Here, Carolyn and Natasha talk candidly about promoting health, learning to say ‘no’, and finding fulfilment.
Carolyn Creswell founded Carman’s Fine Food as an 18-year-old in 1992, after buying the small business where she worked part-time for a thousand dollars. Since then, she’s grown the company into an internationally recognised brand, and you can find her range of delicious, nutritious snacks in supermarkets across the country.
Natasha Chadwick is the CEO and founder of NewDirection Care, an aged care facility that approaches assisted living in an entirely new manner. The spark for NewDirection came from Natasha’s desire to create a facility that she’d be happy for her own loved ones to live in. The result is a ‘micro-town’ where residents receive individualised care while maintaining a high level of autonomy. Thanks to her efforts, Natasha has been named 2019 Telstra Australian Business Woman of the Year at the Telstra Business Women’s Awards.
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Company culture is the cornerstone of business
Carolyn: Hello, there.Natasha: Hi, Carolyn. It's amazing for an 18-year-old to have the foresight to start a business, so well done. It took me till I was about 30 to realise that's what I wanted.
Carolyn: I never anticipated it would be this big. It was just every few years thinking, ‘How can we be better? What can we do with the resources we've got?’ As time has gone on, we’ve slowly got bigger and better.
Natasha: You've just moved, and you're trying to have a Google-like office. What is your company culture like, and what have you learned about supporting the mental and physical health and well-being of your staff?
Carolyn: Before I started my business I had worked in lots of different part-time jobs. I knew what it felt like to be treated badly and what it felt like to be appreciated and respected. I've tried to build a workplace where people are able to have a great work-life balance, to have great nutrition and exercise and to feel that they're appreciated and cared for.
"I think culture is absolutely the cornerstone of what you're trying to build. With bad culture, I've never had a business survive."Carolyn Creswell, Founder Carman's Fine Foods
Natasha: It sounds like our cultures are similar. We're built on a principle of inclusiveness. We have five values – as long as our staff are living those values in everything they do, then they know that I'm going to have their back.
I don't know about you, but we have developed really strong employee assistance programmes and open doors. My team, they know they can talk to me about anything.
Carolyn: What’s important is making sure you hire slowly, but also change out staff if they're bringing the wrong energy. How do you make sure that you are having open conversations? I think people don't leave companies, they leave their manager if they aren’t having frank conversations.
Natasha: Absolutely. We can have as many as 800 people apply for 10 roles. If they're not working out, we're having those conversations with them. It doesn't mean that they've failed, it just means that it might not be the right fit.
Personal development alongside business growth
Carolyn: What about strategy and where you're heading? What’s your process for how you look at the development of your company?
Natasha: Growth is probably the biggest issue for us. First, we needed to get our vision right. We're right in the process of writing our model up so that we can take it to other aged care operators. To build an aged care community, particularly something like this micro-town, you're talking a 30-million-dollar investment and three years.
"It's not about my business – but changing our industry."Natasha Chadwick, CEO NewDirection Care
We're doing a licensing model so that other people can follow in our footsteps and gain from the seven years of research and hard work that we've put into it.
Carolyn: Did you have to change as that developed or is it what you imagined it would be?
Natasha: I personally had to change a lot, Carolyn. I'd been in aged care for 18 years, so I thought I knew exactly how to do it. Then I had a vision that said, ‘Everything that you've been doing is not what you would want if it were someone you loved that was needing care.’
I had to retrain my brain. Every time that a team member asked me whether they had to do something in a particular way, I had to stop and rethink. Rather than just thinking I had the answers. It's been a real challenge, but it's been amazing at the same time because it made me stay on vision.
Carolyn: That's always so interesting – how much we have to self-reflect and say, 'Hang on, am I being open enough here? Or am I just doing it this way because we've always done it this way?' I feel like you're constantly needing to evolve.
"Just because you did something a certain way yesterday doesn't mean you should do it that way tomorrow."Carolyn Creswell, Founder Carman's Fine Foods
Finding a work-life balance to be mentally and physically fit
Natasha: How do you look after yourself and make sure that mentally and physically you're healthy enough that you are able to take failure and keep coming back?
Carolyn: We only have a certain amount of time, that's the one thing we're running out of. We can always find more money. Whatever I'm saying ‘Yes’ to means I'm essentially saying ‘No’ to something else.
I try and curate my life, I’m very strategic. At the beginning of the year, I book all of my hair appointments for the year. I do things so that my life will feel organised and not stressed. That's one of the big things that I've learnt over my journey.
Natasha: That’s incredible. I'm that last-minute person and I admire women like yourself who can say ‘No.’ When I was raising my children as well as having a career, I always felt like I had to please everyone.
Finding happiness through pride and purpose
Carolyn: I didn't start my career like this. I started saying ‘Yes’ to every opportunity, running in every direction. I remember letting something go. When I had my third child, I gave up painting my fingernails and I have not lost one friend.
Over time, I've realised it’s about feeling happy. Happiness doesn't come from how much money you earn, it comes from pride and purpose. Living a life true to you.
Natasha: To be able to say that you're happy, there's not a lot of people who can do that in this life. One of the things that we have to do is take families and residents through their pathway to the end of their life, and I can tell you that not one of them worries about all of those other things like hair and nails. They are only concerned about whether or not they've got people around them that they love, and that's usually our friends and family.
Carolyn: No one ever says, 'I should have spent more hours at the office.' I love coming to work on a Monday morning. I love the fact that we put this little bit of delight in people's day. I'm not specialised in dealing with people on their deathbed, quite the opposite, but we equally feel very proud of what we do.
Learning from your mistakes and building resilience
Natasha: What mistakes have you made in your journey?
Carolyn: Oh, many. What took me a long time to realise was that you need to be able to shake the mistakes off, learn from them and move on. It's how you pick yourself up, dust yourself off and get beyond the angle of the hurt.
Business is an evolution. I entered the Telstra Awards 16 years in a row before I won. I think resilience in business is really very important.
Natasha: Well that, for me, is key. People say to me all the time, “How did you go from creating one business to another, to then doing something like NewDirection Care?” And it always comes back to the same things. A well-articulated vision, resilience, perseverance, you know?
"You've got to keep dusting yourself off and coming back and having that absolute belief in yourself."Natasha Chadwick, CEO NewDirection Care
You need to be able to put yourself out there and get those knockbacks but still have that ability to support yourself internally – to have a strong belief in yourself and what you're doing.
Carolyn: It’s easy to live in the comfort zone. It's hard to put yourself out there and to get into the arena and go, 'Here's my product.' But you don't want to die wondering.
Natasha: It amazes me that at 18 you had the foresight to start a business. Most 18-year-olds are out having a drink and enjoying life.
Carolyn: I was doing that, too, don't worry!
It’s business, unfiltered
Natasha: It's been great having a chat, so thank you very much for sharing all of that with me and with everyone else.
Carolyn: No problem. Alright, well thanks. See ya, bye!
Please note: This Unfiltered Conversation was first published April 18th, 2019. It took place after the Telstra Business Women’s Awards Queensland state gala, but before Natasha was named Telstra Australian Business Woman of the Year at the national event. The article has been updated to reflect her latest win.
For more Unfiltered Conversations, join Telstra Business Women’s Award Judge and founder of Forward Thinking Design, Vanessa Cullen, and 2019 Telstra Victorian Business Woman of the Year and CEO of Lotus Doors, Liz Jones, for their approach on creating people-first spaces.Find out more