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When entrepreneurship runs in the family: these two sisters have taken mum’s business beyond borders

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After years of being a stay-at-home mum, Jenny Folley started to get itchy feet. She missed the thrill of work but didn’t want to put her youngest daughter through childcare so she thought, “Hey, why not start a business?”

After doing some research, she recognised a gap in the Australian market for serviced offices specifically tailored for SMEs. We all know the start-up costs associated with setting up a business can be quite a hassle.

With this in mind, Folley opened the doors to her new serviced office business, Corporate Executive Offices (CEO) in 1987 – the peak of Melbourne’s recession. Some timing huh?

What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger

This was one of the toughest economic times in Australia’s modern history. Many businesses went bust and soon, Folley and her then business partner, found themselves with only one tenant. Fighting to stay afloat, she took no wage for two years and even remortgaged her home to sustain the business.

Folley’s business partner soon had enough, moved on and left her to fight to save the business on her own. Thankfully, the storm soon cleared, the economy started to recover in the early 90s and SMEs started to flourish again.

By 1993, her accountant (and business mentor) Michael Sayers joined the business as a partner. CEO continued to grow and by 1996 had caught the eye of renowned businessman, Ian Gandel, who also became a partner.

With such a strong support system now in place, CEO quickly expanded to incorporate eight offices in Melbourne and, one in the heart of Brisbane. It is now one of Australia’s largest privately-owned serviced office providers with 14 locations across Australia, Bahrain and the Philippines.

When entrepreneurial success becomes a family affair

Furthermore, in 2011 Folley’s two adult daughters, 27-year-old Alesya Folley and 32-year-old Mariska Folley, joined the business after they finished their university studies.

Both have been instrumental in the growth of CEO with Alesya Folley moving overseas to the Philippines to manage the expansion into Manila. Mariska Folley opened offices in Brisbane, Sydney, the Gold Coast and Melbourne before moving to Bahrain in 2011 for six months to oversee the construction of a new international office.

“Back when I first started the business, after school, the girls used to wait for me to finish work in the office so to pass the time they would complete odd jobs like emptying the bins and cleaning the photocopier for pocket money. Later, they also worked part-time on reception throughout the school holidays for extra money,” Jenny Folley recollects.

“After the girls completed university, they had so much ingrained knowledge of the business having worked at CEO in some capacity on-and-off for the last decade; they were the most qualified candidates to take on our interstate and international expansions,” she noted.

“I’m so proud of what they have both achieved and it is lovely to be able to work with them on a day to day basis – I probably see them more than I would if they weren’t in the business so I’m grateful on both accounts,” she added.

Having just overseen CEO’s expansion in Bahrain and now turning her attention to opening a new office floor in their Gold Coast premises, Mariska Folley told Anthill that she and her sister have both been blessed with their mother’s business savvy.

“Having watched mum work so hard while we were at school, I guess you could say that we have been bred with a certain tenacity and drive to succeed. Although I never deliberately set out to follow mum into the business, it’s always been in my blood so really it was just a natural progression,” she explained.

“I love that we can mix business with pleasure and even squeeze in the odd shopping trip to the Philippines to visit Alesya when we can – it’s one of the perks of us all being in the business!” Mariska further revealed.

Here is evidence that parenthood and entrepreneurship do mix! Plus, it demonstrates that exposure to business from a young age can give younger generations a base from which to embrace the path of entrepreneurship.

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