You know it’s a Chamber’s Business Women’s Network (BWN) event from the buzz in the air – and at our inaugural Speaker Series event, the buzz was electric.
More than 250 women filled Trinity Wharf Hotel’s conference room to hear from some of the best women in business, locally, nationally and globally.
With chairs filling every corner of the room, it was an exciting turnout of women from all walks of life. Some were business owners, some were senior leaders within large corporates, some were at the start of their career – but the one thing they all had in common was a desire to be inspired, uplifted and empowered.
That desire was met ten-fold.
First speaker was Clare Swallow (Mulberry St), who had the room erupting into fits of laughter with her real take on being a woman in business. Clare’s presentation centred on people and, in a technological age, how leaders can be utilising the core skills of our humanity, including compassion and courage. Looking around the audience, notes were furiously being taken on Clare’s presentation and it was great to see so many absorbing her great ideas.
Fellow local businesswoman Jennifer Boggiss was next, sharing the story of Heilala Vanilla. Social responsibility has always been at the heart of the business, with her father seeing an opportunity to support the Tongan community from day one. They have carried on his mantra to this day, and their business decisions are not only built around what is best for their business, but what is best for their people.
As a marketing manager, one story in particular stood out, where Jennifer and her marketing and sales manager Ruby took the plunge while on a trip to America to reach out to Mark Welker, Executive Pastry chef of Eleven Madison Park and the NoMad, to see if they could meet with him (with a view to showcase their product). He was so impressed he did more than just meet with them – he introduced them to the whole team and couldn’t stop raving about Heilala. It was the start of a beautiful boom into the US media and the market.
This story was a real testament to being brave, to putting yourself out there and backing your product or service, and it in this case it paid off in spades!
After our first two speakers was a quick break for afternoon tea and a bubbles, and a chance to mix and mingle, share takeaway tips and enthuse about the speakers.
Kicking off the second half of the afternoon was Jennifer Del Bel, a Can-Iwi (half-Canadian, half-Kiwi) who started her business Downlights to help provide employment opportunities for individuals with intellectual and physical disabilities, by making incredibly luxe scented candles.
She shared with us some eye-watering statistics about the challenges those with disabilities face and why she felt compelled to help in this area after meeting with one Kiwi dad and his daughter. What really struck me was she knew every employee within her company by name, their story and had great stories about how they bring their personalities to the workplace. The people were such an important part of her business and the genuine care was there.
Jennifer is currently fundraising for a new wax melter, which will enable her entire crew to pour candles, significantly increase health and safety and futureproof the success of the business for Downlights to be a leading contract manufacturer.
Excitingly, off the back of the event, Jennifer received a $1000 donation towards the melter, one more step towards her goal. She was in tears and so incredibly thankful for the support.
Our keynote speaker closing out the event was the one and only Karen Walker. A figure of unmatched style and effortless cool, she graced the podium and the whole room was in awe. But while she was polished and poised, she was also incredibly insightful and real, sharing with us the two key pillars of her business: Change and Culture.
The biggest takeaways from Karen were around the importance of collaboration and staying true to the values of your brand. Having collaborated with some of the biggest brands in the world, Karen’s message was that collaboration works most effectively when you work within your areas of expertise. From her perspective, she and her team are hired on a project for bringing creative ideas and design insights, and they take their expertise and apply it to someone else’s business. As she said, ‘Who am I to tell you how to do your business?’
When it comes to values, she reminded us that every decision should start and end with the values of your business or brand – what do you stand for? What is important to you? How are you making a difference? For Karen, her values are embodied in her designs, in her approach of who she works with and how she motivates her team.
It was a full, rewarding 45-minute presentation and it’s no surprise that many of the audience (including the Chamber team) wanted to grab a snap with our keynote speaker at the end.
After the event, Trinity hosted our guests and speakers in their gorgeous lounge area with bubbles and nibbles. With the moon shining over the harbour, it was truly a gorgeous end to an equally gorgeous afternoon.
With themes of people empowerment, value-centric business, staying true to yourself and being brave when it comes to disrupting the way we do business, it was hard not to feel uplifted and excited to start implementing your own form of change – whatever that means to you.
Thank you to everyone who attended the event, and big thank you to all our sponsors, especially our principal sponsors Cooney Lees Morgan and Craigs Investment Partners.
We also have a number of other BWN events coming up. You can view these here.