Pam Brook of Brookfarm on turning a lightbulb moment into a lucrative business

Smarter Writer
Smarter Team

The Smarter Team is made up of business and technology journalists who write to offer insights to small and medium businesses about technology, business know-how and emerging trends.

Smarter Writer
Smarter Team

The Smarter Team is made up of business and technology journalists who write to offer insights to small and medium businesses about technology, business know-how and emerging trends.

Pam Brook’s family business idea started as a quip at a dinner party and went on to become an Australian success story. Today, Brookfarm employs 75 staff and exports products across the world. How did Pam turn this lightbulb moment into a successful business? Pam tells us the Brookfarm story of how she managed to adapt and thrive as the business grew.

"We naively decided, yes we can do this.”    

Pam Brook, CEO and Founder of Brookfarm

Starting out and the importance of learning

Brookfarm started life as a comment at a dinner party in Melbourne, when my husband Martin and I joked that it would be great to move to the country. At the time I was a dentist and Martin was a film producer, but we spent a lot of time in rural areas when travelling so we knew the change would suit us.

Soon after that dinner party we took a trip to New South Wales and bought the farm sight unseen. It was run-down dairy farm and full of weeds, but we cleaned it up and decided to enter the macadamia industry, which was just starting to pick up.

We saw other macadamia farmers were sending their nuts overseas to be turned into healthy snack foods, but nobody was really doing value adding into other areas of Australia, so there was a gap in the market. We had no experience in the food industry, and it was a big learning curve, but if you are in business, you have to be open to learn new things as you go. 

“The one philosophy we have is to enjoy the journey, even when it's a challenge.”

Staying agile as you grow

When we started, there was just Martin (my husband), myself and the kids. I would make everything at a bakery nearby, and Martin would go out on the road and sell it all. It took us three years to get our first employee and build the bakehouse on our farm.

We've got about 75 employees now. About 9 months ago our eldest son, Will, stepped into the CEO role. I head up all the product development, and we have a family board comprising both sons, Martin and myself. Together, we set the strategy and direction of the company.

A challenge we continue to put to ourselves is to think like a start-up and stay fresh. We need to stay clever, innovative and creative. We want to keep the energy of youth but combine it with the wisdom of tradition. 

“We embrace new ideas, and there's a standard of real food, made fresh and always delicious.” 

Keeping quality the top priority

Many people said to us, "as soon as you get to a certain size, you'll just contract a manufacturer." But every time we looked at getting anything done for us, it never lived up to the quality that we wanted. We’re passionate about excellence and maintaining standards, so we learned early on there are certain things we won’t compromise on.

We aren’t constrained by other peoples machinery, which happens in contract manufacture. This makes it hard for people to copy our production methods. This allows us to think broadly, to respond to our own needs, and really push ourselves towards tailoring our production methods to work for us. We've managed to remain innovative on the technology side but stay grounded to our tradition of making fabulous and real food.

“Tech has been really important for sharing information, but also for sharing emotional highs and lows.”

Expanding alongside tech   

Tech in intrinsic to everything we do. All our sales systems, all our accounting systems, and our manufacturing systems live on the cloud. We have five remote sites that work off the one software system. Tech has enabled us to answer the challenge of communicating across sites, too. We use a lot of communication apps to stay in touch.

And with nbn™ we have sites where we couldn't access the internet before, but now we can – which has made a big difference. Six years ago, we wouldn’t have been able to run anything in these remote locations. 

“How do we ensure future generations care for our company?”    

Eyes on the future

After we won 2007 Telstra Australian Business of the Year, we asked ourselves: “what are the next 10 years going to look like?” We’ve got such a long way to go, we don't know where it will be, and that’s such an exciting thing. There is a world of opportunities for Australian businesses.

Export is a big focus for us. We just installed a whole lot of equipment to quadruple our capacity in the coming years, so we’re always investing in the future and are confident in it. We’re always committed to manufacturing in Australia, making our own products, creating local jobs, and really showcasing the best of Australia to the world.

As a family business, we also have a generational charter. A long-term goal of ours is to ensure future generations will care for our company. We want to build an exciting future for them, so we have to empower them to carry that generational charter of values forward.

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