Gunnedah Women in the Workforce breakfast serves up honesty

From the Namoi Valley Independent // 1 November 2019 // Article & Photo: Vanessa Höhnke

Tambar Springs farmer Penny Haire, business owner Jacinta Mannion, entrepreneur Penny Crawford and ARIA Awards nominee Julia Rennick shared their struggles and their triumphs with more than 100 residents in the Griffiths Pavillion at the Gunnedah Showground.

Lack of time for family and themselves was a common theme and the advice from the women was straightforward: find and retain people who can help you on your way.

A number of the women counted their accountant, lawyers and staff as part of their trusted circles, and vital to their success and sanity.

Mrs Mannion said when Mannion Drilling and her vehicle-hire business Ultra Fleet took off, she needed to rethink her approach.

“The demand was huge, the business model was solid and I thought ‘Holy shit, I need some help and I need it quickly’,” she said.

“I’ve never been one to do things by halves … but managing two businesses growing at an exciting rate and a young family is, quite honestly, exhausting and burn-out was a constant threat.

“I’d done something incredible and yet I was still feeling pretty average.”

When Mrs Mannion’s new accountant asked her where she wanted to be and what do she wanted to do more of, her answer was “simple”. She wanted “time”; time for her family and time for herself.

“You see, we’d been so busy building our little empires that we had forgotten why we were doing it all,” Mrs Mannion said.

“Our values had become lost in the craziness of life and work. Everything was off-balance. We had forgotten to stop and breathe and ask why.

“The good news is that that single moment changed our path. We restructured the business, pulled in the people and the professional support we needed to help build our business babies and to allow us both time to do things we enjoy.”

Mrs Mannion also decided to consciously choose just three elements to focus on each day – out of family, work, fitness, friends and sleep – and said, “I have found that I don’t put as much pressure on myself to do the impossible.”

“Just because you can do everything, doesn’t mean you do,” she said.

“Life leads you in lots of different directions and you simply have to go with your gut instinct. Take that leap, do the deal and back yourself – and for your sake, just do three.”

Juggling family and work are two things Tambar’s Penny Haire can relate to.

After the tragic death of her husband Damian in 2015, she found herself with three kids and a farm she needed help to run.

“There was never any doubt in my mind as to what we would do – we’d stay on the farm and would make it work somehow, and the children would have as close to a life as they would have had if their father was still here,” she said.

“When I look back, I had such clarity at this time. Thanks to our car conversations, I knew where we were headed. I knew I didn’t have all the answers but our network did, and I just had to keep asking until I found a person who had the answer that worked for me.

“It also hit me that no one was going to give me permission to do what I wanted. It was up to me and I had to believe in what I was doing.”

As Mrs Haire tried to get her head around everything that needed to be done, she clung to one of her late husband’s “greatest sayings” – “Keep your mind clear and you can do anything.”

She developed a close relationship with her bank manager and accountant, and decided she needed to get the farm to a point where it could run without her at the centre.

Mrs Haire wrote out a list of the jobs she liked and didn’t like, and employed an operations manager who could provide the mechanical knowledge she didn’t have.

“It’s about trust and if you don’t trust them, it’s not going to work,” she said.

“It was unnerving in the beginning, but I knew I had no option; I couldn’t micro-manage a job I didn’t know how to do.”

After returning from a long family holiday last year, she found the farm in the grip of the drought and had “no real goals going forward”.

“Anxiety hit … my mind wasn’t clear and I couldn’t do much. The 12 months that followed have been really tough and I was running our business in a manner I really didn’t want to,” she said.

“It’s really difficult to keep your mind clear when the landscape you live in is incredibly dry and unrelenting, and every time you think you have a plan, you have to change that plan because yet again, it hasn’t rained and it continues to not rain.”

She recognised administration wasn’t her strength – “my office looked like a tsunami had hit” – and after much “angst”, she employed a bookkeeper.

The drought hasn’t broken yet, but she can take comfort in the fact that at least the filing is up to date and mail is opened on time.

More soon on Penny Crawford and Julia Rennick.