Startup Grind APAC 2018: Elaine Stead’s path after suffering a big reputation hit

Unless your career is an unbroken boulevard of green lights, you’ll know those moments when you’ve lost the confidence of clients, partners and the wider business community – Elaine Stead appreciates this more than most. Here’s a taste of what you’ll learn from Stead at the upcoming Startup Grind APAC Conference.

Just before Easter this year, US hedge fund Glaucus Capital started a short-selling campaign against Blue Sky Alternative Investments Limited, where Stead was both Executive Director and Head of Venture Capital.

To cut a long story short, by April the company had started its slide from about $11.50 per share to about $1 today, and Stead fell prey to business columnists from the national mastheads.

Even her tweets made it to print as the journos hunted out any new angle on the saga – to the point where she deactivated her Twitter account (she only rejoined on Wednesday after a six-month absence)

She, and the company, are still working through this whole aftermath.

“I think it’s fair to say that outside of something horrible happening to my family, if I had to think ‘what’s the worst possible thing that could happen to me?’ it would pretty much be me having my reputation dragged through the mud publicly,” she told The Pulse.

“That’s exactly what happened this year.”

It’s something a lot of people in business go through, but not quite so publicly.

READ: Startup Grind prepares to land in Melbourne

While the shorting campaign from Glaucus and Blue Sky’s attempts to fend it off were in the business pages, Elaine realised that wasn’t the worst part about the episode – she simply couldn’t gain distance from it.


“They were calling us in tears”


When most of us have a bad work day, we’re retreat to the sanctuary of our homes and settle down with a good book and a glass of wine – but that wasn’t the case for Stead.

“A lot of the people who had invested in us were people that we actually knew in real life,” she said.

“We’ve been going for 12 years and we’ve had investors that had invested with us over the long-term over a number of funds, so you get to know them on a one-to-one basis.”

“For us, we never really feel like we’re switching off because we’re managing people’s savings, their retirement savings – it felt really personal.”

Pictured: Elaine Stead

 

During the Glaucus battle, Blue Sky investors saw the value of their investment go into freefall – and most could reach Stead and other board members by phone.

“They were calling us in tears,” she said. “For many people, this was the first time they had seen a shorting campaign, let alone had their savings affected by it.”

There was a time when Stead picked up the morning paper, saw her name being dragged through the mud, spent the work day dealing with panicking people who lost trust in her and the company, and responded to emails about the crisis at night.

So, how is she planning to rebuild the confidence of investors and the wider business community?


Eating an elephant


Stead says if there’s a path to restore her standing in the business community and that of Blue Sky’s in investment circles, it starts by going back to first principles.

“The thing that matters, and the only thing that will matter in the end, whether I did the right thing, whether we took care of our shareholders or investors, and whether we were able to return capital to them in the way we hoped,” said Staid.

“Were we good people and did we make good decisions?”

READ: Q&A with Martin Hosking on life after Redbubble

There’s no real set path back to restoring confidence. It’s about doing the right thing by investors and customers every single day.

“It goes back to how you eat an elephant – you do it one bite at a time, so we’ve just tried to focus on that next bite,” said Stead.

“I don’t think we’ve done an immaculate job so far, but I think if you take that approach it sets you up for the next challenge and the one after that.”

“Hopefully at some point, we’ll get back to a business as usual, a normal day. We’re not there yet.”

She also said it helped knowing she wasn’t alone when feeling “the absolute churn in my stomach for nine months”.

“We’ve got most of the people still in our business that were there before except for some redundancies. Most of the team have stuck around, even though they’ve had offers and could have taken a much easier path,” said Stead.

“Going through this as a team makes you feel less alone. Going through this with another group of people has been the most profound way we’ve been able to navigate this process.”

That awareness helps because whatever you’re going through in business, you’re not alone.

“There are worse days than others. By just focusing on that next bite of the elephant I’ve found that, day by day, it gets better. Just focus on what’s important – delivering for your investors or customers and you’ll find a way back,” said Stead.

 

You can hear more from Elaine and the ups and downs of her business journey at Startup Grind on December 6–7, proudly sponsored by MYOB.