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From tea lovers to wheat farmers

11 October 2012

“Many women,” notes Larke Riemer, Director, Westpac Women’s Markets, “fail to take time out of work to step back and work on the business rather than in it and on the detail. Women are also notorious for failing to invest in themselves and their professional development – believing they don’t have the time and the money.

“Forced to step back, slow down and take a long look at themselves and what they want to achieve, our Mary Reibey winners have made some notable discoveries and have some wonderful insights to offer us all about the effects of the course on them and their businesses,” says Larke. 

“Corinne came to the realization that General Managers don’t run. They walk. She also learnt that ‘50 percent of what she does would be better done by someone else, either from within the company or by using an external resource’,” notes Larke.

For Julie, Larke says, the benefits and implications of making small personal changes were an eye opener when it came to thinking about what change can mean on a larger, wider scale. 

“I thought I drank plenty of water,” says Julie, “but there was always bottled water in front of me during the course, so I sipped at it all the time and the difference in my skin by the end of the week was so noticeable. It’s simple proof for me of the much larger concept we learned during the week that people actually love change and what it brings to them. They just don’t like changing themselves. Facilitating change is so important.”

Tea for all

Corinne Noyes founded Madame Flavour teas about four years ago in 2008. She has eight people in her award winning company, and says her previous career in marketing, first with Gillette and then Simplot working with Leggo, were the last time she did any sort of formal professional development in terms of educational content – and “the Simplot role was10 years ago”. 

Tea is a rich experience – one that many tea drinkers feel disappointed by when they go out and, Corinne believes, they shouldn’t be. Madame Flavour is so much more than just tea: “It’s an opportunity through a personal touch and education to lift the profile of tea and build back some of the values of the past.”

“When I began this business I began it as a marketing manager. That was the role I knew. I had no experience as a director and no training around the responsibilities and roles of a director or general manager and that was beginning to have an impact on the business. It meant I stayed in the detail and the doing, rather than examining the whole picture and leading the business towards our vision, and that affected how I saw the business and its possibilities for growth,” says Corinne, explaining her motivations for applying for the scholarship.

“There were 15 of us in the Program – enough for diversity and integrity of experience. The method was definitely challenging and slightly disconcerting because it was about attitudinal change rather than sit-down, task driven learning. What we discovered was it’s human nature to want to solve problems but in doing that we mostly produce the same sort of result every time. By slowing down, sitting back, asking questions, allowing a bit of chaos, you can get very different results. It helped me clarify my vision and purpose and let go.”

The program changed some ingrained habits, too: “The computers have gone from the bedroom… the place is a sanctuary free from tension as it should be.”

Corinne also found a greater business purpose has emerged: and it’s not just selling tea.

Three budgets a year

Julie Alvaro runs a farming business with her husband in Merredin, Western Australia. In 2011 they made the decision to become the Directors of their own farming entity: a challenging and exciting experience, especially from the financial point of view. The Alvaro’s are in food production (wheat) and do three budgets a year based on weather factors.

“Rainfall, as you can imagine,” Julie points out, “is extremely important, and heavily influences our production expectations. We are in another drought this year and pushing against our banking ratios all the time. For the company that means seriously considering all our options, including such measures as looking at other business alternatives.”

The focus on the core disciplines of strategy and management in the General Manager Program, appealed to Julie, as did the concept of physical and mental wellbeing and how they support and maximize business performance. 

“I didn’t have any real expectations. There was some pre-study to do – something on finance and something on leadership, which made me think it was going to be a very theory based, sit down course,” says Julie, who soon discovered it wasn’t like that at all. 

“Living in a rural community you get pretty involved in what’s going on and often the people you work with, suppliers, your bank manager, your accountant, you also socialize with them… the course provided strategies and systems that work as much in the business as they do on a community level.

“If you’re a supplier and your pricing structure becomes what might be termed, ‘a little too fluid’, that can cause tensions in a community where everyone’s pretty aware of what’s going on. Learning how to negotiate and be in the moment to solve the issue then and there – and in a diplomatic way – was something I took from the course, and which I know will have applications outside the business as well as in it.”

Those strategies and others were also very helpful for stress management, says Julie, who now understands how important they are for creating balance: “I do exercise and play hockey but I didn’t really see how breathing, drinking plenty of water, meditation, consistent exercise, taking the time to be empathetic and think through how your decisions play out on others, influences business outcome. Lifestyle and personal well-being have such an impact on the health of the business. They were simple lessons – a back to basics.”

Julie wants to do more study and is determined to get more women in her area connected through Ruby. It was a Westpac financial information day organized in her area that introduced her to the Ruby site and the scholarship opportunity: “Every women out here is a business women and opportunities like Ruby are so beneficial.”