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Fire up your confidence, influence and courage through self-leadership

Sally talks Self-Leadership with Jeremy Fleming

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Jeremy Fleming
Managing Director, Stagekings
 

Jeremy Fleming is the Managing Director of Stagekings, the company responsible for some of the most well-known temporary event structures of the past 6 years. Building stages and sets like the Opening Ceremony at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, the set for Ninja Warrior, the replica Edinburgh Castle at the Edinburgh Military Tattoo in Sydney, Shakespeare’s Pop up Globe Theatre in Melbourne, Sydney and Perth and Ultra Music Festival.

Since Friday 13th March 2020 Jeremy has been navigating Stagekings through the most difficult time the event industry has ever experienced, since the complete shut-down of the industry at the outbreak of Covid-19. Facing the prospect of losing everything, he saw a chink in the supply chain and pivoted Stagekings to manufacture work from home office furniture, to fill the gap in the market and to keep Stagekings in business. By doing this he has reemployed staff, as well as employing more than 70 more out of work event crew to help in the manufacturing of over 30,000 pieces of IsoKing furniture. On top of this in just 11 months Stagekings donated over $80,000 to charity, including Support Act – the Heart and Hand of Australian Music, through the sales of the desks.

 

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Interview Transcript

 

Sally Foley-Lewis:

Hi, Sally Foley-Lewis here again with another amazing conversation about to kickoff. I am with Jeremy Fleming, who is the managing director of StageKings, and we are going to talk all things self-leadership. Thanks for joining me, Jeremy.

Jeremy Fleming:

Thanks for having me, Sally. It’s great to chat.

Sally Foley-Lewis:

Yeah, so tell me who or what is a StageKing.

Jeremy Fleming:

StageKing is a company I started six years ago with my wife and with the aim of building stages, decorated stages in Australia so similar to the stages you see throughout Europe and America. The idea was to bring these stages that are more of an experience themselves than just the acts that are on them. It’s stuff like Edinburgh Military Tattoo. We built a replica castle for that here in Sydney and Shakespeare’s pop-up globe theatre we’ve built three times. Then the stages that we built for festivals and stuff like dragons and lions and really, really wild stuff.

Sally Foley-Lewis:

Oh, sounds incredibly creative and fun.

Jeremy Fleming:

It is. Yeah, it is. It’s really great and varied and nothing we ever do is the same. It keeps everyone very interested.

Sally Foley-Lewis:

Oh, that’s really cool. That’s really cool. Look, we’ll put the link to StageKings down below, so that’s for sure. Is there a portfolio on there? Are there photos and things to see?

Jeremy Fleming:

There’s plenty of photos on there. Absolutely.

Sally Foley-Lewis:

Good stuff. Can you tell I’m half-visual like that? I’ve got this creative imagination of what people might be able to see when they have a look so that’s really cool. Interesting though, we are in 2021 now and I’ve got this again, an imagination that 2020 might not have been a great year. We’ll jump into that and I’d love to get your insights and experiences from that. Before we do that, though, what’s self-leadership to you?

Jeremy Fleming:

Self-leadership, look, really, I like to describe it as extreme ownership. I follow a guy named Jocko Willink, an ex-Navy seal, and he’s got a book called Extreme Ownership and I actually give it to all of our staff. It’s about taking responsibility and ownership in everything that you do. I think that’s a big part of it is that it’s really having that ownership. It’s not just that at the management level, it’s right throughout the organisation. We try to promote that with all of the guys. The guys that are doing dispatch, they own that process and they feel that responsibility for that. I think that’s a big part of it.

Sally Foley-Lewis:

I love that. I love Extreme Ownership. I think that’s really cool. I’ll also put a link to the book as well with this, because I think that it sounds like a good book to follow up on.

Jeremy Fleming:

It is. Yeah, it’s a good one.

Sally Foley-Lewis:

Yeah, and the fact that you give it to your staff, I think is a huge thing that it sets the scene and sets the tone for the team then, doesn’t it?

Jeremy Fleming:

It does. It does. I’ll talk about it a bit later as well another thing that Jocko says is “When everything’s going bad, that’s a good thing, because something good’s going to come out of it and gives you the opportunity to learn and work through it.” You need that ownership in everything you’re doing for the whole team to then look for that. Yeah, it’s the way we operate.

Sally Foley-Lewis:

Yeah, definitely. I love that. When you think about aspects of leadership, like courage, or being able to influence the team, or maybe just even a sense of confidence, where do they line up with self-leadership for you?

Jeremy Fleming:

Well, I think there’s an element of courage in owning your own business. We’re a small family business and so you put it all on the line. If you were too risk averse, then it might be you don’t do anything with it, but yeah, so there’s certainly an element of carriage, but for me, it’s about leading from the front. I started doing the jobs that everyone in the businesses. I’ve done everything in the business and now we’ve got a bunch of people that do those. I think that people will understand that I lead from the front and yeah.

Sally Foley-Lewis:

Yeah. Well, yes, if you’ve grown the business, then from every aspect and every corner, you understand it and you’re aware of it. Because you’ve been in those roles when it comes to needing to influence your team, do you think you’ve got more ability to influence or more confidence to influence because you’ve been in those roles or it’s not really that related?

Jeremy Fleming:

Look, I think it is at our level. Yeah. I think because I know how the stages are built, I know exactly the intricacies of how it all goes together. People understand that I know that and it gets to a level that all is well. That’s sort of two-sided. It gets to a level where I can’t be bothered by every small decision that needs to happen. We’ve gone through that stage as well where I can’t have every single person now in the organisation calling and asking these simple questions. We’ve really tried to set up the organisation so that, that doesn’t happen anymore.

Sally Foley-Lewis:

Yeah. That sounds like delegating has stepped into the play and then you’re not bottle-necking. It’s funny, you just mentioned that. When I deal with a lot of managers, delegation and self-leadership tend to come up in the conversation, and I think there’s a link because you’ve got to understand the role enough. You’ve also got to understand yourself enough to be hands-off and be able to balance the hands-off with supporting and not being the bottleneck, putting your ego in check, being confident in yourself and others and it certainly is a balancing act. I think that’s the best way to describe it, I guess.

Jeremy Fleming:

Yeah, absolutely and you mentioned keeping your ego in check. That’s a very big part of it. I think it’d be very easy and I think I’ve even fallen into this from time to time where you find it hard to delegate it because you think that the decision you’re going to make is going to be better, but at the end of the day, it’s too much and it becomes a bottleneck and it becomes an issue in the business.

Sally Foley-Lewis:

Yeah, and it’s your baby. As the owner of a business, it might be slightly different inside a large, big corporate, maybe, depends how long you’ve been there and how passionate you are about it but I think it’s more obvious when it is your business and you’ve got to hand your baby over.

Jeremy Fleming:

That’s right. Yeah. It is.

Sally Foley-Lewis:

Trust comes into play, then doesn’t it?

Jeremy Fleming:

Yeah. You need to have good people and then we certainly have that.

Sally Foley-Lewis:

Yeah. Oh, that’s great. Yeah. Well, let’s jump into that. Maybe it was COVID. In my head COVID is probably the biggest and most obvious, but maybe there’s something else that happened that really knocked you for six. If you want to share that, that’s fine. I guess the key of this is what did you do to reignite your self-leadership and what are the lessons you learned from it? I’d love to know that.

Jeremy Fleming:

Yeah, well, look, COVID have really knocked us around, but it started pre-COVID. Working in events and building music festival stages, it’s risky as well. In the lead up to COVID, we had a couple of companies go under, owing us money. We also invested in a large stage that is a great stage, but then COVID hit. We came into COVID on the back foot and COVID then came and wiped out everything else. We really were, yeah, behind the eight ball. We lost every bit of income we had for the foreseeable future at the start of COVID, millions of dollars worth of worth of projects cancelled. The whole event industry was wound up really with the ban on public gatherings.

Jeremy Fleming:

We needed to find another source of income and we needed to find something that was going to get us through. We never stopped looking at what that might be. We had to lay off all of our staff. We came back to just myself and our head of production Mick. What we did, we worked through designing up temporary waiting rooms for hospitals and testing facilities that we could pop up in car parks. We did a lot of work on a bunch of different things that we thought might be an option in the new world.

Jeremy Fleming:

I think the event industry went very early. I think really with events and travel, were probably the first two industries that got hit and so it was a bit before everything else.

Jeremy Fleming:

When I rang our real estate agent to ask if there was an option for reduced rent, he didn’t even know anything was going on at the time. That was on the 15th of March or something last year so he had no idea. Then we were talking to the banks and doing everything we could to reduce our outgoings, but we worked out we could only last a few months with no income and at a push.

Jeremy Fleming:

We then had this idea of making some furniture. Again, from talking to people overseas and seeing what other people are doing and a guy that used to work for us, he said, “Oh, you’ve got a CNC router and why don’t you think about something along the lines of furniture?”

Jeremy Fleming:

Lucky for us, Mick, our head of production designs furniture for himself and he’s made furniture in his house for a long time. I called him on Sunday morning. We’d let our staff go on Friday afternoon. I called him on Sunday morning. I said, “What do you think about making a desk?” He got straight to it and designed up this desk. We’d seen that well whole industries were just starting to work from home and there was no desks available. Officeworks was sold out and everyone else. Anything from China was taking 18 to 20 weeks lead time. Mick designed up this desk and that’s what we started to do and that’s what has got us through.

Sally Foley-Lewis:

Wow. Out of the devastation comes innovation, I guess, and backed by an already high level of creativity I imagine in play so well done. Yeah, it was funny. You said the 15th of March, because I was standing on a stage the 15th of March. I’m a professional speaker and being awarded. It was the breakthrough speaker of the year and I just stood there and went, yeah, that’s not going to happen for a while, is it?

Jeremy Fleming:

One of the last people on stage. Well done.

Sally Foley-Lewis:

Yeah, so I understand your industry. I sort of got a foot in your industry and I’ve never seen a room of 170 people go, especially speakers, go very quiet, looking at their phones, just watching.

Jeremy Fleming:

Yeah. Yeah.

Sally Foley-Lewis:

Yeah, so I totally get it, but I love that and I’m so sorry because I’ve heard all these stories where you’ve had to let people go and it’s terrible. It is beyond your control in so many ways, but I love that the creativity and some innovation and we’re not going to give up and out comes a serving and filling a need that was obviously there in the market so that’s really cool.

Jeremy Fleming:

Yeah, it is and we let the guys go and I should quickly add that we started to make these desks on the Monday after we let them go on Friday. We, my wife, Tabitha, and the other director in the company’s put together an e-commerce site very quickly on Monday evening. We took photos and we’re on sale on Tuesday. By Wednesday, I’d actually called everyone back because we were selling so many desks. We called all of our guys back and it ramped up so quickly. We got a lot of our followers on social media and a lot of support for the idea. We actually put 70 new staff on during COVID. We actually ramped right up for this new furniture business we started.

Sally Foley-Lewis:

Wow. Gosh! Congratulations and well done. I think it’s a story that probably most people would love to hear and to know that it’s inspirational. There are things that can be done. What’s the lessons out of this for you?

Jeremy Fleming:

Wow. We’ve taken a lot of lessons. The first one is not to put all of your eggs in one basket in business and have one pillar of income. If that pillar gets taken away, there’s trouble. We’ve really learned that we need to have multiple pillars of income and so now we’ve got StageKing’s work is coming back, which is great. We now have IsoKing, the furniture business, which is also going great. Yeah. We’re looking at other things in rental and production rental. We want to try and really have commercial fit-outs as well. We’re doing a lot of stuff has come off the back of that furniture business that we started. We’re looking to five or six different pillars of income to really prop the business up moving forward. COVID’s actually helped us to do that really, really well. We’re fortunate there. That’s one thing.

Jeremy Fleming:

Then the other thing is that we really learned, and from doing it is if you have an idea, to go for it and, and really not to overanalyze and overthink it. So many people had said, “Oh, we had an idea. We did and never did anything with it,” but we had an idea we moved on and in 48 hours, that idea was reality and gaining a lot of traction and we made mistakes. We did a lot of things. We left money on the table. We did things in expensive way to start with because the key was to get started and learn along the way.

Sally Foley-Lewis:

Yeah, and I don’t want to brush past that because I think that’s one of the things that happens is that they don’t start. To start is the absolute key and you don’t know that what you’re doing necessarily is the most expensive and you don’t know that what you’re doing is the hardest because if you don’t start, you’ll never learn that and so you’ve actually got to go that way. I think sometimes, I don’t think there’s any value necessarily in giving anyone a hard time about it either once you’ve learnt it, because that’s the lesson you had to learn.

Jeremy Fleming:

That’s exactly it and a few people have asked me along the way, “Oh, what would you do differently?” And I wouldn’t do anything differently because we wouldn’t have learned and got where we are if we hadn’t done that.

Jeremy Fleming:

The additional staff we put on were all out of work event crew because the industry hit really hard. We actually went out and called, said to any event workers that wanted to come and help us sand and package and deliver this new furniture to come and give us a hand. That’s an expensive way to do it.

Jeremy Fleming:

We had roadies delivering desks. They’d pull up in their cars in the morning, we’d load their cars up and they’d go and deliver them, which was a great part of the story, but not cheap. We did that way.

Jeremy Fleming:

We’ve changed our e-commerce site a couple of times. The first one we did was a very quick add on to our Squarespace page and now we have a great Shopify site, which has taken a lot of changes to get to where we’re at. Now you ship it to deliver, which is another great dispatch method and we changed a lot, but we’ve learned.

Sally Foley-Lewis:

Yeah, so how do you think that’s impacted your own self-leadership?

Jeremy Fleming:

How has it impacted? I don’t think I’ve changed too much. I think the big thing that I’m really focusing on now is not trying to do too much myself. Like I mentioned earlier, I think that’s been a bottleneck along the way. Even when IsoKing started, I jumped head first into that and ran from the front. Now that both businesses are up and running really well and we’ve got both businesses are very busy, I need to step back, let the guys run it.

Jeremy Fleming:

One of the benefits out of pulling all these event workers in was that we got the cream of the crop, all these amazing guys that have been working elsewhere pre-COVID, came over and they’re sticking around. The calibre of people we’ve got in the businesses is amazing. I need to trust them and let them go.

Sally Foley-Lewis:

Yeah, I love it. I love it. I know that the COVID situation and as you said, you had to let people go on the Friday and then get them all back on the Wednesday. This may not align with there. Maybe there’s some other situation that this makes more sense with, but how do you fire up your team’s self-leadership? How do you get them to think about their own self-leadership and step up into it?

Jeremy Fleming:

Look, I think it comes back to giving them the ownership of what they’re doing. They need to feel that they’re a real part of it. I think if leaders that dictate and tell everyone every step of what they’re doing, that it’s not a good way to go. I really think that giving them a bit of freedom to come up with their own methods, to work through the processes … One of our set builders, became our head of dispatch and created these processes around dispatch that we jumped them around but at the end of the day, he feels really connected with that and a lot of ownership of it. I think that’s the best way there.

Sally Foley-Lewis:

I love it and have you given all the new staff the book Extreme Ownership yet?

Jeremy Fleming:

Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

Sally Foley-Lewis:

Do you have a conversation with the staff about it?

Jeremy Fleming:

Yeah, we talk about it. We talk about it quite often, and there’s a lot of videos around Jocko’s methods and this extreme ownership and we watch these videos quite often. The good video that I mentioned earlier. Yeah. We were watching that video every week or so in the office. Then when COVID hit the reaction from some of the guys was, “Ah! Global pandemic. Good. What are we going to do? What are we going to do to get through it?” It’s a great mindset.

Sally Foley-Lewis:

Yeah. It’s a reframe, isn’t it? Total reframe. What an absolute gift so that’s amazing. Yeah. Can I come join your team? What’s one thing you wish you knew about self-leadership before you stepped into your first leadership role?

Jeremy Fleming:

I think, again, just that you can’t do it all and from the early stages, try and delegate. Put people in to manage that. I guess and I’ve said it before, I’ve been guilty of trying to do too much, which I’ve really been working on. I guess that’s it is that to put people in and delegate early.

Sally Foley-Lewis:

Yeah. I love it. Thank you, Jeremy. Yeah. Any final words before we wrap up our self-leadership chat?

Jeremy Fleming:

Look, no, not really. I guess the big thing is that to run with your ideas. What’s the saying my wife says? Done is better than perfect. That’s a great one.

Jeremy Fleming:

Another thing that really helped us to get to where we are is we decided we were to give back when this all happened. And so, we gave back by bringing in event crew. We also donated a portion of everything we made to charity, to Support Act who’s looking after the event industry. At the start of a pandemic when we were due to lose everything, and this was a brand new business, the first thing we thought was what we can give back. What that’s done though is it’s given us this community around us of supporters, and it’s the best thing we could’ve ever done.

Sally Foley-Lewis:

Yeah. Yeah. Support Act they’re the ones that I’ve lost my gig?

Jeremy Fleming:

Correct. Yeah, yeah, exactly. Yeah. They have these crisis relief grants that they give to event workers and live event workers. A lot of those guys fall through the government safety net. They didn’t get JobKeeper because they have a lot of freelance and casual.

Sally Foley-Lewis:

Yeah. It didn’t qualify.

Jeremy Fleming:

[inaudible 00:21:45].

Sally Foley-Lewis:

Yeah. Oh, well, that warms my heart. I’ll always give a high five to anyone who gives back and can see an opportunity. I love that you reached out to the events industry and said, it might not be necessarily an event job, but it’s a job.

Sally Foley-Lewis:

I understand that sometimes that’s the cost of giving back. You said it wasn’t the cheapest way, but if you had a roadie delivering a piece of furniture, then that’s a job. There’s more of a return. It’s not financial, but the return is much bigger.

Jeremy Fleming:

Exactly and what it’s done for us is now that StageKings is coming back and events are coming back, we’re at the front of everyone’s mind. I think long-term, it’s going to, by far outweigh exactly what we would’ve made.

Sally Foley-Lewis:

Yeah, so there’s a model that I’m working on the moment around self-leadership where there’s this is pace between operating in your values, speaking up and using your voice and making sure you’re also visible. That blend between value, voice and visibility, I think is where your value shines through, by bringing on people from the events industry and to still bring back people as fast as you could. Your voice, you spoke up, you got on with it. You said yes to doing something. Then you got really visible by putting all the collateral around it.

Sally Foley-Lewis:

I think what that does is that it gives StageKings and IsoKings a positive image out there in the world. But also, you got to look at it from our own self image is that we should be feeling good about ourselves for what we did. Also you get to operate with integrity and you perceive that you’ve got integrity as well, which I think is really huge.

Jeremy Fleming:

Yeah, absolutely.

Sally Foley-Lewis:

Yeah. Well done so thank you. Thank you for coming on The Spark Self-Leadership Series. I really appreciate your time, Jeremy and thank you.

Jeremy Fleming:

Pleasure. Thanks so much for having me, Sally.

Sally Foley-Lewis:

Thanks and that’s another episode in The Spark, a self-leadership video series and wait for the next one. Bye for now.