My Story

Those who are close to me would not be surprised to learn that I was almost born in a shop. My parents owned a milk bar – the old-fashioned type where you got 3 big scoops of real full fat ice cream in your milkshake and your toast was buttered on both sides…

My mother went into labor with me during the lunch-time rush and I waited until the last customer was served before coming into this world. Even then, I knew that customer service was important.

I was 3 years old when I caught my first shoplifters – yes, its plural because there were 3 of them. It was my earliest small business battle, and of course I won. They never stood a chance according to my mother.

As the daughter of migrant parents who came to this country looking for a better life – and finding it, I know what a struggle it can be when the odds are stacked against you. SMEs are notorious for ignoring the odds and backing themselves, that’s one of our superpowers.

I also know what hard work looks and smells like – blood, sweat and tears.

I learnt first-hand and at the coal face of our small family businesses what customer service really is, and how being the best at it is the difference between being profitable and successful and just making ends meet. Outstanding customer service is what turned our small business into a large one, and every start-up on a winning trajectory.

Starting out my working life in a family business gave me a perspective that few people get to experience, it has its benefits, but it also presents challenges, and culturally we had an additional layer of difficulty to deal with. My father was deeply disappointed that I didn’t want a tertiary education and that I chose to follow them into business – it’s ironic when you think about it. They raised little entrepreneurs in my brother and I, taught us what running a business was like and yet when push came to shove, it was the last thing they wanted us to do.

I couldn’t see myself doing anything else except being behind the wheel and driving a business.

Now my father had some tough love ideas that he thought would put me off being a small business hospitality owner, a trial by fire if you will. To test our dedication, he made us start at the bottom, an apprenticeship that is probably not on any curriculum I have ever seen. I was put in the hands of the most unrelenting head chef I would ever come across, I’m sure he was related to Gordon Ramsey! Since I was vertically challenged, or you could say I was the same height as the rotisserie, my first job was to get inside it and clean it every day. I would go home at night with bits of food in my hair and wonder why the dog next door would greet me enthusiastically. I smelled like his dinner.

They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and I believe this. I spent the next 2 years learning the ropes from the kitchen perspective. I didn’t get to prance around as the junior boss. Very far from it. I learnt the value of teamwork, I learnt that my role – any role in the kitchen, had a flow on effect. Irrespective of how small or insignificant it may appear on the surface, every person and stakeholder was part of a bigger picture, and every piece is needed.

I embraced my apprenticeship much to the disgust of my father I think, but I also think he was secretly proud of our matching stubborn streak. He backed me in my first café, and at the age of 20, I designed and built business No1.

I learnt on the job, managing people and controlling the financial aspects of a business is what most people get after years of education and work experience. My path was different as were my roots. I focused on the customer, streamlining processes, discovering, and designing business infrastructure that produced profitable outcomes and I never stopped looking for the next challenge. The intricate and delicate threads of any business is woven around its relationships – your team, your stakeholders and your suppliers all need to be nurtured.

I created and followed a successful formula that resulted in the next 3 decades of buying, flipping, and setting up more than 25 businesses and employing hundreds of people. There is a difference between knowing how to execute a strategy and just using the words.

My proudest moments in business have been when I was recognised by my peers – and I have been blessed with awards that are rarely associated with hospitality outside of the sector. When I was publicly acknowledged, it was with wonder from my part. I still get a tingle to this day when I look back. It gave me courage and strength to take the businesses to the next level. I also got the confidence to explore other interests. And that’s what happens when you outgrow your growth. I have been fortunate with my awards – in particular the Telstra Business Woman of The Year, Entrepreneur of The Year and according to the Sydney Morning Herald top 9 Influential Female Entrepreneurs 2017. Suddenly I had a personal brand.

I don’t like the focus being on me, which is going to sound very weird with what comes next. I like the business or the product to be the focus, but when you have a lot of media attention you kind of roll with it all.

I built a podcast platform called Eagle Waves Radio, producing 8 live shows per week all focusing on small business topics. All content that was directly created to be of real use to SMEs. Again, ahead of the curve before anyone was doing podcasting. We logged over 3000 hours of content. I had won a Comm Bank sponsored award and a poster of my face was in every bank in the country so getting attention wasn’t hard, but I felt a huge responsibility to deliver relevance to the business community.

While I was exploring all the new avenues of exposure that I had, I was realising more and more just how little a voice small business had. Government at all levels, political parties of all kinds paid lip service to the 85% of business owners who employ most of the workforce in Australia.

Politics was never on my radar. Never. I don’t believe I even considered myself an advocate. But as my profile grew, so did the number of people who approached me asking for help of one kind or another. I had decades of experience in dealing with so many different stakeholders that it became clear that I had either been through a similar problem, or I could understand their concerns and could see a solution.

The short version of how I got into politics goes something like this; people approached me to run in a City of Sydney Council election (the biggest council in NSW) and since my businesses were all located in this local government area, it seemed like a good idea at the time. Let’s fast forward 10 years – my political career lasted a decade, 2012 -2022. That included being re-elected and forming a new political party called The Small Business Party. That’s how serious I was about giving my community, the SME community a voice.

In 2020 I built a new platform called SME TV & Podcast Channel, reaching over 200K national audience, helping business owners craft their message and create their brand, because we all know that people buy from people and sometimes you need to make it personal – says the person who never wanted to be seen 😊.

I have had the ups and downs of life, just like all of us, but there isn’t a lot I haven’t experienced in business, and that gives me an edge. I know what you need to do to strengthen a business, reduce the waste, make it resilient and wrap it all up with Customer Service Excellence. Behind every successful business is an army of people who got it there, and I know how to build and grow that army.

Contact Angela