Who has given you the biggest helping hand?
My parents, they’re my No 1 fans. Even at the beginning, when my accountant didn’t want me to buy the business, my mum and dad were like: ‘Okay, cool. Let’s go.’ My bank manager Phil Grigg. And my leadership team, Bradley Keys and Christy Ormand. As a leader, I’m a really good starter and not always a really good finisher. I don’t achieve anything without a whole myriad of people standing around and beside me.
After diversifying your client mix, what was your next focus for developing the business?
As the company has matured, rather than looking outside, we’ve started to look more inside. For the past four or five years, we’ve focused on protocols and procedures and strengthening the culture in the company. The pandemic strengthened the culture immensely: we said if we reduce hours, we’ll all reduce hours; we’re not going to lose anyone through this process.
We’ve started looking at things like sustainability, diversity and female leadership and all the other stuff around who we are and what we stand for. And while the customer is still the centre of the world, if the business itself is a really good product, it will deliver a really good service.
You talk about being a thought leader. Tell me about that.
We, as business, are spearheading thought leadership in our industry, not just around design, but how to increase diversity in the design and construction industry. In the past three years, I have come out as gay. Being a strong, gay female in such a male-dominated sector has been an interesting process, but it has allowed us as a team to really embrace diversity, not only from a gender equality situation, but also race, age, ability. And we are also looking to increase neurodiversity in the business. Diversity brings more creative perspectives, which is far better for our clients.
You’ve been publicly critical of the minimum wage raises, how does that gel with your living wage position?
I don’t think that there’s been enough communication with the right parties around the impact of the raises. Most people are working in the design industry are much older, they have children. I was critical of the impact on hospitality and retail, which employ students working for a supplementary income. On the other hand, there are people who have been in hospitality for years, who are in their 40s and 50s, and you would hope that they weren’t on the minimum wage. I do feel, in general, though, that even the living wage is slightly too low for people. I think that people should be paid based on age and experience, not just the role. I don’t know how you structure that, but I don’t think somebody who has got three or four children, hasn’t got the right qualifications [for higher-paying jobs] and has been doing the same job and doing it well for 30 years, should be on the same salary as students doing a holiday job.
Does the thought leadership work help your bottom line?
I don’t think everything needs to be focused on the bottom line. It will have a natural impact on the brand’s credibility, and my credibility. You have to be driven by the purpose, not by the money, in order for it to be successful. The money is just an outcome. And if you’re doing good and being good, the money will come. But I’m not driven by money. I’m sure I’d be a lot richer if I was.
What are your main business goals for the next year or two?
To implement the sustainability and social stuff, and to grow the business and the team by about 20%, but that’s more around efficiencies within the business. We don’t want to grow beyond 30 people, we want to keep our boutique feel. I also want to do a few more speaking engagements on thought leadership. And to really just enjoy the business.
What personal qualities have you had to draw on and develop along the way?
Self-belief. I have what I call my toolbox: it might be that I need to be around friends and family and feel nurtured, or to listen to podcasts or some bad-ass businesspeople and get motivation from them. I don’t think that you can do any of it entirely on your own.
And it’s okay to be vulnerable, to get overwhelmed at times. I’ve got a really great business mentor, Colin McKay, who lives in Scotland. He’s a neuro linguistic mentor. He supported me through my divorce, through coming out, the trial, and he teaches my leadership team too. He has guided me to be a far better person.