The Actual Habits: Justine Troy and Geoff Ross

The Actual Habits

Profiling the core roots and minds of New Zealand’s most onto it leaders.

Getfrank spent a morning with Justine Troy and Geoff Ross, author of the book ‘Every Bastard says NO!’ which chronicles 42Below’s journey from a clandestine vodka brew out of a wellington garage, to being served in some of world’s most exclusive bars around the world, with an IPO thrown in the mix on the way to an eventual acquisition by Bacardi for $138 million they have become one of New Zealand’s favourite success stories 

This is one seriously on to it couple whose life motto of ‘live with no regrets’ had seen them partying the night before with Spandeaux Ballet and Tears for Fears before getting up bright and early to face us….so just your typical marriage really….

How would you describe your leadership style?

Justine – My style is basically to get to know who you’re working with at a personal level…. I guess it is more of the feminine approach. Bring out the best of them based on who they are, … understand what personally motivates them and then get them to work hard.

I believe it’s the same thing with meeting the media, you have to… get people to buy into you personally, you’ve got to give them a little bit of you, and that’s what we’ve always done. I don’t think that being a hardnosed bitch gets you anywhere. 

Ultimately though you need to build loyalty, have a laugh and party with them!

Geoff – Mine is to sell them on the dream, make sure they understand it and then get out of their way. As long as they’ve got the goal clear and they get what it’s all about then you let them go. I’m not that controlling, in fact I’m almost too loose.

Justine – In researching the book we found that, that is probably one of the most definitive keys to Geoff’s success, it’s just what he does, and it such a rare thing. 

Almost everyone we spoke to would bring it up, he empowers them with the dream and then he says I know you can do this and he just lets them go and they love it! It honestly became a big thing, someone said in one of the interviews that he could be the leader of a church…and I wanted to say, ‘Geoff is not the messiah, in fact he’s a very naughty boy!’

 

What is your definition of success?

Geoff - Achieving your goals, whatever they are. Achievement

Justine – It’s that proper feeling of happiness and contentment every single day, knowing that all is well. I can’t be free to achieve unless I know that everyone is happy around me.

 

What are the three best books you’ve read?

Geoff –  

This thing of darkness by Harry Thompson

The Kite Runner, Khaled 

My Name Was Judas

Justine -

Industry of Souls, Martin Booth

All the Trouble in the World: The Lighter Side of Overpopulation, Famine, Ecological Disaster, Ethnic Hatred, Plague, and Poverty by P.J O’Rourke

A Scandalous Life, the Jane Digby Story

Geoff and Justine:

South – the story of Shackleton’s 1914-17 expedition

Any Travel Book: Great Hotels of the World, 50 places to visit before you die, Wallpaper city guides we are addicted to travel books and National Geographic. 

 

How do you generate your most creative thoughts?

Geoff – Getting away from it all, either on holiday or sitting on a plane.

I think from not being within the environment where you’re trying to solve something, get out of that environment, get out of that context and get fresh perspective. 

Justine – Running, exercising, walking. It all becomes clear then.

Geoff’s whole thing is really interesting. He has a lot of pressure on him now for the next big idea, whether it’s for Greenpeace, Melanoma Trust, Brand NZ, Ecoya or whatever he’s doing and I know that removing him from all domestic pressure points and giving him space to recharge is always so fruitful.

 

What motivates you and how do you stay motivated?

Geoff – Building stuff, whether it be a business or actually building, we always seem to be building stuff, we’re renovating a house at the moment.

You kind of get motivated to get it finished. That’s invariably how it happens, before you’re finished you’re already looking at your next thing to build.

Justine - We keep our eye firmly on the finished product, always on the result and then beyond that. At the moment there are probably about four significant projects on the go that are all completely different and now what we're doing is constantly talking about what happens beyond those.

I don’t think it’s necessarily the ideal way, sometimes I question it yet it’s a way of operating that we’ve got ourselves into. It can be a bit of a trap really.

When we came out of varsity and started to build our careers, it was in a time when your career defined yourself worth and we lived in fear of losing our jobs, we were motivated by the environment at the time, the economic and social awareness that we had.

For us everything is always a little bit of a race against time.….

Also, what motivates me is people that are grunting up, seeing other people taking risks. 

Our cousin said to us when we were very young ‘bite off more than you can chew, then chew like fuck’ and I do actually think those are words to live by, motivated by the thought that when I’m 85 and stuck in a miserable old folks home my freedom will actually be taken away ... I don’t want to  be saying ‘I wish I had then.

(They both start laughing)… and that’s exactly why we went out with Spandau ballet and Tears for Fears last night!

Geoff said to me, ‘darling I know we’re really tired but is this the night that we would regret not going out with the old rockers?’

And that’s what life is all about, instead of thinking ‘shit did we miss that opportunity?’

Our country motivates us. I do wonder who those women are behind the men that go to hell in a handbag and I wonder who the people are that create wealth for themselves that don’t then go, ‘ok, now we’re in a position to influence’.

I don’t like the assumption that we don’t continue to try and do things and influence the way that our world is going and the world around us.

If Geoff can now work with groups of influential people and make worth while changes and contributions to our (society, country, business environment) then, for us that is a huge up side to business success.

 

How do you get things done? Are there any routines, habits or personal rules that you’ve used to help you get to success?

Geoff – I’m a big list maker, get a block of time, shut the door and go for it.

'Make the hard calls first’ its a great rule to live by. Start your day doing the tricky stuff that you are dreading or the stuff you hate most.

Also, if you sense something is wrong it probably is.

Justine – We give ourselves deadlines. Put ourselves under pressure. There is a lot of discipline there once we’ve put a goal in place and usually because we’re going somewhere and we actually have to get something done.

Basically everything happens fast because we decide – ‘yes, that will happen on that day.’ Then we lock it in, over commit to it and then have to work like bugger to get to it.

I think at the point of despair as well, some of the best stuff happens. A lot of people run scared of that but you know when were sitting there absolutely ragged and scared we look at each other and go ‘right – we need to reframe this’. Sometimes the best decisions are made at that junction. 

 

What three attributes were most important for getting you where you are today and what attributes would you like to be renowned for?

Geoff - Great question actually, I know what I would like to be renowned for, being a good listener is really important... and changing the way companies go about their marketing. 

Justine – Compassion.

Humour - I don’t see what the point is if you can’t have a laugh.

Hard work – the idea of being accused of sitting around is more than I can bear….clearly life has gone quite well for us and it mortifies me to think that because of that anybody would assume that I’m flitting around doing sweet FA.

 

When have you hit rock bottom?

Geoff – The worst time would be when things were getting really tough and I borrowed $10k off a friend and didn’t tell Justine. It wasn’t so much the borrowing of the money it was that I didn’t tell her.

Justine – When you get under that kind of enormous pressure all kinds of things happen, you can develop slightly fraudulent behaviour as you think ‘I’ll just do this and we’ll get through it.’

For me the worst was during the IPO when the share price dropped, that was proper panic – sitting there watching your friends and families investment in you taking a hit. Up until then we’d always put ourselves on the line and we kind of thought, ‘this is ok’ because the worst that could happen would be that we would lose everything and have to start all over again, go get a job again. Yet when we had asked people to invest in our dream that was scary, suddenly we had them on the line too. 

And people gave so much, one banker suggested with the IPO ‘we got all our rich friends to invest’. We were like ‘what rich friends? We’re from Papakura!’

 

What’s getting your arse out of bed at the moment?

Geoff - Ecoya – our home fragrance, bath and body company. It’s about building the next thing. 

For us success will be when we walk into Barneys in New York and they’re stocking Ecoya or we see it in Shanghai.

Justine - Two beautiful boys and a book

 

What is the most important piece of advice you’d give an aspiring leader?

Geoff -  Hold on.

Persevere.

It takes longer than you think to get there and it costs more than you think it will. 

Aspiring Leaders should find great Mentors, and if you are in a partnership, ‘stay on the same team’

Justine - Always give 100%  and be prepared to accept that you can be wrong – I had a shocker with Geoff once and was quite horrible to him about the Vodka University idea and look how wrong I was, the entire bar industry around the world loves it!

I think Geoff’s biggest regret would be not going harder and faster sooner, so take the risks and give it everything you’ve got. 

 
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  • Ben says
    Excellent interview, great couple, love their attitude.
    Fantastic role models with good words to live by.
    Take heed brothers and sisters, or you'll end up working for Transfield.
    Kudos to them (the vodka couple, not Transfield)
  • Dan says
    True Inspiration.
  • Eugene says
    Amazing man, met him at the SPARK convention at Auckland university. His success story is truly about how 'every bastard says no'

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