When Rohan Wills was faced with adversity on three fronts, he pushed himself in a different direction altogether.
Four years ago, Rohan Wills was, in his own understated words, “going through a patch where things weren’t working out, personally and professionally”. In the space of three years, his sister had passed away, his business partnership had dissolved and a long-term relationship was coming to an end.
“I lost my motivation there for a while,” admits the 38-year-old accountant, sitting in the meeting room at Navigator Accountants’ suburban Melbourne headquarters.
“It forced me to take stock of things and decide what I wanted out of life.”
After launching Navigator in 2011, Wills’ downtime became consumed by bike riding; shorter distances then longer hill climbs. Fuelled by the satisfaction of setting and achieving small goals, his thoughts turned to Melbourne’s Ironman Triathlon, an ultra-endurance race not for the weak-willed.
“Training for the event gave me a lot of think time, and there were parallels between my Ironman and business journeys. I’d gone from being a partner in a successful practice to the stress of going out on my own, but my real problem was self-belief. I was determined to put a plan in place and get the right coaching and support – for Ironman and work.”
In his first Ironman attempt, Wills completed the course in 11 hours and 15 minutes, three hours behind the winner. Even now, memories of the day send an emotional quiver through his voice.
5 minutes with Ironman entrepreneur Phil Richards
“Everyone thought I was half mad, but I had so many friends come out and support me. It’s times like that I realised how many good people I had around me.”
However, he wasn’t finished yet. Close to six months later, in August this year, he completed an “Everesting” at the appropriately named Mount Misery in Gippsland. Everesting is the act of climbing 8848 metres (the equivalent vertical gain of scaling Everest) in a single bike ride. Yes, it is a thing!
“I’m now one of about 700 people in the world who’ve done one. I started just after three in the morning and rode through until after 11 at night,” says Wills, adding that he rode up and down the mountain 45 times. “It was a little bit tiring. The legs weren’t the problem, but the upper body was quite sore wrestling the bike up the hill.”
All this has been the making of Navigator, he believes. This year, the business is on track to create double the turnover of when it first launched.
“In hindsight, all that upheaval really sharpened my focus,” reflects Wills. “If a client’s going through a divorce or a business bust-up or whatever, I’m a hell of a lot more empathetic now. I understand the range of emotions and sometimes I end up playing psychologist more than accountant.”
He takes a slight pause and then adds: “I’m a more well-rounded adviser now.”
One piece of advice
“A goal is only a dream unless you put a plan in place to achieve it. Don’t be afraid to announce your goal; by doing so, you add accountability and enlist the support of family and friends. The more audacious the goal, the more you are going to need it!”
Surprising lessons for accountants from an Ironman