There is a great deal of hype surrounding the ideal of being successful, everything we do in life is a lead up to bigger and greater things- At least that is what we are led to believe.
Though, for young women entering the workforce, trying to find a way to break through the stigma of traditional expectations and pursue the desire for success is nothing short of a challenge.
Of course, this is only made more difficult by figures and stats deeming the women who make it in the business world as a minority.
However, with the right role model, this minority is undoubtedly a group to strive for.
Accordingly, where would one find such inspiration? Look no further than Brisbane’s own Maxine Horne, CEO of Vita Group, Australia’s richest female executive.
Following the uprooting of her family, making the lifelong move from the UK, Maxine noticed a gap in the Australian market that she felt strongly about.
I recall being at a BBQ with some friends and I was giving my view that the Australian telco industry would benefit from having stores in shopping centres, rather than on ‘high streets’.
I went into great detail explaining how this would benefit the consumer and therefore the broader industry, and my friend said, “If you know so much about it…why don’t you open a store yourself?!”.
“And I thought…”Yeah, I could actually do that!”.
Coming from a telecommunications background in the UK, it was an industry Maxine knew well and excelled in.
After sitting on it for some time, the idea grew on her.
“The thought of having one store and some work-life balance at the beach with my young family…so I did it!”
Opening the doors to her first store on the Gold Coast in 1995, the telecommunications company now known as the Vita Group grew to become nothing less than astonishing.
The ASX-listed communications provider is a leading channel partner to Telstra and Apple, with it’s vibrant and entrepreneurial culture setting the homegrown business apart from any other competitor.
If establishing a new company isn’t challenge enough, attempting to fill a gap in an existing market is a lot of added pressure.
Maxine’s approach to overcoming such difficulties is something all entrepreneurs and businesspeople could learn from.
“Challenges are the things that life throws at you to teach you. So, for me, it’s been important to learn and grow from each challenge that I’ve been through. And I’ve learned the importance of getting the right team around me, so we can work through the challenges together.”
With a spring in her step the seemingly calm and collected ‘mumpreneur’ is up with the sun most mornings. Keeping fit and healthy, she heads to the gym, helping her to operate more effectively throughout the day and reduce stress levels.
Family first, Maxine has breakfast with her children before starting their school/ uni day and catches up on what is happening in the news.
Achieving such work-life balance is something that most hard working business people struggle with, Maxine being no exception.
“There have been many [challenges] over the years! At first, it was the things that many entrepreneurs struggle with – building the business, paying the bills, setting up the right relationships and so on.
“And then there are the external factors For example, our industry changes so often, so it’s important to stay on top of what’s happening. It’s also been challenging to ride the waves of the economy, for example, the Global Financial Crisis.
“And of course, I face the personal challenges that most other workers face, such as achieving a work-life balance, etc.”
After breakfast, Maxine hits the ground running, first making contact with her Chairman- an important mentor whom she will often bounce ideas off.
Preparing for the busy day ahead, she meets with her executive assistant, an asset to the team that she once struggled without.
“I didn’t always have an assistant though, so in the early days it was me writing my ‘to do’ list’”
“After that, it’s go, go, go.”
Maxine’s day is jam-packed with phone calls, meetings, workshops and coaching sessions.
“I do also like to make time for plenty of impromptu catch ups / coffees, etc. with team members.”
Showing absolutely no signs of hierarchical egotism, Maxine takes a diplomatic and approachable stance, offering her time to all staff across the business, “not just [her] direct reports.”
When there is no stopping, what keeps this bright boss going?
“For me, it’s genuinely all about the people that I work with. I have an amazing team around me, who are very smart and hard working and I just love that. I love teaching people and coaching them – but I also get plenty of learning from other people, too- it’s not a one way street.”
Whilst this “lovely routine” seems like it is the be all and end all of Maxine’s day-to-day dealings, it often looks very different when she is travelling or at a function- “I have to stay flexible.”
Despite Maxine’s influential title as a successful female entrepreneur and her role model status, she chooses not to identify as a businesswoman.
“I define myself as a businessperson. [Which] to me is – staying on the front foot, putting people first, and using technology to make our lives easier.”
Acknowledging gender gaps in many organisations, Maxine feels it translates to more of a remuneration gap that can be attributed to a number of reasons, including maternity leave.
“In my business – our focus is on ‘who can do the job the best’. If it’s a man – great; if it’s a woman – great,” Maxine says.
“Obviously being at the top of my company, I can make policies that make life easier for people to balance work and life. Whether it’s working mothers or working fathers, or team members with elderly parent or dogs…I try to make it easy for people to be fulfilled both at work and outside of work. This might be flexible work policies, or part-time flexibility, or additional negotiated leave days – if you have the right person, you’ll make it work.”
Maxine is all for the progression of females in leadership and entrepreneurial businesses and has nothing but good things to say about the future for working women.
“I think we’re only just warming up, to be honest. There are so many inspirational female entrepreneurs and business leaders, and they are out there giving women a good name. We just need to keep doing that. And being true to ourselves.”
As for what the future holds for Maxine and the Vita Group, we can continue to expect great success, while their focus on charities such as Act for Kids, Vita Group’s hero charity and one that is close to Maxine’s heart.
Maxine Horne’s book on the lessons she has learned in business, Think Smart, Run Hard, will be available for purchase towards the end of this year.