting room to be turned into a prayer room.
V. Volatility (for example COVID-19)
12. How has the virus affected your business?
Robert sees the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted him, his staff and the business in the following areas:
- Physical well-being.
- Mental well-being.
- Customer service delivery.
- Financial impact/unpredictable nature.
The JobKeeper government COVID-19 payments were of some minor assistance for the company, but his staff are highly paid, so the JobKeeper rate is low in proportion. He stated that the business lost 60% of its project-based work, but lost only 20% in the managed services area of the business. It was lucky that the Byte business has a significant managed services revenue and good customer base to help them navigate through the pandemic.
13. What lasting impact do you think it will have on your business?
One impact is the importance of working on the business than in the business, for example the need to take time to focus more on risk management.
Robert has emphasised the long-term importance of strong mental and physical well-being, particularly with staff working from home. He noted that currently less than 60% of his staff are working in the office and that many of those coming into the office are not keen on public transport.
Robert has recently moved the office from St Kilda Road (the inner city of Melbourne) to the CBD as the St Kilda Road landlord was not co-operative and flexible for Byte’s needs. One problem with working from home is the loss of productivity from the collaborative nature of face-to-face working. He feels that whilst individuals can work from home, there is better work productivity when working physically together.
14. What have learned from it that you will now implement in your business?
Robert feels that there are many lessons to be learnt from the COVID-19 pandemic, and some of these changes will most likely be permanent. He sees that an emphasis on the managed service part of the business, perhaps comprising some 50% to 70% of the business, will provide more stability against these potential interruptions. It is his opinion that COVID-19 has been a real test of grit in management, that is the ability to grind positively through difficult times, but there will always be a level of unpredictability. Management needs to be able to quickly react to issues that arise. He feels that it is now more important than ever to regularly have his Risk and Compliance Committee meet and keep the risk register up to date. Planning for a pandemic, and like situations, should be a permanent feature from this. Robert said he had previously implemented this process when working on a consultancy project with the Accountancy firm, Pitcher Partners.
(Authors’ note – COVID-19 reminds us of the need to try to identify volatility in advance and seek to manage the identified risk).
VI. Family business
15. Are you in a family business, and from your experience what do you think are the advantages and disadvantages of family working in the business?
Robert does not consider Byte to be a family business, as he is the sole owner and decision maker.
The success of a family business depends on the style of business management. Robert says that his business often requires robust discussions, and this can affect personal relationships causing collateral damage. He generally prefers not to work with family members because of the potential for this damage to personal relationships. Robert would like to ensure his family relationships are as harmonious as possible.
The success of families working together also may depend on the nature of the business, where some businesses may be more amenable to family members working together. His business is in professional services which necessarily need to be very dynamic and pro-active to customer needs. He feels that this can easily be disrupted unless the right services are delivered promptly.
He concluded by stating that risks increase when one adds the dynamics of a family member working in the business. Robert advises that he can handle this increased risk, as he has employed family in the past, but it may not be for everyone.
The Byte Head Office team
Robert is just to the right of the middle wearing glasses, grey jacket and white shirt.