Failure not an option: Shaun Bonétt’s rise, lessons and investments

Shaun Bonétt

Shaun Bonétt started his career with a simple dream: he didn’t want to fail.

Working in Adelaide as a corporate lawyer in the early 1990s where he specialised in bankruptcies and insolvencies, he found himself going through the never-ending spiral of people’s financial miseries.

He decided there had to be something more. He wanted to create and build things and make things better. He wanted to be an entrepreneur.

Now leading Precision Group, with more than $1.2 billion in assets under management, the business he founded has enabled him to go further to invest in others, engage in philanthropy, support interests he cares about and hold several board positions including as Deputy Chairman of Life Education Australia, among others.

He is also engaging in a number of investments, including Prezzee, seeing him become co-founder and executive chairman of the marketplace for digital gift cards in Australia and New Zealand.

Prezzee was the first gift card app to market in Australia, launching in December 2015, and now set to invest millions in brand, tech and new products over the next financial year, having grown from 100 to 300 employees in the past 12 months alone.

The goal is to further enhance an emotionally intelligent platform connecting humans to the moments that matter in their lives – designed to respond to the need for faster gifting. All while ensuring that the experience and the raw expression in gifting, isn’t lost in the gift card process.

So how does this link to property, where Bonétt established his business and leadership career?

Bonétt’s interest in gifting stems back from the fundamentals that have supported his drive in business: passion, humility, and nurturing relationships.

“Relationships in business are fundamentally important,” he says. “At the end of the day, no matter how big or small a company is, there are always people in it that are running its engine room. Establishing good relationships with these people is critical to the likely success.”

Precision Group became Prezzee’s principal investor in 2015, following a pitch by the startup’s creators. Bonétt wanted to back the concept “all the way”, with the Precision involvement supporting Prezzee to go to market in time for Christmas 2015 and leverage the early success it’d had getting retailers signed on to the gift-giving concept.

Shaun Bonétt

Meanwhile, with a strong footprint in retail, Precision Group was well-positioned to support the online business to grow.

Bonétt formed Precision Group in 1994, delving into property development, where he saw an opportunity to acquire assets from an early age, and tap into structured finance packages and the willingness of banks to do deals, given the volume of properties and businesses going into receiverships at that time. In 1998, Precision Group made its first major acquisition, a $36 million deal to acquire the Port Canal Shopping Centre and adjacent Customs House office building, in Port Adelaide.

Precision has been building ever since. But the potential for failure has intentionally remained a constant thought for Bonétt. Its why the very name Precision Group was decided on, to acknowledge the risks involved – chosen by Bonétt because he knew he would be engaging in a high-wire act in an environment where striving for excellence has little room for error.

Throughout his career, Bonétt’s seen how businesses that manage crises well have changed and adapted to the challenge. He believes focusing on innovation and adapting to changing customer expectations has been and will continue to be rewarded.

He believes there are no shortcuts in business, nor is there one secret to success. “It comes down to having the right product, having a deep understanding of your customer, and sharing work,” he says.

“It started with one small shopping Centre in South Australia, and over almost three decades has become a thriving portfolio of property assets and diversified interests in other innovative businesses. It’s been a wild and rewarding ride, and it gets better every day.”

Despite the current macro challenges, Bonétt says Prezzee is thriving, with the current 2023/24 Financial Year set to be another record year for the business. The Prezzee team has grown from 100 to 300 over the past 12 months, with 24 per cent of its software engineers identifying as female – an impressive proportion given the shortage of women in such roles.

“I know we have the right strategy and team in place to drive our short-term opportunities, along with our medium to longer-term sustainable and profitable growth levers,” he says.

Bonétt also speaks about the opportunity that exists in change, and the power of innovation.

“Innovation can struggle with an image problem,” he says. “It can seem elitist, like a mysterious activity reserved for the select few with the confidence and skills to engage in it. I believe it pays to work hard to make sure innovation feels not only approachable but easy to initiate.

“The world keeps changing and organisations must keep adapting. It is also important to remain humble, to be open and see the world with a beginner’s mind and continue to foster a culture that invites new perspectives.”

Both Precision Group and Prezzee have withstood macro challenges – like the lingering impact of the pandemic, as well as rising inflation and interest rates, and changing consumer behaviours.

Still, Bonétt says, the focus remains on attracting and retaining talent and developing the next generation of leaders. He says tech skills alone are no longer sufficient for optimising performance in the current business environment. As for the hybrid work model, it requires new leadership skills such as agility, resilience, empathy digital fluency, inclusive leadership, and interpersonal communications.

“The new normal is simply to expect new challenges to arise continuously. So ensure you have the best people and skills to respond,” he says.

Bonétt also has several of what he describes as “Golden Rules” for achieving success. At the top of the list is passion.

“I think you need to have passion. If you don’t enjoy what you do, you should find something else. And in terms of Precision Group and Prezzee, we very much are passionate and committed to what we do, and our purpose and it only gets more every day. It’s very much part of our DNA.

Bonétt shares his business success tips below:

1.   Be passionate about what you do. If you are not, you should look for something you are passionate about.

2.   Research new ventures and focus on an analysis of risk. Take advice from specialists and always allow for contingencies. Without a considered approach to business, you may as well be going to a casino to gamble.

3.   Financing can be as important as the deal itself. Look at the terms of a finance deal and always address the worst-case scenario. Having at least two banking relationships is essential – it provides alternatives.

4.   Identify the important issues to achieve your goals and allow the inconsequential matters to fall by the wayside.

5.   Surround yourself with talent and make trust a dominant value.

6.   Treat your employees, contractors, and consultants as your partners – align their interests with your business interests by providing incentives where possible.

7.   Give back to the communities in which you invest/operate in.

8.   Be open to unorthodox ideas and reward innovation.