What would you do if you were given a second chance in life?

Or indeed a third or fourth chance? Les McGuire, CEO & Cofounder of Astute Advisory Group, Managing Director of Future Proof Financial, and 2017 Australian Financial Adviser of the year, along with numerous other business awards, has literally come back from the dead twice, both in his personal life and in business.

Pronounced clinically dead, Les rewrote medical history and, against all odds, survived. He was to face death squarely in the eye once more, and again he valiantly fought what was considered an unwinnable battle, and won.

This was followed by having the misfortune of a business venture going belly up, a financial disaster that cost him dearly. A further poor decision in another business venture once again left him in financial ruins.

What enables a person, who has been hit by major adversity, not once but multiple times, become a survivor? To be able to reach deep within himself and display resilience, perseverance, positivity, courage, adaptability and strength of character?

To rise like a phoenix from the ashes, dust himself off and start all over again? And again? And again?

Les’ experiences and struggles have powerful lessons for us all in how we approach adversity in both our business and personal lives. And the incredible power of positive thinking and belief in yourself.

“If you tell the story of the mountain you climbed, your words become a page in someone else’s survival guide.”
Morgan Harper Nichols, American writer, artist and designer.

Here is Les’ story…

CG Your story, though very sad, is incredibly inspirational and your attitude throughout is uplifting. Tell us about your life and death experiences.
LM In 1995 I had back surgery which went horribly wrong. I was rushed into intensive care where I spent the next ten days. My family were told it was unlikely that I would survive. I awoke after going in and out of consciousness and, dramatic as this may sound, I had the very strong sense that I was going to die. I had a choice – to lie there and peacefully go. Or to fight. I believe we all have choices in life, and I chose to fight to live.

CG I can’t believe things could get worse for you but they did, didn’t they?
LM In 1999 as a pedestrian, I was hit from behind by a 6-tonne truck at 87KMPH. The back of my skull ended up at the front of the truck, and I was thrown 37 metres from the impact. The first paramedics on the scene pronounced me clinically dead, however they got my heart going again. Rushed to Lismore Base Hospital I suffered a grand mal seizure where again my heart stopped and I was resuscitated with electrical cardioversion.

My condition was worsening, and because of the extremely high cranial sacral pressures, I was flown by the Westpac Rescue Helicopter to the Royal Brisbane Hospital. The likelihood of me surviving the journey was determined at less than 5%. I was on life support and in a coma for three weeks, and during this time my family was taken aside on five occasions and advised that my last rights should be read and the life support machine be turned off. However, my mum fought hard to have it kept on.

The doctors said that living was not an option, as my intracranial pressures were the highest ever recorded in the Western World and the bleeding on the brain was so significant that the amount of damage to the brain matter was beyond repair.

The Neurological Intensive Care staff made the decision to turn my life support off but, as the anti-paralyser machine was switched off in preparation for the remaining machines to be stopped, my eyes opened. I was moved to Intensive Care. The primary motor cortex, located in the frontal lobe of the brain, had been severely and irreparably damaged. The prognosis was that I wouldn’t be able to walk again, and that the likelihood of working again, speaking fluently again, or leading an independent life was extremely slim.

Now in the specialist head injury unit I was in a wheelchair, speech impaired with the future unknown.

CG I have spoken with you at length a number of times and I know this is not the case. What happened?
LM I was absolutely determined to walk again, telling medical staff that I would walk from one end of the front counter to the other within the week. I practised and practised, and by the end of the seventh day, I made it from one end of the nurses’ front counter to the other. This was a major physical achievement, and mentally a huge win. This spurred me on, and two weeks later I was pushing another patient around in his wheelchair.

CG What was life like when you left hospital?
LM Following my discharge I was really struggling with my changed life. I used to be a representative sports star, and now sport was unlikely ever again. The pain I went through was intense, and life post-accident was far from a fun place.

CG You mentioned the Power of the Mirror when we spoke on the phone. What was this?
LM I regard this as one of the most significant things to happen to me. Preparing for a shower I saw myself in the bathroom mirror and was shocked! As crazy as this may sound, I looked at my reflection and asked, “Are you happy with yourself”? I was clearly not. I then asked myself “Well what are you going to do about it? “

CG OK, talking yourself in the bathroom mirror is just a little weird. What did you decide?
LM To go outside and hit my boxing bag. I only managed a couple of punches until I became exhausted, however the “power of the mirror” made me realise that I personally needed to be accountable for my future. Every day I would go back to my punching bag and use it as a motivational tool to push myself. It worked – I returned to first-grade cricket six months later!

CG An unbelievable story of “mind over matter” and incredible strength of character. All this from someone who had been told it was highly unlikely they would ever walk or talk fluently again, or lead an independent life!

Les “I strongly believe if we put our mind to it, anything is possible.”

CG Tell me about your business struggles and how your fighting spirit again prevailed.
LM In 2004 I opened my first Ella Bache salon in Sunnybank, Brisbane and in 2015 a second salon in Logan Hyperdome. While running them I kept my eye on the business, including setting the culture, hiring staff, and setting strategy. Things were going well until I accepted a CEO position with another company and hired a manager to oversee the two salons. Unwittingly, I took my eye off the ball and things went horribly awry. Money was being funnelled out of the business without my knowledge. I lost just over 1.4 million dollars, including properties and business assets, leaving me in an extremely bad financial position. To say things were extremely difficult at this point would be an understatement.

CG I know you have an indomitable fighting spirit so what happened next?
LM I commenced a new position as the CEO of a mid-tier small business called Dick White Bus and Motorhomes. I was on considerably less money however was determined to make this work so I developed a detailed visionary strategy which proved highly successful for the business.

CG This is such a long way from the finance industry. How did you break into this sector?
LM In 2007 I was called by Kaplan University where I’d previously studied financial planning. They were seeking my interest in applying for a position in the inaugural intake of a specialised financial advice academy run by one of the five largest dealer groups in Australia. Intrigued I agreed, and was accepted into the final 32 of 3890 applicants.

I went through the AMP Horizons Academy and was awarded top of the class. I now had many options and chose one, which was the least financially viable; however, it provided me with an opportunity to become a business owner after six months. This excited me.

In 2008 I commenced work at Fairfulls Financial Services, a small business in Lismore Northern NSW. With no support, I picked up the phone and called people that I had dealt with in previous roles. My first potential client booked in, then another, and before I knew it I was on my way to helping people become more financially secure.

CG I feel there is a disaster looming. What happened next?
LM After six months, I was offered the opportunity to become a partner in the business at what I was advised was a considerable discount. It was explained to me that the business value was 2.66 million and because I was such an asset to the business, I could buy it for the discounted rate of 2 million dollars.

Six months later I learnt inadvertently that the business’ value was only 1.52 million! This was after I had worked hard, and added considerable value over this time.

I conducted some detailed research with the licensee and found out that on the date of the business partnership transaction, the business value was in fact 1.257 million, far short of the purported 2-million-dollar figure.

CG What did you learn from this experience?
LM The valuable, but highly expensive lesson I learnt from this is the importance of understanding the business numbers, the need to research and validate them, and have them reviewed externally. Oh, and, what seems to be too good to refuse, often is.

CG You were very badly taken advantage of; how did you feel?
LM Yes, I certainly did, and I was shocked, and felt cheated and saddened, particularly as all I was trying to do was make a positive difference to peoples’ lives.

I could easily have disbanded the business at this stage but instead I chose to be positive and move on to a period of my life where resilience, care and determination would prevail. I worked extremely hard to grow the business substantially, purchased more of the business and became the majority shareholder.

CG Please tell me that this story has a happy ending?
LM Yes, things started to look up. The business value was increasing steeply, and so were the referred clients. I put in place a robust strategy to resource the business and continue delivering the outcomes that were required.

Helping people is what drives me most and I feel blessed that my chosen profession is based purely on helping people achieve their personal, financial and business goals.

Highlights of Les’ career success
2008 – Top of Class AMP Horizons Academy
2010 – Awarded Australia’s most successful AMP Horizons Graduate
2010 – Australian New Financial Adviser of the Year
2013 – State and Australian Financial Adviser of the Year
2013 – Completed MBA
2015 – State and Australian Financial Adviser of the Year
2016 – State Financial Adviser of the Year
2017 – State and Australian Financial Adviser of the Year
2018 – Awarded Most Trusted Adviser by the Beddoes Institute

First published on Business Propel – 21 Mar 2018.

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