Julian Van der Waal’s mission to support business development stems from his empathetic concern for the difficulties and challenges faced by nearly every business owner in the country if not the world. While having limited ‘formal’ qualifications his experience far out ways most consultants his age. From SAAS models, retail outlets, and hospitality as well as manufacture, importing and high-end technologies are all industries that he has been involved in within his own business ventures.
He has rebuilt companies from losing thousands per week to 5 figure weeks within a few short months, coached and trained thousands of sales agents, and spoken about business, leadership, and sales success nationally for over a decade.
The future for Julian will take him through many avenues of business, personal development, and constant adaptation, where the only consistency is change. One of his favorite quotes ‘If you have a dream, it is your obligation and responsibility to do everything you can to ensure that dream comes true” this is the power of the human spirit and resolve.
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Table of Contents
Let’s start with a brief introduction first. Introduce yourself to our readers.
Julian Van der Waal: Thanks Valiant CEO,
My name is Julian Van der Waal, husband and father of 4 gorgeous girls. Born in country Victoria, South East Gippsland, Traralgon and moved with my parents to the Gold Coast when I was 8 years old. Moved down to Adelaide where I met my now wife, she had a beautiful retail boutique in the Eastern suburbs, got married and had 4 children.
With a background in competitive sport, Cycling, racing A grade on the Gold Coast from the age of 15, the drive to compete and challenge myself flows through every vein in my body, I don’t even like people driving in front of me.
I was involved in Door to Door sales for 15 years, running one of South Australia’s most successful agencies for just over a decade. My wife and I sold the retail store when my first daughter was 6 months and now we are looking at starting another business designed around our girls.
Our audience is interested to know about how you got started in the first place. Did you always want to become a CEO or was it something you were led to? Our readers would love to know your story!
Julian Van der Waal: How did I get started?
Leading people was not always a strong suit, especially at school, but I always felt a little different than the rest. While finishing my year 11 and 12 on the Gold Coast I was heavily in Cycling and was riding and racing around 600-800km’s per week. Up in the morning between 4:30 and 5am and would do 60-130kms before school. The first step to leadership is the skillset and the ability to lead yourself. The second skill acquired from racing competitively was to actively participate as a high-functioning team member. I think sport and competing at high levels, is an incredible base for combining inner strength, determination, and digging into the depths of physical and mental exhaustion to achieve a result.
Post, school and cycling I was working in a restaurant and then a nightclub and quickly became one of the main hosts on various promotional nights and shows. I suppose this, as simple as it seemed at the time, was the beginning of managing people
Upon reflection, I am not sure if ‘becoming CEO’ was consistently on my mind but what I vividly remember is that I wanted a better life for my family. We didn’t grow up with all that much outside of a great education, although I didn’t really perform all that well at school, the relevance of various subjects didnt make much sense to me. One thing that I am grateful for is that we grew up with the understanding that ‘if we wanted something, we just had to work for it’
“Selfmade” is a myth. We all received help, no doubt you love to show appreciation to those who supported you when the going got tough, who has been your most important professional inspiration?
Julian Van der Waal: Most definitely a Myth.
The beginning of my working career and first ‘real job’ was in the kitchen, so if anyone has seen Gordon Ramsay, Kitchen Nightmares, that was my first working environment, you either become tough, or you quit, it’s just that simple – this taught me resilience and emotional toughness as well as the ability to really push through the pain
Then moving into Door to Door sales, again, as you can imagine, resilience! – from knocking on doors and then becoming top 3 in the country for the Optus campaign, moving into Fundraising I was in the top 5% every quarter until I opened up our first office in Adelaide. The founder of this group was a great friend at the time and showed an incredible example of consistency and a level head during various challenges that we faced as an organisation.
I can’t say that a single person or entity has been the most important as there have been so many individuals that have taught me something slightly different as well as showed my various characteristics to follow and to reject as a CEO.
How did your journey lead you to become a CEO? What difficulties did you face along the way and what did you learn from them?
Julian Van der Waal: I believe that, in some way, our path has already been mapped out (I know a little woo woo) but I really do believe that, although you can not just sit on your lounge waiting for something to come to you, you must always be working on something.
From Music, to Cycling, Cooking and Nightclubs to Sales, everything I had ever done I always did the very best that I could, and to be honest, always had some sort of coach along the way. If you want to perform at the highest level, you need to have someone that guides you to that upper echelon of success. The other aspect is where self-confidence is accumulated, If you are only acquiring it from a single source, if or when that source is reduced so to your confidence, build confidence in as many areas of your life as you can.
There have been many challenging times over the last 15 years of business and growth, one of the biggest lessons that I have learned is the ability to forget the pain out of the situation and mentally delete it. There are some painful moments of my career that I really can not remember at all. I don’t try to dwell on past failures or past results, we are here right now and always need to be moving forward.
Tell us about your company. What does your business do and what are your responsibilities as a CEO?
Julian Van der Waal: Empower Solar Commercial was established in the middle of our South Australian lockdown, off the back of doing nearly $2m in sales for another solar company and helping them become established in a new State. I was approached by someone that could organise the operational side of the business and I would concentrate on the sales.
After differing opinions of the direction of the business, I bought him out and had to re-setup the company from scratch again and very quickly learn the operational side of the business for myself. Within a matter of days, it was completed.
We then decided to expand our sales force and within 2 months we had 14 salespeople in 4 states, we then had to service those sales with installation partners, suppliers and create a strong brand within a very saturated marketplace.
Our focus is commercial solar (we also do residential but not the main focus), the differing aspect is that we predominately use PPAs (Power Purchase Agreements) to enhance our clients’ bottom lines without any capital expenditure, it really is the perfect model for franchisees, and those manufacturing companies that do not own their own buildings.
My role now is working with our partners such as Servo Pro, which has over 2000 independent service stations nationally, and their new group that works alongside independent shopping groups.
We also just signed a partnership with an EV Charging company and an Energy Retailer, collectively giving us more products to support the renewable space with Australia’s cheapest prices as well as a blockchain-backed marketplace that our clients, their families and friends can all be rewarded for selling their excess power at 2 or 3 times the market rate.
Outside of running the day-to-day operations, logistics, and maintaining great relationships with our staff, installation teams and suppliers the main focus is to continue to develop our mutually beneficial relationships with new partners that we feel are aligned to our brand and our cause.
What does CEO stand for? Beyond the dictionary definition, how would you define it?
Julian Van der Waal: To be a CEO is more than just the ‘head of the business, they are the captain of the ship telling their men (and women) when to pull the sails down when to brace for impact and stir the ship into new uncharted lands.
They need to have the vision, they need to have tenacity, they need to be empathetic, not sympathetic to the people on their team but they also need to be relentless with their focus on the future of the business as well as a little creative flair and out of the box thinking, especially in the current business landscape.
When you first became a CEO, how was it different from what you expected? What surprised you?
Julian Van der Waal: Nothing was really surprising outside of how much work that is required that isn’t really on your task list.
There are days when the phone calls are lengthy and strategic but the execution of my actual role is very limited, being busy is my least favourite thing, productive days are what count but also it is easy to get caught in the travel and meeting side of the business rather than the execution.
Flying to Sydney for 2 days of meetings and a function is great, face to face time is always great but sometimes at certain times of the year and what stage of growth etc the business is in, it can really be a distraction.
There are many schools of thought as to what a CEO’s core roles and responsibilities are. Based on your experience, what are the main things a CEO should focus on? Explain and please share examples or stories to illustrate your vision.
Julian Van der Waal: Very broad question and it will really depend on the CEO core strengths ie if they are one that remembers the name and address of every one of the 500+ employees and all their birthdays, then they should focus on the culture and ‘feel’ within the company and build the executive team around them.
If their core skills are within building the brand and company, then they should have a strong HR team around them.
But as a definitive base answer, they should be across all departments especially finance (without the micro), sales, and marketing, and depending on the type of business; product development, route to market and if there are any expansion plans then that too
Share with us one of the most difficult decisions you had to make for your company that benefited your employees or customers. What made this decision so difficult and what were the positive impacts?
Julian Van der Waal: In 2017, our group decided to start our own supply chain of clients and leave the supplier we then had, this led to several months of court proceedings, subpoenas, and hundreds of thousands spent on legal fees to fight an injunction that may have been placed on our group. We also spent another hundred thousand spent on creating the right legal agreements and terms for our staff and contractors to ensure that they would be well looked after.
Mentally having the cloud over your head of a potential injunction inforced by a Judge for those months was extremely challenging to build the company not knowing if that company would be closed when the mail arrived that day.
We then went onto create the largest fundraising agency in the country and generated over $100m within 3 years for our clients, probably closer to $200m today.
How would you define success? Does it mean generating a certain amount of wealth, gaining a certain level of popularity, or helping a certain number of people?
Julian Van der Waal: This answer has changed several times in my life and career; at first, it was the normal ‘big house and fancy car’ but with 4 kids it changes slightly, although I still love nice cars and looking to buy/build a bigger house.
With life being so busy with the kids and working so hard for many years at 70-100 hours a week, I want to enjoy life, go to the gym in the morning, enjoy a nice dinner with my wife (which we hardly get to do) and just relax knowing that the future is safe.
The external joy that I find ‘success’ has brought or the success that I have had over the years is the ability to talk to a business owner and quickly diagnose their business problems, create new ways to generate revenue, and quickly turn any business around.
Some leadership skills are innate while others can be learned. What leadership skills do you possess innately and what skills have you cultivated over the years as a CEO?
Julian Van der Waal: The innate skills would have to be resilience and tenacity, I truly believe that anything can be done with the right mindset and sales, I have always been really good at sales and building relationships.
The skills that I needed to work on were the ability to compartmentalise various operational concerns, now I feel that it has become a great strength.
I feel that in the beginning, I wasn’t really a fast learner, but now with nearly 2 decades of experience in running companies and building businesses there has been so many unique experiences and varied aspects of business knowledge across a wide range of industries, there is just more experience to draw on hence the speed of uptake in new areas of growth.
How did your role as a CEO help your business overcome challenges caused by the pandemic? Explain with practical examples.
Julian Van der Waal: We set up the company during the pandemic, and of course we have actually faced more challenges at the end of last year with panel prices going up, installers unable to install during lockdowns, which pushes the project times out.
One thing that everyone needs to remember is to keep a level head, getting emotional does not help at all, I have been called an “emotional retard” before but that was from a sales agent that was in an absolute mess of emotions, I simply said to her “If I was in your emotional state, how could I be of any help at all?” it’s not about being unemotional but something is completely out of your hands.
Clear and consistent communication with clients and the team is paramount. Don’t be scared of the hard conversations, they are never as bad as you think they are going to be. One of the worst things from a client’s POV is no communication.
Do you have any advice for aspiring CEOs and future leaders? What advice would you give a CEO that is just starting out on their journey?
Julian Van der Waal: Learn as much as you can, stay humble and really understand the practical side of business growth. To become valuable, you need to add value and I always try to give so much to an organisation that there is a gaping hole after I leave, egotistical I know but it just comes down to the effort and focuses that I put into companies.
Remember it takes 21 years to become 21, and the best CEO’s are the ones that have gone through the most varied challenges and changes; governmental, environmental, social, financial, legal fights and they have pushed their way through, learned from the experience and worked alongside other leaders of their fields to distinguish themselves as the champion of that business.
Thank you for sharing some of your knowledge with our readers! They would also like to know, what is one skill that you’ve always wanted to acquire but never really could?
Julian Van der Waal: While seemingly confident at nearly everything I do and how I perform, there is always a little self-doubt and nervousness that creeps in when embarking on new missions, ventures and challenges. I don’t think this will ever go away, but in saying that every new challenge is slightly bigger than the last one, so it is probably a natural part of growth
Before we finish things off, we have one final question for you. If you wrote a book about your life today, what would the title be?
Julian Van der Waal: The Power of Never Giving up
Jerome Knyszewski, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Julian Van der Waal for taking the time to do this interview and share his knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Julian Van der Waal or his company, you can do it through his – Linkedin Page
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