"A tough road, but I never saw him complain."
Martin’s lucky to be alive. His life started in Riverview, a tough Ipswich housing commission area, as the son of a mechanic. “Riverview was the sort of suburb where you didn’t hang around the parks at night. Dad was a good, hard-working Australian; a religious man who didn’t drink or smoke, and with very good values.”
Good habits started early for Martin with the wise words of his father. “Dad had some great little wisdom tips such as ‘Son, if you’re going to do a job, do it with all your heart and mind. Even if you’re sweeping the floor, sweep it with all your might.’ ‘Every job’s got an importance to it,” Don’t ever think you’re too big not to do any job.’ He also used to say, ‘Don’t complain. Be thankful. Be thankful in everything.’ Even working on cars with him on the weekend he’d remind me, ‘If you’re going to put the spanners aside, clean them.’ Go the extra mile, in other words.”
Looking back, Martin realises, “He never had anything for himself, but he never complained. He worked most nights and worked weekends. Bringing up five kids at 25 years of age. A tough road, but I never saw him complain. We would go down to the Ipswich Tivoli drive-in and park outside. We’d have to work out what they were saying by lip-reading because we couldn’t afford to go in. He never had a negative attitude.” Martin’s ‘make the best of what you’ve got and things will go from there’ perspective is a direct result of his father’s teachings.
The impetus for moving on from Riverview came when Martin was in Grade 7 and had a bad accident in the park. “We were playing football and I slid on a broken beer bottle which resulted in seven months out of school. I spent a lot of time reading those old adventure books which I just couldn’t put down.” He recalls having thoughts such as, “That’s the life for me. I want to be an adventurer. I want to have a life that’s different.”
Once Martin returned to school he was far behind and then fell even further behind. “I started skipping school, going to the back of pubs and learning how to play pool. I was around 12. I did something wrong one day and heard Dad was going to give me the whip when he got home so I decided to take off.”
Martin remembers that his siblings had “those little Commonwealth Bank savings tins. I opened them all up which gave me around $27, a fortune to me then! I left an IOU note in the can which said, “I’m off on an adventure. I’ll pay you back one day.”
Martin befriended three indigenous Australians on the train on his way north and “I went upstate with them, even living under the bridge in Townsville. The truant officers there allowed my my grandmother to convince my mother to let me stay with her for a while. By that time I’d hit grade nine, I think I went to school for about twenty-three days during the whole year. I started working at the meat works. I just wanted to work, and I didn’t want to go to school.”
For a year Martin did various odd jobs and eventually joined a group of “friendly” characters. “They were probably what most people call a bikie gang. They had big beards, weighed around 20 stone, and had long hair. I’d hang around the pubs. I was good at playing pool and playing cards, so they just sort of adopted me as I was still a young kid. I felt very secure, they were tough but they really looked after each other.”
Martin was getting lessons in how to be a rebel: “You didn’t get a license in those days, didn’t bother with registration. I saved up for a bike, did a little bit of concrete work here and there and I was appointed into the gang when I turned 17. I had to get the tattoo, and I had a really good time for a couple of years. I was just so free for the first time. We were adventurers no rules, no regulations.”
From this, Martin learned “if you respect people for who they are and just let them be who they are, you can have a friend in anybody. They don’t have to be like you, they don’t have to be exactly in your mould. I also learned how to relate to people, and I became good at using words to defend myself.”
Where did Martin’s business career start? “My first business was called M&M Concreting. I was still into the bikes, but I’d been thinking I needed to do something with my life. A mate called Mickey and I knew a bit about concreting, so we said let’s call ourselves ‘M&M Concreting Service.’ We started a little business and got a lot of good jobs, but we made so many mistakes. He went back to Perth when his dad died.”
One of Martin’s friends had a terrible death in a bike smash, which Martin witnessed. “I was violently ill for a number of days and it made me think, ‘I’ve got to get out of this.’ It was an instant decision to change, to find something else to do”.
Martin got off his bike, and rang his father saying “I want to come home, and change my life.” His father’s response was ‘You’re a bum. I don’t want anything to do with you’. Martin recalls, “I was 19. I had long hair and tattoos. I didn’t really know how to speak, how to eat or how to sleep in a bed. I lived the opposite life to all those traditional things most kids grow up with. Dad just didn’t want my type of person in his home”.
Three months later, Martin’s father had relented and allowed him to return home. “Dad said I could come home, but there were all these conditions. It took me about six months to readjust, but he could see I was changing. I knocked on 46 doors trying to get a sales job. That’s where I learnt the next major lesson in my life; persistence. If you keep on it, you’ll eventually get a yes – it’s just pure numbers.”
Eventually Martin met Shaun McCarthy who was in sales with a large land development company. “He said ‘If you do everything I say, I’ll train you’. I was so hungry, I did the training; how to present, how to make a phone call, and I became the top five salesperson in the company, because I just followed his instructions exactly. I respected him very much”.
The family’s insurance agent then mentioned that Legal and General Life Australia was looking for cadets. “I applied and got the job. I asked the manager who interviewed me, ‘Why did you give me a go?’ His reply was that he’d, ‘seen something in your eye I hadn’t seen ever in my life – you were hungry.’ And I was.”
This was the start of real change in Martin’s life. “I learned how to comb my hair differently, and to wear fake glasses and pinstripe suits. I started to change my voice, losing the “ocker” accent, and I stopped swearing.”
Martin’s delighted to acknowledge that “I was encouraged by everybody, and was the last one in the office every night. I really worked hard, and I received my education; in investment advisory, financial planning, stock broking and general insurance. At 30, I was in the top 30 salespeople in the world for insurance, making a million dollars personal commission a year, and I was the managing partner of the third largest financial planning practice in Australia. I was very honoured.”
During his journey to success, Martin credits conversations and meetings with many mentors, “because I was always hungry, and I was always respectful of any person I felt I could learn from”. He adds “I owe a great deal to Pamela Cox, a wonderful woman who was a highly respected senior agent at Legal and General in Brisbane. She taught me social graces and introduced me to senators and other influential people. We partnered together to form the Morris Cox group.”
How does Martin stay motivated? “I developed a system through a colleague called the ‘20-points system.’ It’s a self-motivating tool to check in and reward yourself. In other words, stop beating yourself up. The self-motivating tool said, ‘if you do the right activity enough, over and over and over again, you have to win.’ It’s the law. You plant enough seed, something’s got to sprout.”
For Martin, “It’s not learning from being educated, it’s learning from the doing. I read that in a great book called, ‘The Success System That Never Fails’ by W. Clement Stone. He was a young insurance salesman and ended up being worth billions.”
Having reached that peak, Martin retired at 30 and spent a couple of years on sabbatical. Martin then met another mentor and great salesman, Dan Cavalli. Martin recalls Dan was very tough on him; teaching how to learn more from books, applying them into everyday life. “Dan taught me about the science of business, the maths which makes successful numbers for growth. Over the next 5 years we went on to grow a $180 million business in telecommunications with 2000 sales reps and listed on the ASX.
A couple of years later Martin retired again to the Gold Coast, and started doing pro bono work, giving talks to youth and church groups and other associations. At that time, he discovered the fiscal problem in households was devastating. “They had credit cards, they had mortgages. They were spending more than they earned. I’ve been taught by a number of mentors how to earn a dollar, but also to save some. You spend less than you earn. I saw a lot of greed.”
Having had a break from work, “I felt I had another run in me, to actually go back and do something that’s actually going to help the public. That was the first desire. Secondly, I wanted to build an organisation which would actually teach staff that they could be financial independent in five to ten years. I could also grow the company so that they could get a piece of the farm, to help them. They could take ownership and responsibility for the philosophy, not just be an employee coming to work. And I wanted to do a lot more giving.”
This was starting a business from a completely different foundation. “Most people are building businesses to make money. I didn’t want to do that. My estate’s looked after. Don’t work for money; plant a seed and let it grow. One seed can become a whole harvest.”
Martin’s view was that “A man free of financial worries is free to follow his passion. I start learning different laws and wisdom from millionaires. And, the good news is that the law of money works for everybody. It has nothing to do with race or religion. Clients started reacting to this information, and we started attracting people. Almost everyone in this company were all clients who wanted to join the group. We haven’t had to recruit, because we’re working with them on changing their lives”.
MM International then began, based on the concept that “you could come under one roof and have four or five people work with you on one file. So instead of speaking to four or five people in different locations, you can come to one place, and we all work for you. Let’s empower and encourage the client. Whatever they want done, let’s help them get it. So they can go to one shop, they don’t have to go to five or six.”
Fateful meetings then occurred. Firstly, “I met Annette Bedford, who is an accountant, and she had the same passions as I had, about not just being an accountant, but actually helping. Because of the costs of doing business, you can’t generally sit down and have a chat with somebody for two hours about your goals, your dreams and where you want to go. She’d always wanted to be able to do that. And she always wanted to work with kids like I did. So she loved what I did.”
At the same time, Martin met Joanne Brooks who had a passion about learning and education. “So, all that like-mindedness of experienced people came together, with 30 years in accounting education, working peoples’ finances and networking businesses. I knew if we could serve the client over a period of ten years, you’d make your money. This year we might make a loss, but later on you make a profit.
“The key is to be taking interest in the client first. It’s not always about billing, it’s not always about making a dollar. ‘What’s the best thing to do by the client?’ is the question to always ask,” Martin adds.
In order to achieve the essence of the culture needed, Martin comments that “We’ve merged 15 different little companies under a process, and we’ve now got a structure that’s a public entity. We have shareholders, because we wanted everyone to be shareholders of the company. They’re excited because they have ownership, so we’re empowering people here, and they’re empowering clients”.
What’s Martin’s definition of success? “It’s not comparison and it’s not a mandate of money. It’s whether you’re achieving the personal goals you set yourself in your life plan. I think every man’s success has to be a personal thing. It’s inside, in the heart, because what do you compare? A bigger car? A bigger house? For me, it’s seeing the people here grow, seeing them learning how to get rid of their debt, get rid of their mortgage, and be free. When I hear those stories, I hear they’ve got better relationships, because what they do around here is a reflection of home and work together. That fires me up.”
Martin is confident around the idea that “In the next three years there will be multi-millionaires in this company because we’ve got a great leadership program. We’ve got a career plan which means we’ll give away more of the pie, but the pie’s bigger. So, would you want 10% of a $1 billion company, or 100% of a $1 million company? I enjoy that part of my life. I enjoy knowing that we’ve got a great foundation set up.”
Martin is passionate about empowering the entire nation using these principles. “This country needs to get back to basics. Business people need to actually start doing what we’re asking the government to do; save and get out of debt. Start putting back into our economy, capitalising it, employing people, and starting to take the risk. More importantly, we need a government which stops spending the money. If this government saved 10% of everything they earned in the last 20 years, we’d have $1.7 trillion in the bank right now, and we’d have no debt. If a $2 million small business can do that over 10 years, they’ll have $2 million in their bank account. Can you imagine the average small business, with $2 million in the bank?”
In summary Martin feels he “stuck to very simple basics. I learnt that from another great mentor when I went to America. When I was 24, I was invited to attend the Million Dollar Roundtable, which is the top five percent of insurance consultants in the world. I met some wonderful people there whose advice was to always stick to the basics. These were: to keep things simple; don’t get complex when you’re talking about people’s money. Always find a need.”
Martin’s final and most pivotal basic was that you can change. “When you’re born an elephant, you’re an elephant. If you’re born a monkey, you’re a monkey. As a human being, you can become what you want to become – you can change, internally and externally. When I got that, I thought, ‘I don’t have to worry about my past, I can develop my future.’ And that’s when it really started to click. I didn’t have to worry about who I was from the perception of others, such as school or industry peers. I could develop who and what I needed to be.”
- “It’s not learning from being educated, it’s learning from the doing.”
- “We were adventurers; no rules, no regulations.”
- “The key is to be taking interest in the client first. It’s not always about billing, it’s not always about making a dollar. It’s always: “What’s the best thing to do by the client?”
- “At 30, I was in the top 30 salespeople in the world for insurance, making a million dollars personal commission a year.”
Martin Morris is larger than life, and he knows how tough life can be. He’s lived with bikies, slept under bridges and swept floors. He became one of the top thirty life insurance salespeople in the world, earning ridiculous amounts of money. His life’s now on a more conservative footing, advising businesses on how to prosper, and he’s learnt that no challenge is insurmountable.