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“If you ever get the chance to write a book of your own, then do it.”

One of the privileges of working with business leaders to help them tell better stories is the opportunity to hear the secrets of their success.

A few years ago, I was lucky enough to work as a ghostwriter on Tony Quinn’s book Zero to 60.

Tony grew up in a wooden caravan in Scotland. He emigrated to Australia in his 20s where he started a pet food company which he sold for AU$410 million. He used some of his pet food profits to build Highlands Motorsport Park, a world-class racetrack and tourist operation in Cromwell, Central Otago. He also owns Hampton Downs and Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park in Taupo.

A Scotsman with the gift of the gab, Quinn credits much of his success to his ability to tell a good story.

What story did the client want to tell?

When I was working as a journalist for Red Bull, I spent a weekend with Tony at Highlands to write a story for The Red Bulletin magazine about his passion for motorsport.

Tony told me he wanted to write his life story but he didn’t have the time, the inclination, or the writing skills to do it himself. He also told me that he’d already fired two writers assigned to do the job by the publisher he was working with. Tony has a reputation for being a straight shooter who swears like a sailor and he told me that neither of the writers he worked with got him.

So of course I put my hand up and offered to do the job.

When I finished the magazine story I wrote about Tony and Highlands, I emailed it to Josie Spillane, the CEO of Tony’s motorsport and tourism businesses in New Zealand. I added this to the end of the email:

“P.S. Tony mentioned to me that he had a few false starts with his book. If he’s looking for a writer I’d love the opportunity to talk to him or his publisher about it.”

That one P.S. led to a book deal to ghostwrite Zero to 60 with Tony and a new career helping business people tell better stories.

What was the process?

I met Tony in person once a fortnight and we talked for 2-3 hours. Then I transcribed the interviews and started the hard work of pulling all of his stories together into a narrative arc that made sense.

What was the result?

Zero to 60 went to No.1 on the NZ non-fiction bestsellers list thanks to the hard work done by Tony and Josie to promote it around the country. Tony told me:

”The book launch was awesome. We travelled around New Zealand and I signed hundreds of copies. The fact that the book went to number one was a bonus. To this day I still get strangers coming up to me telling me how much they enjoyed reading it and how well written it was.”

Writing Tony’s life story turned out to be life-changing for me.

Working with him opened my eyes to the fact that business leaders and entrepreneurs have many of the same character traits as the sportspeople I loved writing about as a journalist:

  1. They set goals and work hard to reach those goals.
  2. They’re generally optimistic, determined and inspiring people to work with.

How did the client feel after telling their story?

After the book was published Tony told me:

Zero to 60 started off as a project to record my life so far. I’ve always believed that it’s a good thing for people to record what’s happening in their lives, no matter what stage they’re at. It doesn’t matter what kind of life you lead, telling your story is the most valuable thing you can do for yourself and for future generations.

I thought I might fill a few pages and it would be a nice thing for me to read in 20 or 30 years’ time. But it developed into much more than that and it really surprised me. If you ever get the chance to write a book of your own, then do it. And if you’re looking to work with a writer to help you tell your story, then I cannot recommend Robert highly enough. He made the process very easy and painless and it was a lot of fun.”

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