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Unfinished Business

Posted on September 19, 2011

Andrew Carter’s dad was a builder and farmer, and his mother was a nurse. He believes characteristics from these professions have come together in him, helping him create and sustain Commercial Eyes, the business he founded 10 years ago.

Like his father, constructing houses from the ground up, Andrew laid Commercial Eyes’ foundation then built upon it. He says he can be relentless, works hard, rarely accepts the word ‘no’, and, like a farmer, he knows how to wait.

‘I can be very patient; I often use the term “patient impatience” with my staff. I want it all to happen now, but logic tells me it won’t. So I just say it will happen – if everyone is working to the same goal and with the view that you never close your eyes to an opportunity.”

A deep sense of care for people, the characteristic of his mother’s profession, is also part of what drives him. Andrew says empathy and business success need not be separated.

‘We built a business initially around mothers returning to the workforce part-time,’ he says. ‘The rest of the health technology industry hadn’t fully grasped their potential. These women were looking for a way to re-enter the workforce and do something intellectually stimulating and challenging. So in a sense we helped them – and we got paid back in spades because they helped us build a great business.’

Andrew makes no secret of the fact that one of his motivations for building a company was because he loves being around and leading people; he knew he couldn’t, nor did he want to, achieve his vision without people by his side. He is also brave enough to admit he likes to be liked, and that he is very proud of the standing Commercial Eyes has achieved in the industry.

In business he says it’s vital to start from a position of respecting and caring for people, and with a desire to deliver a good outcome. And that’s not just because financial rewards might follow, or even because a product or service might be worthy of delivering.

‘You need to do it because you feel a sense of responsibility to help others’, he says, adding that he grew up in a family – and community – that had a culture of helping. He has also assisted many people through years of volunteer service with The Salvation Army, and is currently Chairman of the Melbourne Citymission, one of Victoria’s largest community welfare organisations.

‘I don’t think it’s any surprise that I run a service company. Some people don’t like using the word “help”, but at the end of the day Commercial Eyes helps companies do what they can’t or choose not to do themselves. Commercial Eyes plays a very important role in assisting companies take great science out of the laboratory and put it into the hands of those who can use it.’

And, 10 years on, Commercial Eyes has assisted more than 250 companies. Andrew says he still gets a lot of enjoyment out of winning projects, and then just as much of a thrill seeing his team gain work satisfaction from completing them and delivering a great outcome for the client.

‘I get enormous pleasure when someone says I really like working here or the conditions or opportunities are good, or I’m well rewarded and challenged. I’m not saying we do all of those things brilliantly, but our intention is to do them very well. And, with a business that’s all about commercialisation and helping companies realise their full potential, you’ve got to be able to apply that to yourself.’

While he’s not fanatical about it, Andrew has undoubtedly focused on getting the best out of himself.

‘I’m one of those people who is reasonably good at a range of different things, without being exceptional at any of them. I wasn’t great at sport, but I enjoyed it. I was quite good at schoolwork, but nowhere near the top of the class. But I had a capacity to work hard that I didn’t see in many, and my ability to continue to work hard and, probably most importantly, to encourage and motivate others to work with me, has been a great asset to me. Running a business is a way to excel that can become a personal pursuit. Everybody else’s measure doesn’t really count.’

Coming from a working class background, Andrew says higher education was his ticket to a fulfilling career.

‘I initially wanted to be a medical doctor or researcher, however, I did consider being a geologist and I liked the idea of being an architect,’ he says, adding that, if he hadn’t joined the pharmaceutical industry and then founded Commercial Eyes, he might have gone into community welfare work.

People have asked him what he would do if Commercial Eyes suddenly didn’t exist. His answer is simple: build something else.

‘I can’t see myself returning to a corporate role. Then again, they probably wouldn’t have me. I have some of the characteristics of an entrepreneur, and if I couldn’t continue with Commercial Eyes, well, I worked as a cleaner when I was at university and I was quite good at it. Maybe I could start a cleaning business and make it as big as this.’

A decade into the Commercial Eyes story, Andrew is motivated to write new chapters. Although he might have achieved one of his other life goals – seeing Geelong win an AFL premiership – there’s still a lot of unfinished business for him and his company. And retirement isn’t one of his life plans.

‘I don’t like the notion of retirement. It doesn’t resonate with me at all,’ he says. ‘Right now, I’m enjoying what’s happening with the business, it’s very dynamic and exciting. The vision I had for this business has yet to be realised. I always had a vision for it to have a particular presence, rather than size. And that’s in a regional, globalized sense. So I’m enjoying things as they are, but I know it’s not yet finished.’