This year the Sunshine Coast Business Women's Network (SCBWN) is celebrating a momentous 25 YEARS since the incorporation of the network under the name 'Women in the Workforce'.
To celebrate this great milestone we are recognising those that have put so much into the long-term sustainability of SCBWN. We are incredibly excited to share with you all the interviews of our devoted past presidents and share their stories of personal contribution and their legacy to SCBWN over the years!
Michalle Faulkner's presidency during 2012 - 2014 was marked by a deep commitment to supporting women in business and fostering their growth. She initially joined the Network as a way to navigate a career transition and found herself increasingly involved in various roles over the years. Despite challenges, including the aftermath of the global financial crisis, Michalle's leadership and resilience shone through.
Michalle, what brought you to the SCBWN?
“In 2002 I was originally introduced to the Network by my national bank business manager who was introduced by Michelle Hamer. I was an employee back then and when I joined I had no idea what the future held and I certainly thought that my career was in that organisation. I eventually bought a 25% share in that business and then in 2005 we had a partnership dissolution and I started consulting on my own. So, I went from being in a team with other support networks and colleagues, to just being in a consulting business starting from scratch.
The Network was then my safe space. It was a place for me to connect with other like minded professional people. Michelle Hamer took me under her wing and supported me to find my place during those times in my career that I didn’t know where exactly I was going to go. I was a bit lost for a bit. I was given the opportunity to see what Michelle was doing in the training space which was very much appreciated. Michelle then invited me as a guest to the SCBWN Awards and I think it was there that I really saw the power that the Network could bring. I left very inspired and in awe of some of the amazing people in our business community. Year on year, to this day, it still surprises me seeing these incredible businesses and business owners doing incredible things on the Sunshine Coast that we sometimes don’t even realise.
I loved it so much that I became more involved and entrenched in the Network when I started my consulting business back in 2005. From 2005 - 2009 I was the facilitator of the mentoring program for the SCBWN. I was a finalist in 2007 for the Micro Small Business Woman of the Year, and in 2008 I won the award which I was very proud of. I then moved on to a mentoring role in the Network from 2009 - 2012 and in 2009 I also took on the role of the chair of the professional development committee. So, when the opportunity came to put my hand up in 2012 for the SCBWN president, I was already part of the executive. I was president from 2012 - 2014 and then chair of judging from 2014 - 2016. So, across the 21 year history of being with the Network, I’ve held several different roles and lots of exciting and very rewarding community jobs.”
What did you always want to achieve? What was your legacy? What were you most proud of with the network or in business?
“There’s lots of things as a president that I was proud of but my biggest legacy was my participation in the mentoring program, it was something I was very passionate about. That led into a leadership program and we even managed to get council funding through that time. I’m proud of the results of that program year after year. Some of the amazing business women I see now who are winning awards, publishing books, and doing incredible things were newbies in that mentoring program. They came in fresh, nervous, petrified about business in general and they were supported by like minded professionals, people who sat in a place of support not judgement. They helped build them up, deal with their imposter syndrome, help them plan and be strategic around their business growth and their business planning.
We covered marketing, HR, we had guest mentors come and speak on different topics, and these women learnt how to create a business plan and strategy, and they learnt about cash flow and knowing their numbers. It was teaching a myriad of really crucial business skills that we take for granted. I loved that these women could be part of the Network and get such a valuable nugget of gold with this program.
I also recommenced the raffles which was a great revenue for the Network to give back to charity, and we introduced the trade tables. We had a challenging time with membership numbers during my tenure so I tried very much to review the governance and I looked at restructuring the strategic plan of how the executive sat so that we could really take advantage of the opportunities that were available at that time in the community. This was fresh off the back of the GFC so a lot of businesses were hurting meaning membership was a luxury for a lot of people. People were still getting back on their feet and dealing with new changes in business.”
What are your fondest memories of the SCBWN?
“One of my fondest memories definitely includes the camaraderie within the volunteer executive team. Regardless of who has held these positions throughout the years, there's a shared appreciation for the incredible resilience of these remarkable businesswomen who often juggle the roles of mothers, partners, and numerous other commitments beyond their personal and professional worlds. Balancing all these responsibilities while dedicating themselves to an organisation in a voluntary capacity is huge.
Another great memory was the speakers, and putting on events that people were really excited to attend. Another is the SCBWN Awards and being part of those as a judging chair and as president - I absolutely loved my role in that. Reading the submissions and stories and being part of that process was so inspiring and was a privilege I never took for granted.”
What are your hopes for women in business, now and into the future?
“Lead with integrity. Building business through networks - yes it’s a community - but a lot of people are there to genuinely build trusted relationships where there’s like minded interest. This creates collaborations and partnerships in business, and creates opportunities for referring business or having business referred to you. People will only refer business when they like and trust those they're doing business with, so lead with integrity.
‘Givers gain’ has always been my motto. I’m a big believer in connecting people together and I think one of the most beautiful collaborations I saw happen was the connection between Kim McCosker and Roz White. They did lots of amazing business collaborations together. It's about always trying to think who would benefit from a great, trusting relationship.
Another one is ‘replace fear with curiosity’. Business is challenging and if you need answers to your unanswered questions, reach out to your network and trusted advisors. Build your tribe. Surround yourself with those people who inspire and lift your spirits, those who celebrate with you and are genuinely happy for your success. Lastly, know your numbers. If you’re not across your numbers, it’s something you definitely need to build your skill and capacity on. Lean on your trusted advisors to get the insights you need.
I want to see the women in this business community continue to lift each other up and be a great support network for each other. There's plenty of opportunities on the Sunshine Coast and some of the most successful people that I know are those that give their time to help and support others who are struggling in different areas with no exception, they just want to offer their support and be there.”
What was your greatest challenge as a woman in business when you were president? What is the greatest challenge you believe faces women in business today?
“I had a few challenges for me personally during the time I was president. The timing when I put my hand up wasn't great for me in business. We were coming off the back of the GFC, I merged with EastCoast HR Group in 2010, and I had also published my book in 2012. A very trusted client defaulted at that time on a 6-figure amount which resulted in me needing to seek a business partner or close the doors. I was volunteering my time at the Network but my team needed me and my business needed me. I was having to seek investors to try and keep the doors open while also being supportive to the members of the SCBWN that I had committed to. I just had to make that tough call, something had to give and it couldn't be my business. I had staff relying on me for their income and to feed their families, and I had my family that I needed to feed too. I’d also gone without an income for a significant period of that time and I reluctantly had to step down as president from the SCBWN in 2014 after having a severe asthma attack in which I was hospitalised. I still wasn't prepared to step away from the Network and I've been involved to varying degrees since. Now I get the privilege of being a life member and continuing to share what I love about the Network with other members when I get to events and the like.
Thinking back, it was a really tough time. I had to rebuild the business and there were lots of challenges, but tough times breed new business innovation and opportunities. I managed to secure a fantastic business partner who I've been blessed to have a fantastic relationship with for the last 11 years, and EastCoast HR Group has gone from strength to strength, and we haven't looked back. So it was a tough time but those changes were necessary which created a good result in the end.”
What would you like to see the network do next?
“I love what the current executive is doing. I think they're doing an exceptional job. I think they continue to bring great speakers and I think great events are still being held. I'd also love to see the exceptional work for the business community under, again, either a mentoring program or something along those lines. I think that there are still many emerging business owners that need that structure, those that maybe aren't at that point in their business journey where they can afford to engage their own coaches or their own mentors or their own business specialists. I think that could spin off again, as it did, into two completely different categories.
We had a mentoring program for small businesses, and then the leadership program for businesses that were a little bit bigger. It was for businesses that wanted to develop their leadership skill and capacity and learn a bit more about themselves individually as a leader to develop.
I know that the Network is doing some exceptional stuff with the coffee catch-ups and allowing people connective opportunities. I think the diversification of events has been great. One of the things we used to do, and I don't think they're still being done, was professional development lunches. I think education and development are two great things that the Network has always been renowned for.”
What are your thoughts on the business and economy on the Sunshine Coast now and over the next decade?
“I'm sure anyone in business knows the challenges that we've had in our sector - recruitment and labour hires - in attracting and retaining talent at the moment. Many people hate the word unprecedented, but it has been unprecedented in the 20 plus odd year history I've had in recruitment. You either have an abundance of jobs and not enough candidates, but never have we seemed to be supposedly having all these candidates but nobody's available to work - as well as fantastic vacancies and great opportunities across the board. So I think employers honing their employee value proposition is very important to not just attract talent but retain talent… and it’s not all just about money. I think people really need to be mindful of what attracts them. I did an article for My Weekly Preview, and it was about ‘If you can't articulate to someone why they should work for you, then you really need to have a good look at what you are offering in terms of what's available out there in the community and what's available in other competitive businesses’. Come up with some innovative ways, innovative things that work for you, and sometimes it's as simple as flexibility and a respectful, healthy, safe environment. There are a lot of things that contribute to that.
I think innovation's going to be critical over the next decade. We've seen as a business community how much we've all needed to pivot post COVID and redefine ourselves. We've worked with around 1500 clients regularly, locally, nationally, and I think during COVID, I believe I would've spoken to just about every single business customer I've ever had, of one varying degree or another. Whether it was to strategise ways in which they were going to be able to keep their doors open, or whether it was to keep abreast of the changes in legislation. All of those things were front of mind, and it was a very stressful time.
Then I had other clients who were extremely successful at coming up with innovative ways in which to turn their business around and to take opportunity instead of looking at it as ‘Oh my God, woe is me. What are we going to do now? What's next?’. So I think innovation is going to be critical. I think we can't use archaic business models in the next decade and I think we need to be constantly looking at innovation, efficiency, and valuing our customers… ensuring that customer satisfaction is front of mind in how we do our business, and that that satisfaction adds value. For me, I say to clients that if I can't add value then I don't want to be delivering the work. It's about making a difference to the businesses.”
What are you up to now?
EastCoast HR Group is a very successful recruitment and consulting agency. We look after clients nationally and locally here on the Sunshine Coast. We provide a full range of consultancy services or human capital services. We do training and development with our clients, but more around that industrial relations piece. We remove all the pain points of people's problems, and we help clients look after their greatest asset, which is their people. I have a huge portfolio of not-for-profit clients. We do a lot of work in the community space, domestic and family violence service providers, community housing organisations, disability services. So we have a strong reputation in that area and I suppose we just quietly go along, making a difference one client at a time.
Do you have a message of encouragement for women in business today?
Don't sit and suffer in silence, it's okay to ask for help. I remember struggling through that period in between 2012 and 2014 as president and many people were asking me, "How's business?" because a lot of conversation in that time was around post-GFC. I would be absolutely brutally honest, "It's not easy, but this is what we're doing as a strategy" and they'd go, "Wow, thank you. I talk to people and they say everything's great." I’d say, "Well, they're fooling themselves, or they're not being honest with you."
We went from being a fee-for-service recruiter where we were providing services to the engineering industries, large businesses and big corporate clients who instantly shut their external recruitment budgets down. So, it wasn't easy in our sector, and we certainly had to adjust and develop. That's when we developed the Employment Relations Masterclass series, which is educating our clients deeper on HR, industrial relations, understanding how to have difficult performance management conversations, how to navigate unfair dismissal claims, and teaching them new supervisor skills. All of a sudden you're now a supervisor and you've got to manage a team of people. How do you do that aligned with legislation that's also going to be empowering and inspiring them to do the best that they can do for the business? We developed lots of different things, but I was always honest when people asked but never negative. Tough times don't last but tough people do… and I think you have to have resilience.
Again, build your tribe. Lean on your tribe. The Sunshine Coast is the most supportive business community. When I published my book in 2012, I did a lot of book signings and different things in Melbourne and Sydney, and I can tell you, they were nowhere near as welcoming as what the Sunshine Coast is. It really is a supportive business community. You’ll meet people through your business world that you don't connect with too, and that's okay. They may still have something that you can learn from, but build your tribe of those trusted advisors and lean on them when you do have those tough times. Just stay in your lane, focus on what you do and do it well. We just focus on doing the best possible job that we can for our clients, and that's our main focus.