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    Women who mean business


    The fastest growing group of Australian entrepreneurs are women. And it’s not hard to understand why!


    “My training in psychology helps me read mass consumer trends and stay ahead of the game. I get these very strong pictures burning in my brain, which are vague but compelling when they fi rst appear, then they crystallise. I was certain that search was going to be important back in 2000, after the crash, when everyone said I was crazy to be going into the internet.

    I also use my psychology to find good team members. You have to know what to look for. For executives, I believe a deep ethical core is essential along with strong reality-shaping drivers. My psychology training was also very infl uential in developing Mooter’s first-generation predictive personalisation technology.

    I’ve had to overcome many obstacles in my career. Raising money for a search venture post dot-com crash was brutal. Building technology on a foundation of psychology and market theory rather than data mining theory was risky and difficult, but it worked. With such enormous, cashed-up competitors, the online search industry is certainly not for the faint hearted. I am also raising and supporting two children by myself. Childcare is essential for me to do my job, yet it is not tax exempt. It’s yet another impediment to entrepreneurial women achieving success.

    We’re all aware of the low representation of woman on boards or running signifi cant companies. Lesser known is the very low percentage of venture capital that goes to companies run by women. Despite my achievements, I still get comments like: “Let us (the men) take care of business things, you go be the poster girl.” I really do believe I have to work harder to get recognised for my hard-core commercial skills. This is most evident when I travel overseas (particularly in the US), where I am recognised as an expert in my fi eld and a successful entrepreneur — more so than in Australia.

    I have always believed that we shape our own reality; that things around us, the way we live and communicate, are all there because someone was bold enough to make a vision real. I started my first business when I was only 20, and used it to put myself through university. If you have the correct skills, and a lot of willpower, it is a great way to make far more money that you could make in a job, and gives you the thrill of ‘reality shaping.’ You can also lose money and time, which is why you need to make sure you are right before you invest energy, and you need to have guts to face risk.”

    Liesl Capper is an expert in search technology. She specialises in strategy, growing shareholder value and picking market trends. Liesl serves on a number of boards and is the founder of Mooter, an intuitive cluster-based search engine. Mooter is the third company she has started.

    Withcott Seedlings Qld Winner of the 2005 Veuve Clicquot Award, honouring the world’s most successful business women

    “My husband and I started Withcott Seedlings in 1983 as a back yard operation, with a few thousand seedlings and $800. We’ve had 25-30 percent growth every year since. Now we supply over 900 farms with over 380 million seedlings. The key element to our success is staying innovative and giving skills and opportunities to the wonderful team.

    It was a shock and great honour to win the Veuve Clicquot Award. I know so many rural and regional women who are doing amazing things. This award has allowed me to recognise the amazing depth of Australian innovation. The drought in Australia has bought out the survival instinct in many of us.

    During December 2002, due to worsening drought conditions, we formulated a strategic plan to diversify. One of these ground-breaking diversifi cation methods was the introduction of Smart SaladsTM — growing and harvesting baby salad leaves in environmentally controlled conditions. Smart Salads is an allied company that is now a world leader for its innovative horticultural techniques. Since our rapid launch into Smart Salads and Native Australian trees, the team has grown from 100 to 178. I will not let this drought win.

    We are internationally renowned for our innovative Quality Management System, environmental water re-cycling infrastructure, nursery logistics software (designed in-house) and inventive horticultural techniques. Theses three key elements enable us to grow as a business and deliver a consistently high quality product, backed up by customer service.
    In terms of Australia’s support for female entrepreneurs, change is happening. I actually fi nd that it is easier if you don’t expect support or recognition, as I have always seen myself as equal to any challenge. The key has been knowing my limitations and teaming with others who fill my skill gaps. I love to teach and learn from others. Melting glass ceilings is still a challenge for many women, but I encourage them to understand their natural female attributes of caring for the people around them and looking at problem solving in a way that achieves long term sustainable change.”

    Withcott Seedlings is the largest supplier of vegetable, fruit and plant seedlings in the southern hemisphere, producing 380 million seedlings each year for Australian farmers. Smart Salads has grown by staggering 2586 percent since inception in 2003. These baby leaf salads for the elite food market are a first for Australia and an emerging export to the Asia- Pacific and Middle East regions.


    “In the late 70s/early 80s, two businessmen informed me that, as I was now married my career was over. I laughed. At 20, I didn’t see my career expiry date. Ironically, one of these two men later offered me the opportunity to train as a shipbroker!

    The first day that I turned up to the office as a shipbroker, I was shown around the office by my boss and introduced to the staff. He then left me at my desk with my fellow shipbrokers who informed me that they were insulted that a woman had been hired as a broker and that they were going to do their best to get me fired. I had certainly never anticipated this type of hostility. I smiled and thanked them for their honesty. I also told them that I would be there to shake each and every one of their hands as they left. With the exception of one, that happened.

    So, I realised that nothing was given, it had to be earned. I needed to be resilient and open to opportunities. The worst thing I could do was turn inward and withdraw. I hate the thought of being a victim, so everything is a challenge — sometimes tough and unfair but always an opportunity.

    We are now facing a situation of positive employment, multigenerational participation. We still have to get on top of gender and ethnicity. I see my role as CEO at AIM is to reposition the company take advantage of the significant changes that are taking place. Investment in education and training is essential. Balance needs to be given to time and cost. AIM believes that to best assist employers and employees with this issue, career paths should be matched with education/training paths.
    I have had a number of careers — radiographer, shipbroker, banker and now this. I have been asked to give talks on career planning. My first reaction is to laugh, as I think my career reflects the antithesis of career planning. But what I have tried to do is to pick jobs that would contribute to me as a professional, including innovation, management, marketing, financial awareness and strategy. I have a big need to be challenged — my husband says I’m dangerous when I’m bored. Also, I need to have fun. Laughter is the best medicine.”

    Susan Heron was appointed Chief Executive Officer of the AIM Victoria & Tasmania in December 2004. She has extensive management experience and corporate leadership across diverse industry sectors, including medical, shipping, finance and higher education.

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