No one’s ever been able to do it until now.
Sue Jauncey & Stephen Becsi
Sue Jauncey grew up in Western Australia in a family of three children. “I’m the youngest and we’re very much blue-collar Australians, My father was a butcher, ended up with his own business, and my mum raised us kids and also helped with the butcher shop.”
As Sue comments, “both my parents started their own businesses, but they weren’t entrepreneurial in the greater sense of the word. They certainly took some chances and risks to be able to create a better life they wanted for themselves and for their family. They’ve been a strong, stable influence and their input was ‘if you want to do something, you get out there and you make it happen. Don’t wait or rely on anyone else to do it for you.’ They didn’t have a lot of education in their own lives but they had a lot of common sense. And that was more valuable.”
Despite the fact that Stephen also grew up in Perth, they didn’t meet until later in life. Stephen was the oldest of six children. His father escaped when the Russians took over in Hungary in 1956, came to Australia as a refugee and later worked as a postman. Stephen comments that “he was on Struggle Street the whole way” and always very keen on his children’s education. ‘Get an education and that’s how you get on in life.’ was a refrain Stephen often heard. .
Stephen’s father had been studying at university in Hungary and playing international soccer as well. When he came to Australia his qualification wasn’t recognised, so he worked in a carpet mill, as a fitter and turner, and played soccer for the equivalent of Melbourne Victory back in the ’50s.
From a young age Stephen was keen for higher education. “Growing up I was very keen to get in to the Naval College, they had a system in the ’70s for young boys in Year 10 to do their high school years at the Naval College. So for me, at 15 I left public school, and it was all about scoring extremely highly in Maths, Physics and Chemistry.”
When Sue left school, also at 15, she initially worked in a pharmacy. Her parents had told her, ‘you grow up. You get married. You have children and you’ve succeeded in life. That was your life.’ So, initially this was Sue’s path. She went back to university after she’d had her two children, undertaking studies in psychology.
She started doing research work in the prison systems across Australia, mainly in South Australia and WA.
Her career soon took a major detour. Sue summarises the scenario; “when I finished working in the prison system with offenders, I was headhunted by Andersen. It was at a time when all the talk was about consulting in boardrooms. I was there less than a week when the Managing Partner said, ‘Pack your bags.’ I was then travelling the world researching board best practice. And, of course, they didn’t know then that they were going to be part of the case study with the Enron scandal which happened shortly afterward. That’s when I first went out on my own. I wasn’t working with Stephen at that stage.”
Sue moved to Sydney in 2006 because she had begun her own board practice, and she knew she couldn’t run her business from Western Australia. At that time “We didn’t have enough boards in WA”.
Sue met Stephen initially as a client, and he quickly became a sounding-board with whom she could talk about business. At that time Stephen was Chief Executive Officer of Bethanie, the largest not-for-profit aged care provider in WA. Their working relationship led to a situation where “Stephen bought into the company and came on board” creating Pulse Australasia in the form under which it currently operates.
Sue has learned important lessons from her years of experience: “I very was interested in company structures and partnerships and I’d been evaluating boards for ten years. As a result, I was very close to the decision makers of business. I used to ask them all the time, ‘How did you make it? What did you do? What was your story?’ I’ve heard patterns along the way in response” she says.
The common thread in many cases is “they all have stories of highs and lows; big highs and big lows. Those war stories were about persistence and, when it does go wrong, asking the right questions. Instead of just packing up and going home, you ask the right questions. ‘What happened? What would you need to do? How could that be different?’ And they all learned from these experiences”.
In her own experience Sue notes it would have been easier, at times, to give up. “Lots of times you want to give up and just do something safe, where you don’t have to think about it. You’ve got to stay and stick, because it then gives way to natural optimism. I also think if you did give up, that would end up being a regret, and I don’t have any regrets in my life.”
How do Sue and Stephen support each other in tough times? Sue admits Stephen hears ‘it’s too hard’ on occasion and no doubt she does also from time to time. As she notes though, “with us, when one goes there, the other one’s got to be the stronger one.”
Stephen spent 20 years in the military, finishing up as a Deputy Director of Sustainability for the Navy. He recounts that “the US Army trained me in logistics management in projects greater than USD10 billion and then I came back to Australia as the business manager for the Anzac Ship Project.
In 2000 I retired from the Navy as a commander at the age of 35. I picked up the position of CFO and Deputy CEO in a small aged care organisation in WA and commenced the process of building the company. I went into aged care just to settle down because we had a very young family.”
In 2015 Stephen received an Order of Australia for his work in aged care.
Using his previous skillset, Stephen pitched to a bank for funding. “On a balance sheet of $12 million I asked for the bank to give us a $100 million. I then used the Navy’s activity-based management and predictive modelling to predict what the most viable sized nursing home in Western Australia should be. In the space of four years, we went from being a very small organisation to being the largest, with nearly 2,000 staff. It was about size and rapid scale.”
At that time, Sue was consulting to the board and the executive using psychological methodology around cognitive dissonance and continuous reinforcement. Stephen recalls he also underwent the process and “I saw the power of it through experiencing it myself.”
Stephen also recalls the then government in 2009 introduced the largest reform program in Australia’s history – the Strategic Reform Program which required $20 billion worth of savings.
Navy rolled out the Pulse Program in 2010 and targeted, for example, cost-conscious behaviours as costs had become critical. “The results were amazing. Based on a psychological attack as well as a systems approach, the Navy found over $300 million worth of savings in the first year.”
How did the two colleagues meet? Sue remembers “the first time we met we argued because I had said something with a psychological base to it which Stephen refuted. He said ‘Show me the data!’ He had this numerical approach and I had the people approach.”
Stephen adds “I had a dashboard at Bethanie, where we were tracking 17 business KPIs against some strategic challenges and that’s how I reported to the board. We were tracking EBITDA (Earnings before Interest, Taxation, Depreciation and Amortisation), tracking NPS (Net Promoter Score), clinical governance breaches, and many other indicators which gave us a really good indication of the health of the business.”
However, there “was no staff engagement survey, no staff satisfaction survey. None of those could actually be correlated to the hard core business results we were tracking and trying to improve. Sue was changing the behaviours of all of these people. Through algorithms and her IP, Sue was able to then quantify each individual’s positive demonstration of the behaviour. It then wasn’t very difficult to quantify this by site, by gender, by demographic and adding them all up, give the company an actual score, a Net Culture Score (NCS)”.
It was then possible to track the Net Culture Score against the 17 KPIs. Stephen was again surprised to see that “the correlations were quite amazing. Every time the Net Culture Score went up, there was an improvement in the business KPI. So EBITDA went up, retention went up, agency costs went down and insurance costs like workers’ compensation dropped. NPS went up when your culture went up. So we began to get some quantifiable evidence on the relationship between culture and business, and then we tracked it for three years and the data was revolutionary.”
One of Sue’s sayings is “NPS is to external brand what NCS is to internal culture.” She adds, “When we do this work, it actually increases the self-worth of every individual. Often the individuals involved are then achieving things for themselves with higher self-worth. They’re dealing with their children and their families differently and so it all changes. If I can do that for large populations, rather than one-on-one counselling, then that’s a much more powerful career.”
This was a completely different way to operate. No chief executive had ever heard of it anywhere. “Most chief executives can tell you their KPIs for Finance, for HR and so on, but ask them ‘can you tell me what your KPIs are for culture’ and no one’s ever been able to do it until now.”
Sue explains that the methodology in the evolution of the program comes from her experience and it’s Stephen who provides the insights to scale and how to take it across global businesses. That’s the complementary relationship between the two colleagues.
When asked about the industries they’ve worked with Sue replies that “Aged care and health are big industries for us and that’s also flowed over internationally so Pulse UK works in the social care sector and with the NHS. The methodology is also readily applied universally in any other industry.”
Sue’s belief is that, “if a company has the best systems and processes but a poor culture, it will fail. You will not execute. And vice versa; if you’ve got the best culture in the world but poor systems, you will execute but you won’t execute efficiently. So getting control of that culture and then maintaining it will allow the company to execute those strategies.”
How hard is it for small operations to break into big business boardrooms? “For the board, it’s safer picking big, and it’s dangerous picking small. So, when you are small, you have to go through the hoops of convincing people who you are. The bigger boys don’t need to”.
Sue notes that “it’s still a challenge against larger organisations. Building a business, you just have to be resilient. You get more no’s in the beginning, especially when it’s something new. So, you’ve got to stay committed to the process and the belief and the vision you have” Advice from her previous work with board and executives has also served Sue well here as they would remind her that, ‘If you believe in it and it works, stay with it and keep going. Sooner or later, all the no’s you’re getting start to turn’.
As happens in all businesses “We’ve certainly had ours highs and lows. We got our first Tier One client, and then lost it! We thought we were set. Losing it goes down as one of my greatest personal disappointments; a huge setback. I think if it wasn’t for Stephen, I don’t think we would have survived. You don’t lose that much of your revenue overnight and easily survive. But we did, and it’s coming back stronger.”
Sue is ambitious and upbeat about the future of Pulse: “I’m expecting we will have a contract in the next 12 months or so with one of the very large ones. I’m expecting Pulse to be in the world’s largest corporations, and to go across the globe, nothing less.”
Sue is proud of the fact “we’ve just launched in the United Kingdom. The US market, especially in aged care and health, is so suitable to what we do. From the interest and conversations we’ve had, I couldn’t imagine it not going well there. That’s why we’re still there, even as tough as it is.”
Stephen agrees: “There’s nothing better than when you see a large company turn. That great feeling when a chief executive who was really struggling and not able to get the machine working the way he wanted and you get it turning.“
Both Sue and Stephen see working for Pulse Australasia as a passion. “Seeing organisations transform and hit their targets is what it’s all about. Peter Drucker says, ‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast’. The number one role of a chief executive should be to develop the culture. They therefore need to understand what the culture of their organisation is, and drive it hard.”
When Pulse Australasia partners with a company, their role is to “help them align the culture of their organisation. Their psychologically-based system, developed around normalising behaviours across an organisation, ensures the culture becomes very much ‘the way we do things around here’ mentality. So it’s about intentionally building the culture of choice rather than having it come about by default.”
Regarding the current emphasis on getting more women onto boards, Sue has a wise outlook; “we’ve still got to make sure that boards are made up of people who are firstly making good business decisions.
“Whilst there are lots of conversations at the moment around diversity and gender equality, I’d rather go one step further and ask the right questions of what we need to be doing in the best interest of all people and not just minority groups. If we have more of those conversations, we can get even better outcomes than we’re having now” she adds.
- “Building a business, you just have to be resilient.”
- “No one’s ever been able to do it until now.”
- “You’ve got to stay, and stick. It’s asking the right questions, when it does fail.”
- “Instead of just packing up and going home, you ask the right questions. What happened? What would you need to do? How could that be different?”
Sue and Stephen run Pulse Australasia, a game-changer for businesses wanting to find a means of becoming more efficient, and more profitable. They are expanding globally, and they share their background, their motivations, and how they came to be in their current enviable position. Being ex-Navy, Stephen brought a new logistical approach to complement Sue’s creative approach to business psychology and behavioural analysis.