Peter Higgins: on polo, planning and persistence

  17-Oct-2017
 

Polo players from eight qualifying nations are descending on Richmond NSW for the World Polo Championships, being held from 21-29 October 2017. It’s the result of a gargantuan effort by Sydney Polo Club and Destination NSW. One that involved years of planning and preparation, leading eventually to a stunning pitch to representatives of 86 nations who gathered in Argentina in 2015 to decide which country should host this prestigious event in 2017.

The result was an overwhelming majority vote for the event to be held at the Sydney Polo Club grounds in Richmond.

Then the hard work began. Between council zoning issues and objections to the event facilities, there were plenty of challenges to deal with over the next two years, and plenty of nay-sayers who said the event wouldn’t or shouldn’t go ahead.

At every stage, there has been someone who would have been deliriously happy if Peter Higgins, owner of the Sydney Polo Club, would give up his dream of hosting the World Polo Championships and go the hell away.

But it was they who were dreaming, because Peter Higgins never gives up.

Peter is well-known in Australian business circles as the co-founder of successful mortgage broking franchise, Mortgage Choice. He co-founded the company in 1992 with his brother Rod Higgins, and it was officially launched on the Australian Stock Exchange in 2004. There are now over 400 Mortgage Choice franchises, and the company recorded a net profit after tax in excess of $22.6 million for the 2016-2017 financial year.

After speaking at a Chamber business event recently, Peter kindly agreed to have a chat with me about polo, business, and the factors that have contributed to his success.

Growing up in the Higgins’ home

Peter recalls that the traits of loyalty and persistence were highly valued in the Higgins household. There was also plenty of opportunity to learn about business strategy – Peter’s father ran a trucking company. It was assumed the kids would one day take it over, so lessons were imparted with that in mind. At a young age, he learnt many concepts that have stood him in good stead:

  • Productivity is all important
  • Employees must be accountable
  • Mutual respect isn’t an entitlement – it must be earned
  • Good management makes all the difference when it comes to all the above.

But it was a sibling who inadvertently taught Peter the value of persistence, by repeatedly holding him down during rough play, inviting him to “give up” in order to secure his release. He did give up at first, but one day he tried a new strategy, responding with “No! I’ll never give up”. It paid off – instead of pressing on, his opponent let go. Lesson learned: stay the course, and your opponent will be the one to give up.

As rewarding as his persistence can be, Peter says it’s a habit that has positive and negative aspects. “It’s been very positive in the commercial sense, but it can also be a curse in that walking away is often an easy path. By deciding not to give up, you’re sometimes choosing a path of enormous effort and great pain!”

Persistence isn’t the only success habit Peter developed early on. He says that planning, and setting goals for the long, mid and short term, are vital, and are skills we can all learn. Peter learnt about goal setting and planning as a teenager and young adult, by reading self-help and motivational books, and attending courses. He’s applied that knowledge to great effect ever since.

“If you have a big plan, you have a clear path and the way forward will be easier. Things become either ‘yes’ or ‘no’. You’ll make less mistakes.”

Peter never did take over the family trucking business. It was sold before that came about. He ran many businesses as a young adult before he and Rod established Mortgage Choice.

Can we all be that successful?

It’s hard to see Peter Higgins as anything other than highly successful, but when asked his thoughts about success, Peter is quick to point out that success isn’t something we should measure by a neat definition, because it can only be defined by our own chosen priorities. “For me, I’m a planner and builder. I like to create something from an idea or a vision. For me, success is doing that.

Not everyone wants to do what I’ve done. Some people are in business for the lifestyle benefits. They don’t necessarily want to keep growing. Not everyone is prepared to do what it takes, because they have other priorities, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Success isn’t the same for everyone.”

For those who do want to grow a business to more lofty heights but aren’t seeing the success they’re aiming for, Peter suggests examining the following factors:

  1. Are you in the right industry? Is it a growth industry where there is opportunity?
  2. Are there problems in that industry? Identify the problems and then find the solutions.
  3. Look at the top three or four businesses in the industry. Are you doing things as well as they are? Can you do things better?

How did polo come into play?

In recent years Peter has applied his considerable business acumen to the Sydney Polo Club, and the successful bid for hosting the World Polo Championships, but it might surprise you to know that he discovered his love of polo at 30 years of age.

That was when Peter’s wife pointed out that life had become all about business, and suggested he’d benefit by finding a diversionary activity. He bought a horse and trotted off (pun firmly intended) to check out the game of polo.

That day set the stage for everything that followed. “I was inspired by the game” Peter said.

“It involves a lot of strategy. Not just on the field, but in choosing the right horse, and the right team. But as inspired as I was by the game, I was underwhelmed by the facilities I saw, and from that first day I began thinking about creating a world class polo facility.

“The other thing I like about polo, is that it’s refreshingly global, and has broadened in appeal in recent years. It’s no longer an elitist sport, and teams aren’t restricted by age or gender. It can be a real family sport. I recently watched a team that included a 13-year-old, men aged 52 and 65, and a 28-year-old woman. That’s fabulous diversity.”

Peter’s aim is to make polo more popular in Australia, by making polo matches and tournaments more accessible to everyday Australians. That’s why the eight-day World Polo Championship event programme encompasses two weekends, and an exciting range of events and activities in addition to the Olympic grade polo matches being played out by teams from Argentina, Australia, Chile, England, Spain, India, New Zealand and USA.

There’ll also be an official opening ceremony, jousting, vaulting, rodeo, dressage and show jumping events, a spectacular art exhibition, Fashions on the Field Awards, and live entertainment. To keep the entire family happy, there’ll be a jumping castle, games, face painting, a petting zoo, vintage cars, market stalls, and wood carving and sheep-shearing demonstrations.

The Sydney Polo Club wants you to know that you’re invited. Tickets are affordable, from just $50, and entry for children under 15 is free. (Check it out or book a ticket here).

 

What’s next for Peter Higgins?

What does a person strive for after creating a highly profitable company, and staging a coup to bring the World Polo Championships to his own backyard - irrigating the desert?

Yes, in fact. Irrigating the Australian desert is on Peter’s to-do list, but that’s a story for another day!

 

 

About the author: Leonie Seysan is the Chamber's content partner, director of content writing agency Article Writers Australia, and humour columnist for Sydney Hills & Hawkesbury Living magazine.

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