ESV Client Spotlight: 15 Minutes with Kevin Tolson, CEO of Regal Mushrooms
Tell me about your business?
I have a series of businesses all in relation to the mushroom industry. My main business is a sole-owned growing facility producing 100+ tons of mushrooms per week. I also own a sales and marketing business with my two brothers, Robert and David, and father, Rob. Its core is mushroom sales but also sells other products such as asparagus and avocados, strawberries, snap peas, green almonds and even toffee apples.
There are also some other family enterprises including White Prince, Elf Farm Supplies and Sylvan Australia which produces the spawn for mushrooms. Our farms are located in Sydney’s west around Windsor and Penrith and supply the entire Australian Eastern Seaboard for all three of the big supermarket chains being Woolworths, Coles and ALDI.
As a whole family, we employ about 450 staff.
How did the idea for your business come about?
I was born into mushrooms (as opposed to under one!) as my father was an early participant to the industry. He was actually awarded an AM Australia Medal for service to industry and community. After completing school, I went away and worked a year to figure out what I wanted to do for a career. While I did not decide, I was able to cross some items off the list. I returned to the family’s mushroom farm to work until university started and, as it turned out, I got the mushroom bug! Following came years of study, training, hard work and toil.
How long have you worked with ESV and what do you value the most from the relationship?
I have not been with ESV for very long - three years. It is fair to say that I am getting to know ESV but what I can say already is that their professionalism and depth of expertise has exceeded expectations. It is fair to say that I have stepped up a notch in business with this accounting firm.
What would you say are the top three skills needed to be successful in business?
Invest in your people, ensuring you grow yourself and your staff. Ensure you have good mentors that add value over the journey. Work bloody hard.
How do you define success?
For me it is an achievement based experience. I set goals and then set out to achieve them with my very skilled and trusted management team. Fortunately this normally reflects in profitability.
What have been some of your failures, and what have you learned from them?
For many years I did not invest enough in myself or my most important resource - my staff. Performance is not all about knowledge either, it is about a combination of discipline, skill set, balance and happiness.
I started with myself as the ‘guinea pig’ with one-on-one coaching through a cousin’s business coaching firm, The Tolson Institute. Then, once convinced of the value, I rolled training out to my two top managers in the form of one-on-one coaching - just like myself. Today, we do much more including two separate courses for the elite management and a course for supervisors, trainers and identified talent.
What motivates you?
Being the best I can be.
Who has been your greatest inspiration?
There are many inspirational people I know and confer with but two people come to mind. I learnt the most valuable lesson in the world from him and that is how to work hard – my father Rob. I learnt the importance of care, honesty, family, ethics and moral from my mother Norah.
Excluding yours, what company or business do you admire the most?
I admire businesses with ethics.
Where you see yourself and your business in 10 years? 20 years?
Stay tuned, I don’t talk big. I would much prefer results to speak.
In one word, characterise your life as a business owner.
What are some of the challenges you faced in the initial stage of starting your own business?
My greatest challenge was myself. My leadership skills required improvement and it was not until I got to ninety-odd staff that this became evident. It stifled my progress.
What is the one piece of advice you would give to others hoping to start their own business?
Be prepared to get up the earliest and work the latest because there will be many times when that is just what you need to do. Be an accomplished leader. Strive for excellence always.