Aussie tradie’s $83 million idea
THEODORE Vairaktaris was on track to become an architect when he abruptly decided to down his uni textbooks and become a tradie instead.
So in 2001, when he was in his early 20s, the Gold Coast man started his own humble painting business, UHK Painting and Decorating.
Three years later, he acquired the tiny company Usher and Sons Painting Contractors from the Usher Family - and it became a million-dollar business within the first year.
These days, it has evolved into the Usher Group, employing 500-odd staff members - including 11 family members - and it turns over a staggering $83 million per year.
He told news.com.au his journey from two-time university dropout to building a multimillion-dollar empire more or less from scratch had been the result of hard work, passion and a driven team.
"My father was a painter and I vowed I'd never be a painter - I studied to be an architect, but when I realised a year into my internship I was spending most of my time … on the computer, I found I couldn't handle it and it was definitely not for me," the 42-year-old told news.com.au.
"I started studying a Bachelor of Business but didn't finish that either because I wanted to get out there and have a crack.
"I had a new vision and just really saw the opportunity in the marketplace."
Mr Vairaktaris' parents also joined the company, and he said he managed to overcome the "nightmare zone" of growing the business in the early years by working hard and hiring the right staff.
In fact, over the years, he's had many staff members who joined as teenage apprenticeships who have risen up the ranks to help run the company.
"I looked for passion and loyalty on CVs, as well as gut feeling," Mr Vairaktaris said.
"It took a few years to develop the right people and culture, which is possibly one of the most underestimated and crucial parts of any business."
The Queenslander said while the transition from uni student to tradie and now CEO might seem strange, he had always dreamt of owning his own business.
"Even while I was studying architecture I had a clothing brand that I started at 18 and I created another clothing label after that," he explained.
"I'm still a painter now - I'm not on the tools these days, but I do canvas painting and mural commissions and I still love anything creative.
"We were Gold Coast housing commission kids and we were out working from an early age. I always knew I wanted to own my own business so I always had that strive. I just had to find what I was passionate about, and the rest just happened. If you're focused on making money then it is the wrong purpose."
Mr Vairaktaris said he was living proof that working in a trade could be more lucrative than earning a degree.
"When kids leave high school, most of them want to go to uni, because they don't realise that by doing an apprenticeship and becoming a tradie they can earn a lot more money than they can if they do an arts degree or something like that," he said.
"I feel that sometimes when people say they are going to be a tradie, they are looked at the wrong way, but if someone says they're going to uni after high school, they are congratulated.
"But people working on high-rise construction, for example, are on huge money compared to people who do a degree, then after four years they come out and start on $50,000 - but our guys earn potentially double that after four years."
He said Australia was in the midst of a tradie shortage, but that our growing population - and growing middle class - meant the trades should be celebrated.
"I always tell any upcoming tradie that if they are thinking would like to start their own business, it means they already have the passion, so go for it and have a crack - get stuck into it, and it will be the best decision they ever make," he said.
These days, Usher Group is one of the largest commercial painting and associated services companies in Australia, delivering commercial and private painting, rendering, access, signage, electrical and property maintenance projects.
It has scored contracts with huge companies including Supré, Telstra and major retail stores and has won the top family business of the year for the 2018 Gold Coast Business Excellence Awards.
Mr Vairaktaris was also a finalist in the 2018 Australian EY Entrepreneur of the Year Awards.