NSW business transformation expert Karen Matthews is a sought-after business advisor, mentor and speaker. Tapping into her 25 years of experience, Karen has successfully led senior leaders, founders and CEO’s through personal and strategic growth development, marketing initiatives and the delivery of strong financial results. Oh, and she has won many awards along the way. Here, The Weekend Bulletin learns what makes Karen tick.
Q Tell me about your career prior to what you are doing now?
A With more than 25 years leading turnaround, change and growth, I am recognised in the market as a confident and innovative leadership expert and business advisor. Before to starting my own business, I led business transformation strategies for several well-known brands including Ella Baché, where I was CEO for 10 years and responsible for the development and implementation of Australia’s first skincare franchise.
I also established and ran a new business arm for the stagnating FJ Benjamin group. I spearheaded the Guess business as VP Licensing and was responsible for establishing a design, development, and wholesale business for a number of popular brands. My last corporate role was Retail Director for Freedom Furniture where I led the turnaround, ground and re-positioning of the Freedom business and brand.
I know that business leaders who do continue to innovate, reinvent, and challenge the status quo whilst instilling this way of thinking into their business DNA, will continue to be relevant.
Q You've won a lot of awards! Please tell me what they are?
A I have won the NSW Telstra Businesswoman of the Year, the NSW Franchise Woman of the Year and the National Franchise Woman of the Year. During my time leading Ella Baché, the business was listed as one of the fastest growing franchise networks on several occasions by the Franchise Council of Australia.
Q What are you doing now?
A Since releasing my first book in December last year, called Demystifying the Road to Change, I have become a sought-after business advisor, mentor and speaker. In the past 12 months, I have worked closely with General Managers, CEO’s and founders in fashion, beauty and manufacturing. Projects have included the development of a five-year plan to triple the business profits, guiding leaders and their teams in planning ambitious growth strategies to either scale their businesses or structure for the next phase of success.
I recently started working with a passionate entrepreneur, who, with a big vision and in just eight months of launching, is already on the path of transformation and looking to re-structure her business for long-term growth.
At the heart of my success and outstanding results is my passion for business transformation and unique heart led leadership. I encourage management teams to embrace change and adapt to a new way of thinking, when it comes to strategic planning. My transformational programs and advisory have led to the success of some of Australia’s most well-known enterprises, across the course of my career, spanning 25 years.
Q What motivates you?
A Inspiring people and businesses to think differently about planning, change and growth. To show people how to balance heart and head for long term success. To feel I have made a difference and supported an individual, a team or a business to step up into their next phase. To see that smile of ‘I did it’, ‘we nailed it’ - this is what makes me smile. To be able to share my experiences, stories, and tips to help others learn and craft their own roadmap forward. To educate and help people grasp the notion of authentic leadership and what that mean for them and who they are.
Busting myths around change, planning, leadership and all the buzz words and eye-rolling business concepts of the moment is also a particular love.
Q Many businesses are still struggling after COVID, how do they get back on their feet?
A Engage the help of an expert. The most important thing you can do is recognise the need for change, recognise your head will be overloaded with the here and now and you need to get the balance of day-to-day trading, strategy, and execution right. It is the art of patting your head and rubbing your stomach at the same time.
One of the best lessons I had early on in my career was to lean on the support of people who had different skills to me - whether it be for specific projects, a particular skill or in a mentor/advisory capacity. All are important and all will be relevant at different times. A change mindset, a plan and a balance of heart and head in leadership, decision making, and crisis management is key.
My process is quick and efficient, and you will not end up with a jargon heavy document loaded with theory. Gone are the days of the bi-annual planning sessions with very little impact on business performance short term, let alone long term. Leaning on an expert to help you create the right process of your business and style will be the best decision you will make.
My process is a quick and powerful 3 stage:
1. The Reality Check. This is the critical first stage of creating a long term forward roadmap. The reality of the business as it is now - the good, bad and ugly. The warts and all truth - not what the team believe, not what you want or hope; it is what is. The more accurate and thorough this first stage, the better the canvas to build on.
2. Decide and Act. From here the team can identify the issues, prioritise them and create a plan to move forward, KPI’ to achieve and the reports to measure and monitor performance. I have one succinct one-page templates along with worksheets and formats to help the team funnel the information into succinct working actions.
3. Making it Stick. This is the critical part that many businesses overlook. Making sure the back end of the business is aligned with the promises and aspirations of the front ie making sure the business processes and systems allow the goals to be achieved and the vision achieved. This is the part where to responsive and nimble business is created, the part where the clunky slow decision-making process are replaced with cross business aligned leadership review, assessment and adjustment. This is the critical stage that if not done properly the good intentions of the forward plan will fall over. The business needs to be set to see opportunities or identify issues quickly and then respond seamlessly without losing sight of the vision. Covid has taught us all that a readiness to change is non-negotiable. Growth and long-term success will not be achieved without a fundamental shift in business thinking. Brave and bold businesses who know their brand, own their position in the market and do not try to be everything to everyone will prevail. Beige will no longer cut and a ’this is the way we have always done it’ mentality is a business kiss of death.
Q How do you make your business stand out from the crowd?
A The first part of my process - The Reality Check - and the creation of the plan in Decide and Act. I dedicate a fair amount of time to this exact question. The brand history/story or essence is the place the start - the reason the brand starred in the first place, the purpose, why or legacy.
Once the business is reminded of this, story time can be spent on what this means in terms of brand promise - what will your business stand for? That stake in the ground that you will own. That promise that you will deliver on no matter what, every single time. Trying to be all things to everyone will not work - you will not stand for anything and disappear in a sea of beige.
Customers are now looking to engage with businesses and brands with whom they are aligned, and business and brands who get them. Businesses who are authentic, have a story and stand for something that that customer can relate to. Business and brands that do as they say over and over, and ensuring value and experience is delivered across the business at every touch point.
Now, more than ever, there is no tolerance for inauthentic business. Customers will firmly align themselves with businesses who stand for more than a functional product or service. The market is competitive, and the transactional product service can be purchased from a number of businesses. To attract and retain a loyal customer, you need to be bold, brave and stand for something.
It will not be for everyone but will attract the right customer who will be loyal to you as long as you deliver. This is not the climate for a bit of this and a bit of that. Be bold, brave and own your thing. Beige will no longer cut it and is certainly not a strong pathway toward long term success.
See Karen at: https://karenmatthews.com.au/