When young rich lister Robert Rowe had $1 million swiped by a former employee, everything changed.
The founder and chief executive of building company Unita said the theft and massive abuse of trust was “absolutely” the best thing to happen to his flourishing empire, which has recorded 10 per cent earning leaps in each of the last three years.
The complex web of deceit included $1 million embezzled from his books, a forged signature on a loan and the fudging of invoices for the thief to renovate their own home.
It forced the 38-year-old to seek advice from mentors, complete further education and overhaul the structure of the high-end retail fit out building company which turned over nearly $100 million in 2018/19.
“I started adopting a different mindset,” he told news.com.au.
Mr Rowe, who was recently featured on the Australian Financial Review’s Young Rich List on $62 million, “almost immediately” introduced an employer share option.
Under the arrangement, staff are provided an option for equity into the business which gives them access to earn a financial bonus reflective of the company’s success.
“(It’s about) increasing culture, maintaining levels of service you want to maintain, and providing the right framework and leadership,” he said.
“The reason I did it wasn’t because I wanted to buy people, it was purely because when I had come out of some challenging times I just remember seeing a group of people that were in the business that I had never considered beforehand in the light they became.
“And they’re the people still to this day who are the drivers. So I felt indebted and extremely grateful for their help.”
Employer share options have become popular with trending tech companies such as Atlassian and Canva to incentivise staff and encourage responsibility.
But Mr Rowe sees it more as an avenue to reward his team members who are already loyal and hard working.
“If you’ve got to buy someone’s interest, you’re wasting your money and your time,” he said.
“There are people who are all in or they’re not all in, and if they’re all in already without it, they’re the people who are the best to incentivise.
“They’re the naturals.”
The brutal life lessons have also served to focus Mr Rowe’s other business, Nexvia, a technology company aimed at the construction and project management sector.
The software allows business owners to accurately track their projects as well as the cash flow between clients and jobs.
“I found that working in building there was a very archaic approach,” he said.
“Your figures would be given to you in the middle of the following month that you just completed and you really had no lens to know exactly where you were at any point in time or where you were heading,” he said.
Given the embezzlement, Mr Rowe said he’s an advocate for providing the sector with the ability to have a better understanding of their business.
“Going through the first-hand experience with fraud and theft and people saying they had done jobs but you couldn’t see that they hadn’t (motivated me),” he said.
“So we created one of the strongest pieces of technology for the construction and project sector that exists.”
GLAMOROUS YOUNG WOMEN A RICH FEATURE
The Young Rich List was filled with the obligatory male tech billionaires and property tycoons, with Atlassian co-founders Mike Cannon-Brookes and Scott Farquhar topping the list yet again with stunning fortunes of $13.499 billion and $13.215 billion respectively.
But there’s also a clear trend of young, well-known and glamorous Australian women also making bank.
Australia’s nine richest women under 40 have a colossal combined wealth of more than $2.8 billion, the 2019 Young Rich List reveals.
The coveted title of Australia’s richest young woman goes to Canva’s Melanie Perkins, 33, who shares her $1.350 billion fortune with partner Cliff Obreacht.
Ms Perkins first pitched her business idea to an American millionaire — at the tender age of just 22.
Today, Canva, the graphic design software company she co-founded with now-fiance Cliff Obrecht and Cameron Adams, is worth billions.
But somehow the fabulously wealthy young couple have managed to dodge the spotlight, and are far from household names.
Australia’s second-richest woman under 40 is Envato’s Cyan Ta’eed with $799 million, followed by 28-year-old fitness queen Kayla Itsines’ $486 million wealth.
Ms Itsines and fiance Tobi Pearce owe the bulk of their fortune to the success of their fitness app Sweat, with subscribers forking out $19.95 each month in exchange for fitness and meal plans, shopping lists and exercise advice.
But while Ms Itsines’ fame and influence has been growing for some time, only last year the extent of her wealth was revealed when 2018 Rich List editor Julie-Anne Sprague started digging around.
“As part of this, she took a closer look at those women who are turning the tables, discovering that Sweat, the fitness app that Kayla Itsines created with her fiance Tobi Pearce, is spinning off a lot more money than anyone outside the business realised,” Australian Financial Review Magazine editor Matthew Drummond said at the time.