Suzanne’s coming up with a plan that she hopes will take her from rags to riches a second time.
A woman in a man’s world, Renae Kunda is the co-owner and general manager of Cape York Motorcycle Adventures.
Heather Haswell (PDF)
Retaining Good Staff
Conversations create business for Heather.
Skills shortage; a problem that seems here to stay.
Suzanne Paul hit rock bottom after being declared bankrupt in 2005. But this hasn’t stopped the plucky, popular celebrity from coming up with a plan that she hopes will take her from rags to riches a second time. As Suzanne tells Jo Bailey, reinventing yourself sometimes means going back to what you know best.
Suzanne Paul refuses to consider herself a failure despite three “really bad years” following the collapse of Rawaka, her Maori tourism venture at Fisherman’s Wharf in Auckland. “I never give up. If something doesn‘t work, I say, sod it, that product or idea failed, but it doesn’t stop me trying again. I simply find something else.”
When it comes to Rawaka, Suzanne’s ‘cabaret meets kapa haka’ venture, the questions have to be asked. How did she come up with the idea and why did it go so wrong?
“There were no tourism businesses offering cultural experiences in Auckland and I thought it would be a great venture. The biggest problem was that while we had a lot of bookings for the summer, we didn’t end up opening until the following winter due to building delays. I had never renovated or built a property before and didn’t understand that these delays can occur.” Suzanne says unexpected costs to rewire and refloor the entire building also contributed to the problems.
“By the time I realised the venture was taking a phenomenal amount of money and I needed a business partner to help me save it, it was too late.” She still believes the concept of the venture was a good one. “There’s still nothing in Auckland offering this kind of experience.”
Suzanne is determined to pay back her remaining creditors from the venture, and believes that by going full circle, she can achieve it. Just before Christmas she re-launched Natural Glow, the product on which she first made her name and fortune. At the height of her business success in the 90s, Natural Glow was the signature product in a stable that saw Prestige Marketing become New Zealand’s most successful direct marketing company. She and business partner Paul Meier later sold the company for $39m.
It has taken Suzanne two years to reclaim Natural Glow (with its ‘Thousands of Luminous Spheres’) from the American company that purchased the brand, but has since gone into liquidation.
“It’s quite difficult to negotiate when you are bankrupt and have no money yourself, so I put all my efforts into finding a new business partner - someone who would believe in me enough to help me get Natural Glow back.” She says it was tough to go out day after day and ask business contacts and colleagues to back her new venture, but she believed that if she kept at it, by “inching forward one step at a time” that she would succeed. It took a long time, but eventually Suzanne did find her new backer and she is currently looking at a number of new product lines which will help her to rebuild the Suzanne Paul empire.
“I’ve just been offered the exclusive rights to a phenomenal beauty product that was really successful in the United States, and have been working on another three products in the Natural Glow range that I plan to launch this year.”
With the future of Natural Glow in the balance for so long, Suzanne says it was hard not to tell people what her plans were in case they didn’t come off. “People thought I was either doing nothing, or dancing, when in fact I was really busy. I felt awful that I couldn’t tell my creditors what my plan was, only that I had one and that I hoped they would trust me.”
Suzanne is not afraid of reinvention. In fact, it has been a common thread throughout her life. “People thought that when I came to New Zealand and went on the telly that I was an overnight success, but they didn’t know about all the other things I’ve tried in my life.” Before she came to New Zealand in 1991, Suzanne had spent nearly 20 years as a professional sales demonstrator in the UK.
“I was never in one place for more than four to six months, and after that long I’d pretty much covered the country. There wasn’t anywhere I hadn’t been or a product I hadn’t tried to sell somewhere.” Back in the rough working class area in Wolverhampton where she grew up, she says people used to laugh at her for trying to better herself.
“They said I ‘had a bob on myself’ and shouldn’t try to rise above my station. But I always had a plan, even when I arrived back there when I was 35, with just two suitcases to my name. I probably should have given up years ago, but I never did. I never looked on anything I did as a success or failure. If something didn’t work, I believed I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time and would try something else.”
After brief stints working in both Australia and New Zealand, it was on her third trip to the antipodes that she finally stayed in New Zealand for good. “I was always held back by my working class accent in England, but here I could be anything I wanted to be. I could reinvent myself.” She famously arrived in New Zealand for the second time with just $15 in her pocket.
“Back in the UK, I’d been living with a friend in Sunderland and doing one of the worst jobs of my life, standing outside a supermarket in the snow while trying to persuade people to buy a fitted kitchen. There was only about one person a fortnight who was interested, and I had to stand there for eight hours a day in the freezing cold. It was horrible.”
To stop herself from going mad and because she had little else to do, Suzanne began to write a new plan, ‘Plan 49’, on her clipboard. “It became quite detailed. I wanted to come back to New Zealand and to be rich, successful and famous from launching my products. I even designed the new house I wanted on the cliff, right down to each room, the swimming pool, and the red BMW convertible in the garage.”
She managed to save enough for her airfare and, with just five British pounds in her pocket, arrived in Auckland to stay with an English girl she had met on her previous visit. On her first afternoon she went to a job interview, and that weekend did her training for another “vile” job, selling Kirby vacuum cleaners door to door.
Thankfully Suzanne had been given the name of an Auckland entrepreneur, Paul Meier, by a contact in the UK, who suggested Paul might be interested in some of her products. She met him outside McDonalds on Queen St, told him about her Massage Pillow (that she had previously spent a year in New Zealand trying to get off the ground while working three other jobs) and the rest, as they say, is history.
Paul Meier agreed to back Suzanne, and within five years they had grown Prestige Marketing into a hugely successful company. Suzanne became a household name (and voice) through her two-minute television advertisements, and later, 30-minute infomercials. Love or loathe her strong accent, it was a big factor in the success of the company, she says.
“The funny voice worked well, but I had to learn to laugh at myself and not take myself too seriously, as people really took the mickey. Lots of people said I had an awful accent and was a dreadful woman, but even those that hated it remembered the ads and bought the products.”
After the company was sold, Suzanne did a lot of television work, including Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, Garage Sale, Second Honeymoon, Style Challenge, Celebrity Treasure Island, Intrepid Journeys and How’s Life. She is, of course, most famous for her amazing performances in last year’s Dancing with the Stars which saw her and partner Stefano Olivieri take out the title.
“The show was wonderful as I had had three really bad years and was trying every day to get my new plans launched, but I kept getting knocked back. My husband, Duncan, convinced me to take three months off and think of nothing but the dancing, which was such a great escape from reality. I was able to throw all my passion into it. It was wonderful.”
She says she never believed the New Zealand public would get behind her like they did. “It seemed important to people that I did well and that they could see I had hit rock bottom and was starting again. Women from all over the country told me that I encouraged them to get out there and give something a go.”
Suzanne and her husband, Duncan Wilson, and her much-loved Mum live in a rented house in Auckland. After not being able to have children of her own, Suzanne says she enjoys being step-mum to Duncan’s three teenage children. As well as relaunching Natural Glow, she is “frantically” working on her autobiography, which she plans to finish in the next couple of months. “I intend to launch it worldwide, and would love to get it on Oprah.”
Suzanne firmly believes that she can make it from rags to riches twice and hopes her book will motivate other women to follow their dreams. “People get to my age and think it’s all over, but it’s not. I’m always keen to learn and try new things in my life and in business. And I’m not afraid to dream. If you can dream it, you can live it. That’s my motto.”
By Jo Bailey
Renae Kunda is the co-owner and general manager of CYMCA Pty Ltd. She is a woman in a man’s world. CYMCA is better known as Cape York Motorcycle Adventures, and the company operates what most blokes would consider a dream tour. They organise off-road motorcycle tours between Cairns and the northern-most point of the Australian continent, Cape York.
Starting out in hairdressing and graduating as an image consultant, Renae lived a varied working life. She was firmly planted in the female-dominated industries of customer service, tourism and hospitality; she even worked a job on a cruise ship. However, 17 years ago she left her career to help her husband, Roy, create his dream business. Since that day there have been no hairdryers, client appointments or sun and surf. It’s just been long hard days in the office. In that time, Cape York Motorcycle Adventures has gone from a hobby business with two motorcycles to a fully fledged company boasting a fleet of 30.
An examination of the past four years reveals an outstanding success story. Renae graduated from James Cook University with a graduate certificate in Eco-tourism, which gave the company a world first in their industry with Eco-certification. She is the Cairns Business Women’s Small Business Woman of the Year (2007) and the Australian Institute of Management’s Owner/Manager of the Year (Cairns, 2007), but Renae remains modest about her achievements.
“I didn’t do anything outstanding. I just saw what could be done to make our industry better and went for it. Roy and I both see ourselves as industry creators, and with that we have a self-imposed responsibility to make sure that it is constantly improving.”
But she didn’t always think like that. The journey has been a long one.
“There were times when I was completely over the whole idea. I was intimidated because clients wouldn’t listen to me, my husband was away for long periods of time, and running a business with two children in toe is hard work,” she says. “There’s a certain bravado that you have to build in order to survive as a female manager in a male-dominated industry. For me, controlling 15 men that are hanging out to get on their bikes and ride is a daily occurrence and a developed skill. I suppose all of the annoying little things have helped me to toughen up for the business world.”
The couple started the business after Roy did an Australian tour on his motorcycle. Exploring all of the old stock routes led him to Cape York and he knew he’d found home. Roy landed in Cairns first and worked in odd jobs and created a small business for long enough to be able to afford his first two motorcycles. Renae came on board to run the office while he was away on tour. The word-of-mouth started and the hobby job became a business with full-time employment for both of them.
Renae’s success came through recognising that the business had outgrown her skills as a manager. “When we started out we didn’t put any thought or planning into the way the business should or would grow - we just opened the doors and operated,” she recalls.
“We’d been growing for 12 years when I decided that we really needed to start over. I could see that things were starting to go wrong because the building blocks weren’t in place. I employed a manager and went to back to University to get things back on track.”
The three years at James Cook University have had an enormous impact on the business with the greatest triumph being Eco-certification. This achievement was a world first and has revolutionised the motorcycle industry. Renae is happy to point out that other businesses in the industry have followed her lead and taken up the challenge to become environmentally friendly.
“This industry is still relatively new and when we started there were no rules, regulations or guidelines. We feel that it is our responsibility to create these benchmarks. Now that I have begun my re-education, I am sure that the best business approach involves a triple bottom line theory. All managers in all industries face the challenges of juggling our environmental, social and financial objectives, but while we’re doing it we are creating better industries.”
I guess Renae is not alone in her thinking since she took home all of the business awards in Cairns last year. When asked about her award-winning year she grins and says, “It is really nice to be recognised by my peers after such a long time working at it. It gives a real sense of achievement, but I am worried about how I’m going to improve on it next year.”
By Anthony Brick
Retaining Good Staff
The rising dollar, taxation, and interest rates all pose huge headaches for New Zealand employers but the biggest problem of all is skills shortages; a problem that seems here to stay.
Employers need to get good staff and ensure they stay. Here’s how:
It starts with recruitment. If you like the look of an application, which arrives before the closing date, then call that person in for an interview as soon as possible. Let them know when you are going to make a decision and deliver in that time frame. If your decision has to be delayed for any reason let them know.
Your applicant is looking for a job, which means they’re open to possibilities other than just your position. They may prefer the job you are offering and if you let them know they are in the running and give them a clear date for when they will hear, then they may hold off accepting another position.
Recruiting suitable new staff is expensive, stressful and time-consuming and, given the current climate, there’s no guarantee of finding someone suitable. Once you do – make sure they stay.
People leave their jobs for many reasons. To travel, study, have babies, or relocate, but extensive research has shown that the majority of employees choose to leave managers rather than workplaces. The culture of a workplace is driven from the top. If management aren’t doing their jobs well, then the employees are unlikely to be achieving job satisfaction and will seek it elsewhere.
It is important to measure the problem. Research the percentage of your staff turnover and compare it with the industry average. Are there seasonal variations? Is it greater for some roles, or with some managers?
Money will often be a factor in resignations. It is vital to ensure your employees are paid what they are worth. It is generally accepted that it takes a salary increase of around 20 percent to encourage an employee, who feels suitably paid and managed, to leave for a new organisation.
Employers are increasingly reporting that, in the tight employment market, a number of new staff will come via referrals from existing or former employees. The power of recommendation and maintaining a good employer name cannot be underestimated. So, assuming you are able to recruit staff with the required attributes in the face of fierce competition, how can you go the extra mile to ensure they stay?
Fostering an employment climate that encourages staff to remain with you has never been more important. Being a good employer is totally attainable. Get the basics right and create the right culture then you will have an advantage when it comes to attracting and keeping good people.
A simple but commonsense way to look at what you need to do, to create a positive difference, is with a checklist:
• Acknowledge good performance face to face
• Provide as much flexibility as possible
• Make jobs as interesting and varied as possible
• Give staff a sense of purpose and job satisfaction
• Train or up skill staff as much as you can
• Allow staff autonomy and ownership of their responsibilities
• Delegate authority and decision-making wherever possible
• Act in integrity and authenticity at all times
• Make them proud to work for you and your organisation
• Try to answer the questions from your employees’ viewpoint.
Paying lip service to certain procedures and ticking boxes isn’t enough. You might perceive that they are well looked after, but will they? Consider whether managers are genuinely high quality. Are salaries sufficient? Is the work interesting and varied? Do they feel supported and their worth acknowledged. Is there sufficient training and development?
A public consultation carried out by the Department of Labour has found that over 90 percent of New Zealand employers and employees support increasing flexible work in the workplace. The most important factors, however, identified in making flexible work arrangements effective were good communication and information, backed up by processes and structures within the workplace, and strong leadership.
Consider exit surveys to find out why your staffs are choosing to leave, although many may not want to reveal their true reasons. All employers should aim to be able to say that every employee leaves their employment a better and more skilled worker than when they arrived. Ensuring you have the right systems in place to operate your business and develop your staff makes good business sense. Employers who nurture their people will reap benefits in profits as well as staff retention.
Introducing improved recruiting and employment practices may seem like an uphill task but, in the long term, it will make your role much easier and your business much healthier.
By Beverley Main