Q&A: The secret to a healthy family business

This week we chat with Sharon Thurin, founder – in 2005 – of healthy snacks brand Slim Secrets, and her son Jamie, who joined the company as director of international sales in 2015. Living in different cities, the pair speak daily to discuss both business and personal matters. It’s that “healthy distance” that Jamie says allows them to maintain a productive working relationship, and has seen the brand expand into 15 countries.

ISB: What was the inspiration for the idea of setting up a healthy snack business?

ST: I was inspired to launch Slim Secrets through my experiences working with overweight patients and my desire to curb unhealthy snacking habits. As a wellness coach, I saw a gap in the market for indulgent, healthy, nutritionally balanced snacks that I could suggest to clients as a quick grab and go that would help fill them up between meals. We think of it as permissible indulgence. I started with three protein-based bars and now we have a broad range of snacks including bars, puddings, shakes, cookies and chocolate bites.

ISB: Are there any specific challenges associated with running the business as mother and son, and how do you overcome them?

JT: Ultimately the biggest challenge for us is to remember that the most important part of our relationship is the mother and son element. So, we would never do anything to harm that. I am not actually sure if there have been any real examples of how being a mother and son team has been a detrimental to our business and how we have overcome them. But if there were any major conflicts or challenges faced personally or professionally we have always agreed that, if necessary, I would step away from the business!

ST: One challenge is to remember that there are other things to talk about other than work. This is something that we try and remind each other of when we are around members of our family. Jamie comes from a different generation to myself and has new ideas and ways of doing things that can sometimes be a challenge for us both but that are also important for the growth of the business. Compromise is important.

ISB: And, conversely, what advantages does being mother and son have in helping you make Slim Secrets a success?

JT: We have always had a very close relationship which has helped. We know each other back to front and often think the same things at the same time which, can be quite scary. We have one of the most amazing working relationships – whether it be between mother and son or employer and employee. We are similar in ways that are important to working together as family members. Yet we are also different in ways where we can challenge each other and really help each other make better business decisions.

Our skill sets and roles are very different.

ST: We know and respect each other’s strengths and weaknesses and each compliments the other’s. We have the same ultimate goals and drive – this plus the fact that we trust each other helps with the ultimate success of Slim Secrets.

ISB: How do you manage to smoothly and effectively run the business when you live in different cities?

JT: It has actually been a real advantage having representation for the business in different cities. We have distributors, manufacturers and other key stakeholders based across both Melbourne and Sydney, so it works well. Our roles are separate but we find that being in different cities allows us to help each other out when the other is needed elsewhere.

Living in separate cities and maintaining a healthy distance has also really helped us work better together. We speak every morning and about two or three other times a day. And, because we can both be very head strong and stubborn at times, having the ability to pick up the phone and then just hang up is often better for our relationship than being in a room next to each other all day long.

ISB: Slim Secrets has been highly successful in overseas markets – what is your secret to achieving rapid expansion as an exporter?

JT: Make sure you have an established business wherever your local market is; have great partners in each of your export markets; understand how to best allocate your most important resources (time, personnel and money); and visit the key markets you wish to export to – nothing helps you to better understand a market than getting on the ground and understanding the retailers, competitors, consumer habits etc. Finally, patience and persistence are key!

ST: Jamie is great at building relationships with our export partners and being proactive in a variety of ways, which helps!

ISB: Finally, what is the number one piece of advice you’d pass on to family members looking to go into business together?

JT: Remember that family should always come first. The importance of being able to recognise when your business relationship is becoming detrimental to your personal relationship is critical. Once arguments or challenging situations become too personal and are no longer helping drive your business in the direction you would like it to go, you need to know when it’s time to step away.

ST: Try to have defined roles so you aren’t stepping on each other’s toes.

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