As we celebrate International Women's Day, we chat with three women making a difference to business owners across the Moreton Bay Region.
Supporting local business, the lifeblood of our community, drives Mary Di Marco in her role as The Hills and District Chamber of Commerce President.
“These business owners know what it takes to balance the commitments of work, family and community to provide a quality life for themselves, their customers and to succeed,” she explains.
And she should know having done everything from working as a PA for an interstate property company, to being an office manager and then sales representative for Hanimex Film Processing, being an office manager at The Melbourne Hotel, buying and running a Kumon education centre to now working at Waterfront Properties.
“I see my role as President of The Hills and District Chamber of Commerce as that of a good CEO in a large and diverse organisation,” she explains.
“It is more about building a competent, motivated and committed executive team and supporting them to get the work done rather than doing it myself.
“I am proud of each of them as they all have taken on new challenges. Donna Thistlethwaite is running a Men’s Mental Health event. Molly Brumm is presenting a Women in Business Forum. Brian Battersby is our Advocacy Committee Chairperson and he liaises with government elected representatives and CCIQ to ensure our members are kept abreast of regulation changes and to receive the support they need for their business to succeed.
“Michelle O ‘Hara is organising our Big Breakfast, an annual fundraising event to assist our Not for Profit organisations and local communities, and in the past 7 years we have raised over $74,000. As well we have, under the guidance of Craig Shim a Cultural Inclusiveness committee to assist refugees to find employment and assimilate into our community.”
In her day job at Waterfront Properties, Ms Di Marco says she receives inquiries daily from international, interstate and Queensland buyers wanting to buy in the region.
“I am effusive when discussing the virtues of living in this piece of paradise. The Redcliffe Peninsula and the Moreton Bay Region offers something for anyone who wants the perfect balance between work and pleasure and the opportunities continue evolving daily,” she explains.
“Evidence of this is the Regional Economic Development Strategy (REDS) which Paul Martins has recently unveiled for the Moreton Bay Region. I am so excited to promote the vision of this strategy.”
Key to helping Council achieve its REDS ambitions is supporting local businesses, particularly in challenging times.
“When the COVID-19 lockdown was put in place last year, The Hills District Chamber of Commerce immediately set up weekly Zoom meetings under the heading of Tuesday Check-ins,” Ms Di Marco explains.
“We saw the need for business owners to stay connected. For many, the future was scary and unknown. These Tuesday mornings, started with a heart chart in various colours, from a dark purple to a pale shade. Members were asked to say where they were on the chart and why. If they were deeply “depressed” to “OK”.
“Following these check-in mornings two other members of our chamber Hayley Lindgard and Linda Conyard put on counselling sessions for the benefit of anyone who needed someone to talk with.”
When we ask who has been a strong female role model for her, Ms Di Marco takes us back to her youth.
“I travelled extensively in Europe in my late teens and early 20s. The highlight was working as a companion for Madame Aurellegia, who was the widow of a former Monaco Mayor and a lady in waiting to Princess Grace,” she explains.
“She was funny, smart, and held fabulous events at her home for friends, royalty, diplomats and other interesting individuals from all over Europe. She taught me how to entertain, to cook, to organise events, to strive to be the best person I could and to enjoy life. I left her with a love the French language, a better understanding of myself and others, and the confidence to continuously take on new challenges.”
Ms Di Marco then returns to present and speaks about the women who inspire her now.
“I have three daughters, who are part of my life, they fill me with pride,” she says.
“I love spending time with them. The opportunities which are available to them are limitless. They can have it all. They will find the way to make it happen.
“Our Moreton Bay Region will be enriched by the innovation and changes which this new generation of women will bring to the table.”
In her view, Bribie Island Chamber of Commerce is not about Rhonda Cockinos, it’s about its loyal and driven membership base which is working hard to support businesses on the island.
The chamber of commerce is 57 years old and renowned for reaching out to businesses, even those not members of the organisation.
“Ours is one of the oldest chambers in Queensland and we’re the only one that’s done a holiday guide for 47 years,” Ms Cockinos says.
“That’s what I’m proud of.”
Ms Cockinos has been the President for 11 years but makes it clear, the chamber is not about her.
She first joined the organisation in 2006 and became treasurer in 2009.
She says chambers of commerce are an important way for men and women in business to access all levels of government.
“That is handy when you have a problem at any of these levels, you will (ordinarily) have difficulty from time to time getting through the barriers,” she explains.
“Chambers of commerce can break through that barrier for you and that’s a huge thing that a lot of business owners don’t understand.”
Bribie Island Chamber of Commerce has a loyal and driven membership which meet at bi-monthly networking dinner functions.
So, what are some of the challenges facing women in business?
“The glass ceiling is still there in many industries however with drive, determination and tenacity you can smash through it,” Ms Cockinos says.
“If you really have the passion, you can break that glass ceiling. By putting ourselves down and thinking we can’t do it, we’ve already lost.
“It’s nothing to do with the sex of a person, it’s their ability to get the job done.”
She points to Bribie Island RSL Club General Manager Janelle Barraud and previous Bribie Chamber of Commerce president Lynn Cook, whose workplace health and safety expertise is sought out by others across Australia.
“There’s a lot who are achieving great things, but many keep quiet about doing it,” Ms Cockinos says.
Seeking out like-minded people and mentors is critical to success in business, according to Springers Solar co-founder Cheryl Springer.
Mrs Springer, who was the president of the Pine Rivers Chamber of Commerce for almost a decade, says a strong network of mentors is important.
“The thing is to find other people who are in business – they’re the very best source of building you back up again when things are getting tough,” she says.
She and husband Brian started Springers Solar together and she says failure was not an option.
“Brian always said we had to succeed, there was no choice because we had five children.
“We went into solar because we knew how to make it work, we understood our whole business, but when the government changed it and how solar would be sold to customers - we had to redeem our money from the government.
“So we became a member of the Clean Energy Council and that was a source of mentoring.
“Every business owner needs that professional body of people.
“It’s more about gathering behind you the people who are doing it like you – even our accountants are doing extra development. You can’t have all the knowledge yourself.”
Mrs Springer resigned from the Chamber of Commerce in 2019 due to family commitments and says while it took a break due to COVID-19 she’s delighted it’s returning this month, with support from the University of Southern Queensland’s Petrie campus.
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