CAROLYN CRESWELL WAS JUST 18 YEARS OLD WHEN SHE PURCHASED A SMALL MUESLI BUSINESS IN 1992, FOR JUST $1000. SHE HAS SINCE GROWN CARMAN’S INTO A $100 MILLION BUSINESS WITH PRODUCTS IN 32 COUNTRIES AND COUNTING.

1. During the early days of your business, what was the best advice you ever received?

It was from a guy I shared a little bakery space with. One day I really needed to get a delivery of nuts but I didn’t have enough money to pay for them and I was going to give them a cheque and not sign it … that would buy me one more day. He said, ‘Just tell them the truth, put a post it note on saying, ‘I’m a bit short of money would you mind banking this tomorrow?’ That really stuck with me and I now have a big Truth painting behind my desk. Sometimes it’s not always an easy conversation, but I’ve found that’s really stood well with me through my career.

2.When you experience hurdles in business, how do you overcome them?

Sometimes people want to change the situation and they get so caught up in it. My best saying is, ‘It is what it is’, so what’s the very best I can do? Instead of getting caught up in what’s happening within my industry, with my competitor, or with commodity pricing, it’s better to think about what I can do within my power to shift or adjust this.

3. What is the formula for achieving success?

For me, it’s hiring great people, creating a great culture, having a really well thought out strategy of what you’re going to do and what you’re not going to do, and then great attention to detail and executing that strategy really well. If you’ve got your people right, your culture right, your strategy right and your execution right, you keep going around in a circle, checking and adjusting all of those things.

4. What advice can you give young entrepreneurs wanting to make their mark?

A lot of people find it overwhelming, it’s like climbing Everest and they have this great idea but they don’t know how to get to Base Camp. I say, ‘You need to make this happen’. If it’s a food product, you need to find a food premises, make a big batch up and take a stand at the Farmers Market – what feedback did you get. The difference between an entrepreneur and someone just full of ideas is an entrepreneur makes it happen – just give it a go.

5. Who is your mentor?

I don’t think I’ve ever had just one mentor. I’ll often go to certain people for certain things, when I want to know about finance my neighbour is a CFO, or I’ve got a great friend who’s senior in the advertising industry and I’ll run an idea past them; so I’ll be more specific about the person’s skillset and what I want to know.

6. How would you describe your leadership style?

My aim is to try and get the best out of people, to nurture them, to bring out their very best. That takes a lot of effort to try and encourage, and when they’re doing something that’s great, giving them lots of encouragement. Of course I give feedback and things aren’t always rosy, but you want to make sure you’ve said thank you and you appreciate people so they can see it’s rounded.

7. With the benefit of hindsight, what advice would you give your 18-year-old self?

To not say yes to everything. In the early days anything that came past my desk was yes, yes, yes and I’d do everything.

I was working crazy hours and I was going down paths that weren’t aligned with what I wanted to achieve. Now I go, ‘If I’m going to do that, is it on strategy for what we want to do?’ It’s about learning the art of the graceful no and being able to be strong about saying it so that you can find the time to do what you need to do.

8. What is the key to great advertising?

Firstly I think it’s about great creatives, sometimes people think I’ve bought a business and I don’t want to spend money on the creative or make it good, it costs the same amount of money to run that ad whether it’s a great ad or a crappy ad. And secondly, do things differently, sometimes people try and do the same thing every time – we’ve done things like send everyone in Australia a Carman’s bar who had the surname Carman and trying to find a way of being different, having our product in Qantas aeroplanes has been great advertising for us and a really novel way to get our brand out there. Try to think of things differently and how someone’s going to perceive what you’re doing.

9. How do you achieve work/life balance?

It comes back to the art of the graceful no, I don’t do coffee meetings, I don’t do lunches, I work four days a week in the office so I can literally sit at my desk and get through the work that needs to be done. I don’t respond to every email, I use Outlook and have taught myself quite well to use the rules so I can have things diverted to certain files and that means you can get out the door with no emails in your inbox and feel under control. We all have the same amount of hours in the day, you really need to make sure you’re spending them as wisely as you can.

10. What are your top tips for success?

  • Have a crystal clear strategy and really think about every decision
    you make.
  • Put the customer at the centre of everything you do – you’re always serving them.
  • Constantly improve every day, so you’re better tomorrow than you were yesterday, have constant evolution. It’s often those little one per centers that add up to something over time.
  • Treat the people you work with like another family, we spend a lot of time at work, so create a great culture.
  • Celebrate the successes, you need to stop and smell the roses, it becomes hollow if you treat something like it doesn’t matter. Stop and be proud when you’ve had a win.