Michael Klim, king of Milk
A champion in the pool, and fast becoming a champion of the business world, Michael Klim lets us know his Entrepreneur Secrets.PT3M30S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-1umjo 620 349 March 8, 2012
Swim star Michael Klim hopes to post a crucial victory at the London Olympics qualifiers starting later this week in Adelaide.
But whether or not he makes the cut, the 34-year-old has built himself another successful career to fall back on.
I think it definitely helps, there’s no doubt about that, in the way people give you the opportunity to hear your story, which does open some doors.
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The high-profile Olympian has become a successful businessman in his own right, with male skincare brand Milk (his surname spelt backwards) securing some huge contracts here and overseas.
Klim launched the self-funded business in August 2008, about a year after retiring from elite swimming (he returned to competitive swimming just over a year ago).
‘‘I always wanted to create a brand of some sort, I thought to be honest, probably in fashion or something like that,’’ Klim says.
‘‘When I met my wife she knew a lot of people in the industry from cosmetics and skincare, and we definitely identified there was a growing market. There was definitely an opportunity for an Australian-made product for the average Aussie bloke.’’
Almost four years later, Milk is stocked in major stores including Coles, Woolworths and Myer and the baby side of the business, run by Klim’s wife, Lindy, is in Baby Bunting and Toys ‘R’ Us.
The brand will next month be rolled out in UK pharmacy giant Boots, which Milk has long been targeting.
‘‘Obviously Boots is a very big animal in Europe and globally. It came down to networking and I knew someone who knew someone. I was flying through Europe and they managed to get me an appointment,’’ Klim says.
The fact that he knew everything about the product was crucial in his pitch, he says.
Milk Baby is also readying for huge sales in China, with plans to roll out in at least 500 Boshiwa baby stores in the next five years.
Klim admits he is still learning about business, but like he has in his swimming career, does not set himself limits and ensures he is surrounded by a good team.
His comeback charge in the pool has required careful time management, as the father-of-three juggles family, business and sporting life.
‘‘Making a comeback was a big decision, not just in terms of swimming but how it was going to affect my business, and also family life, so we’ve had to restructure a few things,’’ he says.
‘‘I’m still obviously across everything and I’m still very much present, but we’ve had a few people step into my role and pick up some slack from me not being around so much.’’
But Klim says the pool and the car act as his think hubs.
‘‘I think that’s where my head is clearest, I think a lot about the business,’’ he says.
Klim won six medals (two gold) across three Olympiads and is under no illusions that his name has been a huge part of his business success, at least initially.
‘‘I think it definitely helps, there’s no doubt about that, in the way people give you the opportunity to hear your story, which does open some doors. (But) at the end of the day the product has to speak for itself and has to deliver on what you say it’s going to deliver on,’’ he says.
Because of his high profile, planning the business almost ran in reverse.
‘‘Because our strength was the brand side and the marketing side, we pretty much started from the top and engineered backwards,’’ he says.
Klim, who was named as an emerging entrepreneur in last year’s prestigious Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year awards, admits he’s made errors.
‘‘We made a lot of mistakes - some costly, some not so costly. But I think that’s probably the best way to learn,’’ he says.
‘‘Sometimes we probably relied too much on our intuition, especially early on when you can’t afford some of the data and you don’t have access to it. We probably went on gut feeling which is fine to a certain point.’’
And the business’s focus on its finances has improved.
‘‘It was self-funded and the well sort of went dry so now the business is self-sustainable and it was all because we were quite diligent about running our business,’’ he said.
Klim wants to create an entire lifestyle brand incorporating clothes, travel and food supplements.
In the meantime, all eyes are on the pool.
‘‘I’ve been racing for the last couple of months and improving over that period - the 100m butterfly seems to be the event I’ve got the best chance in,’’ he says.
‘‘I’m looking forward to racing my old race. Hopefully I can finish first or second and go to London.’’
Michael Klim’s 5 business tips
1. Passion: You must be passionate about your business. Without that you will not succeed.
2. Innovation: Always be one step ahead of the mark, think outside the square.
3. Surround yourself with a good team: like swimming I try to surround myself with like-minded people who all have a similar goal.
4. Always watch the bottom line: at the end of the day this is all you have!
5. Networking: it never hurts to talk, you might find affiliations where you didn't expect.