While Rob Cheesman’s first job – funnily enough, at a cheese factory in a small town called Murgon – may seem worlds away from his current career, he believes it was actually fundamental in terms of forming the foundation of his professional interests and values. "I enjoyed being in an industry that actually makes something and ever since, I have loved manufacturing," he tells The CEO Magazine.
"While in Murgon, I was given the day to day responsibility for their ERP system. So, while I wasn’t great at making anything myself, I did have pretty good skills in accounting and IT which allowed me to make a difference." From there, Cheesman worked across a diverse range of industries in a range of positions, specialising in process improvement and ERP implementation consultancy. But there was always an itch waiting to be scratched, for Cheesman admits he’d "always wanted to have my own business."
In 2005, he finally took the plunge, founding Kettering, an IT services and consulting company providing solutions to manufacturing organisations. For Cheesman, it was the perfect way to combine his "passion for manufacturing and IT."
As a leader, Cheesman has always seen it as his responsibility to be "very clear on the vision and values of the business," and to be both "consistent and disciplined in making sure these are clearly communicated and enforced," so that all the staff are aiming for the same end goal.
But it’s not always smooth sailing, as Cheesman readily admits. Like most businesses across the globe, the pandemic presented an entirely new set of challenges for Kettering. "I think we all had to be agile during COVID," he explains. "A lot of our work changed from being on site to remote. Not being able to visit clients like we did in the past came with challenges, but I believe the clients appreciate having this as more of an option now."
"I have grown tremendously in this time, not just as a business leader but as a father, husband and personally."
In terms of their employees, Cheesman says that thankfully, they were already well equipped to handle the working from home situation caused by lockdowns because "our IT was 100% on the cloud, and everyone in the company had a laptop. During this time, we worked hard to make sure the team stayed connected with both formal and informal get-togethers on Zoom."
One of the most significant things Cheesman has done to ensure he continues evolving as a professional has been his journey with Entrepreneurs' Organization Queensland – a peer-to-peer initiative looking to build relationships and offer support to their network of more than 15,000 business leaders. "About five years ago I was feeling a little lost as to where to go with the business," Cheesman explains.
Finding the perfect solution
"At this time I started looking around for a business group as I knew I would benefit from the wisdom of others. I went to a number of organisations looking for a good fit and had nearly given up when I had the opportunity to go to an EO (Entrepreneurs' Organization) introductory meeting. As soon as the session finished I went up to the organiser and said I wanted in."
Now, not only is Cheesman an invaluable member of the community, but also offers his sage advice as one of EO Queensland’s executive coaches. "I have learnt so much from my time in EO. I know I have grown tremendously in this time, not just as a business leader but as a father, husband and personally. Having a group of people I can check in with every month who I can be completely open and vulnerable with is a game changer in personal development. This, together with the training and broader networking opportunities has transformed my career and life."
The next chapter will look a little different for Cheesman, given he’s recently sold Kettering. And while he’ll still remain at the company in the capacity of General manager, he does admit that it will be a significant change. "I was initially concerned about selling that we risked some of what we have built but we have found a great fit with our acquirer, Atturra," he says. "I am genuinely excited by the opportunity for the whole team and me personally to grow within a larger organisation."
Irrespective of what the coming years may hold, Cheesman is sure there are plenty of things to look forward to. "I have always tried to do the right thing," he smiles. "Not just by my staff but by my clients. And to me, that means I have remained true to my personal values. The fact I have built a business on this and sold it while being true to these values feels like success."
And for anyone keen to emulate that success, his advice is simple. "Surround yourself with people that are on the same page. Have clear values as a business and always hire and fire according to those values. Knowing who you are as a business helps build the culture of the team."
Visit Entrepreneurs' Organization for more information.