Go for broke building a business, or it's on your bike
'You can spend whatever you like, but you're only going to get away with one midlife crisis.' Photo: Rebecca Hallas
THE Australian Motorcycle Expo is on in Melbourne this weekend. I used to be a biker. When I first turned up in a broking office in 1982 carrying a full-face helmet, the partner I was going to be working for was riding the ''Plastic maggot'' Honda CX500. He was excited by the prospect of buying a new Hesketh V1000. Luckily he didn't - they were rubbish. But he explained the sharemarket in terms that I understood.
He told me stocks were like motorbikes: there are lots of them, they are all different, with different purposes. The job of the stockbroker is the same as that of a bike salesman: fit the right stock to the right client. That involved getting to know all the stocks and getting to know the client, the latter being something few brokers bothered to do. This was our edge.
Anyone can sell a bike, he said, but sell them something unsuitable and you'll never see them again. Sell them something that fulfills their needs and expectations and you will gain a client for life who recommends you to everyone else.
Broking is about building a business, he said, not making a sale. The first thing you do with a new client is not blabber on about XYZ, but ask a lot of questions. An understood client is a happy client.
Any salesperson who starts off with ''This is a great stock'' rather than ''What are you trying to achieve?'', and any client that starts off with ''What are your commission rates?'' rather than ''I am'' has missed the point.
The last motorbike I rode was an FJ 1200, which I sold in 1994 before emigrating. My needs were ''London commuter combined with weekend touring in Europe''. It had to be big, reliable and take two. The FJ 1200.
When I arrived in Melbourne, the first thing I did was head down to the motorcycle mecca of Elizabeth Street to buy another one. But in the end, I didn't get one, and for the past 18 years, I have been bikeless.
The deciding factor was that I didn't actually need one. There was also the fact that during my brief visit to Elizabeth Street, I saw two motorcycle accidents, as many as I had seen in the previous 33 years.
What genius invented the Melbourne ''hook turn'' and then peppered them up and down a street that sells new motorbikes, I don't know. Nowhere in the world is there a higher density of novice, nervous motorcyclists, most of whom have never heard of the hook turn.
Elizabeth Street is great sport, like a boat ramp on a windless day. Pull up a deckchair and watch the carnage unfold.
But that was 18 years ago and now I'm 51, having a midlife crisis and in need of some major retail therapy. After a bit of negotiation, a bike is back on the agenda.
The idea met with stiff resistance from the family at first; in fact, it was dismissed as ''midlife crap''. But the salesmen on Elizabeth Street are almost as good as stockbrokers - they know all the tricks.
''Don't hit them with the idea straight up. Here's a Triumph T-shirt, wear that around the house for a month or two until they get the idea. Get the kids on your side, they'll buckle first. It's a lot cheaper than a Mustang. Midlife crisis? That's why they invented bikes. Ever seen a motorcycle parked outside a shrink's office?''
And the piece de resistance: ''It's a bike or an affair, your call.'' I tried that and got, ''Have an affair, it's safer.'' (She was bluffing, right?) But they've all come around. And unless I'm very much mistaken, we're all quite excited about becoming ''bikers'' (again) as the kids and I head off to Jeff's shed this weekend.
My brief is, ''You can spend whatever you like but you're only going to get away with one midlife crisis, so make the most of it. After that, that's it.'' A broker with a pink ticket. Some expo salesman is about to have a really good day.
Marcus Padley is a stockbroker with Patersons Securities and the author of the sharemarket newsletter Marcus Today. For a free trial, go to marcustoday.com.au. His views do not necessarily reflect those of Patersons.