I grew up in Adelaide and went to an all girl school. I loved it, absolutely loved it, it was the right thing for me. I came from a big family with brothers and sisters so I had no issues with boys. I had no clue what I wanted to do though. I came from a medical family, my father was a doctor and his expectation was that we would all do the same. I phaffed around a lot in my last few years of school but ended up doing really well, and I was so surprised because I actually could have got into medicine but I applied to do Occupational Therapy instead. My father thought it was the most ridiculous course! I went to Uni for three years and in the end Uni suggested I didn’t continue with the course – I didn’t go to many lectures and they thought the course wasn’t really for me and they were absolutely right. I’d had a few part time jobs and I realised I wanted to do something in business, which was not my family at all and not my background, it was not how we grew up. My father had no business sense at all, he was an academic. I was going out with a boy at the time who was doing Accountancy and after talking to him about the course I realised I wanted to be an Accountant.
So that’s what I did. I loved the course, it really suited me because I had a science and maths bent and loved numbers. It was very maths focused. I got a job in a firm in my third year and finished my studies part-time, and my boyfriend at the time became my husband and we moved to Melbourne. So I decided to look for a commercial role and applied for job at Ansett in 1994 as the Fringe Benefits Tax Accountant, and I was so excited to get the role and join this well known company. I moved my way up in the finance area and ended up as part of the Business Recovery Centre for twelve months. It was the best experience I ever had. They did a shake-up of the next level of management, and I became General Manager for Loyalty Programs. It had always been a marketing position but it was very much a finance and numbers focused role because it was one of the largest revenue raising parts of the airline, with the relationships we had with banks and all of the other partners. It gave me an entree not only into the finance part of the operation but also the marketing piece and the operational piece. I never would have thought that’s where I would end up. Actually with my first accountancy job, I was made redundant after 18 months– and I thought it was because I was no good and I was absolutely mortified, but looking back it was the best thing that ever happened. So when I got the General Manager role I finally felt that there was a reason for everything.
My marriage to my first husband had ended in 1999 – we were married for six years but he travelled a lot and we led separate lives. I met Kurt around the same time when he moved from Canberra to Melbourne to join Ansett. I was in the GM role for about two years, and then in 2001 Air New Zealand bought out the Newscorp share, and both Kurt and my roles were going to be moved to NZ. We managed to get them to agree to a redundancy as the roles were effectively made redundant in Melbourne – and I was pregnant at the time as well so moving to NZ wasn’t an option. It was fortunate for us that we did leave - Ansett went down five months later – and we were in a position where we could take six months off and get married and have a baby – it was a pretty whirlwind year actually!
We have three sons - Oskar is now 14, Hugo is 12 and Luis is 10. When Oscar was only about 8 weeks old the ANZ Loyalty Card program asked me to join them and I decided I may as well take up the opportunity. I was there three or four days a week and Kurt would bring Oscar to the office and I would sit in the car and breastfeed. It was hilarious. In those days the company simply didn’t understand about working mothers. There I was in this beautiful office with a fabulous kitchen, cafe and whatever but there was nowhere to express my milk. I had to go to the bathroom and sit on the toilet to express my milk with my pump – it was terrible. And then wrap up the bottle and put in the fridge so that no one knew it was breast milk. The job paid very well, but at the end of the day it was the same crap, different organisation, and I realised if I had really loved the job I would have stayed, but I didn’t, so I left.
We had bought a little house in Blairgowrie as a holiday home, but we realised that we weren’t going to use it very much so we decided to lease it out as a holiday rental. I went to the Peninsula and spoke to a few holiday rental companies, but I was so appalled with the level of service that it seemed I was going to get. No-one cared about the standard of people that would be renting the property and I’d have to clean it myself and they would just take the commission. One of the companies I met with saw my reaction and suggested I rent it out myself, which I thought sounded like the best option, and then he said he had another ten properties – why don’t I take care of leasing those out as well? And I thought ‘fantastic, leave it to me’. That was 2002, and I was just about to have Hugo. I would be talking on the phone late at night to potential clients with Oscar crying, trying to pretend I was really professional.
We registered Verve Beachside, and while we were running it as a family business it couldn’t sustain both Kurt and I. He went back to work with a great role at American Express Travel and I managed the business. After a few years he started helping me with the acquisition of properties - word of mouth and referrals really helped to build the business organically. Just before Louie was born we went to Europe to visit Kurt’s family in Hungary and while we were there he said he really wanted to leave Amex. I gulped, and then said ‘do it’. We weren’t going to end up the gutter, somehow we’d survive. We wanted to sustain our lifestyle and we knew that we would find a way. I did feel a bit sick, but we hoped that we had what it took to make it work. We’ve now made it work for over ten years - with over 300 properties in our portfolio.
When Kurt joined the business we realised we had the capacity to do more. Back then, working on the Peninsula, you either had to be a real estate agent or a travel agent. We weren’t interested in the real estate path but we were very interested in the travel path because we always had in the back of our mind that through the base of clients we had and because of the owners we had, that we would be able to offer a travel service. We found that our clients were asking us to take care of their travel plans, and so then we got serious about it as set up Verve Travel and Leisure. We started promoting the fact that we offered a travel service and set all the infrastructure in place with global distribution systems. It all costs money so you have to make it work.
Running a business and having three boys had its challenges at time. We don’t have any family here so we never felt bad about putting the boys into day care three days a week or having someone here to clean the house and look after one or two of them. We loved what we were doing and there was no way we were going back to the corporate world. I found that I was spending more time with them after work, and in a great state of mind. I’m always at school to pick them up and they’ve never been in after school care. I just balance the time that I have with them at home, and the time I spend on the computer. The flexibility for me is absolutely the ultimate part about having my own business. And I love the adrenalin that comes from seeking out new opportunities. Once you put yourself out there people start coming to you with ideas. And I reckon we have burrowed down every burrow we possibly could. We always look at an opportunity to see if it’s got legs. You can tell pretty quickly how much effort something is going to require and what the return on investment will be. As you get more experience you know how to manage new opportunities, and we have created them for ourselves. This is our future.
I think you have to be really, really resilient to have your own business, and I don’t think it’s for every mum. There are different levels or different scales of having your own business, but if you are good at what you’re doing you have to expect it’s going to be successful and therefore your time commitment to it will increase. Being in your own business, it’s exciting thinking about what’s around the next corner. It takes wisdom and maturity and you have to go through the processes of growth, realisation and self-awareness. Most women have the capacity to have a balance between work and family life, and achieve satisfaction from both.
Verve Travel Management is an associate of the helloworld group, the newest and largest force in travel in Australia. Owner operaters Kurt and Kathryn Sari are fully involved in all aspects of the daily customer delivery including overall account management for each client. Verve Beachside specialises in exclusive private holiday rental house accommodation on the Mornington Peninsula and has been part of the Verve Travel and Leisure Group for more than 15 years.
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