Latest News

Three Industry Leaders On Turning Problems Into Positive Business Outcomes

In the spirit of The Positivity Project (launched by Are Media and Kellogg’s Special K), you can find guidance in their wisdom.

The Challenge: A cash flow crisis

The Solution: Olivia Carr, Founder at Shhh Silk

Last year, Olivia Carr, the founder of luxe sleepwear label Shhh Silk, posted something she never expected to on Instagram. In between product shots of perfectly styled pillowcases and endorsement videos from Kris Jenner, Carr shared a screenshot of her bank statement. The account had a balance of -$907. “For the first time since we launched in 2015, we had three consecutive days of zero sales at the start of the pandemic. Very quickly, we went into debit,” she reveals. “For five years I had reinvested all the money we made back into the business, so we didn’t have anything put aside for a rainy day. With our outstanding wholesale orders, I knew we could keep paying our staff for three weeks and then it was over. It was terrifying.”

In the face of almost-certain business closure and lay-offs for her eight staff, Carr responded with brutal honestly. She candidly shared her predicament on social media, asked her loyal customers for their support and reached out to her stockists for help. “I called our wholesale partners, The Iconic and Adore Beauty, and asked them for more orders. They weren’t easy calls to make, it was scary and vulnerable, but they kept us alive,” says Carr, who slowly began to climb out of the black hole of debt, thanks to her customers – and a new collection.

In May last year, Carr used her excess silk fabric to make facemasks just as they became mandatory in cities around the world. The move saved her business and allowed her to give back to her customers (with $50 gift vouchers and a month of competitions) and frontline workers (with a donation of $100,000 worth of product to the Australian College of Nursing). Instead of putting her profits back into the business, Carr put them into a savings account and paid herself a wage. “For the first time in the history of the brand, we have a positive cash flow, and our profits are up 700 per cent on the year before. I’ve learnt that in order to protect your business and your staff, you have to focus on profit instead of revenue. And you have to have money put away for a rainy day – or a pandemic,” explains Carr, who ultimately credits the Shhh Silk resurrection to the brand’s tagline: ‘Doing good is in our DNA’. “As a business, we’ve always helped others, and so when we needed help, our community came together and had our back.” 


The Challenge: Retaining Top Talent

The Solution: Anna Stockley Davidson, COO at Brosa furniture

As the old business adage goes, people are a company’s greatest asset. It’s a maxim that’s served Anna Stockley Davidson well in her career and one that sums up her leadership approach at furniture start-up Brosa. Since launching in 2014, the company has grown to have 75 team members across Australia, China, India and the Philippines. Of those, 70 per cent are women and 85 per cent are aged under 40. In a society where 43 per cent* of highly qualified women with children are leaving careers, keeping parents in the workforce is a challenge for many businesses. “Turnover in key roles is costly, so retaining talented employees is a high priority,” says Stockley Davidson, who recently introduced 16-weeks’ paid leave to all new parents as a way of addressing the issue. “We’re particularly proud that the policy is for both primary and secondary caregivers and that it can be taken any time during the child’s first 12 months.”

Stockley Davidson’s people-first modus operandi extends beyond paternity leave. “Eighty per cent of our executive team are parents, so we understand the challenges that come with being a working parent,” she says. “We know that if parents don’t have flexible working conditions, they’ll go elsewhere, so being able to work from home or leave early for a doctor’s appointment is supported.”

While offering paternity leave can be costly for a business, Stockley Davidson prefers to see it as a win-win opportunity: “We truly believe this investment in our people will benefit us in the long run.”


The Challenge: International Expansion (In A Pandemic)

The Solution: Aivee Robinson, Co-Founder at Catalyser social tech start-up

As if steering a business through the chaos of 2020 wasn’t hard enough, last year Aivee Robinson and her co-founder Angela Kwan also set out to expand internationally. Their start-up, Catalyser, was born to bridge the gap between corporates and charities. “Essentially, we’ve built this cool platform to help workplaces increase employee giving, including fundraising, payroll donations, appeals, pro bono and more,” explains Robinson, who says the giving space is growing like never before. “I think COVID-19 has made us all more empathetic and aware of what’s going on in the world.”

Like the giving space it’s in, Catalyser has grown exponentially since it launched in 2015. The company works with employers in 15 countries and with clients including Deloitte, KPMG, Audi and Energy Australia. Now, Robinson and her team are continuing to focus on global domination – while overseas flights remain grounded and borders are still closed indefinitely. Talk about tough… “It was very unfortunate timing that we set out to launch into the global market in 2020,” admits Robinson. “Software sales pitches have traditionally been face-to-face and based on relationship and rapport. But we’ve had to do it all via Zoom.”

The business’ saving grace was that it was always built to be a global enterprise. “From day one, the platform had language capability and foreign exchange conversions built into it, so users in Hong Kong can operate in their own language and currency. That gave us a real leg up during COVID-19,” says Robinson, who also tapped into her international network to make the seemingly-impossible expansion a reality. “Instead of hiring immediately overseas, we invested in working with channel partners – people already on the ground working in the same space – around Asia Pacific. When you’re scaling a business internationally, you need local knowledge and an understanding of cultural nuance.” 

* Harvard Business Review

This story originally appeared in the September issue of marie claire Australia, out now.


Related stories