An Idea that Stuck

My mum had me in October 1966, after which she was very ill. I was the third child – my mum also had a six year old, a three year old and now a brand new baby. She had no family support, having moved from Brisbane to Sydney. And she really didn’t want to rely on neighbours or friends or help.

The doctor told Mum she either needed to stay bed or go into hospital and she simply replied “I can’t do that”. My dad phoned the local council and asked them if there was any sort of government assistance to help young mums who were unwell. They told him, “well, you should have booked nine months ago. We don’t have people for emergency situations. You have to plan ahead and book early.”
Dad simply replied, “if my wife had known she was going to be this ill she wouldn’t have fallen pregnant in the first place.”

Eventually mum did get over her illness. She put herself to bed and managed to cope with difficulty. One day while vacuuming the floor she thought to herself, “I wish I could have dialled an angel.” Dial an angel. And this thought stuck with her.

All she thought about was having someone come in and give her an extra pair of hand. To run my elder sister to school, take my second sister to pre school and help out with me as the new baby. If someone could help put on a load of washing, do some ironing, maybe do some food prep, some shopping and just helping mum. At that time there was no one doing this sort of thing.

Mum had such foresight, she basically she threw it up on a butcher’s paper and planned how she saw this business running. She tried talking to other mums at school and friends that she’d met explaining “look why don’t you start a business like this? Your kids are much older than my kids, you could do this”
But they answered, “who would use it? We’ve all got friends and neighbors and relatives and we don’t need a service like this. So who would use this?”
But my mum was determined to figure out how she could start this business.

Starting up

Dad was so sick of hearing about it, he told her “please, just start it yourself or shut up”. Saying this to Mum, who was quite a determined lady, was like a red rag to a bull. She thought, “well, how am I going to start a business? And I need money. And I have three kids under the age of six. How am I going to do this?”

She went up to an ANZ bank and asked if she could see the bank manager. She introduced herself to him with her “business plan” (the one she’d written up on butcher’s paper) and stated, “this is what I want, I want to borrow some money. How much money can I borrow to start this business?” He said, “look there’s no problem here. Just take this paperwork home to your father or your husband to sign and we can lend you up to $200 without it going to an area manager.” “Well that’s fine, I’m happy to borrow $200 if that will get me started but I don’t want my husband to sign the paperwork and my father is deceased,” she replied.
“Sorry, I can’t lend money to a woman” he stated.

She was just devastated that he would not lend money to her. As she was rolling up her business plan, that was when she remembered that bank managers moved around quite a bit. She asked him, “do you and your wife have young kids?” He replied “yes, she would have thought this was a great idea. We’ve moved around so much, we don’t have friends or relatives to help her out.”
Mum saw an opportunity there, “look, can you take this paperwork home and show your wife the idea? If she thinks it’s a good idea will you lend me the money?”
He said, “I’ll call you in the morning”.

He called up mum up first thing in the morning and said “come and get your cheque, my wife won’t sleep with me if I don’t lend you the money”. She accepted the $200 bank cheque put an ad in the Northshore Times stating “Wanted 100 Angels”. Before she even had one angel on her books to do the work, she had 22 clients.

Mum knew that the demand was there from day one. There was a need to help people in the home. Some were to help mums and their young bubs, or those who had aging parents, whatever it was – people needed help and they couldn’t rely on anyone else. The need was there.

Growing up

The business grew steadily for many many years. Mum went on and had a fourth child, so I had two older sisters and a younger brother. Out of all four of us, I was always the one who said I wouldn’t go into the family business. I was there every morning and every afternoon and every school holidays – I understood what family business was and you just had to work when you had to work.

But in 1986, I finished school studying hospitality management and was working in hotels working back to back shifts really long hours, I decided to have a break finishing a diploma. I said to mum “I don’t know what I want to do”
“Come and work with me for 3 month and then decide what you want to do,” she suggested. That was 28 years ago.

In 2003, Mum decided to retire. My grandmother was getting old and unwell, and mum had decided to spend more time with her. At the time I’d been in the business for 17 years, so she said “I think it’s time you take over the business.” So nearly two decades after I started at Dial an AngeI I became CEO. As mum said, “Only prince Charles has a longer apprenticeship that you”.

Mum didn’t give me a lot of time – she only gave me about 6 weeks. But I managed because I was operations manager, I’d been in every department, I knew the business inside out and upside down. I knew finances, marketing and business development, all the IT was set up – I was across everything. I realised that we had to be more professional and become accredited.

In 2011 was the Productivity Commission Report on Ageing Australians and what they were going to do to change the way aged care worked in Australia. And I saw this massive tsunami of clients coming through with all the baby boomers needing help over the years I could see a massive demand for our services.

But the concern I had was that I could see that we wouldn’t have enough quality staff to fill the positions we had clients for and I said to mum at the time “I really believe we have to buy another organisation, merge with another organisation, sell or start buying up smaller organisations because we need good quality people”.

Moving on

In 2014 we put the business on the market. We had 10 offices – seven branch offices under the Dial An Angel Pty Ltd company and three franchise offices which were in Melbourne Adelaide and Perth.

I was overseeing all of that, we had a great executive team, we had managers in each location. We had about 10 000 Angels registered around Australia but only about 1500 on any one day were working. That was a fair number of people we had employed through the organisation. We sold Dial an Angel to a community care organisation called Next Community Care.

For us, the consumer was always at the centre of our being and always our focus – making sure customers were the happiest they could be, that the best outcome was for them. I was working with the new group until May last year. And I was being approached to do some consultancy work and at the time I decided that I’d move on and started my own consultancy.

And that’s been one of the best things I could have ever done, it’s given me a new lease on life. It’s given me total control with a start up. I’ve gone from running a national organisation to a start up, so it’s very very different. But here I’m in control of myself. That’s really it in a nutshell, it’s been a rather large journey spanning over 30 years.

Mum – My Angel

My mum was an amazing woman with great foresight – to know to start a business in 1967 when women didn’t really work let alone start businesses. Mum and I are very very close, we were born only a day apart. We think very much the same. It was at times very challenging though because different generations had different ideas. I had lots of fresh eye coming into it, I was very excited about building a business that could be quite large. Mum was quite happy plotting along growing the business organically. So there was a few differences of opinions.

She was the matriarch – which a lot of the staff around her found her quite terrifying because what she said went. If I ever felt there was a change needed, I had to come up with a solution. I couldn’t just go up to her and say “here’s a problem, how are we going to deal with this?” She’d put it to me as to what I would do in that situation and guide me. She was a gentle hand, but also quite strong. I learnt a lot from her.

Mum was a pharmacist by trade, she’d never run a business. It was less trial and error and more gut instinct for her. I learnt that gut instinct is so important in business, in dealing with that many people and recruiting people – you’ve gotta go with gut instinct. No matter how good the look on paper or how good they present, if you’ve got some gut instinct or concern, then you have to stop and think it through – and mum taught me that. Go with your gut and be practical.

I’ve got a really good common sense, I mean I’m not highly intelligent but I’ve got a good common sense approaching things. Mum really let me develop that. She’s 79 this year, she’s fit as a fiddle both physically and mentally. She’s doing so well. She’s so excited that I’ve started my own business because she sees herself 50 years ago doing the same thing. It’s so good for her to see that in her lifetime.

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