It seems like yesterday when I started Luehr Filter Australia from the ruins of a bankrupt sheet metal factory in Melbourne. I deeply remember begging the bank to advance me $20,000 against my home for cash flow to start and then spending half of it flying to Germany to negotiate with the major creditor to give me 3 years to pay off the debt.
Then, like a lightning bolt, we made it. We shifted factories, rebranded, invested night and day in building that business with Australia’s heaviest polluters, Australian Portland Cement, Alcoa, BHP, Shell, Blue Circle and West Farmers, Electricity Commission of NSW and more. We dug deep to self fund construction of some of the biggest industrial air pollution control systems in Australia.
For the next three years I flew back and forth from Germany on technical excursions to design plants. I bought a new home, drove an expensive car, and went on holiday with my wife and children to some of the best resorts in the world. Life was special. Our biggest problem was expansion and funding it. We grew and grew, until the bubble burst.
And that’s the story… as the business grew, I didn’t. I used all sorts of things to handle the pressures of responsibility as a leader. Our staff multiplied overnight, our commitments were huge (most jobs were $1-4Mil) and we were hung out to dry by the Russian Mafia on one job that cost me 6 months of weekends. It was great. The best sport in the world, building a business like that. But my ways of handling myself didn’t evolve. I still used what worked when the business was young to manage my life when the business, and my job, was wall to wall pressure. Add a family, a mortgage that was huge, big contracts, plenty of travel and I was destined for a crash.
One day, on a flight to Tasmania, to visit a potential job in a cement plant, 5 km from my birthplace, 30 km from my mother’s gravesite, I read a magazine about a health retreat for flustered and f**Ked up business people. It looked nice but who gives a sh*t, I was doing perfectly fine thank you. I hired a car, drove to the plant to meet the management, and that’s the moment my life changed. The guy I met was a senior executive from Melbourne, living in Tasmania on a rubbish job because he’d had a nervous breakdown. He was open about the sleepless nights, the phobias about losing things, the tiredness at work and the need from mid day sleeps. He spoke about forgetfulness and mood swings which, over a 6 month period seemed harmless until they all collided on one day, a day he was sent home with a diagnosed nervous breakdown.
Well, counting through his symptoms on an illness I’d never heard of before, I was four months into mine. When I left the plant, I rang that health camp and didn’t even go home. I flew to Queensland and everything changed. I got divorced as a result of that week, I sold the business as a result of that week, I lost my children as a result of that week, I lost the best part of $2mil as a result of that week. But what I gained was worth everything I lost.
You’ll be surprised to find that the story I just shared is more than 30 years ago. I’m in love with an amazing woman, I’ve got a wonderful life, I’m in the work I love and I’ve shared that work all over the world – studied in caves – and been to Nepal over 50 times to take people on the very same journey I went on to get to this place from that story.
And what is this work I love so much? I try to stop the hurt… the hurt I experienced by not growing the way I managed myself with the way I grew my work. It’s not easy. Nobody thinks, (especially me) that their behaviour is going to lead to any troubles until they happen. We are a reactive culture, we go to the doctor when we’re sick. But preventative medicine, especially for families, careers and incomes is so much smarter.
Ps…. as a footnote
I eventually went back and ran retreats at that very same retreat centre I went to.