Paul Higgins Reveals How IMMINENT Kidney Failure Made Him Walk Away From Managing A $700 Million Coca Cola Division…

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TERRY: Joining me today is Paul Higgins from Buildlivegive.com and even though Paul and I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting, when I heard Paul’s story on a James Schramko Podcast, I found it really inspiring.

It’s an amazing story and I wanted to share that with the WPX community.

So, thank you Paul for your time today.

PAUL: Brilliant to be here, Terry, thanks for inviting.

TERRY: Pleasure. So, for people who are not familiar with you, Paul, or your current project and business focus or philanthropy focus, can you give us some context about who you are?

PAUL: Yeah, sure. So, Paul Higgins from Melbourne, as you said, founder of Build Live Give and I really founded that business based on my own journey.

I left corporate to run my own business and I found that harder than it needed to be.

So, I set up Build Live Give in 2016 to help other people that have left a career, in particular coaches and consultants, to build great businesses and lifestyles.

TERRY: Yeah, it’s a big movement and it has been for a while, Paul, people leaving the corporate world and getting more control over their time and quality of life.

One of the big differences with this side project of mine (InflectionPoint.life) is that rather than looking at the complete biography of somebody, instead we dig into a huge turning point in somebody’s life, it could be about health, business or another topic.

Before you describe this big change that happened to you and actually you’ve had a few to be honest, to be fair. Quite a few.

Can you describe your lifestyle and how you were living and working just before the big change?

PAUL: Yeah, sure. So, I always laugh that I started working for Coca Cola when I was three.

My dad worked there and wherever dad went, obviously I shadowed him and I did a double major at university and thought I’d never spend a day in Coke.

They (Coca-Cola) threw me a set of keys because I was desperate.

I thought I’d last a couple of weeks and 18 years later I was still there.

So, I met my wife there. I worked with my father and it was a brilliant company.

I always say that it’s a great company, maybe not the best product in the world, but it’s certainly a brilliantly run company.

I did that up until 2011 and I went through, started as a rep and went right through to a director.

I was a director of a $700 million business here in Australia but my kidney specialist said there were two choices here.

One is you get to still love working for one of the biggest brands and oldest companies in the world or you get to see your grandkids and I said, “Okay, well it doesn’t take me a second to make that decision.”

So yeah, in 2011 I ended up leaving.

TERRY: Why was Coke such a good company to work for?

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PAUL: Unfortunately we’re still driven by a lot of financials in the world and they had financial success.

There was always profit.

So, therefore they could always pay the best experts that are always at the cutting edge of everything.

Even when I consulted back to other corporates when I left Coke, I was amazed at just how far Coke was ahead and it was sort of a marriage that could never end in divorce.

The Coke company did what they were really good at, which was building brands and the bottlers were really good at the sales and delivery of that.

They fought all the time, but it was a friction that really made the business robust and I think the other thing is particularly around consumers, everyone now talks about find your audience, understand what they want and then deliver a product.

The Coke company was really big on that.

They spend an enormous amount of upfront money on researching their consumers and then developing products for that, which now in it’s time, now it seems a simple concept, but when I first was working with them back in the ’90s it wasn’t.

Not a lot of companies were as consumer-driven and I learned a lot through that and carry that through to today.

TERRY: Sure. I imagine some people when they are given that difficult choice by the medical specialists would just justify ignoring it and plow on in the corporate world, but you evaluated everything.

Can you just describe your thinking process about that change?

PAUL: It was sort of the card that I was waiting to be dealt.

My friends that I went to school with used to go on a golf trip every year and for 10 years I kept saying to them, “I’m going to leave next year. I will not be in a corporate job this time next year,” and I just kept getting promotions and more opportunities.

That just sort of steamrolled, but it got to a point where I sort of hit a ceiling a little. I didn’t want to go overseas.

I stayed here in Australia for family reasons and I knew the business.

I was sitting in board meetings just knowing that sugar was going to be an absolute destroyer of our profitability, particularly here in Australia and so, I thought, “Well, the business is only going to get harder.”

I felt guilty in a way working for a company – 30% of all dialysis patients are due to diabetes and a lot of that’s due to sugar.

I felt like that wasn’t easy for me, not back like in the ’90s, you walk into a room and Coca-Cola was a really proud brand to work for, it’s starting to get less and then I always had this itch to do my own thing.

When the specialist said that to me, it was another breath of fresh air. It’s like, “Okay, this is my card to finally make a decision.”

TERRY: You felt a sense of relief about that?

PAUL: Yeah. Yeah I did.

Yeah and it was also me trying to take control because one of the hardest things with… I’ve got a condition called polycystic kidney disease and it’s just basically cysts that grows on organs.

I’ve got them in the kidney and the liver.

My kidney ended up being about the size of a basketball and the hard thing is that you’re never in control of the growth.

There’s certain things you can do to swell it, but everyone’s growth is at a different stage.

My mom didn’t lose function or go on dialysis until she was in her 60s, my brother is six years younger than me and he’s completely fine, but his daughter, my niece has got large cysts at seven.

You never quite felt in control of your health and corporate can be a bit like that as well. You just don’t know when the next round of redundancies are going to come or whatever. 

I thought, “Well, at least I can take control of one part of my life,” and that was to go out and run my own business. So, it gave me something to really look forward to.

TERRY: Yeah. I imagine when your kidney gets to that size, it’s pretty painful.

PAUL: It’s just uncomfortable.

So, for all the ladies listening, I know it’s nothing like pregnancy, but that’s how it sort of felt. You just feel uncomfortable and a little embarrassed because I’d lost so much weight.

I ended up down to 68 kilos or something.

So, I honestly looked like ET. I had this big belly and this skinny body.

I was a bit conscious of that, but some people have them.

Well, mine was about four kilos, my kidney, but some people have them as large as 18 kilos. So, yeah.

I’m one of the lucky ones that it didn’t get to that size, but we might talk about it later, but what was meant to be a simple removal of that kidney ended up not quite how we all planned.

TERRY: Yeah. I remember in one of your videos where you talked about what started out as keyhole surgery wound up being a huge shark bite.

PAUL: Yes. Yeah. It, yeah. The surgeon Bisey said, “Look, if you weren’t fit.” So, everything they ever told me to do I basically did to try to prolong it because even on a dialysis, the doctor said, “You’ll last about 10 years.

On a transplant, you might get 20.”

So I always tried to push my kidneys out as long as I could before I went across, but he said, “If you hadn’t have been fit and less corporate and did all the right things to get you as fit as you were for the operation, I didn’t make a split second decision,” because basically my minor artery to the heart was torn because the kidney was that large when I went to do a keyhole (surgery).

I was basically bleeding to death and the other thing, complication is you don’t want a transfusion because I was very lucky that my best friend was going to donate a kidney, which was a great match, but if you get a transfusion, then that would destroy your chance of getting that kidney.

It was a really difficult situation, but anyway they did a brilliant job, they saved me and now I’ve just got a scar from one side of my body to the other, but other than that, I’m fine.

TERRY: It sounds like your condition has given you a greater appreciation for life?

PAUL: Oh, definitely. Definitely and look, I’m sure everyone that’s had a near death experience will feel that anyway, but I think for me I was tenacious by birth.

Look, a lot of my family members were, but they’re all of the ones from the side of the family that’s had the condition.

I don’t know if it’s by nature or by environment that you’ve got a condition like this, but you can either go one or two ways.

For me it was always, and my mum was a brilliant role model in that she never complained.

She felt incredibly guilty for passing it on. It’s a 50/50 at birth, but she never, yeah, she never complained at all.

She was a role model for me and yeah and what I do now is sort of, instead of… she passed away last year. Instead of grieving for her, at least I can sort of help other people.

That’s the way that I’m going through that.

TERRY: I love that. It’s great. So Paul, and this is back in 2011. I think you left Coke, somewhere there?

PAUL: Yes.

TERRY: And what happened next? So, you leave Coke. What happens then?

PAUL: I went and started coaching senior executives in blue chip companies and I quickly realized that as a coach, I’m a much better mentor.

I just couldn’t help but share my experience.

I did formal training on coaching.

It was all about that you hold the glass, but the water, the content is all from the coach and all you do is ask questions and show the glass in a different way and I’m like, “That’s great, but I’ve worked at one of the best companies in the world. I’m an avid reader and podcast listener. I’ve got so much knowledge, it’s hard for me to just sit there.”

I quickly flipped and also realized that a lot of the issues that, not issues, but the opportunities within corporate that I face, a lot of others were and it was like I was back working for corporate and it was even worse because I didn’t have the control of actually doing something about it.

In short, I then moved into mentoring small businesses. I started an outsourcing company, supporting the people that I was doing strategy work for and then I set up a tech company as well.

That sort of led me to around 2016 when my kidney failure really started to head south.

TERRY: You did leave Coke and in theory leaving behind the corporate lifestyle and all of that, but the new situation didn’t work well for you either health wise.

PAUL: Yeah and look and that was the silver lining in my health.

They kept telling me, “Look, you can’t continue to be on pipelines, work back for corporates where the schedule was all over the place.” So, yeah.

Fortunately for me, especially in 2016 I’d just sold off my outsourcing business.

I went as a silent partner in my tech business and I just said, “I’m going to set up a mastermind,” where I took my family to Europe for eight weeks in preparation for the operation and I just started running my business from a mobile phone effectively and in hindsight that was a great decision because that’s what ended up happening.

I ran a business basically for two years in a hospital bed for most of it.

TERRY: Yeah. You just plowed on regardless of where you were and what you’re going through. You just-

PAUL: Yeah, it took my mind off it, right?

It gave me something to look forward to.

I felt really, it’s like a mother’s group when you go through a transplant.

You might have either 10 of you that go through it the same week and you meet up and share a lot of experiences. It’s fantastic and I don’t know. In Bulgaria, do they have a mother’s group support-

TERRY: Possibly.

PAUL: Yeah. I know in the US, they don’t.

It seems to be something that’s quite strong in Australia, but every time you have your first child, you’re paired with moms or dads and I was a bit the same and I loved it because I actually had meaning, whereas a lot of the people that have been in corporate, they couldn’t go back to their job.

Physically they’re okay, but mentally they’re really struggling with, “Well, what’s my purpose now? What do I do now?” It’s sort of like after the grand final, it’s like, “Well, where do I go to next?”

And I was very fortunate that I did have something and I actually wrote a book through dialysis and also through my transplant recovering, I wrote a book which filled in (the time) because some of the drugs I was on basically meant that I had insomnia.

I had time to do something.

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TERRY: I’ll make sure I leave a link to your book, Paul, in the transcript here as well-

PAUL: Great.

TERRY: So, you came out of that technology company and outsourcing, that wasn’t good for your health and maybe then you transitioned into Build Live Give from there?

PAUL: Yes.

TERRY: Okay. Just for people who are watching or listening, what is the core philosophy of Build Live Give?

PAUL: As the name sort of suggests it’s a builder, build your own business to live a great life and then to give back.

That was my path.

So, I took too long as I sort of said it earlier to get to where I was comfortable to support the lifestyle that I really wanted to, but that’s what I want to do to fast track and help others and then the gift part.

All the proceeds of my book go to The Purple House, which helps indigenous Australians get access to dialysis and I also give a percentage of my profits as well.

That’s the way that I want to give back and ultimately I’d love to set up my own charity at some point.

TERRY: Yeah, we have done that here and this was part of the reason I wanted to talk to you today.

We have a built a (homeless/shelter dog) foundation within our company and it’s almost entirely funded by WPX.

It’s for homeless and shelter dogs and sometimes cats as well and just on your comment about how your situation makes you appreciate life more, as we deal with a lot of situations of cruelty or abuse to animals or they’re living in pretty horrible conditions in old shelters, for me, that gives me a lot of perspective to not complain about stuff in my own life.

When you have encountered that, you don’t have too much to complain about and you just need to get on with it.

PAUL: That’s spot on and I felt guilty often.

Even in dialysis, I was only on it for three months, three times a week, four and a half hours, but if I look at my mom, she was 10 years, four times a week, four hours and a lot of them have other complications where I was very preemptive.

So, even though I felt at 10% function, it feels like you haven’t slept for a year, but I knew there was a light at the end of the tunnel where a lot don’t and especially I really, in the kidney ward in particular, there’s a lot of people there with diabetes and a lot of them have got type one diabetes, which is uncontrollable and they’re horrific.

They lose their sight.

They start losing parts of limbs and they just, yeah, it’s such a horrible disease and I would look at them and think, “I am so lucky. I’m just blessed to have a best mate that’s able to donate a great kidney for me.”

Yeah. So, it’s all right.

I think I’m always a glass half full, but you’re right.

It’s easy to see how other people are in far worse positions than you.

TERRY: Yep. Is dialysis painful, Paul?

PAUL: Oh look, it wasn’t for me. It can be for… and especially the longer you stay on it, the needles can get quite painful and also cramps.

So, a lot of people have serious cramping and the other component is people get incredibly cold.

It’ll be middle of summer and you’ll have people rugged up like they’re going to the South Pole.

So yeah, look, whatever way you spin it, I wouldn’t want to do it for 10 years.

TERRY: Did you ever feel like giving up?

Did you have a dark time when you lost hope and thought, “I just can’t see a way out of this. It looks too grim?”

PAUL: I must admit when I had to sell my business in 2016 and sort of really start from scratch again, I think that was a really difficult time for me and you talked about James Schramko at the start, Superfast Business.

He mentored me through that.

So, that definitely helped.

I think that was a bit of a dark time and then I suppose having the nephrectomy, which I thought was going to be simple, not going to plan, then going into the transplant, it wasn’t a dark period, but it was like I actually made sure that…

Well, we built a house the year prior making sure that my family was all set up in case the worst happened and then all of a sudden it’s like, well, the worst has nearly happened.

What’s going to happen with this transplant?

So, that was another anxious time.

TERRY: On this journey Paul, have you had particular books or mentors?

You mentioned James Schramko, any other people who have been a big influence on you, either through a book or a speaker that you heard or anything like that of course?

PAUL: Yeah. I suppose the first one I spoke about before is (my) Mom.

To have someone with the same condition as you and to be able to talk to someone like that was just incredible.

She was just absolutely amazing.

James was fantastic.

I had another mentor called Jaime Masters last year and she used to laugh, but I’d actually was, I think, I don’t know what time in the US it was, but in Australia it was about four in the morning, the calls and I used to get up in the hospital in my gear and I’d go to the call and join them at four in the morning.

She always got a bit of a laugh out of that I was dedicated enough to do that, but she was a great supporter and her previous partner is actually going through cancer at the moment.

PAUL: So, a big shout out for her too because I know she’s got challenges, but yeah, she was just super supportive of me and then my dad.

My dad always tried to push, they were always more worried about me.

They didn’t want to have me care for them as much as I really wanted to.

I think that was another inspiration. He had polio as a child. So, he’s again, a classic person that glass is half full.

He’s never complained about the fact that he hasn’t got any muscle from his knee down and can I just tell you a quick story, Terry, where when I was in my first year of school, my mom’s a school teacher, but I was in another school and the school teacher, I said a story, which basically said, “I beat my dad in a running race.”

And the teacher’s like, “Look Paul, I know you’re great with stories, but this is just getting too much. I’m going to call your parents in.” 

My parents came in and as soon as she saw my dad limping with polio, she was very apologetic.

I got some good grades that year!

TERRY: Nice. Paul, what do you think is one or two of your really big life lessons?

You’ve had a hell of a journey that you’ve been through, it’s quite an incredible thing.

What are a couple of the big life lessons to share from that?

PAUL: I think the first one is there are always people worse off than you. So, put things in perspective.

I think that’s one.

I think the other one is that if you help others, it takes the mind off the position that you’re in. So for me, helping mentor people, giving back to the Purple House, et cetera, it sort of took the woes off me and then focus my energy on someone else and I think the last one is around daily habits.

There’s a lot around what James Clear talks about with his ‘Atomic Habits’ book, which is a great book, but I was a firm believer in… So, what was it? It was seven years out that I prepared for the operation, right?

Every day I’d do certain things to make sure that I was ready for that event and if I hadn’t have done that, well then it would have been very different.

I think sometimes the hard things in life are like cycling. I used to cycle a lot and on the rainy days, you don’t want to, but you do.

If you can create some daily habits that in the long term pay off and I think in a world at the moment where we’re very much addicted to instant relief.

TikTok is a great example at the moment, that immediacy of stimulation can sometimes get in the way of creating really good habits that will help you in the long term.

TERRY: Absolutely. Yeah. You remind me of Shawshank Redemption when Andy spent 20 years tunneling out.

PAUL: Yeah, that’s a great movie. Great movie.

TERRY: Can you tell us more about Purple House, Paul?

How that came about, what are your ambitions for that project?

PAUL: The Purple House, there’s a lot of indigenous people in the center of Australia that just often, a lot of them can’t drive, et cetera, but they have to have dialysis.

As a rough rule of thumb, you might last a week if you’re lucky if you don’t have dialysis.

It’s life threatening and what they’ve created is a bus that goes and actually gives these remote communities access to dialysis and I think that’s fantastic.

Like I said, I’m doing funds for them at the moment.

I’m going to go there during this year and I’m going to do as much as I can to promote the organization.

That’s what I’m doing at the moment and yeah, it’s a passion project and I promised mom I’d do something around kidneys and what I eventually want to do is help to fund a lot more research for our condition, which is called polycystic kidney disease.

TERRY: Sure. I imagine that equipment is quite expensive.

PAUL: Yeah and a lot of it’s around the research.

There’s a lot of talk at the moment as to which path they’ll go down…there’s a couple of areas like stem cell (research).

So, where they can regrow a kidney. A kidney is the most complex organ.

It’s the hardest to grow. So, there’s that approach, but then there’s also the fact that you’ll just create an artificial kidney.

I think even if we don’t stop the cyst growth, at least there’ll be something that you can have a replacement from a lot easier because unfortunately the other big one that I’m passionate about is kidney, sorry, donor organ donation.

Unfortunately here in Australia, you can say yes, you can sign all the papers, give your consent, and then your family at the (last) moment when they can say, “No, unfortunately you can’t take any parts of the body,” they can stop it (the organ donation).

I think that’s one law that I’d love to change and the other is that it’s an opt-out rather than an opt-in.

TERRY: Yep. I think that’s Sweden.

They did that many years ago. They reversed it so that you’re automatically opted in and you have to go through a bit of a process to opt-out. It could be a different country, but I think it was-

PAUL: Yeah. Well, I think Wales as well. So Wales, you’ve got a six month waiting list for a kidney and here in Australia you’ve got a six year. So-

TERRY: Yep. Changing laws is really effective, it’s a good foundation/philanthropy goal. It can help a lot.

PAUL: Yes.

TERRY: Paul, I’ve got a difficult question for you…none of us will be around forever and when you’re no longer with us, what would you like to be your single legacy that you’re remembered for and proud of and happy to have accomplished with your life?

PAUL: For me, at the moment my family’s got a 50/50 of getting it and there’s, I don’t know exactly how many, but there’s so many other families like that and my kids are about to get tested.

So, I’ve got to look them in the eye and say, “Look, I’ve passed this on to you.”

What I want to do is do everything possible that no one has to go through that and now I’d love to have that for a lot of other organs, but in particular I think (helping) polycystic kidney disease (sufferers) and kidneys is what I’d love to be remembered for.

TERRY: Great, Paul. Well, I love your mission. It’s really inspiring. It’s awesome.

For people seeing you for the first time, where would you like them to connect with you?

PAUL: If you just go to Buildlivegive.com and that’s got a chapter, a free chapter of my book and then it’s got everything else and my story is there as well.

I’d tell you that’s probably the key place to go and the only other one is I do post four times a week on LinkedIn.

So, I’d try to give as much valuable content as I possibly can through LinkedIn. So, that’s the other one and it’s just PaulHiggins555 is my LinkedIn handle.

TERRY: Okay and who is the ideal candidate for you to work with, your mentoring consultancy, who is an ideal candidate for that?

PAUL: If you’re someone watching or listening now, you’ve had a great job, a great career, and you’re going into your second career, which is your own business and you’re finding it difficult.

There’s isolation, there’s a lot of things you’ve got to learn that you weren’t taught either at school or at business and if you want a community that can support you through that transition so that you can have a great lifestyle and you can give back, well, yeah, we’d love to help you.

TERRY: Yep and that applies a lot to the WPX community.

A lot of our customer base definitely fall into that category. So, very relevant.

Paul, it’s been a genuine pleasure. I love your story when I heard it with James Schramko and getting into some details today, more details, was great as well.

So, I wish you every success and really good to talk to you.

PAUL: Brilliant, great. Thanks a lot, Terry. Thanks for having me on.

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