March 1, 2024

Tech entrepreneur David Shein has had extraordinary business success in Australia.
He migrated there from South Africa in 1986, where he founded and built up Comtec Communications into Australia’s largest network integration company with 1400 staff.
He sold the business for just over $1 billion 14 years later –  becoming the first Australian so-called “unicorn” – a  privately owned start up valued by shareholders at over $1 billion.
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Since then he’s become a start-up mentor and venture capitalist, helping other entrepreneurs get started.
Shein has just published a book – called The Dumbest Guy at the Table – all proceeds go to the mental health organisation Black Dog Institute.
Surrounding himself with the right people was the key to his success in business, he tells Kathryn Ryan.
“I’m yet to meet anyone who’s talented in every aspect of a business and you find the right people. Like, in any sport, you can’t win with just forwards, you need backs as well, you’ve got to have a great team of people around you.”
Shein acknowledges he had a series of lucky breaks, when he started his career in Australia he had a job he didn’t like so his opportunity cost was low, the business he wanted to get into has only one major competitor who were performing poorly and he also got in on the ground floor of an emerging area of technology.
“In 1987, when I started, it’s hard to believe today but computers weren’t as pervasive. They weren’t on every desktop. They weren’t in every household. And so, companies had just started putting computers into their organisation, but it would have been the accountant, might have been a couple of PAs or EAs doing word processing, accountants doing spreadsheets.
“And then people wanted to start sharing information and local area networks was basically the concept of linking up as computers, sharing information, using productivity tools.”
His advice to budding entrepreneurs is go for it but with caveats.
“If any of my three boys wanted to have a go, I’d back them to the hilt. But I would say to them, if after a reasonable period of time, you’re not earning at least as much as you would in a job, and two, importantly, you’re not building an asset that you can sell one day, don’t waste your time.”
He puts business success down to the “4 Es” – energy, energise, edge and execute.
“It requires a lot of energy to be a leader. I mean, if you just take the last couple of years, no CEO of a large company, a small company, banked on having a global pandemic.
“So you’re running a major company in New Zealand, you didn’t really think that your borders were going to be shut, you didn’t bank on that.”
Likewise, he says, you have to energise others.
“Third, you have to have the edge to make those tough decisions.
“And finally, do you have the ability to execute on that business plan?”
He realised early on despite being in the tech sector his skills lay in sales and marketing.
“I just found people who are amazing in those areas that I was never going to be able to do. So, I think my skill was being a salesperson.  As a founder, as an entrepreneur, you’re always selling – you’re selling to customers, you’re selling to staff, why they should join your organisation, why they should stay in your organisation that was what I was good at. And that’s what I focused on, then left the rest to other people.”
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