The
Inspiration
Project

WITH BRENDAN CORR

GUEST Jim Penman

Episode 04

Jim Penman: Episode Summary

On this episode of ‘The Inspiration Project’, Brendan Corr talks to Jim Penman about his book, faith, wife and how studying human civilizations led him to Christ.

Among other things Jim shares:

  • why failing his PhD the first time wasn’t so bad.
  • how Christianity shapes human character.
  • ”going from the desert to the promised land”.
  • how God connected academic research and lawn mowing.
  • an interesting story of God blessing Jim’s honesty.
  • how Jesus guides the treatment of Jim’s franchisees.
  • the franchise clause that made Jim’s lawyers think he was loony.
  • what makes people happy.

Jim Penman: Episode Transcript

Sponsor Announcement
This podcast is sponsored by Australian Christian College, a network of schools committed to student wellbeing, character development, and academic improvement.

Introduction
Welcome to The Inspiration Project, where well-known Christians share their stories to inspire young people in their faith and life. Here’s your host, Brendan Corr.

Brendan Corr
Welcome everybody to The Inspiration Project podcast. We’re delighted today to have Jim Penman, who many of you will know him by his first name only. Jim has become a very successful franchise operator with what has become the megalithic enterprise that is Jim’s whatever. Started off as Jim’s Mowing and has branched into so many different fields. We’re absolutely delighted to get a chance to talk with Jim about some of the things that led him to commence his business and what he’s learned in his business and how he’s learned to live a life that is true to his sense of values and character and the sorts of things that have gone into that. So, Jim, welcome to our podcast today. We look forward to the conversation that we have. One of the questions that first came to my mind when I understood we were going to have a chat with you today is Jim’s Mowing, Jim’s Cleaning, Jim’s whatever is characterised by that logo with a representation of a fellow, a bloke.

Jim Penman
Yeah, that’s me.

Brendan Corr
Is that you Jim? Are you the Jim that’s on the side of all of those trailers and…

Jim Penman
I certainly am. I used to have a beard and I used to wear a hat when I was mowing lawns, because I’ve got a fairly fair complexion so that keeps the sun off my head. In fact if you look at Jim Penman images on Google, you can actually see a picture of me standing against a trailer with the old version of the logo on it. It’s actually taken from that picture.

Brendan Corr
Really?

Jim Penman
You can see yourself. Yeah. It’s just a graphic design.

Brendan Corr
Well, in lots of ways that’s very reassuring to know that Jim is a real representation of a real person that started off on that sort of line. We’ll be very interested to hear how you got into that line of work.

Jim Penman
Yeah. That’s right. I don’t have a beard now. I can tell you, I don’t look the same at all, which is probably not a bad thing anyway. It was going grey, so I decided to take it off decades ago.

Brendan Corr
I’m sure there’s people closer to you than we are that can pass comment as to whether that’s an improvement or whether they think there’s a sense of loss.

Jim Penman
My kids didn’t think so. They were horrified and years later they were still begging me to put it back, grow it back.

Brendan Corr
Yeah. When it becomes characteristic, it can be a real shock to those around you. You walk out with a cleanly shaven face and, “Who is that man?” So Jim, how did you end up founding the huge success that Jim’s…

Jim Penman
The business empire, yeah.

Brendan Corr
Yeah, that’s right, yeah.

Jim Penman
So actually, I’d love to say there was some long-term plan, but what actually happened was I intended to be an academic. I spent 11 years or so getting myself a PhD in History. And when you’ve got a PhD in History, what do you do? Well, you mow lawns for a living. Everybody knows that.

Brendan Corr
They’re not obviously connected. Mowing lawns and PhD in History.

Jim Penman
Well, because the academics has to be verified, and one of my problems was that my ideas had become so wildly radical and unusual that there was no prospect of a job. And lawn mowing was my part-time student job. I just used to do it because I like being outside, and I like grass and stuff, and I’d go out and mow lawns. It was pretty good money. So, that was how I helped fund my PhD.

Brendan Corr
So, it really started as a side business. Just something to get you through. How did it become your main game?

Jim Penman
Well, basically my PhD had failed. I didn’t even get it the first time. And I just had nothing to do. And I was deeply in debt at that time. My own stupidity in various ways. And I just had nothing to do. There was nothing I knew how to do to make a living out of. So, I just got 24 bucks and did some leafleting around the area, walk around distributing leaflets and started mowing lawns, and worked from there. That was back in 1982, just before Christmas.

Brendan Corr
Wow. That’s an amazing story. End of the academic year, not a lot of prospects, and so you turned your hand…

Jim Penman
No prospects at all. There was no possible way I was going to get a job.

Brendan Corr
It would be interesting to hear how that very humble beginnings turned into something which has become the biggest franchise operation I think globally, at least one of the most well known. But can I roll you back a little bit further? You were involved in a PhD in History, which clearly means you had some interest in learning and in school, can you tell me about what your school experience was like, Jim?

Jim Penman
I was always interested from a very young age in both history and biology. Those two subjects, human evolution and so forth, so that was just a fascination of mine, and I was very interested in why civilizations collapsed. I remember it was because I used to read tones about Greek and Roman History and this kind of thing. I was fascinated by the decline of the Roman Empire. So, when I went to university, my fundamental aim was to try and figure out why this happened. Why did civilizations collapse in the past, and could the same thing be happening to us. That was the question that I went with.

Brendan Corr
Was there something that sparked that initial fascination? Was there a class or a teacher or a book or something that…

Jim Penman
Well, my father was very into history. When I was 10, we went to England for a year and we toured all around England looking at historical stuff. So, dad was really into that kind of thing. So I guess it comes a bit from family. I was a very nerdy boy kid. I was always nose in a book, hardly knew anybody, was extremely introverted, and that was just the way I was. I was a nerdy kid, reading an awful lot, and just fascinated by this thing, this idea, this question, what causes civilizations to collapse? And, yeah. Basically family I suppose.

Brendan Corr
So, some of those early experiences, was there anybody in your young life that helped encourage that interest in academia, or was that something that was just inherent and intrinsic in the way you saw the world or the way you understood your gifts?

Jim Penman
No one outside my family. My father was very much interested in that kind of stuff. He’s a very educated man. No, he was pretty horrified. He was an engineer, so he wanted me to go and do some sensible qualification like engineering, or medicine or law or something of that nature. So, when I actually went and did an arts degree, he was not impressed at all. I mean, he can play into it a certain extent, that sparked my interest in history, but all the same, it wasn’t what he had in mind for his oldest son, that’s for sure.

Brendan Corr
So, it was probably a look at… keep this interest in history as a general thing, don’t get too focused on that, it’s not going to pay the bills, it’s not going to put food on the table sort of approach.

Jim Penman
Well he’s not a man who’s interested in a lot of things. And all kinds of stuff that’s not as clear. You’re supposed to do something technical to make a living.

Brendan Corr
And you always had aspirations to head to university Jim? That was where you thought life was taking you?

Jim Penman
Yeah. Well, it was really secondary to this question. I wanted to understand civilization. The rise and fall of civilization, and what caused that to happen. So, the academic career was all part of that. So, I just imagined myself getting a PhD. I had, what I thought, a pretty good idea and approach to these things and I thought that might give me some credibility. I could go to university, I could research and I could teach. That was kind of my aim. You don’t have to make money or anything. Just to research and to teach, and to learn.

Brendan Corr
Yeah. I don’t think anybody signs up for a PhD necessarily thinking it’s going to be their ticket to the easy life or to a high income. You must have been reasonably good at learning to have made your way successfully through school, successfully through an undergraduate degree and be eligible for a PhD programme. Is learning something that comes naturally to you?

Jim Penman
Well, of course. I mean, I’m just naturally curious. I love reading still. I read columnist and new scientists, and I listen to a lot of talking books these days, all kinds of topics. So, yeah, I just love to learn. The mine is a lot of fun. Again, my 10 year old son has actually just got sparked and interested in science and stuff, and we talk all the time and that kind of thing. It’s wonderful.

Brendan Corr
That’s something that’s really interesting to hear, that you’ve got that approach which seems to be something that you take into all parts of life about a curiosity, how do things work? Did you find… Even though you mentioned at one stage, your first go, your studies didn’t bring the outcome that you would’ve been hoping, you’ve clearly gone back and completed those studies. Did you find any of the things that you were learning and that idea about how culture, how relationships, how community works together, that you’ve been able to use in the process of your business development?

Jim Penman
No, it’s got absolutely no relevance to business whatsoever. What it did give me, what I came out with, is the idea that civilization has basically got to do with biology. And I discovered what I thought was the reason that civilizations do collapse. Clearly the implication was that you could actually do something about that by changing human character, and that’s actually what I did with my… When I set out to make a living starting off with my one man lawn mowing, the whole notion behind that was that I would have enough money one day to actually fund the ongoing research. I’m currently funding a major research project through La Trobe University and elsewhere into the, you might say, the biochemistry and ethogenics of human character.

Brendan Corr
Yeah, that sounds incredibly interesting. I’m a science teacher by training, so that idea of how you could scientifically or objectively measure some of the input of biology into human character, it would be a fascinating field.

Jim Penman
Yes, well we’ve got some very interesting results. We’ve got a lot of studies… Rats, actually using pheromones to change behaviour in a way that has quite important implications in treatment for mental illness amongst things to… Some of the ideas for my research have actually worked out quite surprisingly well, you might say. Well, not surprising to me, but surprising to people who look at it. We’ve published quite a few articles too in the academic literature.

Brendan Corr
So, what I’m hearing is that some of your studies gave you some insight into the nature of human character, the nature of how… What motivates and what guides peoples’ decision making?

Jim Penman
Yeah.

Brendan Corr
You’re a person of faith, Jim, a Christian. Can you tell me about the way in which your faith framework was challenged or was enlightened by the studies that you’re undertaking?

Jim Penman
Well, more created by it… Just to put my history in perspective, I’ve been an atheist. I was an atheist when I was about 14. I completely turned my back on Christianity. I went to a really conservative Christian school and I got in a lot of trouble there because I was anti… I just rejected chapel. When we had to watch football matches I’d go around challenging kids, whether they believed in God and argued with them. Went to a Billy Graham crusade and made fun of people going in the front. I was anti-Christian in those days.

Brendan Corr
And where did that come from, Jim? Was that?

Jim Penman
I was an extremely unorthodox kid. I just would argue against anybody. Anybody had an idea, I’d think of other arguments against it. Even when I was 10 I remember arguing with retchering in England about capital punishment and all kinds of things. I just had that kind of contraryist kind of mind but I think differently to everybody else. So, I went into the Christian environment and I rebelled against it. And I didn’t, at that time, see any point to Christianity. I thought Christian values were foolish, unnecessary. All these things about chastity, all this kind of stuff was garbage, it was old fashioned, unscientific. It was rubbish. What changed my mind about that was the studies that I did trying to understand human civilization and what lies behind it. And I realised that it was actually Christian values, including things like chastity and fasting is how keeping those kind of principle, is that was the key driving force behind the rise of Western civilization. So, it actually created the character that’s made our civilization possible. And when we lose, because we are losing it. It’s actually part of what’s making it decline.

Brendan Corr
I want to come back to that thought that… You were putting a little teaser about a comment on current culture, I suppose. But let me take you back. You’re a 14 year old. You’re in a Christian school. You’re rebelling against that belief system. What changed for you?

Jim Penman
As I said, the research that I did. Trying to understand…

Brendan Corr
Even while you’re at school? Did you become a Christian at high school, or at university?

Jim Penman
Oh no, no, no, no. This was much later. You see, my research that was done at university… I became a Christian at the age of 27.

Brendan Corr
Right.

Jim Penman
After many, many years at university. It was a long process of understanding civilization. Understanding what lies behind… Civilization relates to character. Everything relates to character. Individual character, individual personality that decides everything. It decides your form of government, it decides your wealth, it decides everything. And that character was created, basically, by Christianity. It was a long term understanding. Now, that didn’t itself cause me to believe in God. What actually happened later on is that I just got to know some of the Christians at La Trobe University, where I was. I got to like them and, I suppose, my mind had been opened because I liked Christians back at that stage. And there wasn’t much of a belief. And when I had a sense that God was calling me it was very easy to say yes.

Brendan Corr
Because there’s quite a difference isn’t there? I hear what you’re describing about the logical proposition of the cultural value of a belief system, or even of a particular belief system that holds to values of integrity, and honesty, and hard work, and compassion and all those typical Christian values. But that…

Jim Penman
I think between that and actually being a Christian, and believing in God, and wanting to follow God is obviously a major thing. But it was quite surprising actually. I was wondering through the La Trobe Union, and it was an orientation week, and I just got to chatting with some of these kids and learning they’re Christian. That’s really what happened. I got to know them, got to like them. They invited me on this retreat, just this weekend away, and I was an atheist, basically. But I liked them, so I just went along. And in the first morning of the retreat there was a time, a quiet time where you sat and just people praying. Well, I couldn’t pray because I didn’t believe in God, so I just had a little book and a red pen, and I started to write down these thoughts in my mind and it just came out… A very clear sense that God spoke to me. So, I just went out and then they started praying later and I started joining in. It startled because it was very sudden… It was very surprising to a lot of people. There was one particular guy there who’d known me. And somebody said, “You know Jim Penman’s become a Christian?” And from what they described, he just stood there with his mouth and face saying, “Jim Penman a Christian? Jim Penman?” He couldn’t comprehend it. It was very much full on the road to Damascus type of thing.

Brendan Corr
Yeah. Did you ever go through your own rationalising of that experience, or was it something that was so organic that you could just step across that threshold?

Jim Penman
I don’t know. It was just there. I mean, obviously my mind was opened. I liked these people. I liked the way they were. I thought Christian values were very good values from a very wide point of view. And in a sense you might say I wanted to find God, and at that state God has found me. That was how you can describe it. Very sudden, very dramatic and I just changed. I went from, not exactly anti-Christian, but certainly I just became very, very certain which I still am, I suppose. I went from evangelist at coffee shops and we did the thing at Belgrave Heights and the convention there, where we’d entertained the kids, and it was just absolutely wonderful. It was an amazing experience. I just thought it was my going from the desert to the promised land. I always thought that way. It was just-

Brendan Corr
Yeah, that’s wonderful.

Jim Penman
Fantastic. Just amazingly… Joy and liberation and…

Brendan Corr
Yeah, that’s a beautiful story.

Jim Penman
It was a new life. Yes.

Brendan Corr
It’s great to hear you describe some of those very real experiences, personal experiences that aren’t just cognitive and theoretical.

Jim Penman
I’m just surprised I didn’t find God earlier. Because I was so long at university, and I was only Christian for about a year and a half before I got married, but that time was just so full of incredibly vivid, great experiences and I discovered that’s were all the nice girls were too which was an extra bonus. In that period, it was just so wonderful. All these amazing… Going on coffee shop was just fantastic. Because people there are very very excited there too, in cafes… Because they’re very musical too, so we’d be in the room, we’d be praying together. And then we’d start singing and then it would go into dancing. Just that joyful experience was just something beyond anything I’d ever known.

Brendan Corr
Yeah, well that’s not very cognitive. It’s not very theoretical is it? It’s very experiential.

Jim Penman
Christianity is very experiential to me. God is very experiential to me. It’s a matter of the heart. I find Christianity a very joyful experience. To me, one of the greatest times of the whole week is to be with my wife beside me in church on Sunday morning. Just singing and praising God is just a fantastic liberating experience and I get very, very emotional. We go to a charismatic church, so people speaking in tongues and stuff like that. So, it’s a joyful experience. God is a very joyful experience.

Brendan Corr
And the presence of God is very real for you?

Jim Penman
Absolutely, yeah.

Brendan Corr
So, Jim, at what stage was this in the development of Jim’s Mowing? Were you involved in studies at the start or was this during the fledgling start of your business, or what?

Jim Penman
Well, I was out there mowing the lawns on weekends basically to help fund my research. That was where it was at. When I became a Christian I was still intending to be an academic. I hadn’t quite understood how completely hopeless that idea was.

Brendan Corr
So, in making a commitment to have Christ in your life, what changes did that bring to the future that you saw? You?

Jim Penman
Nothing in academic terms at all. The only thing is, I suppose, when I became a Christian instead of… I thought that to continue my research was a… It was a task given by God. The parables of the talents, which I absolutely love. People have abilities and God asks us to use those abilities. It’s a wonderful, wonderful story. And I felt that that was the gift that I’d been given and that God intended me to pursue it which when my whole academic career came… Potential came crashing down it was hard to understand in a sense, except that I thought God had given me the path to do and that somehow He would help me find a way to do it, even though at that time it seemed completely hopeless, I didn’t listen to anybody else. I mean, here am I, an impoverished, deeply indebted person with no useful skills apart from I could mow lawns quite well. I mean, how can you fund a multimillion dollar research project? It seemed insane to anybody else, but somehow God had given me the mission and he’d work out some way that I could do it.

Brendan Corr
So, the obvious, practical disappointment of the studies not progressing wasn’t a challenge to your faith in any way?

Jim Penman
No, not at all. Absolutely not. It was a very great security. I mean, I do believe that God is behind what I’m doing and that He will work out a way to make it possible. In a way it seems very unlikely that somebody would’ve achieved, that could fund the research project that I’m doing right now. So, He found a way. And I think that when God wants us to do something He will make it possible.

Brendan Corr
So, do you think he will…

Jim Penman
Even if the world says, “It’s not possible.”

Brendan Corr
Yeah. Sorry to speak over you. Do you think part of the success of your business enterprise has flowed from your faith? Has that been a part of understanding how to make people feel encouraged, and empowered, and welcomed?

Jim Penman
There’s two things behind it. First of all, my faith, my sense of mission, my belief in what I was doing was the driving force. Always has been. I had to succeed. It’s just not an option not to succeed. It’s not an option to give up. Obviously, my faith gives me a certain sense of, I suppose, reliance. A sense of comfort of knowing that God’s behind it. But also, my faith has guided my business in certain very practical ways, even to the decisions that I make. Just as an example, when I just started off… This is just before Christmas ‘82… I had some very, very bad, old equipment. Just on it’s last legs. And I started this business with no capital, no money at all, began it. And, about two weeks later my equipment completely gave up the ghost. This was just after Christmas, 1982. I had to get equipment, even though I really didn’t have the money. I just had to get equipment or I’m dead right from the beginning. And then in one place by accident, which was a fair distance away, and I went in that business. And I bought the equipment, the mower and the brush cutter, that I needed. And the guy added up the two, and he gave me the amount, and I paid him. I left the place and after I got out I realised that actually he’d added the amounts up wrongly. He’d actually made the sum come out wrong. He’d undercharged me by 100 dollars, which is quite a lot. And I thought, “I really, really, really, haven’t got much money. I need this so badly.” So, I actually drove all the way to my first job, and I got the mower out, and I put it on the nature strip to start mowing the lawn and I thought, “God does not want me to do this.” And even though I can’t comprehend how it could happen, somehow you look up and you… So, I packed the mower up. I drove back to the shop. I walked in. I told the guy I’d spoke to earlier. I said, “You undercharged me by 100 dollars. Here’s the money.” So, I gave him the money that… Which, he was very appreciative of. He said, “If you hadn’t, it would have come out of his salary.” So, I thought, “Okay. God wanted me to do this. How could He look after me?” That very afternoon I was actually doing a job for a person who sold copying machines. And I had gotten into a conversation with him, and I am telling you the absolutely… I did not mention anything about my financial situation. I did not ask. He out of the blue offered. He said, “I will do some leaflets for you.” He offered to do it. He’d not only told me that he was going to do some leaflets for me, some prints up for me. But he also told me how many he would do for me. And you know what the value that it was? It was 100 dollars.

Brendan Corr
Amazing Jim.

Jim Penman
I had never in my life, before or since, had anybody done that. The fact that it was the same day. And that told me so strongly, “God is looking after me. That if I do what He wants then somehow…” From a business point of view it was not a very sensible decision. But from the point of view of a Christian with faith and a walk, it was a very powerful decision. And there’s a lot of things in my life that went the same way. I did get another example. I’d gotten the business where I started off mowing lawns, and I started building up and selling off lawn mowing rounds. And I was very, very bad at selling. I’m a very, extreme introvert and I was terrible at it. I really was. I was so bad at this that I would employ somebody, even a professional salesman to sell lawn mowing rounds to me, even when I was in the same room. I was just incredibly incapable of doing this job. And so knowing that I was bad at it, I went to see a whole lot of people to ask advice about how I could sell and they kept saying, “Well, you’ve got to learn to sell yourself.” And I said, “I can’t. I’m socially inept. I can’t do it.” And, at one stage, I also went to see somebody in my church who was running an advertising agency, a very successful guy. And, I wanted to ask his advice about advertising. And he called me in and… I thought I might need an agency. And when he went into his room in his office and for half an hour he told me about the advertising business. How to advertise, where to advertise, what principles, what sort of wording to use, what sort of media. A whole sort of stuff. Everything he knew from his decades of experience. This highly successful guy spent his time. At the end of it he said to me, “Jim, you don’t really need an advertising agency at this stage. What you need to do is to go out and do it.” I suggested… And I remember walking back to my car and I knew that if I ever needed an advertising agent I would go straight back to that guy. I would have no hesitation. And the interesting thing, as I was walking, I recognised that he had told me nothing about his business. I didn’t know what he charged. I didn’t know about his clients. But I knew, I absolutely knew I would use him. And I was wondering, “Why is this?” Because I was interested in this process of selling, this selling thing. How do you sell? And somehow this guy had completely sold me on his business without saying anything about his business. But, what I realised was that the only thing that he had been concerned with in that whole walk back, was my interest and the interest of my business. And by doing that he sold me on his business. I can remember reaching the car, which was parked some streets away, and reaching out for the door handle, and I thought, “I wonder if this crazy approach could possibly work for selling lawn mowing rounds?”

Brendan Corr
Interesting.

Jim Penman
A little bit later somebody came to me and they asked about the business. Somebody rang me about a lawn mowing business. And instead of actually telling them about what I have I started by asking them a question. I said, “Tell me, do you know what the capital lawn mowing round means?” Which is each job done all month. And that was in the papers. That’s how I was advertising. But people didn’t know. Instead of trying to sell my business I started trying to explain about how the business worked and then give more information, okay let’s see, now give them more information. At the end of it I would just say, “Here’s a business jobs in your area.” That was my entire sales pitch. A little while later one of these guys actually rang me and said, “Jim, I’d like your advice.” And I said, “Yeah, sure.” He said, “I’ve been offered another business in my area. Which is a better deal, that one or yours?” Now, this is an interesting question, because he hadn’t said to me… He’s asking my advice. The whole purpose of what I was doing is to sell lawn mowing rounds. If I advised him to buy the other business then I’m just defeating the whole purpose.

Brendan Corr
That’s right, yep.

Jim Penman
But, I felt God does not want me to… God wants me to act with integrity. I must give this guy the best advice I can. So, I asked him the question, and I said, “Okay, tell me what the cut is. Tell me where it is. How long has he had it for? What’s the average price per job? Why’s he leaving?” All the questions that anyone in the industry would know how to ask.

Brendan Corr
Due diligence things.

Jim Penman
And I allowed… And I said, “Then you should go buy the other business.”

Brendan Corr
Wow.

Jim Penman
I was asked the same question three times in rapid succession and each time I told them to buy the other business. And each time, in the end, they all came back and bought from me.

Brendan Corr
And bought your business.

Jim Penman
Not because I had the best business, but because they trusted me because I was caring about their welfare. Now, that particular decision that I made, because God wanted me to do the right thing, to act with integrity, has actually been the greatest single reason for the success of everything that I do.

Brendan Corr
Yeah, that’s so amazing.

Jim Penman
But I’ve always looked at it from the scope of, “What’s in the best interest of my franchisees?” Never, “What’s in my interest?” Never, “What’s in the interest of the business?” What’s the best interest of my franchisees?

Brendan Corr
Yeah. Jim, can I ask you, that basic approach that you have, would you describe that as a strategy, or a value? Is it something that people can learn, or is something that has to be lived from your own heart?

Jim Penman
It’s a value that defines the strategy. And people often ask me, “You must be very proud of having close to 4,000 franchisees and did you expect that growth?” And I said, “No. The thing that I’m most proud of, and it’s very widely felt about Jim’s group, my franchisors share my values. That franchisees come first.” If I sent you an email, you’d actually see at the bottom a little tripod like thing that says, “Our first priority is welfare of our franchisees.” We’re also passionate about customer service. We sign only franchisees and franchisors we’re convinced will succeed. That is the values behind Jim’s group, and they are profoundly Christian values, that we serve other people. The great story behind Jim’s, apart from the parables of talents, is Jesus washing the disciples feet.

Brendan Corr
Yeah.

Jim Penman
We serve our franchisees. We are there for their benefit. We are there to help them succeed. That is the core value above everything else. And we’ll do extraordinary things to make that possible. And that’s why Jim’s works, because people recognise that.

Brendan Corr
And that’s why it works in mowing, and in cleaning, and in x number of other fields of endeavour. Because its-

Jim Penman
It’s very radical thinking. And we had a guy called Tim from the U.K., and some while back, and he’d been decades in the industry, in the franchising industry. And he spoke to us and met at my franchise boards and conference. And he said he’d never seen, in his whole career, anything like the Jim’s culture. Even though most of our franchisors and franchisees aren’t Christian, it’s Christian values that actually underpin everything that we do.

Brendan Corr
Yeah. How do you go about maintaining that culture? You’re adding franchisees, you’re adding new companies. How have you gone around having those values pervade all of the different parts of the business?

Jim Penman
I talk about it all the time.

Brendan Corr
Right.

Jim Penman
I’m always, always talking about service to franchisees. And everybody knows my values. Because every franchisee has access to me. Every one of them gets my phone number and email at training. Any franchisee or any franchisor can ring me any time about any subject and just sheer repetition, force of example, passion. Just everything. They way our contracts are written are very extreme. We have a contract that actually allows our franchisees to vote out their franchisors. It’s the only system in the world that allows that. They can actually pay a few thousand dollars, they can go independent, they can change to a different franchisor. They have all sorts of protections built in. The lawyers thought I was loony when I set this thing up. They couldn’t believe anybody would write the franchise contract like that, but I said, “No, this whole system is designed to serve franchisees. Look after them first, so the best way to do is to give them rights.” We’ve polled our franchises every year anonymously and we show the aggregated details. And all the honours and the rewards that give the franchisors the… Purely on the basis of how well they look after the franchisees, in the franchisee’s opinion. And if they don’t do a good job they can get briefed. And the ones that do a good job, which most of them do, get awards of various kinds, and recognitions, and certificates and all kinds of stuff. So, we’re always, always talking about it. And of course, because I’m the founder I have a certain moral authority, people do listen. And it also attracts people. I don’t know if you’ve read my book about my career, but that’s actually a book we give away, and that’s got those values in it. And it actually seems to attract the right kind of people.

Brendan Corr
So, that’s Every Customer A Fan?

Jim Penman
Yeah.

Brendan Corr
That book? Yeah.

Jim Penman
Right. In fact, I was having lunch with yesterday, one of my most successful franchisors, and the only reason she ever joined in the first place, as a franchisee, was because she’d read the book. She wasn’t going to. And she read the book and said, “I love those values.” And she joined and became a franchisee, and then a franchisor, and now she runs the dog wash division. And she’s been wonderful, wonderful, warm, caring, decent person. And she loves the values and she lives them. And she’s phenomenally successful because of that.

Brendan Corr
It’s interesting to hear, be able to describe a person that you know. You know their character. You know their attributes. In the midst of all of the data, and all of the financial statistics that you must be dealing with, that for you it’s still very much about the people.

Jim Penman
Yes. Yeah. Everything’s about character, Brendan. Everything is not about society, about success, and about the home. Everything is about character. That is more important. I don’t believe in abstract, political, economic forces. I believe in people. And people driven by Christian values that tend to be best for themself or best for everybody else.

Brendan Corr
Well, Jim, you’ve clearly been a person that has been able to learn, whether it’s the formal institutions of university and qualifications and degrees, or whether it’s learning through the experiences of life, you’ve demonstrated that you were able to do that well. From the place where you are, having reached this particular point, and all that you have learned, formally and informally, what might be the thing that you’d want to emphasise to a young teenager coming to the end of their school and looking at their future laying out before them? What advice might you want to leave with them?

Jim Penman
One of the things that most interests me is the science of happiness. I did a lot of science. My whole life is about behaviour and what makes people happy. And, people have this very wrong idea that the way to be happy is to do what you feel like. To pursue pleasures. To pursue enjoyment. To pursue possession. To look for status. Look better than other people. And everything I’ve seen in life is that being famous, that isn’t much good. That is a really bad way of looking at life. In fact, what makes people happy is having a sense of purpose and meaning in their life. Doing the things that are hard in the short term that produce real joy in the long term. The kind of things that you’re taught to do as Christians, the fundamentals of Christianity. Well I think you’re talking about money. It’s interesting, people think that the way to use money to be successful is to enjoy… Have lot’s food and stuff and have lots of possessions and stuff. In actual fact, the greatest way that money can contribute to your happiness is by giving it away. And there’s actually been studies that it actually creates far more happiness giving your money away, but definitely to approach it you’re personally involved it, is by far the most effective way to produce happiest. Even though I’m securely successful, one of the things that I’m very concerned that, is we live a very simple life. We live life very much like most families. I drive a 10 year old car. Dress in very ordinary clothes. A good night out for us is to go to a local pizza restaurant. We do not live well, we do no have expensive holidays. If I have to fly, I fly economy. We live in a reasonably… And the money we have goes towards the things that God wants us to do. If you want to have a great life don’t think about conventional success, think about doing what God wants you to do, and don’t make your aim to be happy. Make your aim to do what God wants, to live a Godly life. And that will bring far more happiness than you can possibly imagine. I’ve seen that in my own life and in so many other people. My wife is a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful lady. She’s the best person I’ve ever known, and she is somebody who lives for others. She’s naturally giving. And she’s got a great life. She’s got a husband, children and a daughter. She’s got a construction business and her workers’ love her. Everybody adores her because she’s a person who doesn’t live selfishly.

Brendan Corr
Jim, that is such a fantastic way for us to finish our conversation, for you to recognise the goal is not to be successful, not to find happiness, but to follow the thing that God has put before you. And in that you can find that sense of purpose, and that sense of success, and that sense of making a difference, and it’s just so…

Jim Penman
I think that…

Brendan Corr
Yeah finish…

Jim Penman
I think that goal is to be successful, but I think success in life is having a meaningful life. Having a great family. Having close relationships. Doing a job that means something, that helps other people. Living a life of meaning and purpose and structure.

Brendan Corr
Yeah.

Jim Penman
That’s success, that’s real success.

Brendan Corr
Yeah, that’s great. And it’s so lovely for you at the very end, to point to somebody that you care for is the embodiment of that in your wife.

Jim Penman
I won the lottery when I met my wife. More than a billion dollars, there’s no way… If I worked for 1,000 years… I could never be worthy. The best thing is finding my wife.

Brendan Corr
I’m so glad that you have found her and that you feel that way about her.

Brendan Corr
Jim, thank you so much for sharing your story with us today. We are grateful for what God has done in you and through you. And we continue to pray that the next phase of what He’s doing through you and the funding of the research that you’re undertaking will make a substantial difference to the way communities and connections and people are able to function together in the world.

Jim Penman
Well, I appreciate it. It was great to talk to you.

Brendan Corr
God bless you. Thank you so much.

About Jim Penman

Founder of Jim's Mowing, Jim Penman started a part-time gardening business while earning his PhD in history at Latrobe University. He launched a full-time mowing business in 1982 with a $24 investment. He originally aimed only at taking on subcontractors, but his business grew and he gradually began to specialise in the building up and selling of lawn mowing rounds. By 1989 he franchised his business, and since then Jim’s Mowing has become the largest franchise chain in Australian and the largest and best-known lawn mowing business in the world. Jim’s Cleaning was launched in 1994, followed by more than 50 other divisions which now operate in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United Kingdom. Jim’s Group now has over 3,800 Franchisees and a turnover of approximately $500 million.

Photo of Brendan Corr

About Brendan Corr

Originally a Secondary Science Teacher, Brendan is a graduate of UTS, Deakin and Regent College, Canada. While Deputy Principal at Pacific Hills for 12 years, Brendan also led the NSW Christian Schools Australia registration system. Brendan’s faith is grounded in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and a deep knowledge of God’s Word. Married for over 30 years, Brendan and Kim have 4 adult children. On the weekends, Brendan enjoys cycling (but he enjoys coffee with his mates afterwards slightly more).