Guest: John Little Date: April 11, 2018
Debra Ruh: Hello everyone. This is Debra Ruh and you’re watching or listening to Human Potential at work. Today I have a good friend of mine, John little, and he is joining us from Australia. So, I’m recording this later than usual because John just got up. So, John, thank you so much for joining the program today.
John Little: My pleasure Debra and lovely to see you. Thank you for inviting me.
Debra: Yes. I had the honor to interview your wife, Suzanne about her work with the Australia Disability Network and the show just went live and she’s amazing woman. So, I was very honored to interview her. But I knew you before Suzanne.
John: Yes. We did meet through the website Entrepreneurs with Disabilities.
John: And then we meet again but we met, if you remember, live at the US…
John: Conference first of all in Washington DC and then the following year in Chicago.
Debra: Yes. Yes, I do remember. I was just talking to my husband and daughter because you brought me a little koala bear which I loved.
John: I did. I did.
Debra: You know, Americans, you can get us all excited because we just love the outback. We know Australia is nothing but the outback which I guess it’s probably not true. But anyway…
John: And you’re welcome.
Debra: I really am honored to have you… I’m honored to have you on the program.
John: Thank you very much.
Debra: So, John, the reason why… yes, there is a lot of reasons why I wanted to have you on the program but, I think often people don’t think about persons with disabilities being entrepreneurs and I know that you have been an entrepreneur your whole life and you’ve been a successful entrepreneur and you also started the group, “Entrepreneurs With Disabilities” that I was part of for several years. And so, I really think my audience is going to enjoy your story of why did you come an entrepreneur. And I know you were thinking about the future when you became an entrepreneur but, that’s the direction we want to go in. so, do you mind telling us a little bit about who you are and how you… why you started the entrepreneurial journey?
John: Sure. At the age of 16, I was diagnosed with muscular Dystrophy. I was told then that in fact, I would have not so long to live but I would manage to be able to use a wheelchair before that departure on this life. That was a… telling a 16 year old not to smoke or not to do certain things. Yes, I hate to hear it.
I went on to live a life. I studied, I went at college, I go into advertising, I’ve been a photographer both employed and for myself and my disability didn’t seem to progress very much. But by the age of my like 30s, when I was still walking, I started to think as it became obvious my disability would progress, it was progressing that I would need to think about the future. Now, what do you do about that? Well, the first thing is, to be in control of your own future. To work for yourself if that’s possible and I believe it is possible for almost anybody to work for themselves in particularly today with technology as it is. But I didn’t have the benefit of technology in those days; I only had my marketing and creative mind which is where I come from as a business, as an employee and in work.
I initially left my employment as a publicity representative for a large theatrical company and I started my own advertising agency because somebody said, “oh, you should do that. You can make a lot of money.” So I did. And I did. And during that time, I wanted to try and employ in our agency somebody with a disability to work there. I had in mind reception, at front desk, customer service but it was very difficult to find people and so it didn’t actually take place the way I want to.
Later on, when I moved out of my agency, I made a bad move. I guess all entrepreneurs at some state will. I made a bad move and I moved to another part of Australia without thinking it through. There I am with a rapidly progressing by this stage disability. I was not yet using a wheelchair; but I was not walking with any great confidence. And I started to think, “okay, I’m in my 40’s, I’m clearly going to need a wheelchair sooner rather than later. What can I do that will allow me to work in my wheelchair?” Again, at the time when there wasn’t technology as it is today.
I was introduced to the concept of resume (CVs) as they call it in some parts of the world and I looked at what was being done in the name of resume of people looking to work and I thought it was offal. I thought boring, it didn’t tell a story, it didn’t sell anything much less the applicant. And so I thought to myself quite arrogantly, “I could be doing this.” and I’ve decided to create a startup resume that was more of a personal marketing document; the way we subsequently done today but it wasn’t like that then. I thought, “This is quite easy.” So, I ran an ad in a local paper, “resume writer for hire. Call me.” And the phone rang, somebody came to see me. I did their resume and I loved it. And they paid me. And the phone rang again and again and rapidly increasingly again and again.
I found myself as a resume writer. Who knew that was going to happen? But the thing that first occurred to me was that this could be done in a wheelchair by somebody who is really quite significantly disabled. And I thought, “How can I do that? How would I teach others to do this?” and so, I started an organization that was going to sell licenses, franchisers if you like, to people who I would train and support to do this work in other parts of Australia. That was in 1989, 1990. By the time I really felt rocking and rolling with this thing, it was about 92, 93 and we started to attract people who want to learn. However, they weren’t necessarily people with disability like [0:08:57.8] disability. So I taught them to write resumes the way I was doing it. I supported them. I helped them advertise and market their business and it started to grow.
Today, quickly chat interview; we have 35 offices across Australia. We have six that we’re responsible for staffing their like a new leader in New Zealand. We have one in Hong Kong, one in Singapore. We have had one in America and one in the UK but they’re not operating at the moment. We do have people with disabilities who are owners of businesses. They’re in business because we encourage them to do so. Because we train them and we ongoingly support them to be the best that they can be.
I have also along the way… I guess another example of entrepreneurship, one day, I found myself in a new wheelchair and also the old one and I thought, “Well, I’ll sell that. Get rid of that wheelchair.” But I couldn’t; nobody would buy it. So I said, “What will I do with that wheelchair? Oh, I know, I’ll rent it. But how will I do that? Start a website.” That took me about a morning to get a website up and running in the early days of websites. I put my phone number, email address and somebody emailed me from the United States and said, “You rent wheelchairs. I’m bringing my mom to Australia. I work with CBS and I’m going to be out there for the Sidney Olympics and I’m bringing my mom with me. She needs a wheelchair.” And I suddenly found myself having wheelchairs. I acquired more and it got busy. And I took on a partner and that business now runs very successfully under the ownership of my then partner because I sold it to him.
I live a quieter life these days. But they’re some examples; advertising agency, resume writer, wheelchair rental that I have done with my disability and I think perhaps even because of my disability. Without a disability, I may not have been driven to want to prepare for my older age which is you can now see is upon me. So, that’s a nutshell story of my life. We shared it online with people through the Entrepreneur with disabilities which you are involved in; very significant contribution to extend success. And here I am, people call me an entrepreneur.
Debra: Maybe people call you a successful serial entrepreneur. And in the background, Doug, our producer said, “your creative problem solving.” And it was unfortunate that at 16, you were told that you’re going to have a debilitating disability and you’re going to die in early age. Luckily that was not true because you’re still with us and still contributing to society. But, I do think that often, people with disabilities are underestimated and certainly, they’re underestimated as far as entrepreneurship goes. And, some of the…
Debra: Yes. Some of the best entrepreneurs I know have disabilities. And I think Doug is right with the comment that he made online and that there… you know, sometimes you have to be creative when you have problems. And we all have problems. We all have obstacles and things. But at 16, John, I wasn’t thinking about how do I take care of myself in the future. I wish I have thought like that but I didn’t. And so, I think, you know, you make it sound easy being a successful entrepreneur. Of course I know it’s not. We all know it’s not. I’ve been an entrepreneur for years and it’s really hard and there are things that keep you up at night. That word which I didn’t know about before I became an entrepreneur; cash flow and it’s like you’re not…
John: Bottom line.
Debra: Oh, yes. Yes. And I remember, I’m having to learn all the financial reports and I had an entrepreneur tell me… a want to be entrepreneur tell me one time that you know, they didn’t need to worry about those balance statement, the profit sheets things like that. They don’t need that. They didn’t really want to worry about that. Well, if you’re going to be an entrepreneur; you have to learn everything. You’re you know, the chief washer as they say. You have to know everything and I find… as somebody…
When I created my first company, I was so naïve. So naïve in a lot of ways but, I just thought that because I was doing work that I really thought was important to the world that the world would throw their arms open to me and I was just going to be this huge success. I’m not sure where I got that from but, you know, sometimes it’s good to be naïve because maybe if I knew how hard it was going to be; I would have been too chicken to do it and here we are now.
So, over the years that you’ve been an entrepreneur and you’ve employed people with disabilities and helped other people with disabilities become entrepreneurs; what advice you have for somebody that is… and I’ll tell you, there’s a woman working for my company right now in the Philippines and she is, she’s blind. And she was telling me the other day, I was so surprised, once again, naïve, that she couldn’t get her own bank account in the Philippines because the banks think it’s a security risk for somebody that’s blind couldn’t sign her own check that people might steal her money. And I was like, really? I said, “Go in bank within the international bank in the Philippines.” And then she said, “I am.” And I was like, “okay.”
So, I know there’s still so much, so many things that happen to people with disabilities. People with disabilities are not being… not always taken serious in the workforce and as entrepreneurs. There’s so many people that look at people with disabilities you know with pity and if there’s one person I don’t pity; it’s you, John. You have a beautiful wife, you have children, you have a wonderful home, you have successful business. I have an emotion, it’s more like jealous of how successful your businesses have been. But, what advice do you have for entrepreneurs you know, regardless of where they are and how they can get started?
John: Well, I’m not sure there’s one single piece of advice. I wish there were. Everybody’s got strength and one of the strength as your producer Doug had pointed out is we all have as people with disability because we have to have is problem solving and problem solving by nature is creative. You have to do things differently. You have to see things differently. And in doing that, you’ll find a new way. Now a new way could also be a way of working in a business.
I was at a function last night with my wife, Suzanne Colbert, for the celebration of international autism day. It was sponsored by one of the big four bank in this country. There were lots of senior executives from big employers in attendance and they were all celebrating the fact that they are now understanding how autism can in fact deliver problem solving for their businesses. How the people with autism are able to creatively problem solve. To do things in a way that others can’t do because they see things differently.
It was a very inspiring evening but I think whether you’re a wheelchair user, whether you are on the spectrum, whether you have a sight impairment, hearing impairment, intellectual or psychiatric illnesses involved; they all are able to problem solve. To look for something big and fly to see how that fits into the fabric of their community and business large around them. You know, businesses don’t have to be national or multinational; they can be co-owner stores. I think you call them mom and pop stores in America.
John: And start a business like that and you’ll know what entrepreneurship is about because you’re competing. You’ve got to be able to offer what the public wants and we have an advantage. People with disability; we are offering the faith of diversity to the world. And I go into a bank where there’s a person with disability working behind the counter; I will go to their queue. Not to that of somebody else; I want to be served by person with disability because they understand me. also because I think I want to be encouraging also.
I think that the problem we face as people with disability is what is becoming a much more common phrase. I use it a lot with the victims of soft bigotry caused by low expectation…
John: We are people with disability; I’m not expected to be able to do anything, poor us. Pat us on the head and give us a lump of sugar, and we’ll go away. Now we’re what? We’re here. We’re making noise, we’re petitioning ourselves in our communities, we are becoming self-supporting and it is possible to do so.
Find your niche and work on it. It would help to have a mentor. Find somebody in a business. Maybe you could say too, “look, I think I would really value 30 minutes of your time every month. Could I have a cup of coffee with you and talk to you about how you became successful?” that will get you started and quite often; I’ve done that with people with Resumes and said, “You want a job in this area, we’ll position you in your resume to do so but you need help.” And many people have gone to employers and said, “Look, I’m not asking a job, I don’t want you to give me any charity; I just want some time and I’d like to speak with you for half an hour and pick your brains.” I do that and quite often, it’s led to a job.
You think creatively; as you work out how to pick up your pens off the desk and write with it, as you work how to use a new wheelchair, as you work out a new foot path in your community with the tactile service indicators because you’re sight impaired. Think about how that is a problem you’re solving; you will learn and you will be able to move forward. I would be much happier talking to individuals in our world about the individual problems and help them focus rather than come up with one particular statement that says, “If you do this; you’ll be an entrepreneur.”
Debra: Right. And, I know that now, more people are becoming entrepreneurs all over the world than ever before.
John: Oh yes.
Debra: It’s interesting that when I first started my business in 2001 and it was called Tech Access, what I had to spend money on then is very different from when I started my business Ruh Global Communications. On Ruh Global Communications, all I did was I paid for you know, to get my license; my business license here in Virginia and put up a website and work at my home. It’s just amazing how much easier looking from the United States lens but it’s not only happening in the US; it’s what’s happening all over the world.
Some of the developed countries you know they’re… it’s interesting the countries that are throwing roadblocks in entrepreneur’s ways. I always find that very interesting. And it’s helpful to me to be able to travel around the world because I learn about things that I just thought they’re solved, right?
So, I think it’s very interesting to think about all of these issues and opportunities from the global lens which is one reason why I always really really enjoyed your work because I like how you were thinking about the future. I want to be independent, I want to make sure I’m prepared, I want to be able to work, I want to contribute to society, I want to be a tax payer.
Debra: So, I don’t need you to pity me; I need you to you know, purchase from me. Not because I’m a person with disability, but because I’m better than everybody else which is what we entrepreneurs always think about our services and solutions.
Debra: But, just so many interesting things happening with the entrepreneurship for people with disabilities all over the world. There’s very interesting programs and I don’t know if you’ve run into any John. I’ve seen some really interesting ones in Spain, in Portugal and South America.
John: I’ve heard about groups of women in India who are running their own individual businesses and some are being encourage by local authorities even.
John: Good for the whole community. I’m not sure that people or organizations or bureaucracies actually attempt to put roadblocks. I think, in starting a business for example, it can be difficult for anybody. On the other hand; it can be easy. Namely my wheelchair rental business. One wheelchair, one website, one phone number, one email address. Call me if you want mine. And it happened. Lucky positioning, who knows? The right place at the right time, all of those things. You know, right on the day. Whatever. You know, there’s a lot of things that you can blame or credit for success or failure but at the end of the day; I think Nike said a long time ago, “Just do it.”
Debra: Right. Right. I agree. I agree.
John: But I’m happy to talk. Anybody who wants to get in touch with me for some ideas; I’m happy to mentor people. By all means; make connection and I’ll do what I can to help you.
Debra: So with that, how would somebody get hold of you?
John: I’m on Facebook. How do they get hold of you on Facebook? Looks out your name I suppose.
Debra: That’s right. You just type in John Little, you know, the John who lives in Australia.
Debra: And so, that’s definitely a good way to get hold of him.
Debra: As I mentioned, his wife Suzanne Colbert, she was on the show and you can always check out the work that she’s doing in Australia.
Debra: A lot of different ways to…
John: Twitter account, @johnlittle. That’s me on Twitter. My best email I think would be [email protected] Not Gmail, at mail dot com.
Debra: Just mail. M-A-I-L.
John: Any of those would get hold of me and I’d be happy to help and talk.
Debra: And John, do you still… do you still accept entrepreneurs in the resume CV business? Are you still teaching people to do that business?
John: Oh, yes. At the moment now, I don’t work so much hands-on in the business. I’m just a you know, a figure head if you like. Our daughter who’s based in Singapore runs the whole operation from there and we certainly have opportunities in America, in the UK, in Malaysia and for people who are interested in starting out, we can see if we can make that happen.
Debra: And what is the name of the business, john?
John: In Australia, it’s called Successful Resumes Australia.
John: Beyond that, it’s Successful Resume with whatever the name of the country is…
Debra: Okay. Alright.
John: Successful Resumes Singapore, Successful Resumes Hong Kong, Successful Resumes New Zealand etc.
Debra: Excellent. Excellent. Well, John, thank you so much for starting your morning and your day with us and…
John: Thank you.
Debra: Thank you for all the work. You’ve been a mentor to me because I remember, I asked you a lot of advice along the way as I try to… one thing that I always was a little bit annoyed with is that the work that I do because it’s about championing the community of people with disabilities and all those topics, many people always expect me to be a charity. I’m not a charity; I’m a for profit business and…
Debra: I don’t think dealing with people with disability should always be about charity and pity. I don’t believe it. And so, that’s something I learned from you John. You’re like no, for profit business.
John: We are. We help people make profit as employees and we create profit as employers.
Debra: Yes. And we add to society. We add to society so…
John: Absolutely. Yes. Completely honestly.
Debra: Well John, thank you so very much for being on the program. You really honored me and I know maybe some people didn’t know about you and I’m hoping that people are listening to you today. And if you’re a person with disability or a person without a disability and you want to be an entrepreneur, John Little is the man to talk to because he has done it over and over and over again successfully franchising and he proved once again what we can do when we put our mind to it. John, any final words?
John: Thank you for having me on. And I’m successful because of my disability; not in spite of it.
You’ve been listening to Human Potential at Work with Debra Ruh. To learn more about Debra and how she can help your organization visit RuhGlobal.com. If you’ve enjoyed today’s episode and you want to make sure that you don’t miss any future epsiodes, go to itunes and subscribe to Human Potential at Work. Thanks so much for listening and we’ll be back next week with a new episode.