It is evident that formal education is not always the sole determinant of success. Numerous individuals have achieved remarkable accomplishments and made significant contributions to society despite lacking traditional educational qualifications. These success stories serve as a testament to the power of determination, resilience, and a strong work ethic. While education undoubtedly offers valuable knowledge and skills, it is not the only path to success.
Many successful people have embraced self-learning, practical experience, and a relentless pursuit of their passions to overcome educational barriers and achieve their goals. Ultimately, these examples remind us that success is not limited to those with formal education, but rather it is the result of a combination of factors including talent, hard work, opportunity, and a relentless pursuit of personal growth and excellence. Tony Falkenstein, Founder and CEO of Just Life Group Ltd. is a kind of example like this who is delivering exceptional products and services that support healthy living and healthy homes.
Tony was never the brightest kid in the class, and left school early to start an apprenticeship as a baker/pastry cook. However after 4 years he decided to go to University, and did accountancy as his friends told him “that was the easiest degree to get”. He ended up with a Bachelor of Commerce degree from Auckland University, later becoming a Distinguished Alumni, for his business success. He also was inducted into the New Zealand Hall of Fame and was honoured by Queen Elizabeth with a New Zealand Order of Merit designation.
Tony is a philanthropist, with a strong desire to encourage business education as the key to economic prosperity. He established the first Business High School in New Zealand, which led to ‘business and entrepreneurship’ becoming part of the New Zealand curriculum. He funds the Vanguard Programme at the University of Auckland Business School, which each year sends 15 students to Silicon Valley for 10 days. Several of the teaching institutions were given 2 million shares in Just Life Group, which gives them an ongoing income from dividends.
Just Life Group Ltd.: Dominance in New Zealand’s Market
Just Life Group, headquartered in Auckland was initially started in 1987, the week before the Stock market crash. Initially it rented facsimile machines, but quickly moved to water coolers, inspired by the move towards healthy living, in terms of the commencement of the jogging craze and emphasis on healthy foods.
Mr Falkenstein stated that, “Initially we bought 6 water coolers, ran a small advertisement in the local newspaper, and they all got rented out the first day. We then started placing them in offices on trial with a questionnaire, which staff completed. Once on trial, they never came out, and a contract was signed.”
The Company was originally called Just Water (www.justwater.co.nz ), and it became the largest supplier of water coolers throughout New Zealand. In 2004, it listed on the New Zealand Stock Exchange as Just Water International Ltd. Although rentals were cash hungry at the beginning, once the market matured, they offered tremendous cash flow, so the Company looked for new opportunities. They acquired a ventilation and daylighting business, and changed the name to Just Life Group (www.justlifegroup.co.nz ). Then Mr Falkenstein divided the company into 2 divisions – Healthy Homes and Healthy Living.
In the Healthy Homes division, they further acquired another ventilation business, Unovent, and a hot water cylinder business, The Cylinder Guy.(www.thecylinderguy.co.nz )
In the Healthy Living division they added Just Water with New Zealand’s largest solely online supplements company, About Health (www.abouthealth.co.nz ). Currently, they have 9 brands, all of which market directs to consumers, giving them full control of the database.
As we all know, a growth strategy is vital for the long-term success and sustainability of any organisation. It outlines a systematic plan of action to expand the business, increase revenue, gain market share, and achieve a competitive advantage.
“Our growth strategy is both organic and by acquisition. We are always looking for acquisitions, but only relative to our Healthy Homes and Healthy living divisions,” says Mr Falkenstein.
Putting People FIRST: Values and Vision for a Better Future
A well-defined strategic vision helps leaders and employees understand the long-term objectives and desired outcomes, enabling them to make informed choices and prioritise actions that contribute to the overall success of the company.
While asked what thoughts Mr. Falkenstein has in his mind regarding the Company’s vision, he says, “ Our overall vision is Enhancing Lives by delivering exceptional products and services that support Healthy Living and Healthy Homes. Our values are imbued in the acronym FIRST – fun, integrity, respect, service, trust. We put a lot of emphasis on culture, and encourage employees to advance themselves.”
He further stated, “Our employee philosophy is to hire and grow the best employees, and if we cannot provide them with their future growth opportunity, to be proud that we have been part of their growth journey. On all our websites, there is a CEO guarantee, that states that we treat every employee, supplier, customer and shareholder as part of our family, and that if they think they have not been treated fairly, they are welcome to call or email me directly. I am the only CEO of any public listed company to have his personal mobile no and email address on the company websites.”
As for the next 3 – 5 years, Just Life Group Ltd. aims to be in the top 50 companies on the New Zealand Stock Exchange. Currently they are at 160, so it will require growth to achieve this target. They have an amazing leadership team and support staff, doing hard and honest work to achieve this goal.
Balancing Wealth and Lifestyle: Insights from a Former Corporate CEO
New Zealand is in the middle of a recession, but also full employment. There is high wage inflation as employees realise they can easily get a new job with more money. We are fortunate in that we have a varied portfolio of businesses, so although affected by the recession, we can pull through. Ai is the biggest opportunity for the future and we are embracing it now in all we do.
The biggest strength of our Company is our people. We put a lot of effort into the people we hire, and remove any ‘energy zappers’. The most important risk I ever took was to go into business by myself. Prior to starting my business, I was CEO of other Corporates, and as long as you are achieving the results they tend to leave you alone. Yes, I have more wealth now, but as CEO of a large company, you certainly have more than enough to live the same lifestyle.
Intuitive Leadership: Nurturing Empathy to Anticipate and Address Issues
I am very fortunate, in that at school I was very shy, and am still introverted. The good fortune is that you learn to listen and see cues in other people. So empathy plays a large part in my leadership style, in that I tend to see changes in the behaviour of people very easily, so I can address it before it becomes a problem. I personally need to say “sorry” so often – I find it easy to do this, as I put myself in the shoes of the other person, and if they think they are right, let them feel that for now.
Stress-Free Leadership: Letting Go and Trusting Your Subconscious”
By prioritising a healthy workplace environment, organisations can cultivate a resilient workforce, ultimately contributing to long-term success. When employees feel valued, supported, and comfortable in their workplace, they are more likely to be motivated, engaged, and productive.
While asked about the steps Mr. Falkenstein takes to keep the workplace motivated he says, “Culture is everything – if the conditions are right, and people like working for you, they will be self motivated and productive. That is why our first value is ‘fun’ – that doesn’t mean parties every day, although we do have them at least once a month, but it is providing staff with an environment which they can enjoy.”
“In terms of disagreements and criticism, I never let it smoulder, and address it straight up, even if it is only a whisper of discontent. That is why I sleep so well at night – my wife says I can have the biggest crisis, tell her about it, then I fall asleep, while she stays up all night worrying about it. In the morning I normally have the answer. I rely on my subconscious to come up with the right answer by the morning,’ says Tony.
Your Satisfaction, Our Priority: A CEO-Backed Assurance
Continuous efforts to monitor and enhance customer satisfaction should be an ongoing priority for organisations seeking sustainable growth and customer-centricity and that’s what Mr. Falkenstein is doing for his Company.
He says, “We are known for our customer satisfaction; it comes from the top, our websites all offer the CEO Guarantee. I have been known to deliver water bottles on Christmas Day myself. I respond to all complaints or calls to me personally.”
Some companies might change their strategies for clients but for the Just Life Group Ltd. Strategy doesn’t necessarily change as a result of client feedback – often the tactics might. If customers are telling them that the delivery times do not work for them, they might change the times, but not the overall strategy.
His Last Remarks for Aspiring young people were, “Entrepreneurship comprises 2 parts: “idea” and “execution”. Many people have ideas, but either can’t execute, or the idea is not viable. Other people can execute, but they need to be a viable idea to start. Decide which one you are. Just because you are passionate about a certain product or service, do you have a unique selling proposition which would make people want your product or service.”