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Age proves no barrier when a new opportunity beckons

STARTING a new business when many are considering retiring can be a scary thing. But why? If you have the desire, see an opportunity and have the expertise to capitalise on it; what does age have to do with it? That’s the view of Gone in 5 emergency management and planning founder Tony Westall, 57. And it has worked for him, but not without some angst. Mr Westall bit the bullet when aged in his early 50s. After working for a couple of major security, safety and risk management companies in Perth, dealing with the top end of town, he identified a much smaller, more personalised niche mar-ket among single tenant and low-rise multi-tenant properties, and car yards. His story is one of forsaking a comfortable coast to the retirement line for a new challenge, albeit one brought about, in part, by necessity. Mr Westall started his working life as a policeman, mostly in the north of the state, before joining the giant North West Shelf Gas Project, where he was responsible for developing and implementing security procedures. He later joined the big Wormald security group, later taken over by the Chubb group, and was transferred back to Perth to a management role. It was not a good fit for this ‘people person’, a problem alleviated when he accepted a small redundancy package in 1998. That same year Mr Westall joined Rod Webb’s MWA Corp Security Management in Perth and moved into a more specialised fire safety, emergency evacuation and risk management role. The focus was the top end of town, “high rise, big corporate stuff and as I found out, not my comfort zone,” he said. But it was while at MWA that Mr Westall saw the opportunity to offer the same sort of services on a smaller, more personal scale. “I saw there was good business at the other end of town, so, with some trepidation, I left MWA on good terms in 2001,” he told WA Business News. Gone in 5 was established in the same year. It was a tough decision predicated on his earlier country career, the desire for a smaller, more personal environment, enjoying the business he was in and identifying an accessible market because of past contacts. “I probably wouldn’t have done it straight from Chubb. MWA gave me the confidence to operate in a smaller environment,” Mr Westall said. Indeed, relations with MWA were such that he subcontracted to the company three days a week for a year, while slowly building his own small client base. “Going it alone full-time was a shock. I’d received wages all my life and suddenly that lifeline was gone,” Mr Westall said. There was also the new stress of ensuring there was enough on time cash flow to underpin the company’s operations and buy new equipment – a laptop computer, data projector for presentations, training videos and packages. “It’s important to keep my training programs fresh and entertaining, otherwise the clients won’t come back,” he said. Gone in 5 provides emergency management, planning, training and equipment to clients, which include AHG (Automotive Holdings Group), CB Richard Ellis, Colliers International, Knight Frank, Jones Lang LaSalle, Burgess Rawson, City of Rockingham and the Water Corporation. While 97 per cent of commercial evacuations are fire related, “the bottom line is the safety of the people in the building, no matter what the threat”. The business has grown 20 per cent a year over the past three years, which has thrown up another problem. “I’m struggling with the model, my role in it and where to from here,” Mr Westall said. He is currently working through the problem with his accountant, the best option appearing to be to forsake his home-based operation for a small office near the CBD and a backroom administrative assistant that would release him for a further two to three hours a day. Long-term advice has been for a partner, cutting work down to three to four days a week, before selling out and retiring. Why Gone in 5? “I tell my clients at the beginning of a training session that if you don’t get this right, everything will be gone in five minutes.”

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