CELEBRATING WA’S 218,000 SMALL BUSINESSES AND WHY I’M PROUD TO BE ONE OF THEM
Last week many small businesses celebrated WA Small Business Day, which provided an opportunity to recognise the significant contribution small businesses make to the economy and our community.
When I reflect on what it means to be in small business, my thoughts often turn to my family who have run all kinds of businesses for as long as I can remember, and before that too. Small business is very much in their DNA.
My grandparents on either side ran small businesses in South Africa. Mum’s parents owned the neighbourhood liquor merchant, much-loved by the locals for its selection of fine wine and spirits. Dad’s parents ran a general dealer store in a small, isolated mining and farming community. The lifeblood of the town, the store sold everything from soap to tobacco leaves, plough shears and dried mapani worms, a delicacy favoured in the African community.
My great-grandfather was one of 11 children from an impoverished Russian family, and despite having no formal education, taught himself to speak six languages. He escaped a prisoner of war camp and migrated to South Africa, where he went on to own and operate one of the country’s largest agricultural, veterinary and trade supply businesses.
I was exposed to small business (and, unwittingly, cigarette fumes) from an early age when I was propped on the counter of the liquor store in my bassinet. As a young child, I can vividly remember visiting my great-grandfather at work. In his eighties by that stage, his mind was still as sharp as a tac and he was always impeccably presented. He would walk around his stores with such pride, and I will never forget how he acknowledged every staff member and customer in his friendly, thick Russian accent. Oupa was the very definition of a visionary leader and entrepreneur – he was innovative, inquisitive, magnetic and benevolent.
When I was in primary school, my dad co-founded an insurance broking firm in Pretoria and I have fond memories visiting his office with my younger brother. The firm was thriving and dad was at the peak of his career, but my parents had their eyes on the future, and were troubled by the apartheid situation in South Africa.
In 1989 they immigrated to Perth, leaving behind a very successful business and their friends and family for the chance to give their children a better life. Starting over again from scratch, they went on to own and operate several small businesses in Perth, including two restaurants, a kitchen appliance distribution company and a window tinting franchise.
My parents epitomise what it means to back yourself, work hard and have a go. I have watched them turn struggling businesses around, treat their employees with dignity and exceptional kindness, and go above and beyond for their customers. I admire their phenomenal work ethic and their ability to adapt and venture into new territories. They have ridden economic highs and held on tight during the lows, as they continue to do now. I don’t need to look too far for inspiration and to see first-hand what it really takes to be successful and resilient in business.
In the lead up to starting TrueType Communications in 2015, I turned to other small business owners for advice, including my parents and my aunt and uncle who have also run businesses in Perth. I am indebted to them for generously sharing their experiences with me, for their guidance and for encouraging me to back myself in and go for it.
WA Small Business Day is all about recognising the people behind the businesses that make WA an incredible place in which to live and work. It’s an important initiative and as one of the 218,000 small businesses in WA, I’m proud to get behind it.
There’s a saying that you can’t be what you can’t see, and I will always be grateful to my family, and especially my parents, for the sacrifices they made to bring us to Perth, and for showing me what’s possible.