simPRO Business Development Manager, Brian Burke, has seen his fair share of success and failure. Before joining simPRO he ran a successful electrical contracting business with his wife Justine and then suddenly lost everything in 2010 at the end of the Global Financial Crisis (GFC).
From experiencing the loss of his business, the passing of a parent, facing personal crisis and bankruptcy, Brian has lived through some of life’s great challenges and made it through with his positivity and passion for life intact. As many business owners will be facing challenges like these in the coming months, we asked Brian to share his story and some wisdom on building resilience in the face of adversity.
Building a million-dollar business
Always blessed with an entrepreneurial spirit, Brian says he was a go-getter from the beginning of his career. After breaking his leg and then losing his job in Australia's 1993 recession, he decided to take the plunge and signed up for an electrical contractor course in Sydney.
A social person by nature, Brian quickly built out his contracting jobs, and before he’d even finished the final year of his apprenticeship he had three other contractors working for him.
“I think I’ve always been the sort of person who believes in keeping your mind active and giving yourself goals to achieve,” Brian said. “Losing my job was really tough but I also saw it as an opportunity to try my hand at something new.”
Everything was going along well until late in1999 when Brian had an accident which left him with three fractures in his back. During the six months of recovery and rehabilitation, his once thriving business eventually ground to a halt. Now unsurprisingly, this did not stop Brian.
After meeting his wife Justine and the arrival of their first child, the family decided to get out of the city and move to the Sunshine Coast in Queensland.
“There was a lot of development and opportunity up north,” Brian said. “We grew the new business pretty quickly. In just a few years, we had grown to 10 people in the field and five people in the office. We had people working in homes and building sites all over the Sunshine Coast.”Realizing that he needed a tool that could help them manage their multiple field service staff and growing workload, they moved from a paper-based system to simPRO’s end-to-end operations management.
“Implementing simPRO had a huge impact on our lives. Justine was able to transition from four days a week at work and one day at home with the kids to one day at the office and four days at home. It was amazing how much efficiency it introduced so quickly.”
Global Financial Crisis tips the balance
In 2010 Brian and Justine’s business was booming. “We were really starting to fly, picking up huge contracts, while other businesses were falling by the wayside because of the GFC,” Brian said.
“We had 15 people in the field and a full-time Operations Manager to keep things ticking along. It was all looking good, and we were going to come out of the crisis alright. And then out of nowhere, we had three of the building companies that we worked closely with fold in the space of three months. While the work continued to flow, our cash flow quickly dried up.”
Suddenly the business was facing liquidation and Brian was close to bankruptcy. Everything that they had spent years building began to crumble around Brian and Justine.
“Before I knew it, I spent weeks lying awake and looking at the ceiling every night. My mom had passed away in October of 09 and then suddenly we had lost $500K AUD off our business cash flow. In the end, we had to sell our investment property, the business and worst of all….our family home, all the while dealing with the grief of losing my mother.”
Brian says that's when the anxiety and depression started for him. Dealing with a lot of challenges one right after the other left him in a haze of pain and confusion. Trying to do the right thing by his employees and manage his grief had turned the once resilient go-getter into a man he didn’t recognize.
“I know now that I wasn’t coping. At the time I just didn’t want to realize that I was about to lose everything. It was really tough on both me and Justine, not to mention our employees. I just couldn’t accept it, and I was looking for ways to save the business and avoid bankruptcy.
I went to see a business advisor we had been working with and he said to me, ‘mate you look terrible. You need to go and see a doctor right now. You need to speak to someone and tell them what is going on.’ And I think that was what saved us long term.”
Talking to others was the ‘light bulb’ moment Brian needed
After seeking support for his mental health, Brian says that the biggest thing that had an impact on his anxiety and depression was moving back home to Sydney.
“A lot of our friends and business associates in the north had dropped us after the business failed. Honestly, it felt like I had a plague. No one wanted anything to do with me. So we packed up what we had left and moved back to Sydney. It ended up being the best thing we could have done because we had people we could trust and people we could rely on all around us.”
Having a support network allowed Brian and Justine to get their lives back on track.
“Talking to all the different people in my life was the biggest thing that helped me build the road back from these challenges. All of a sudden it turned a light on and I realized it was okay to not be okay.
Now, I have no hesitation at all. If I see someone in pain I will reach out to them. Sometimes the people you expect to help you can be the ones to avoid. But actually it doesn’t matter who you talk to. It’s amazing how compassionate so many people are, even if they are a stranger. So why not be that person for someone else?” said Brian.
Since moving back to Sydney, Brian joined simPRO and now works with business owners to help them overcome their challenges running their business. And he’s always happy to lend an ear to their problems too.
We believe that supporting the mental health of you and your team is now more important than ever.
For resources related to the trade industries please visit our COVID-19 Crisis Management Hub Page for updates related to the current health crisis.
If you are struggling with mental health we have provided the phone numbers and websites of some important support services below.
Support resources to help you start a conversation about mental health*
Mental Health America - They provide resources that promote mental health and provide education on early identification and intervention for those at risk. They can also assist in finding support groups and therapists in your state. Visit https://www.mhanational.org/
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline - This national network of local crisis centers provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Visit https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention - this organization raises awareness, funds scientific research and provides resources to those affected by suicide. Visit https://afsp.org/
*Please note that simPRO does not endorse these organisations but provide them as resources for self directed support.