By Alexandra Cain
There’s nowhere to hide if you work with your spouse and you’re both psychologists.
While I imagine this might be reasonably frustrating, it’s also a huge source of strength for Alison and Darren Hill, who run a business called Pragmatic Thinking. The company helps its clients better manage their people.
“Building a fast-growth business is really hard. Staying married, despite what it’s like during the loved-up haze around the wedding day, requires a lot of effort. So combining the two, well that’s either a recipe for lunacy or the greatest self-development course you can undertake,” Alison says.
Pragmatic Thinking, which has 15 staff, was ranked 33rd in last year’s Australian Financial Review Fast 100 list.
Alison says being able to work together as a husband and wife has advantages because they understand each other’s work. For instance, they both often do public-speaking gigs and appreciate what that means for the other spouse.
“We know what it’s like to be on the road, speaking to audiences. That mutual understanding is awesome on a personal and professional level to able to support each other,” Alison says.
“Really early on in our business growth we talked about our fears of the business coming between us. Together we created this mantra that ‘love is the bottom line’. For us, this means that if there’s ever a time that business pressures impact significantly on our relationship, we would shut the business down.”
Alison says of course there are moments of strain between herself and Darren. “But if a seismic crack appeared, our marriage takes priority. This has been such a powerful mantra for us that it’s now become one of our company values. For our entire team, love really is the bottom line.”
What’s so interesting about this business is Darren and Alison draw on their understanding of psychology to help run it.
To this end, Darren says the greatest challenge has been their own psychology. “Part of the challenge is having the right head game for the business game,” he says.
Alison says: “Business will challenge you every day. But as a business owner, if you’re not growing personally, the business quickly becomes stagnant. Personal growth may not happen at the same time or at the same pace for you and your spouse. You don’t always have to do this together. The lesson we’ve learnt is how important it is for both of us to make the time to invest in our personal growth, and to know that the other person is growing at a pace that is useful for them and that’s OK.”
The Hills have so far bootstrapped the business without external finance. “To be honest we wouldn’t have it any other way,” Darren says. “That said, there are various funding models that certain types of businesses need to embrace to get them off the ground. But there is a big difference between raising funds and actually running a successful business and I would much rather be known for the second rather than the first.”
Pragmatic Thinking turns over $5 million a year. Over the next three years, the aim is to double this to generate revenue of more than $10 million a year. Revenue has grown by 170 per in the past two years.
The Hills credit their accountant with helping them achieve their success. “We are lucky enough these days to have a very good accountant,” Darren says. “Having a very good accountant years ago would have made things easier. Ultimately the language of business is accounting and understanding this better helps you do business better.”
The Hills acknowledge there are risks to growing quickly. “The wages bill goes up fast. But ultimately the decision to expand has meant better delivery of our products to a wider audience, which has allowed us to build a better business,” Darren says.
Their vision is to be one of the most recognisable culture and leadership consultancies in Australia. If the company continues on its current trajectory, that will be well and truly on the cards for this exciting firm.