CEO Business Chicks: Emma Isaacs

At 32, Emma Isaacs has achieved more than most three times her age – she has bought four businesses and sold one, all of them successful and highly profitable.

Superwoman? Maybe. A serial entrepreneur? Absolutely. She is obsessed with taking something good and turning it into something spectacular. An example of this is the recruitment company she acquired when she was just 18. This business was named ‘Australia’s Favourite Recruiter’ in the SEEK Awards for three consecutive years and also won the Westpac 2005 Small Business of the Year award.

After eight years, Emma felt the entrepreneurial surge to try something new. She attended her first Business Chicks event and the rest, as they say, is history. Emma purchased the business in 2006 and has expanded it from 250 members to over 25,000 members.

Business Chicks is a national community enriching the lives of women in business. Business Chicks produces over 60 events annually with speakers including Sir Richard Branson and Olivia Newton-John; has an online community at www.businesschicks.com.au; and produces a quarterly glossy magazine, Latte, of which Emma is Publisher. A committed philanthropist, she’s raised over $850,000 for various charities through Business Chicks.

Emma blogs at www.emmaisaacs.com, is a keen property investor, has spent one on one time with Bill Gates, is a mother to a toddler and a newborn, and is the immediate past president of the Entrepreneurs Organisation Sydney.

Describe yourself in 3 words:  An almost impossible task, so I asked my team and they came back with: passionate, driven, tenacious.

What is your life motto?  Make it a regular habit to do something that scares you.

When did you start pursuing your career and how long did it take to become successful
I’ve never pursued a career, nor really had one. Not sure that I ever will! If you had to call my career something I suppose you’d call it entrepreneurship as I’ve never worked for anyone else before (apart from waitressing through high school.) I started my first business at the age of 18 (after a short failed stint at uni) and through a series of circumstances found myself as the sole director and equal shareholder of a recruitment company. I grew that company into a decent concern – it was a multimillion-dollar business with a good brand, a good team and a stable bunch of clients. I got the seven-year itch, sold out, and wanted to try something new so I bought Business Chicks, which I’ve grown into Australia’s largest network for women.

How many hours did you dedicate to pursuing your dream? There’s no way of knowing that, but it’s fair to say that I devoted all of my 20s into realising value for my businesses. While others were out socialising I was strategising about how to build my companies. My family and friends describe me as a workaholic. I rarely switch off from work – as an entrepreneur it’s always there. Even when I’m asleep I’ll often be dreaming about the business! 

Describe how difficult the business really is? The business of Business Chicks is not difficult. It’s managing the expectations I have of myself that’s difficult and it’s working out how to build strategy and scalability that consumes most of my thinking. I’m lucky in that I’m not plagued nor distracted by challenges that other founders face – we’re not in the position to need to raise capital (we’ve always enjoyed a strong cash position) and we don’t find that attracting talent difficult. If you’ve got a good brand and if you can attach meaning to the work you do then the people will present themselves. I’ve got a really strong, talented bunch of people around me who treat the business as if it’s their own. 

What is the mistake that taught you an extremely valuable lesson? Over the years I’ve attempted having several businesses at once but ultimately that distracted me and stressed me out more and the irony is that the whole exercise was less profitable. Running one profitable business that consumes my energy and time is what works best for me.

What is the best piece of advice you have been given to date? Choose your friends and business colleagues carefully as you become whom you hang around. That, and always hire people who are smarter than you. 

In your mind, is formal training essential? Nup, never has been for me. I learn through rolling my sleeves up and getting on with it. I learn through mentors and asking lots of questions. But you know what? I’m not a brain surgeon, and if I were well then of course formal training would be essential. For entrepreneurship though you just have to have a lot of determination, be visionary but also concern yourself with the minutiae, be resilient and gutsy and ultimately be willing to work very hard. 

Do you think having a mentor is important? How would you go about getting one for this industry? It’s essential to have people around you that you can call upon. Call that mentorship if you want, but for me it’s just being able to feel supported and knowing you can turn to someone for advice from time to time. I’ve had mentors in the past through structured programs and they’re not always the best way to receive guidance – it’s possible to have quasi-mentoring relationships with many people and not necessarily call them mentors.

What are some steps emerging talent can take to start/further their career? Be humble and don’t expect to get to your end goal straight away. I consider myself extremely driven and ambitious, but I remember starting out and having respect for everyone else. I suppose I knew that if I treated people well and was respectful then I’d get there eventually (wherever ‘there’ is!)

What kept you going when you felt like giving up? I’m fortunate that I’m a born optimist so I can’t recall a time when I’ve wanted to give up. But when times are tough, I keep going back to my values and being clear about why I’m doing what I’m doing – that always lightens the load. Also, I have a tendency to work until I hit a wall, so taking short breaks or changing up my routine is critical to maintaining the pace I set for myself.

Do you believe that ‘making it’ is about luck and being in the right place at the right time? Yeah absolutely, to a point. However, I also believe that hard work can’t be replaced.

For more on Emma visit her here 

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