A celebration of women in business
Story & photos Matthew Michaelis
It’s International Women’s Day on Sunday March 8. Some of Australia’s most successful enterprises are owned and run by women. The northern rivers plays host to many of these powerhouses. Women are nurturers and providers as well as academics, workers, artists, poets and everything imaginable.
Food symbolises and embodies the struggle women and men have had through the centuries. The struggle to feed their children, the struggle to survive and the acknowledgment now that women can hunt and gather and raise their families as a choice. The successes in people’s lives often create the ability for gender politics to take a rest and for talent, strength and intelligence to have a payday.
As a tribute, here is a small selection of successful businesswomen whose acumen in their own businesses has done just that, with a special feature on the inspirational story of Kym, a local cafe owner.
Kym’s Chinese astrological sign is that of the Tiger. Being also born a Leo means that she not only embodies all the strength and stamina of the powerful feline, but she is ‘theatre on steroids’. ‘When I was a kid my mum told me that if she could bottle and sell my exuberance she’d be a millionaire.’
It’s this exuberance that Kym told me healed her when MS threatened to take everything away from her. ‘During the 1980s I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. I was losing the ability to walk and the doctors told me to buy a wheelchair and forget any treatments as the nerve damage was irreparable. That prognosis didn’t wear with me. I was a single mum with two children and I was determined that that scenario wasn’t going to happen. I lost the sight in my left eye, but I didn’t give in and I beat it and threw away my crutches. This, in part, is what a mother and a woman can do when her and her children’s futures are threatened,’ Kym explained.
‘In respect of being a woman in business – I come from a long line of strong women. My mum was the first woman to have a hotel licence in Queensland. The significance of this has never escaped me. I think from a woman’s perspective we need to find a balance between the conditioning of a woman to be a nurturer and the ability to be firm when you need to be – this is the trick I’m learning.
‘The balance for me in my noshery is being able to be a person who nourishes and nurtures all at once. Love and happiness are always encouraged by me; it’s this nurturing quality that I as a woman offer everyone in my life.
‘I never knew my father; men for me are an enigma at times. I was formally a successful business consultant and my main relationship with men in this sense was helping them succeed in business. I learnt over the years that what I taught I could also use in my own businesses and in life.
‘Japunumop, the name of my food business, is the word downunder written upside down. One of my things in life is showing folks that sometimes we make things too overcomplicated.
‘So, come share some life lessons with me,’ Kym added.
Japunumop is situated at 28 Burringbar Street, Mullumbimby.
Karin Oxford is a well-known and prominent local identity and businesswoman. ‘I grew up with a father who told me to leave school and get a job in a chemist shop, that it was going to be a waste of time doing anything else. Thanks, Dad! I worked hard and cleverly to prove him utterly wrong. I eventually succeeded in managing my own world.
‘It’s in this world that I found I could give other women jobs and opportunities that in turn inspire and help them soar. I’ve had a full life of fashion, music and food and a legacy that includes the creation of the Blues and Roots Festival and now the owner of a local iconic cafe, the Poinciana in Mullumbimby,’ Karin said.
Mentors: ‘My grandmother owned a catering empire, and my mother had six kids and that’s a feat in itself.’
Advice to other women: ‘Young women have more opportunities these days. If you’re given one or create one yourself, don’t treat it lightly. We women have what it takes to get it happening in our lives – make it work for you!’
Sowing the seeds of success
Kassia Grier and Brooke Hudson are key figures in the rise and rise of Harvest and its associated businesses. Both are owners: Kassia is a mum and the human resources manager within the Harvest ventures. As financial controller, Brooke Hudson steers the finances that keep this business balanced. ‘In my role, I’m driven to maintain the financial integrity of the business while ensuring the unique culture we cultivate is maintained at all times. A majority of our senior leaders and managers at Harvest are females, and sharing the skillbase and knowledge I have with them to help them grow, learn, achieve and be inspired in their roles is my main motivational factor and responsibility as their employer,’ Brooke said.
Mentors: ‘I’m constantly inspired by the people I work with and the women I’m surrounded by. I feel incredibly fortunate to be able to draw on the knowledge in the greater community of the strong and highly skilled businesswomen in our region,’ Kassia said.
Advice to other women: ‘Go toward the empowerment offered you in life and apply yourself in all situations, while seeking out those environments that offer to nurture your values and principles – this is the way toward becoming a leader in any field,’ Brooke said.
Sherrie Adams is a mother to five children and has two businesses, one that sprang from her continuous use of cling film and the associated guilt. Sherrie created a solution to this environmental impact. ‘My quest began in a bid to find a more eco-friendly and sustainable way to wrap my kids’ lunches and provide a toxin-free alternative.
‘What I was searching for wasn’t available, so I produced it. Beeswax is known to have powerful preservative properties with examples of this preservation going back to items found that are thousands of years old and intact.
‘I followed this ancient success and created Honey Bee Wraps and a corresponding website: honeybeewrap.com. It’s a food wrap for the preservation of food and leftovers. It’s the sort of natural alternative I was looking for for my family,’ Sherrie said.
Mentors: ‘My grandmother would use, recycle, reuse and use again – she never wasted a thing. In her day they used waxed paper, tea towels and plates for leftover food. My grandmother was 84 when she died and she survived all those years without cling film.’
Advice to other women: ‘If you have an idea, have a go at it. Everything can be achieved if you believe it can. Keeping it simple works for me.’
Achievements: Emma Nichols and Kylie Bridges are both talented artists in their own right. They’ve managed to juggle their children and home life with a busy schedule that includes feeding the customers at their restaurant in Eltham. ‘We’ve had the pleasure of running The Eltham Valley Pantry and are now handing over the management to a great new team so we can follow our hearts with a new project. Art will now take centre stage in a creative space in Lismore.
Our new space is ‘found coffee and creative’ and will be opening soon. Kylie added that ‘I speak for both Emma and me when I say that our children are truly our greatest achievements.’
Mentors: ‘We’ve both always found support, guidance and inspiration from many creative and supportive female friends throughout our lives.
‘We’re lucky enough to have a constant source of inspiration in the women we meet daily who are not afraid to find what it is that sustains them while still maintaining family and career.’
Advice to other women: ‘Stay confident in your own ideas and beliefs and don’t be afraid to find your thing – be happy.’
Brenda Wilson, an accomplished chef, started in the food industry when she was only fifteen. ‘I worked in a mixture of places and by the time I was eighteen I was running a very successful and fast-paced kitchen in Newcastle.
‘By twenty-one I was self-employed. I moved to the area in 2000 from Newcastle and afterward leased the Rails kitchen, then it was onto The Deck in the Byron Golf Club and now we have a new venture cornering Brunswick Heads, the Torakina Café,’ Brenda said.
Mentors: ‘As I was growing up my mum had a massive influence on my passion for food. She cooked and baked constantly. My great-grandmother was Lebanese. Being surrounded by this wonderful vibrant food was always a treat. My husband, Matt, is not only a very talented chef but is an amazing business partner. We have worked together for 15 years and are very lucky to share such a crazy passion as hospitality.’
Advice to other women: ‘Hospitality is a demanding gig with crazy hours! If you have the passion and truly love what you do, none of it matters. It is the ultimate reward when customers love your food as much as you do.’
Mariana Pavlova was born in Bulgaria. While studying fine arts at high school, she won a scholarship to study art and design in England. ‘This is how my life moved into living abroad and then hospitality. I was working every spare minute in the hospitality industry to support myself and to save for the courses I needed. I learnt extreme multitasking when seventeen. It started as a challenge and ended up being my life.
‘I relied on this work to maintain my basic needs and my studies. I eventually moved to Sydney and met my destiny here in Australia. I met my husband John and the result is that we now own and manage a successful restaurant in Byron Bay – Traditional Thai. The restaurant was our first child, then we had a human child. I now run between the business and my life as a mother and provider.’
Mentors: ‘My mother is a translator. I learnt six languages and speak three fluently. The ability to negotiate my way through life was the strength I gained from her. My grandmother gave me structure and discipline. I apply both influences with gusto in my life.’
Advice to other women: ‘Never be scared! Even when you think you can’t or won’t make it, trust me, you can.’