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Down the Rabbit Hole with David Serville – Episode 11

3 top tips from David Serville

1. Your company is only ever as good as the clarity that you have, in the vision that you have. And for that matter, your behaviour.

So, the lesson for me was knowing just how unclear I was last year. And getting that clarity back felt like I got back on a winning team. And so you know, you cannot point the finger at any of your staff when you haven’t got clarity. So, what do they say? ‘Point one finger and two fingers back yourself’.

You know, it’s very much ‘you are the fault’, ‘You are the blame’ if the company is not performing up to expectation it all sits with you. And so, you got to take a look, a good hard look in the mirror and get really committed about that thing that you’re trying to solve and what it is.

2. Know your numbers!

Know your numbers & get a good CFO.

David’s book that was the turning point for him was “Simple Numbers, Straight Talk, Big Profits!: 4 Keys to Unlock Your Business Potential“. It is written by a fellwo EOer – Greg Crabtree and it can be found here –

3. Get the right people

Hiring great people and looking after them and having them being guided by the values and purpose of the company. Don’t tolerate people that do not live the values of the company and do not bring a good game to the table, hiring people is both a rich experience and can be quite frustrating because they’re imponderable,

There are times that people go off on weird tangents, and some of that, if they’re not right to be sitting in that seat, then don’t have them sit in that seat, and get them off the bus, or get good people on the bus.

Most of our people have stayed with us a long time. We have a good culture, occasionally, we get it wrong. So you know, you can only grow a company if you’ve got great people and you let them get on and do their job and you’ve got a great vision.

The book that changed David’s view of people & leadership was “Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter”. You can find it here –

Find David on LinkedIn or email him at or, You could probably just google him too!

Read full transcript here:


business, people, numbers, hire, business owner, years, rabbit hole, entrepreneurs, clarity, money, stock market crash, grow, company, marissa, started, franchise, chem, life, learnings, podcast


David Serville, Debra Chantry-Taylor

Debra Chantry-Taylor 00:15

I’m your host, Debra Chantry-Taylor. I’m passionate about helping entrepreneurs and their leadership teams get what they want at a business and life. On the show, I invite successful business owners and expert speakers to share their successes. They are open and honest about the highs and lows of business and also life as a business owner. We want to share those learnings with you to inspire you, but also to help you avoid some of the common mistakes. My hope is that you take something from each of these short episodes that you can put into action to help you get what you want. Not only out of your business, but also your life. So good morning. So today I’m here with David Seville, Good Morning David.

David Serville 00:51

Good Morning!

Debra Chantry-Taylor 00:52

So David is a CEO of the CC group of companies, which has got some iconic Kiwi brands like Crew Cut, Crew Care, Chem Care, CC training academy and CC facilities management, is that right?

David Serville 01:05

Yeah, Correct.

Debra Chantry-Taylor 01:05

Yeah. Tell me a little about what that is. And what you do?

David Serville 01:08

Well, largely, um, I guess the two larger companies that have been going for quite some times, Crew Cut and Crew Care, one’s a national lawnmowing franchise group, and the other is a commercial cleaning franchise group. And then we have Chem Care, an asbestos removal company and, a environmental cleaning does. And then we have CC training academy, which trains people in our industry sector. And in construction related industry sectors. So anything to do with health and safety, height, short courses, usually our certificate level courses, and your first aid and various things like that. And in facilities management is really just a vehicle inside of what we do. Which we take care of the maintenance needs of large companies.

Debra Chantry-Taylor 02:18

Fantastic. So when did you first start? It was Crew Cut was the first one right? When did that first start?

David Serville 02:23

Well, it that started in 1991. Which, you know, is coming up for 30 years.

Debra Chantry-Taylor 02:32

30 years? Yeah, that’s pretty phenomenal. And how did it start?

David Serville 02:37

Actually, I’ve been a business owner before, I was 26. And I’d owned my first foray into business was owning a clothing label. And the stock market crash came along and I’d probably was in my infancy as a as a business owner and had a really good relationship with my bank manager. And in those days bank manager, pre stock market crash would turn up and have lunch with you and hand you piles of money. And then the stock market crash came and my bank manager stopped taking my calls and disappeared and I was like, what’s going on? What’s changed? and giving money was not part of the scheme of things then. And I thought, Wow, I’m gonna have to… this early stage I need finance. So, wind that company down. Decided to go mow a few lawns and that’s how it all started out. Uh, you know, we used to build lawn rounds up and sell them and I went off to Sydney with my then wife at the time and for a month or two, and a friend of mine rang me and said, hey, admire the way you do business, how about we start a business together and he mowed some lawns as well and he had good access to finance and then the rest really history we decided to start Crew Cut.

Debra Chantry-Taylor 04:14

Fantastic. Okay, we’ll come back to a bit more about that. But before we get started, I always like to share with our guests a personal or professional best from you so they can get to understand a little better so if we start with professional best. What would you say your professional best is?

David Serville 04:25

I think my professional best is probably 30 years in business. 30 years in one brand business so, and to have a business that is still growing and profitable. 30 years old on

Debra Chantry-Taylor 04:41

Yeah. That’s pretty impressive. Well done. And personally, what’s your personal best?

David Serville 04:45

Look my personal best is probably growing my family. I’ve got five kids and four grandchildren.

Debra Chantry-Taylor 04:55


David Serville 04:57

And so, yeah, I you know, I think Yeah, that would be my… Oh, and now two weeks’ wife

Debra Chantry-Taylor 05:07

the current wife.

David Serville 05:08

Current wife.

Debra Chantry-Taylor 05:09

We talked about this before. I mean, and one of the things you said is you’re actually also very good friends with all of your ex wives and the important part of your life. Is that right?

David Serville 05:17

Yeah, yeah, well, they’ve helped my business journey really along the way. And while my first wife was, I wasn’t part of that my second wife I was with for 18 years or so. And she certainly was significant and helping me along the way of getting cracking on with business.

Debra Chantry-Taylor 05:38

Okay, so tell me, what do you love about business? What is it that you enjoy about being a business owner?

David Serville 05:45

Control my own destiny? Freedom? Making up my own roles? Right. And, you know, I love the learning that goes with it. And, uh, you know, very much just in time, style of learner. So, when I’ve got a problem to solve, I’ll, I’ll do the study then, rather than do an education course that that I can apply straightaway. Yeah. So yeah.

Debra Chantry-Taylor 06:21

So what have been the biggest learnings you’ve had because 30 years in business, there must have been a few ups and downs, I’m guessing.

David Serville 06:27

Yeah, there has been a few ups and downs. And, you know, fortunately, I started in franchising early on, largely, because I, you know, I actually had someone from Amway come around, and sell to me,

Debra Chantry-Taylor 06:40

oh, really?

David Serville 06:41

And while I didn’t want to get involved with Amway at the time, the Epiphany was they, came into my living room sat down and taught me about leverage. And I looked at this thing of leverage business system, our business system, and you get leverage, and you do that by growing processes and systems and, build something significant forever. And so that was, where I came up with the idea of franchising. On the way, there’s been lots of learnings. One was, I thought I’d be rich, within three years.

Debra Chantry-Taylor 07:19

That didn’t happen

David Serville 07:20

Didn’t happen. And I felt very fortunate that, you know, I could pay myself a salary that I could survive off in the first four years, I think it took me about, you know, we certainly it was about three to four years before I was earning money that would pay the bills, in terms of, you know, which was quite long. You know,

Debra Chantry-Taylor 07:45

I mean, it’s pretty normal, I would suggest maybe two to three years, but yeah, it’s still it’s a long time to go without having…

David Serville 07:50

Well I had family at the time, so I probably need a little bit more money. So I had certainly one child then. And so, you know, yeah.

Debra Chantry-Taylor 08:03

So it wasn’t an overnight success is that what you’re telling us?

David Serville 08:06

It was not an overnight success. And because I’m not, I was quite a good, you know, as quite okay, at running long distance. And I think that’s in my nature to is to be patient.

Debra Chantry-Taylor 08:19


David Serville 08:20

And to go the distance. And so you know, it’s enjoy running. And, yeah, I think there’s some parallels to business. So I was very patient. Back then, I waited for profit. I always paid others before I paid myself. My franchisees more money than I did in the early days. And, you know, and I was very patient to get dividends.

Debra Chantry-Taylor 08:49

So you said that, you know, you always had in mind that it would actually become a franchise? What was the the tipping point between it being sort of what you consider successful and still a baby business?

David Serville 09:02

Look, I think getting getting that foundation built, we had the numbers and you had cash flow coming in, significant cash flow coming in every week, and being able to then build another game on top of that, you know, in the early days of business, you’re certainly under resourced, and, you know, to be able to hire people and, and pay them reasonable money is quite a turning point. I mean, there was always the, the early stages, we’re scratching around and trying to induce people to come and work for nothing. And that’s tricky too and an important stage. But he had to be able to pay people good money and grow those employee numbers. And to not have to do everything yourself.

Debra Chantry-Taylor 09:59

Yeah, we talked about before. So, in the early days, you have to do everything yourself, right? Yeah

David Serville 10:04

You have to do everything yourself. And while you’re not good at everything, you know, I started, as I said, I started with a business partner who exited about year five. And he had some very real skills that I didn’t have when he left, it was certainly, I had to be more diligent around those areas. Because, you know, he took care of the numbers he was. He was good with numbers. Yep. Yeah.

Debra Chantry-Taylor 10:34

So you had complementary skills? I’m guessing.

David Serville 10:37

I was more sales. You know, we used to laugh about it. He was a pessimist. I was an optimist being a salesperson. And he said pessimists are realists, David. In other words, people who understand numbers are realists. You know, and I guess I become more in favor of understanding that is, as a very real message.

Debra Chantry-Taylor 11:04

Yeah, but when we were talking before, you mentioned that, you know, entrepreneurs we’re forward looking right, rather than backwards looking. So numbers tends to be focused on the past rather than the future.

David Serville 11:14


Debra Chantry-Taylor 11:14

So whilst I agree, you’ve absolutely got to know your numbers and know what you’re measuring and why. How do you balance that sort of, you know, the pessimists with the optimist, which is really what takes the business forward?

David Serville 11:27

Yeah, I live in optimism. And I live in vision. And I’m forming a future plan all the time. And it’s anchored in numbers. And I think, because I’ve got family, which is a hugely important thing for me. I’m not a massive risk taker. So, you know, I’m really pinning my plans and my thoughts on numbers that make sense and, growing things. Maybe more conservatively than somebody that would not necessarily have to consider that legacy piece around children and grandchildren and all of that sort of stuff. Yeah.

Debra Chantry-Taylor 12:21

And I know, your family’s really important to you, you’ve got a five year old son and a two and a half year old daughter, right? So how do you balance that whole work, business life?

David Serville 12:31

Look, I limit my hours now. And I am often home by 3:30/4 o’clock. I work about six hours, and I commit myself to taking my son skateboarding on a Tuesday. And you know, through winter, it was to Snowplanet to snowboard. And that’s just… it’s a priority now. In the early days, I guess one of my metric is, is how many wives I’ve had. And, you know, I didn’t balance it particularly well, and hence, you know, that’s the report card I’ve got. But we hope we don’t make the same mistake and make the same mistake. And so, you know, for me now, having a very balanced familyand business is an imperative. And I’m very fortunate that I don’t have to be compromised in that area.

Debra Chantry-Taylor 13:46

So that means you actually literally have to let go as the owner, right, let other people get on with running the business. How hard is that? Because I know for a lot of entrepreneurs that we are control freaks, right? We want to get to control everything.

David Serville 13:57

Yeah, yeah. So, you know, one of the epiphanies that I had was being coached by somebody up in Manila one day. Actually, we’re both been living on the edge of VO , and it was an EO coach entrepreneurs organization. And he coached me about this. He actually pointed me in the direction of a book called multipliers, which is, was hugely instrumental in me changing my tack with how I manage my people. Because again, you can’t grow a business without people. And that’s another point of leverage. And so another metric would be how many key people can I put under me to, grow my business, and you can’t grow them by micromanaging them or giving them the answers. Hire good people and ask them questions. And that was one of the messages of the book, is don’t diminish people by giving them the answers. Grow your people by showing them respect and supporting them to use their answers. If you know you’re on track with that, they’ll bring you ideas all the time. So they will be in a meeting, and their ideas will float to the top. And I think the hardest thing for an entrepreneur is, to not go around an office giving everyone the answers. And it just doesn’t grow your people. It’s disrespectful, and, and futile.

Debra Chantry-Taylor 15:49

So that must mean that you have to have trust in the people that you’ve actually got working for you. So how do you choose those right people for those positions?

David Serville 15:57

Well, it’s not always easy. But, you know, I guess the best advice I ever got on hiring people is hiring attitude, and train on skills. So I’m always, I guess, an amateur psychologist, when I hire people, and while someone might have the right talent to work within my company, they’ve got to fit this value system and they’ve got to have the right attitude, which fits within our culture. So, it’s really important to not hire people on skill set, you know, high people actually have a desire to come and work for you.

Debra Chantry-Taylor 16:48

They get it, they wanted to come and work with you,

David Serville 16:49

They want to come and they want to be inspired by you, and they want to come and fit into your group and and join your team. That sort of attitude, loyalty, integrity, they’re really important. And so I don’t always get it, right. The other thing that I hear a lot of is hire slowly, fire quickly. You don’t fire people in New Zealand, but get them off the bus quickly.

Debra Chantry-Taylor 17:28

And we talked before that, you know, sometimes actually having the laws that we do have, is of benefit because it stops us from making rash decisions, or at getting rid of people and sometimes people have things going on their life that they actually can’t control and so we’re going to work with them to work through that can be helpful.

David Serville 17:43

Yeah, look, I have the ongoing discussion that we did this morning; how business owners are frustrated by the labor laws, but actually, I think there’s a silver lining and the whole process of showing respect to anybody that you hire, and going throug an off boarding process, which doesn’t always end up with off boarding or can end up with redeployment, it can end up with worth firing up and getting people again, re-enrolled in the business. And so that whole process, the outcome is not always off the bus. So I’ve grown to like the process, frustrated still by the timeline sometimes. But, it is a good process for both parties.

Debra Chantry-Taylor 18:42

Now, we decided to set this topic as you know, don’t get lost on a rabbit hole. So how to get back to clarity and focus. And that was because you were sharing with me. Last year was an interesting year. Entrepreneurs often get sort of distracted by bright shiny objects and things they want to do. Tell me a bit about your year and what happened with your rabbit hole?

David Serville 18:59

Yeah, well, COVID. it was, you know, I mean, it was for business owners. I think we can all agree that it was extremely confusing when we were coming through to the end of March and we didn’t know what it would mean for us. And so it was extremely confusing. I felt like I was in a cloud of confusion. I was working through a cloud of confusion into the unknown. Like, it was one of those years we were all working into the unknown. And I thought I would play offense rather than defense. And so I hired 10 key staff.

Debra Chantry-Taylor 19:41

10 key staff last year?

David Serville 19:43

10 key staff last year and started two businesses. Yeah.

Debra Chantry-Taylor 19:47

And new offices?

David Serville 19:49

New offices! We actually already committed to and they delivered. You know, we did a design job on the new office, and they delivered the furniture, the night of alert level four, to make sure they could invoice. And we shut the door and went home for a month. I hadn’t shown the office to my staff. And so that was a bit deflating, but, you know, yeah, so we started new offices! It’s been a great year. And then, you know, in the new offices, we’d have people knocking on our door offering us to sell businesses to us or new deals, and there was partners coming in that we hadn’t dealt with before and we just had a fresh approach. But, I completely got distracted by all of that. So, I brought in a very talented friend of mine, who’s another Reo member, actually more talented than I am, and a lot more talented than I am and a lot more experienced than I have. And that’s Marissa Fong. And to basically, tell me what I was doing right and what I was doing wrong, give me some clarity. And so that was very useful.

Debra Chantry-Taylor 21:11

How did you recognize you’re getting distracted? Because it’s very easy to get kind of as you said, down the rabbit hole, and actually even forget that you’re down the rabbit hole, because you’re so engrossed in it. So what was the trigger point? Sort of a hold on a second, something’s going on here.

David Serville 21:24

I think there was a feeling of fear when I knew I’d done some things right over the year. But, I wasn’t clear on all the things that I might be doing wrong. And I really wanted another talented entrepreneur to come in, and just throw up a glance over my business. And tell me how I was going. Also, I was thinking about starting another business yet again. And it was in recruitment and Marissa’s got a lot of experience in recruitment. And, it was a recruitment labor hire really, and I got some very strong indications from Marissa to get back to the knitting. And, not go down that rabbit hole called starting another business. Although part of my offences play was I did actually start two businesses over that year, and she was aware of that. So anyway, that was really useful. So as I mentioned to you before, on one of my businesses, I left a chunk of change on the table. And, and that was because I was really kinda distracted.

Debra Chantry-Taylor 22:36

Yep. Okay, so clarity and focus, what do you what does that look like? How did? What does it mean for you?

David Serville 22:43

Well, clarity, and focus is about commitment. It’s about getting committed to solving the problem, and to understanding what is the problem you want to solve? And then becoming laser focused around that. And, I guess one of the emotions for me, last year, when I looked at, one of the things I’ve done wrong, was a little bit of anger, which motivates me. I got angry. You know, and, I got to myself, and that was kind of like, really motivating. I was going no, I’m not doing that. I’ve got to fix tha and that was like, well, what’s the problem we’re trying to solve? And what are we doing wrong? And why did we end up in this place? And yeah, it was, quite useful.

Debra Chantry-Taylor 23:53

Did you work through that with your key people?

David Serville 23:56

Actually, I did. But it was more my personal process. I mean, there was things that we needed to change and, you know, we started talking about it before Christmas, and then bringing in the right people, as soon as we got back in work, and we’ve got some exciting things. Our new financial year is going to be incredible, I think. And I feel even though the early numbers look promising, and I feel like we’re back on track, we’ve got a ways to go before I can really feel like we’re hitting our stride and I’d like to see the numbers for mid year.

Debra Chantry-Taylor 24:39

So I asked you to sort of, you know, share a little bit with us about what mistakes you’ve made and how you shared with others to help avoid making the same mistakes, but you also mentioned numbers in one of your top tips that we’re gonna talk about.

David Serville 24:52

Yeah, look, I don’t have a natural talent. with numbers. And so, you know, again, one of the big breakthroughs for me was four years ago, going, you know what, I need a really strong person on board around numbers. I understand the bottom line. I understand EBITDA, I understand money in my bank account. But, I decided to get a CFO because things were starting to get a bit complicated and that was a really good hire for me. And we’ve had four very successful years since he’s been on board and growing the company’s exponentially, and I’ve become very reliant on his knowledge in him educating me in areas, you know, we had a company Chem Care, which was about hiring, trade-type people with a particular skill set and asbestos removal. Yeah. And he taught me about labor production ratios. And I was like, that was huge for me is understanding labor production ratios and…

Debra Chantry-Taylor 26:10

And its effect on profitability.

David Serville 26:12

And its effect on profitability. We both know somebody called Tony Falkenstein. In his book, he says, never hire someone that doesn’t walk fast. You know, he tells a story of how he would walk behind somebody at an interview to see. And if they walk slowly, they didn’t get hired. And in a way, that’s a great metaphor for labor production ratios, and we hadn’t profits. So yeah, we learned a lot through Chem Care’s journey, because a lot of our profit was in poor performing staff and then, using their time inefficiently.

Debra Chantry-Taylor 26:58

Interesting. Okay. So you mentioned there’s a book that you also got, that you found that really changed the way you viewed numbers?

David Serville 27:06

Yes, yes. Look, it was written by another eoa simple numbers, straight talk, big profits by Greg Crabtree. And it demystifies for people like myself, we’re a bit challenged. The good numbers to work on, I think one of the things that came out of that was also understanding that if once you get to a certain size, you can then start hiring really good people. And I think in that book, you know, it was quite interesting reading it, it was like, once you get past that, I think it was 3 to 5 million. You know, you’re really into some good growth then, you can hire some great people. And it’s like, that number is breaking through a glass ceiling. And, you know, that’s exactly what happened to me, you know, I was sitting at so much lower numbers than that. And then, you know, shortly after, by breaking through that 3 to 5 million area, my business really took off.

Debra Chantry-Taylor 28:16

Fantastic. Okay, so I’ll put a link to that book on the podcast page, we can actually have a look at that. Two other quick things for us. In terms of top tips for people. We’ve talked about clarity and focus, what is…

David Serville 28:27

well, I actually think that if you’re a founder, sole shareholder, and you’re driving the business, whether it’s an a general management role, function, or whether it’s a CEO role function, that your company is only ever as good as the clarity that you have, in the vision that you have. And for that matter, your behavior. So, the lesson for me was knowing just how unclear I was last year. And getting that clarity back felt like I got back on a winning team. And so you know, you cannot point the finger at any of your staff when you haven’t got clarity. So, what do they say? Point one finger and two fingers back yourself. You know, it’s very much ‘you are the fault’ ‘You are the blame’ if the company is not performing up to expectation it all sits with you. And so you got to take a look, a good hard look in the mirror and get really committed about that thing that you you’re trying to solve and what it is.

Debra Chantry-Taylor 29:53

And one last thing, last top tip back for our viewers before we sign off for the day.

David Serville 30:00

Look people management, you know, hiring great people and looking after them and having them being guided by the values and purpose of the company you know, and don’t tolerate people that do not live the values of the company and do not bring a good game to the table, you know, hiring people is both a rich experience and can be quite frustrating because they’re imponderable, you know, and there are times that people go off on weird tangents, and some of that, if they’re not right to be sitting in that seat, then don’t have them sit in that seat, and get them off the bus, or get good people on the bus. We have a lot of most of our people have stayed with us a long time. We have a good culture, occasionally, we get it wrong. So you know, you can only grow a company if you’ve got great people and you let them get on and do their job and you’ve got a great vision.

Debra Chantry-Taylor 31:22

So they’re all come hand-in-hand at the clarity, the focus, the people and knowing your numbers is the kind of a key success factors

David Serville 31:28

I think so that that’s certainly for me.

Debra Chantry-Taylor 31:31

Fantastic. Hey, great. Look, we’re running a little bit short of time so we’re gonna wrap up there. If people want to get in contact with you, David, how do they find you?

David Serville 31:38

Oh, LinkedIn. david@ccgroup or david@crewcut, any of those. david@chemcare, Any of those will find me. Yeah, so, fact, probably just about Google me.

Debra Chantry-Taylor 31:58

The fairly unique fantastic. Hey look, thank you so much for coming in. Thanks for kind of getting through… got a little a party going on at the moment. It’s got a bit of a distracting noise. But I appreciate you being focused and sharing with us. And there’s so much more I could ask you but I really yeah, that has been really helpful. Thank you very much.

David Serville 32:14

Thanks Debra.

Debra Chantry-Taylor 32:16

Thanks again for joining us some better business, better life with me, your host Debra Chantry-Taylor. If you enjoyed what you heard, then please subscribe to this podcast. And let us help you to get what you want out of business and life. Each week, we release a new short episode which will give us success story and three takeouts to put into action immediately. These will help you take your business from good to great. The podcast is also supported by free resources, templates and useful tools, which you can find at Debra I am a trained entrepreneur leadership and business coach, a professional EOS implementer and an established business owner myself. I work with established businesses to help them get what they want. Feel free to contact me if you’d like to have a chat about how I might be to help you. Or, if you’d like to join me as a guest on this podcast. Thanks again to NZ Audio Editors for producing this podcast. See you on the next episode.

Debra Chantry-Taylor

Professional EOS Implementer | Entrepreneurial Leadership & Business Coach | Business Owner

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