Having grown up watching his parents owning businesses in the food industry his entire life, it was kind of inevitable that Michael Stathakis would also follow in his father’s footsteps and become his own boss.
Straight from university, he set out to make sure he could find a business that he felt passionate about, one that would be a great learning experience and needless to say, a success. With his father as his mentor and support, he started up Australian Office Supplies in 1998, where he was wholesaling stationery products to resellers and trade nationwide.
With this leap of faith success followed and by 2001 Michael formed the Bantex Group, which continues to thrive in 2016 with company-owned stationery brands and successful acquisitions with WC Penfold and Quill Stationery, to name a few.
We spoke to Michael about his successful stationery business, tips on being your own boss and future goals.
When did you realise you were interested in business?
I was born into it really. My family always had their own business and from around the age of five or six, I was always around watching and helping my parents and I enjoyed it. For as long as I can remember I had a desire to work, I had a passion to build things and having that interaction with people in the family business helped grow my interest along the way. Pretty much nothing has changed, these are the same things that still drive me.
What do you see as the key to a successful business?
Persistence. Nothing else is more important to success (in anything) than persistence. Business, sport, family, relationships, it always comes down to being persistent; sticking with it through thick and thin. Every ‘overnight success’ I know has taken 20 years to become an ‘overnight success’. Sure people fluke it now and then but those success stories are few and far between and rarely last. For me, it’s all about working smart, working hard and sticking with it.
What do you feel makes a good Managing Director?
I basically worked my way through nearly every position and facet of the Bantex business – from manufacturing and operations to finance and ultimately into general management. Trials by fire over 17 years has pretty much taught me what I need to know in order to be in the driver seat of the Bantex Group, but of course, I am learning every day.
What is your view on business acquisitions?
The Bantex Group is always on the hunt for acquisitions, the current climate and market conditions in Australia and around the world pretty much dictate that companies need to consolidate in all sorts of ways, in order to continue to grow and thrive; acquisition is just one of those ways.
For example, the acquisition rationale behind the Quill deal for us was based on two things; aggregation and market share. All parties knew there were economies and market share to be gained by merging the two businesses. That makes both companies more competitive.
You are a strong advocate of locally-owned and operated businesses- do you think most people value this?
I am sorry to say I don’t believe our industry, or any industry in this country for that matter, really appreciates how important it is to maintain local ownership and control. That’s not only in our industry in Australia though, it’s across the board and around the world. I believe the public idealistically wants to “buy Australian” but the reality is, choice and quality is pretty much on par world-wide, so it comes down to price, convenience and supporting locally-owned businesses.
We will hold onto our Australian ownership and values for as long as I am running the Bantex Group, that much I can say.
Nowadays consumers worldwide have so much choice, especially with online shopping. Generally speaking, what do you regard as the main challenges and opportunities for businesses worldwide?
The challenge is to stay out of the ‘race to the bottom’. It doesn’t take an economics PhD to see that if everyone keeps slashing and burning prices, quality and people, there will be nowhere left to fall. It will be a veritable “race to the bottom”. The opportunity is to stop the slide downward. If we take a big step back, start talking quality, performance, durability, pride in product and service and stop thinking ‘commodity’ every industry, whether it be stationery, fashion, food, electrical goods etc. will benefit in countless ways.
What do you strive for in your business?
I strive to have happy employees and satisfied customers; with that comes a thriving business. I’m proud to have a locally-owned and operated business, where we are able to offer people jobs, serve communities and have a genuine love for this business. Every customer – small, big, medium, local and international – is important to us. We have the best brands and products available to the industry and I want everyone buying them and everyone using them, not because it’s good business (and of course it is) but because our brands, products and services are the best.
What is your advice to anyone wanting to start their own business?
Take risks. Have no fear. Yes, there will be tough times but you must push through them. Be focused. Delegate; you can’t do everything on your own so you need to have talented people beside you. Don’t have unrealistic expectations; there is no such thing as easy success and easy work- above all you need to work hard and smart.
What are your future goals?
I want to be happy, to keep things simple and positive; that is both on a professional and personal level. I come from a large and close Greek family who enjoy spending quality time with each other and for me is of the utmost importance. I certainly don’t mind a long overseas holiday, especially to Greece; so if I can get there once a year for a hit of Greek summer with my loved ones- enjoying the Mediterranean water, sun, food and air- I feel I have achieved my goals in the one hit.