Business & invest

Veteran-run businesses on the Gold Coast

The Veteran Mentors Team

Tim Baker | April 19, 2022

The Veteran Mentors Team

This ANZAC Day, show your appreciation for our service men and women by supporting one of the many businesses run by military veterans.

ANZAC Day dawn services are better attended than ever. Appreciation and support for our veterans is strong in the community. But how do we make that appreciation and support meaningful, practical and tangible?

Well, supporting one of the many veteran-run businesses on the Gold Coast is a great start. There’s a surprising number and variety of businesses on the coast run by military veterans, from fitness and training to financial planning, real estate and leadership programs.

Many veterans speak of their military background as an asset in business – making good decisions under pressure, risk assessment, managing stress. But many also say their decision to start their own business was a necessity as they faced the challenge of transitioning back into civilian life and struggled to find their niche.

There’s a strong and tight-knit veteran community on the Gold Coast, some say because the idyllic climate and beaches provide the perfect healing balm while processing trauma and adjusting to civilian life.

To mark ANZAC Day, we thought we’d profile a cross-section of veteran-businesses on the Gold Coast.

 

CROSSFIT TEMPERED ORMEAU – CRAIG LADEK

Craig Ladek spent 15 years in the Australian Army, serving in Afghanistan and Iraq. When he left in 2011, he struggled to find a new career path. “I applied for heaps of jobs doing heaps of stuff and I couldn’t get a job, so I just decided to do it myself,” he says.

Craig had trained in cross-fit in the army, so it was a logical move to open his own cross-fit gym, which has grown from 70 square metres to 300 square metres in 10 years. He says his military training has shaped his approach to business.

“Being a small business, it’s important to be able to react quickly. I’m not as reactive as most similar businesses. Everything’s very planned and structured.”

He admits there are times he needs to tone down the “tough love” style of training that comes naturally to a military veteran.

“Most people quite enjoy it, but some people don’t like it. I’ve lost members because of the way I’d say what I thought. It’s a matter of reading the client.”

Even so, their average client retention time is two years and nine months, which is a good result for a relatively small gym.

“I’ve got guys from 2012 still with me,” he says.

“It’s more about community and having your own tribe of people. That’s one of the things you miss when you’re from the defence force, so you create your own. We’re a values-based business – the very first thing is, members always come first. We’re not driven by money. Our success is in helping others.”

 

AXON PROPERTY GROUP – ROBBIE TURNER

It’s one thing to forge a successful career after leaving the military. It’s quite another for that career to support literally dozens of other veterans and veteran-related charities. When Robbie Turner left the ADF after 24 years and five years in special services, he was very clear about what he wanted to achieve.

“My dream was to help other Veterans who would one day be required to transition from the military and build their lives in the civilian world,” he says.

“We first started Axon Property Group in 2017 from a spare bedroom of our house.”

Axon Property Group offers a range of property services to veterans to secure their financial future.

“We provide education, coaching, and mentoring throughout the entire property acquisition and build processes, from strategy and finance to the build’s complete project management.,” says Robbie.

And he says his military experience has been a huge asset in his new mission.

“The most profound asset I bring is the ability to plan. Planning is a fundamental element of military life, especially as an Officer,” he says.

“At Axon, we manage risk, constantly assess the current and future environments, and configure the workforce in a way that ensures they’re consistently operating at optimal levels and synergised across all areas of our business.”

Robbie also employs many veterans and 65% of Axon staff are former ADF members. Axon has donated $40,000 to veteran-related charities since 2018.

“These charities are hugely important in helping veterans integrate into the general community and lead enriching lives after their service. We feel incredibly proud, and we’re very humbled to be able to provide a service that in some way helps the Defence community – a community that all Australians owe so much.”

Axon was recognised with a Small Business Champions Award in Sydney recently.

Robbie and Tamara Turner from Axon Property
Robbie and Tamara Turner from Axon Property

 

VETERAN MENTORS – TROY METHORST

When Troy Methorst left the army as an engineer after deployments in East Timor and Afghanistan, he went to a pretty dark place. Struggling to find work and meaning in civilian life, things could have easily spiralled downwards.

Troy recognised a passion to work with youth and impart some of the harsh life lessons he’d acquired in the most testing circumstances, but he became frustrated trying to have his ideas adopted within other youth mentoring programs. So, he started his own, together with a group of fellow veterans.

“The stars just aligned for us to all meet up,” says Troy.

“We all got along really well, we had a shared passion to change the lives of kids and their families.”

Veterans Mentors was born, offering youth leadership camps across south-east Queensland and NSW. The VM program includes gruelling physical training, strict discipline, physical challenges like high ropes courses, abseiling and sky diving.

Like many veterans, Troy had been drawn to the Gold Coast to begin civilian life, attracted by the healing powers of sun and surf. But he also saw an acute need among the region’s youth.

“I could see the pain and suffering of teenagers coming out sideways in violence and drugs,” he says.

What was just as important to him was to support veterans looking to find a meaningful way to apply their military experience.

“Once you leave the defence force you’re separated from your mates. They’re mostly still serving. You might feel a bit isolated if you don’t fall into something that’s fulfilling,” he says.

Veteran Mentors filled a need for the veterans as well as teenagers, and they immediately saw extraordinary results.

“We put people in a position of responsibility and leadership … The guys stand together, no one bails on each other, no matter how hard things get. The stuff we’re doing is for a reason and for purpose, and they’re getting so much drive out of that. They feel like they belong again.”

And teenagers walk away with greater self-esteem, resilience, self-discipline and social responsibility, and parents report profound change in their teenagers. Veteran Mentors now run seven or eight camps a year in Queensland and NSW, as well as offering ongoing one-on-one mentoring and shorter, parent/child “Re-connection Expeditions”.

“It’s first and foremost a leadership program. Students are learning how to be true to themselves and be of service and be who they really want to be,” says Troy.

 

PEGASUS PLANNING – STEVEN HALLAM

Like many veterans, Steven Hallam struggled to find a new direction and purpose when he left the military.

“I was based in Toowoomba, at a small base where I knew so many people. Then moving back to Brisbane, suddenly you don’t know anyone,” he says. “In the mid-90s, there was no obvious assistance at all when you left the military. The biggest thing I suffered from, like a lot of members, you’re not surrounded by people you know.”

He got a job working in security but knew it wasn’t a long-term option.

“Working security is unsociable hours. That transition was tough,” he says.

He went to university and studied economics and eventually found his calling in financial services. He moved to Sydney and worked in the corporate sector, but the pull of the Gold Coast lifestyle soon drew him back.

“I decided I didn’t want to be in Sydney. One of my family members had a financial planning business on the Gold Coast. I came back up here and helped re-create the business.”

Since the GFC, it has been an interesting time in financial planning.

“The world was changing, and you had to be clear about the kind of clients you want to work with,” he says.

“It’s been a crazy few years, but I’ve got the type of clients that I’m happy with and the clients are happy with me.”

His military experience has helped him deal with the volatility of the investment world, as well as issues like cyber-security and risk assessment.

“In the military, that first impression is usually right, and if you take that across when you work outside the military it can save you a lot of time and heartache,” he says.

“Gut feeling is so important, in business and in life. I use it whenever I feel the need to use it, and that comes from experience.”

Strategic planning is also an important part of the job.

“It’s about goals. Whatever life stage you’re at now, I help you build a bit of a road map. There’s always speed bumps, so you build in as many air bags as possible,” he says.

“There’s nothing better than walking away from having sat down with someone and having given them a different perspective and they’ve added to their knowledge base, whether it’s clients or a mate running a business. I never stop learning.”

Steven has also recently launched a mortgage broking service through his new business Raven 7 Lending.

Steve Hallam from Pegasus Planning
Steve Hallam from Pegasus Planning

 

TACTICOOL DAD – ASH BURKE

When Ash Burke and his wife Bec were expecting their first child, Ash was still serving in the Australian Army. Bec went shopping for baby accessories and was looking for a nappy bag her military husband would feel comfortable carrying around but couldn’t find anything suitable. And the idea for Tacticool Dad was born.

“Essentially what inspired Tacticool Dad was a lack of parenting products for dads. I think the general stigma that ‘dads do less’ is outdated and more and more dads are very much involved in the day-to-day stuff,” says Ash.

“There are ample options for mums out there to accessorise their day while out with bub. Why shouldn’t dads (or parents in general) get a low key, not so in-your-face option too?”

When Ash left the army after a deployment in Afghanistan, he threw himself into designing a nappy bag he’d be happy to be seen with.

“I first started rough designs for a bag in 2018 and in this time a few mates pushed me to make more,” says Ash.

“By this time, I was in the process of discharging from the ADF and was in need of a new project to give me purpose aside from family life.”

Fast forward four years, and Tacticool Dad now offers a product range including re-usable cloth nappies and liners, bamboo wipes, backpacks, lunchboxes, baby carriers and even dog harnesses, with customers in Australia, NZ, Ireland, Sweden, Canada and the US.

It’s also important to Ash to give back to the veteran community and so $5 from every sale goes to Mates4Mates, a charity helping veterans find their feet after service.

“I think it’s important for general businesses to look to veterans for employment. The larger percentage of veterans are really committed to hard work and given the chance will certainly prove to be some of your best employees. Too many struggle to gain employment after service,” says Ash.

“I cherished every moment of my service and everything I sacrificed I would do again 100 times over. Defending our country both here and overseas was an absolute honour, only bested by being a dad and husband.”

Ash from TactiCOOL Dad
Ash from TactiCOOL Dad

 

CAFÉ PURPLE – DANIE ROSS

Danie Ross might be considered a master of re-invention.

After 11 years in the army, Danie left 25 years ago to raise a family. She spent 10 years in WA and 12 in Tasmania, running her own businesses. But with kids all grown up, Danie’s marriage ended, and she found herself newly single, approaching 50 and looking to create a new life for herself.

“I thought what the hell am I going to do? I had to start all over again. That was a learning curve, as a single female,” she says.

“I’ve been cooking for a long time. I thought, oh, I’m going to have a café.”

Danie had fond memories of the Gold Coast from her last army posting at the Kokoda Barracks, Canungra, and so she decided to head north. She found a warm welcome, a close-knit veteran community and an eager clientele for her healthy home-cooking at the business she launched, Café Purple in Burleigh.

“My military training and everything really helped. Discipline was massively helpful.

It gave me focus, once I had my purpose set in my head it was easier,” she says.

And the veteran community seemed to seek her out, with various veterans’ groups scheduling regular catch ups at her cafe. She now runs cooking classes for the Young Veterans Support Services.

“That military mateship thing plays a big part. There’s that common thread and they know that you understand.”

Danie’s known for her homemade pies and sausage rolls, fresh burgers and brownies. And why Café Purple?

“It’s just my obsession, anything purple. Nearly all my clothes are purple,” she says.

Dannie Ross from Cafe Purple
Dannie Ross from Cafe Purple

 

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