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40 Under 40

Growing business amid coronavirus

40 Under 40

Business consultancy firm Magnetic Alliance managing director Mark Lim has helped clients diversify their offerings for almost a decade. During the coronavirus pandemic Lim implemented some of his own advice. InDaily spoke with the South Australian business leader about what fuelled the expansion.

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Since founding boutique firm Magnetic Alliance in 2011, Lim has been helping businesses develop, grow and minimise risk.

He said the company was created to provide organisations with long term growth strategies, including diversification, rather than short-term wins which sought to maximise profits for CEOs and CFOs.

Magnetic Alliance has since won a stack of awards, including APAC Magazine Australia’s award for the nation’s leading firm for business growth and development.

Last year Lim was also named one of InDaily’s 40 Under 40, which recognises the best and brightest young businesspeople in South Australia.

He told InDaily COVID-19 had been a chance for the business to practise what it preaches.

What advice have you been providing clients during the pandemic, and how did this advice change over the COVID-19 period?

The advice hasn’t changed – it’s more accelerated. We’ve always advised businesses to have a strategy and a plan because if they don’t have a plan when these things happen they’re just going to fall apart.

The plan needs diversification within it. Whether they’re diversifying income streams, products and services or whether they’re diversifying investments or businesses.

But the worst thing a business can do is diversify without knowing what they’re doing because they might be spreading themselves too thin. The acquisition or investment process is a world of its own.

Acquiring a business is like getting married. You’ve got to know that person before you go marry someone, right?

Usually, you’ve got to get to know them – and that takes time. And even when you marry them you find out things that you didn’t know before. It’s the same with a business.

For example, we had someone acquire a business and they didn’t realise the business had debts which weren’t recorded and legal cases that weren’t disclosed.

You don’t know what is going to get disclosed or which skeletons will be in the closet. So, you’ve got to have a really good due diligence process, and how do you do that if you don’t know what you’re looking for?

You can’t just do it without knowing what you’re doing. You’ve got to build up to it. You’ve got to have a plan, you’ve got to have a strategy and if that’s in your strategy, you’ve got to be resourced and equipped to do it.

How was Magnetic Alliance impacted by coronavirus?

When COVID-19 hit, about 30 per cent of our clients had to stop doing business – because a lot of them were impacted and went to zero income over night. They were in industries that were affected by the lockdown, whether that be in travel or events, and they had to lay-off all of their staff. It was tough for a lot of people.

We took an immediate drop in business but then we pivoted and we refocused on our strategy.

We started keeping our eye on opportunities and we were doing free seminars through Facebook Live.

At the time, we were advising our clients to pivot, to look at the industries that were growing – and we ourselves implemented our own advice. Industries like cyber are only going to grow.

As we were coming up with the industries that we thought would do well, we started keeping an eye for opportunities for those industries ourselves.

We went into acquisition mode and in the six months that COVID started we have acquired four businesses.

The first one we acquired was a radiation business, which was already in the works before COVID-19 started.

We also ended up acquiring a cyber security business and using our strengths to boost them up and help them grow.

We’re just about to sign off on a deal with a global software company, which is something we’ve been advising businesses to go into, saying: “If you go into online learning you can go global.”

“It’s one of the industries that isn’t going to be affected by the COVID-19 lockdowns, because people are still at home, they can still do online training.”

We talked to people who were connected in those areas and deals came up and we ended up growing about 50 per cent, finishing up the financial year after taking a 30 per cent hit initially.

Magnetic Alliance pre-COVID had two businesses. Our growth business and then one that we acquired in the logistics implementation.

You’re not concerned that maybe you’re spreading the business too thin?

No – it’s part of the strategy. We have a core business and we’re not changing what we do.

If someone was in gardening and they wanted to get into cooking, they’d have to spread themselves. But we do what we do best through growth. We do what we do and the partners that we have they are already really good at what they do.

We provide financial, strategic advice, help with management, help with people, help with risks, help with leadership. Every other aspect that they’re not good at.

The radiation is in Perth, the building is in Queensland, the cyber is in South Australia and the other is in software and that is with a globally listed software business.

Where to from here?

For the rest of the year we’re just going to knuckle down and focus on what we have taken on. That requires a fair bit of work. There’s quite a bit of infrastructure that’s required for the development of those businesses.

From there we will continue acquiring and expanding.

The interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Nominations for this year’s 40 Under 40 Awards close on 21 August, with the awards to be held on 15 October.

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