Mark Milner remembers clearly the day he snapped.
He was running a successful Brisbane restaurant, working long hours seven days a week, and was desperate for some time off.
“I decided to take the weekend off to spend with my family, and I told the staff to manage it for me,” he says. “I got a phone call about three hours after the café opened and the staff were all sitting outside because they couldn’t find the key and hadn’t thought to contact me to ask me where the key was and we lost all of that morning’s takings.
“That was it for me. I knew that even though I was running a successful business, I needed to make a change.”
That change involved returning to his former life as a planner – a profession where most workers, Milner reasoned, were at least in it for the long haul.
“I think the main problem I had with hospitality was that a lot of the staff didn’t see it as a career and it was much more fly-by-night,” he says. “You were also over the barrel with the chefs, and managing staff interactions, and ensuring customers were happy.
“Everything everyone tells you about running your own restaurant is entirely true: it’s much harder than it looks. And while it was successful financially, I found out I didn’t have a passion for it. After three years, I was ready to be an employee again.”
Milner ended up joining Tupicoffs, an independent planning firm whose values aligned perfectly with his own.
“It was about putting the clients first and that was what I was always about,” he says. “Clients know that they pay a flat fee and I don’t get any more money for recommending a certain product.”
So what prompted Milner to leave the industry to begin with? Why the detour through hospitality?
To put it simply: disillusionment.
“I was enjoying working with clients, but I was increasingly frustrated with the remuneration structure of the practices where I worked,” he says. “When I looked around to move into other practices, they were asking new hires to bring their book of clients with them, but that didn’t sit well with me because I thought those clients belonged to the practice not the individual.”
Hence the detour.
By the time Milner joined Tupicoffs, he knew what he wanted to do for a living and what a good firm looked like – and his instincts have been proven right.
“One of our proudest claims to fame is the way our clients came out unscathed by the global financial crisis,” he says. “We looked at the valuations of the market, the way things were tracking, and we parked our clients’ money in cash for a while.
“It moved very quickly after that and the GFC hit. We still get referrals from clients who tell their friends how they didn’t lose any money in the crash.”
Putting clients’ needs first is a big driver for Milner, who says it’s possible to build a financially successful business without commissions.
“Absolutely, it is,” he says, without missing a beat. “It takes a bit of a while to get there, as you don’t have the immediate cash flow, so it takes a while to build. But I’m in a comfortable place now, I’m certainly not looking to make any more money.
“For me now, it’s about building solid relationships with clients, because if you don’t have that, then what is the point?”
Name of firm: Tupicoffs
Years in the industry (previous jobs?): 15 years total; left the profession for three years to take over as the owner and manager of a successful restaurant business, prior to being encouraged to re-commence as a financial planner with Tupicoffs in 2011
Academic qualifications: Bachelor’s degree in business; advanced diploma in financial planning
Accreditations: Certified Financial Planner, Justice of the Peace (Qualified)
Professional association memberships: Financial Planning Association