Determination, mateship and a big dream have propelled former special forces soldiers Wayne Jones and Danny Hogan from some of the world's hottest trouble spots to the Australian Stock Exchange.
A scheme to build a $10 million indoor skydiving tunnel, the country's first, at Penrith in Sydney saw them parachute out of the SAS last year and land in an arena where millions of dollars, rather than life and limb, are placed on the line.
These are the sort of people we need more of in business
Due to open next January Indoor Skydive Australia's tunnel will operate as a training and recreational facility for corporate groups, enthusiasts and the military. Similar facilities are planned for Melbourne, Perth, the Gold Coast and the Sydney CBD.
The venture has scored $2 million in backing from another former soldier, Steve Baxter, who made the BRW Rich List after selling fibre optic company PIPE Networks to TPG for $373 million in 2009. ISA floated on the ASX in January.
Dodging bullets was par for the course in Jones' and Hogan's previous lives, courtesy of a series of assignments in places most people find little cause to visit.
Between them, the pair have been on every deployment of the past two decades – from Somalia and Rwanda as young infantry soldiers, to stints in East Timor, Afghanistan, Iraq, Fiji and the Solomon Islands with the SAS.
Hairy moments notwithstanding, a life in uniform had always appealed, Jones says.
“The adventure side of it is why I joined up – to go and see the world.”
Skydiving in a wind tunnel in the US had formed part of their training and Jones' segue from SAS operative to CEO began with a conversation at the SAS's 50th anniversary celebrations in 2007.
Hogan says his initial response to the notion of building a tunnel in Australia was sarcasm: "These facilities are expensive – we'll never be able to afford one.”
The pair mulled the proposition for a couple of years before taking long service leave to “war game” the nitty-gritty of how it could be done.
“I'd never really looked at leaving the military until we started looking at this project,” Jones says.
“We had to move on, we couldn't do both – we had to set it up properly.”
Meticulous planning had saved their lives in the past and also saved their financial bacon as they navigated the minefield of capital raising and developed contingency plans for every "what-if" imaginable, according to Hogan, ISA's chief operating officer.
“There were some challenging moments – there always are when you're presented with the threat of the unknown – but it's how you process that, is what we're good at,” Hogan says.
Corporate psychologist Campbell Thompson says drive, clarity of thinking and precision planning are hallmarks of many career soldiers, particularly those who've served in adrenalin pumped, sharp-end roles.
“The stakes are high so they learn to focus their efforts,” Thompson says.
“They're often responsible for a lot of people … it's a bit like being an elite sportsperson, only even more so.”
Former infantry officer Brad Jones agrees. He says younger years in uniform provided many of the skills that have enabled him to forge a thriving second career building mobile banking systems across the developing world.
Jones' Singapore-based consultancy Mobile Accelerate helps clients, including the World Bank, develop financial services infrastructure for communities in Indonesia, India and China, where locals transact all their business in cash.
He says army training provides people with a strong methodology to take in information quickly, assess their options and make decisions – often from a very young age.
“Military leaders are taught to articulate their objectives or visions very clearly, create detailed operational plans to support them and provide their teams with flexibility so that decisions can be made and strategies changed on the ground when circumstance demands it,” Jones says.
“These are the sort of people we need more of in business.”