Light is brightest just after darkness — ask any entrepreneur.
“Entrepreneurs get smashed every day; they don’t get a break. That’s why an entrepreneur is someone who can endure,” says Mark Hutchison, owner of the award-winning Australian luxury flooring business, Lifewood. “If you want to be an entrepreneur and you can’t endure, then you put that sword down and you go work for someone else, because it’s tough,” he says.
Hutchison’s path to success has been fraught with “fire and brimstone,” as he puts it. He had a difficult home life growing up, leaving him without much confidence in himself to build a promising future. As a young man, he fell prey to a conman who left him broke and discouraged. He faced fatal illness, twice.
But through it all, he decided to keep improving himself and following his moral compass. “You cannot be a great entrepreneur and not have personal growth as your fundamental motivation, because your business will only grow as fast as you grow,” he says. Much of his growth came through a meditation and spiritual practice from China called Falun Dafa. The main principles of the practice are truthfulness, compassion, and forbearance.
Hutchison uses the metaphor of a bank account to illustrate the kinds of emotional and spiritual “deposits” you have to make to grow your self worth. It’s a “bank account of confidence,” he says.
“You look at your life and it’s setback after setback after setback after challenge after challenge,” he says. “You rise above it and you just grab the confidence and resilience and you pour it into your bank account.” That’s how Hutchison got to the point where he knew he could do great things,where he could say, “I trust myself that I can pull it off. I trust myself.”
“A lot of entrepreneurs start out with low self-esteem,” he says. “You end up doing these extraordinary and amazing things because you’re trying to prove something.”
Building emotional self-worth by building financial worth is effective to a certain extent, Hutchison says, but it has its limits. You can easily find yourself trying to feed an insatiable desire. One day, he reflected that the suit he was wearing was worth more than his first car. He felt he had “ticked the box” of financial success, but then what? “I think how you contribute to the world or the people and the family around you is a question you have to ask yourself,” he says.
He believes that ethical businesses can stabilize society.“Many people have lost faith in religions and so many things, but they do have to go to work every day. You do have to buy products every day.” If workplaces promote ethics, that spreads to employees’ personal lives as well. If the businesses that people patronize promote moral values, that can have a positive effect too, Hutchison says.
Throughout his entrepreneurial journey, Hutchison has had to make tough ethical choices, and he’s stood up for morality in the workplace. He’s been determined to build an environment that fills his employees’ emotional bank accounts as well as his own. His flooring products are also made to last and to promote environmental sustainability.
Hutchison grew up in the rural south of Western Australia, with a father who “belted his children for not brushing their teeth or working hard or making the bed properly,” Hutchison says. “The stuff that we endured as children was difficult.
“Coming from that home environment, Hutchison says, he felt a little lost. “Your confidence is down, and your self-esteem is down.”
“I didn’t do well at school. I had developed an attitude problem,” he says. When he was 18, he started reading at least one self-help book per month from authors such as Stephen Covey and Tony Robbins.
“That personal growth side, I loved it,” he says. “That’s what gave me the confidence to think that your situation can change, and you can change it.”
He started taking classes at a community college, and after working hard to catch up after years of doing poorly in school, he was able to get into a university horticulture program. Hutchison started his own landscaping and viticulture business to pay his way through university.
But halfway through his program, when he was 20,Hutchison was diagnosed with a life-threatening genetic condition resulting in a dysfunctional heart, among other problems. He was told he likely only had 10 to 15 years to live. That was more than 25 years ago, and he attributes his longevity to the health benefits of his Falun Dafa practice.
But at that time, instead of giving up, he decided to take full advantage of the short time he had. He told himself,“You might as well live a decent life, and give it a shot.” He didn’t want to end up using his horticulture degree to just tend the garden at a local school. He wanted to achieve something with greater impact.
At the age of 25, he and a local entrepreneur developed two new business ventures, a tree plantation and a bamboo flooring business. He negotiated a 10 percent ownership in the company.
Hutchison worked day and night, often seven days a week, not only establishing the plantation, but also marketing its timber. Sourcing bamboo flooring from China, they found a ready market in Australia since no one else was selling it at the time. It wasn’t long before the company was turning over millions.
But after a year of working for little to nothing, Hutchison began to sense something was fishy. He approached the company’s lawyer about his ownership contract, and the lawyer told him there was no partnership agreement; there was nothing to assure Hutchison any stake in the company’s fortunes. Hutchison also found out the owner had been “cooking the books.”
“I deleted everything from the hard drive, every evidence that I ever existed in that business,” Hutchison says. “I literally walked out of there.”
Suddenly he couldn’t hold food in his body, and was spending three hours a day in the bathroom. He lost more than 50 pounds in a few months, and doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong with him.
Two of Hutchison’s brothers, Lee and Sean, practiced Falun Dafa, and they suggested he try it too. “You might as well give it a try,” Sean said.
Hutchison thought, “Quite frankly, I don’t think I’ve got too many options right now.”
“How much money do they want from me?” Hutchison asked his brother. Hutchison expected help to cost money— at the time, he had a business coach, running coach, life coach, and masseur. His brother said Falun Dafa is always offered free of charge.
Hutchison began going to a local practice group every morning at 6 a.m., but his symptoms initially worsened. After a couple weeks, he questioned the little Taiwanese lady who was teaching the exercises. “Where is the magic? This is not working for me.”
She said, “ Well, Mark, I’ve only taught you the body exercises, but you’re responsible for the mind exercises.” She encouraged him to read the core book of Falun Dafa, Zhuan Falun, which teaches the principles for improving one’s moral character.
Hutchison began applying these values to his life, while also doing the exercises every day.Within three months, he returned to health.
“That helped me in my business and my family, and helped me become extraordinarily enduring under pressure,” he says. “[My ailment] seemed like a very big deal at the time, but it was actually really just a stepping stone.”
Each step of the way, major tribulations in Hutchison’s life have motivated him to do better and accomplish more. After reaching the pinnacle of health, success, and happiness, everything fell apart again.
Like a lotus in the mud, spiritual beauty emerges from hardship
He discovered that his wife — who was his childhood sweetheart and also his company’s CFO — was part of a web of romantic affairs and corruption among some of the management staff in his company. “They were scheming to take over the company,” Hutchison says. He and his wife split, and he became a single father. He fired all his management staff involved in the corruption.
“Your whole world collapses — business, money, and marriage. You’ve got nothing again,” Hutchison says. He told himself, “Just do the ethical thing. Do what you think is right, and everything will work out.”
“When you lose a business, your money, and your wife, you’ve got to let go of ego,” he says. “It’s a constant process of becoming more heartfelt.” Hutchison says the inner growth was extremely painful. “I felt like I was burning alive.”
Falun Dafa helped him let go of the anger and resentment and strive forward in a positive manner. He refused to give up on his company. That was when Lifewood came into being, he says. “Lifewood is like the lotus flower that’s grown out of the mud.”
Since that last big tribulation back in 2013, Hutchison has brought together a team of employees with strong moral fibre. He’s used all his knowledge to “create something beautiful and sustainable … that contributes to society in a wonderful way.”
He has had many opportunities over the years to do the right thing, to put ethics above profit. For example, he once helped a developer break a contract with a fraudulent builder. As a result, he lost money in the short run — the builder didn’t pay him for work he’d done, to the tune of $130,000.
But that developer was so grateful that he gave Hutchison lots of business, and Hutchison ended up coming out on top financially as well as morally.
Hutchison says, “I think that if we can get more business owners and more entrepreneurs to follow traditional morals, then we will see a stabilization of much of society.”