By John Thistleton
Mick Spencer, almost 25, is expecting to double his multi-million dollar business he started six years ago.
For a young man who struggled at school with short-sightedness, a dodgy heart and teachers doubtful of his prospects, Mick Spencer has not done too badly for himself.
In May he will celebrate his 25th birthday, and expects to have doubled the value of his sports apparel company OnTheGo, which turns over $2 million annually. His first business mentor, his father Greg, ignored advice to get a government job when he first arrived in Canberra, instead starting a carpentry business which evolved into Cercol Construction Services.
Mick started out in his father’s O’Connor woodturning shed aged 19, with a desk, clapped out laptop computer, mobile phone and internet access that required him to run out the front for an internet connection to send and receive emails, then run back to work.
“Mum and Dad thought I was mad,” he said. “I would get a shipment of 1000 products in, I had to get Mum to clear the spare room and fill cupboards full of boxes, before I re-boxed them and delivered them,” he said.
Although an irregular heart beat threatened his life, he was marking solid sales for branded sports gear by age 22 around Australia. Today he has seven full-time staff in Australia, a back office in India with four staff, 25 people in a manufacturing partnership in China and 25 staff in Fiji.
Business mentors including former David Jones chief executive Paul Zahra have changed his outlook. He realises he cannot do it all on his own, wants a board of directors and enough new staff and investment to become a $100 million company within the next decade.
“To do that you have to let go to grow,” he said. “My age has been a strength and a weakness in some regards; a strength more than anything where you can see where you are good and where you are bad. It is so important, you can’t wear every single hat when you run a business.”
He says growth will enable him to push further internationally and achieve more. “Every product we sell we get one child into sport from an under-privileged area of Australia and Fiji, so it is a direct one-for-one model.”
Mr Spencer hopes to open a new factory soon in Pakistan. He says he visits all factories to make sure they are not sweat shops.
“Growing a business rapidly is not easy, not for the faint-hearted. We have built everything up and lost it because of online fraud, we have put money into factories in the early days that had promised delivery and didn’t and we lost the money. You continually have this path of making it, and losing it.
“The beautiful thing about that, as long as you fail fast and look at it positively and move on quickly and make sure you don’t do it again, you build a better business.”