How David ‘Jim’ Penman from Jim’s Mowing made his fortune
DAVID "Jim" Penman runs a multimillion-dollar company - but not too long ago he was "almost destitute" after racking up tens of thousands of dollars in debt.
Mr Penman, who founded the wildly successful Jim's Mowing behemoth in 1982, was originally planning to become an academic and was in the midst of his PhD when a series of poor decisions, personal failings and rip-offs saw the bills pile up to $35,000.
But after his first marriage, Mr Penman realised something needed to change - and he said it was the mindset shift he needed to turn things around.
"I just started mowing laws, working incredibly hard six days week and doing a great job," he told news.com.au.
"Customers loved me and I got repeat work."
Then, in 1989, it became a franchise, and Mr Penman became "Australia's accidental backyard millionaire".
Today, the company has an annual turnover of $500 million with 4000 franchisees servicing a staggering 35,000 customers a day.
But that incredible success didn't come smoothly.
In Jim's Book, a new biography by novelist and TEDx speaker Catherine Moolenschot released today, Mr Penman doesn't shy away from his own flaws and weaknesses, his many regrets and controversial decisions - including the "horribly unfortunate" situation that led to him firing his own sister.
"She still hates me … she got another job within a few months but she's never forgiven me and I don't blame her," he told news.com.au.
"But you can't keep someone on just because they're family if they're not doing the job because it demoralises every other staff member … You can't just give someone a job, they have to deserve it."
It's just one of many examples self-confessed "profoundly flawed" Mr Penman shares in the book.
"I'm often surprised I've done as well as I have because I'm naturally incredibly lazy - I envy workaholics who have the discipline," he said.
"I'm not great with the nitty-gritty of business, I make rash decisions which has caused a lot of problems at times and I have a bit of a bad temper which is not good.
"I have so many weaknesses but I think it's important to show you don't have to be a genius or good at everything to have a good business - the principles that are important are being passionate about your customers and relentless in your focus on how to get better - it comes down to your character, not your education or how much money you have."
Despite his incredible wealth and success, Mr Penman is notoriously frugal in his own personal life, driving an $8000 Mitsubishi Outlander, forgoing holidays and expensive clothes and opting for a $50 meal at the local Indian takeaway over fine dining.
Instead of splashing out on luxuries, Mr Penman instead invests much of his fortune into researching a cure for addiction and depression.
"I don't like spending money and I don't enjoy expensive things," he said.
"I just don't think it's right - the purpose of money isn't to live a luxurious lifestyle, it's to be financially secure but with a sense of purpose."
Mr Penman freely admits to having high staff turnover at the upper echelons of his empire, but insists many staff members have been with him for years and even decades - despite his "bad temper" and perfectionist tendencies.
But it's not just his professional life that has been tumultuous - over the years he has been married four times and has eleven children, although he has been with his fourth wife for nearly two blissful decades.
"It's pretty amazing to have three women who can't stand to live with you, and then have an 18-year honeymoon," he said.
"I can be very driven and I'm not the easiest person to be with because I am often unaware of the people around me, but she understands and supports me."
Mr Penman, who started his business due to a lifelong love of gardening and the outdoors, said the key to business success was following your passion and having the right "character" as opposed to "external forces" like education and training or wealth.
He said he still spends hours each week personally digging potatoes at his small farm.