“Have the difficult conversations before you start – what do you expect and want? Have clearly defined and segregated roles.” Maria Konecsny.
Maria (right) with her sister Eva, co-founder of Gewürzhaus. Image supplied.
Under-representation of women in leadership across various industries and in some of Australia’s most thriving and essential businesses continues to be problematic.
While some argue a plethora of factors contribute to women missing in leadership, it does raise a question: in 2021 are these ‘factors’ still relevant or are they now misconceptions?
In this series, we talk to women leading the way in their respective fields, across a range of industries, in businesses we bank. They share helpful advice and lessons learnt and most importantly, help us bust some misconceptions about their working lives.
All of the participants in this series have been involved in ANZ’s Business Growth Program. This year, the program saw a 27 per cent uptake of women in leadership roles participating in Business Growth CEO Clinics across Australia.
The ANZ Business Growth Program is delivered by The Australian Centre for Business Growth, University of SA with global growth expert Dr Jana Matthews, ANZ Chair in Business Growth at UniSA.
The online courses, seminars and webinars are open to all Australian businesses participating in the program. ANZ business banking customers can speak to their relationship manager about taking part in targeted one-day clinics and an intensive nine-month program.
According to Family Business Australia, there are more than 1.4 million family businesses operating in Australia. This accounts for 70 per cent of all businesses across the country. Yet often people think going into business with family is huge a risk – especially for women who are caring for families of their own, seemingly adding another layer of ‘complication’ to the mix.
Here we speak to Maria Konecsny, Managing Director and Co-Founder of Australian retailer Gewürzhaus, who shares her advice on starting and managing a successful family business.
Born in a small village in Germany, Maria grew up across three continents, mainly in Australia. From city life to farm life, she has lived in many places which gives her a unique perspective on life.
Passionate about creating a workplace and a business that challenges “business as usual”, Maria uses care and creativity to responsibly address sustainability at Gewürzhaus.
She has completed a Bachelor of Agricultural Economics with Honours at University of New England, and commenced a postgraduate Master of International Politics at the University of Melbourne.
Maria is also an avid traveller and cook who enjoys spending time with her family and watching her children grow.
What is your job title and can you give a little insight into what a day in the life of Maria Konecsny looks like?
I’m the Managing Director and Co-Founder of Gewürzhaus. I work part-time and my role is to lead our CEO and senior team to fulfil our mission, meet our values and build a strong, financially-stable company.
DEBUNK: It’s often said that going into business with friends or family is risky. Gewürzhaus is now in its 11th year of business, co-founded and run by you, your sister Eva and mother Gabi. How do you find running a business together and how do you make the dynamic work?
My sister and I worked together before starting Gewürzhaus, so we had ironed out many of the issues people might face going into business with family.
The biggest upside is you are not alone on the journey of building a business – you have someone with whom you can completely trust and whom you know extremely well by your side.
The downside is personal tensions often show up at work and can be very difficult to navigate.
My biggest piece of advice for anyone considering working with family is to have the difficult conversations before you start – what do you both expect and want to achieve? Have clearly defined and segregated roles.
And most importantly, have a solid shareholder’s agreement in place.
Most people don’t know that I…
Do most of my work problem-solving in my ¾ acre garden in the Yarra Valley. Being connected to the soil and to nature helps me to clear my head. Some of my best ideas have come whilst thinning carrot seedlings or potting up tomato plants.
A unique offering - Gewürzhaus was a first in the Melbourne area. From your experience as an entrepreneur, do you need to know exactly what you are doing from day dot and how do you introduce a new concept to the market?
For me personally, I know an idea has legs if I can visualise it in the future. This was the case with Gewürzhaus and that image hasn’t altered much over the years we have been in business.
For us in bricks and mortar retail, finding the right location for our first store was very important to introducing the concept to the market, because word of mouth marketing, I believe, is the best and most lasting type of marketing you can get.
We did things for the right reasons from the start – no compromise on quality, no compromise on deeply engaging with our customers.
We were, and still do, sell so much more than just products.
One piece of advice you would give to other women looking to lead?
Listen to your heart and your gut feeling. Lead with compassion, creativity and an open heart so the work you do can heal and create something better than if you didn’t. And don’t ever compromise your young family.
Both my sister and I had children after we started Gewürzhaus and we both decided to work only two days per week so we could honour our so-important roles as mothers.
This has been a conscious decision and one that we encourage across our team - parents who are financially able to take the time to care for their children are encouraged to return only part-time and to take up to one year of leave after having their babies.
How important is hiring staff who are right for the brand?
I believe this is one of the most important things you can do in business. And “right” does not just mean “high achieving”. It means a balance of skill and values.
Make sure the people you hire are in your business for the same reasons you are.
One of the first questions we ask candidates at all levels of employment is what food means to them and what their childhood experience of food was like.
We employ a lot of mums and dads of young children, so it does mean that the business has to adjust to this at times; things don't always happen as fast as they otherwise might. It does, though, allow us to employ women and men and help to enable them to be able to express themselves and be best they can be at work and at home.
Gewürzhaus is an Australian retailer who opened its first store in the inner-city food mecca of Melbourne that is Carlton’s Lygon St. With more than 350 single-origin spices, herbs, salts, peppers, teas and sugars from around the world on offer, Gewürzhaus mixes and mills 100+ unique and exclusive small-batch blends, taking its customers on a true spice journey.
Great scope for career growth in regional towns