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Brookfarm founders on staying true to business ethos

Pam and Martin Brook have come a long way since selling macadamia muesli at their local market. The Brookfarm business was the first food-manufacturing company to win a Telstra Australian Business of the Year Award, and now exports its award-winning products across the world. Despite the global success, the founders say its community ethos remains intact, creating an important point of difference for the business.

The idea for Brookfarm grew out of a passion for good food and a frustration with seeing Australia’s macadamia nuts being shipped offshore: “Our dream was to incorporate macadamias into foods people eat every day – products of the highest quality that were not only good for you, but delicious as well,” explained the pair.

In November 2000, the couple began selling macadamia muesli at the local Bangalow Markets in northern NSW. It took more than two intensive years to develop their first mueslis, but the duo say it was worth the wait. Over the years, Brookfarm has won more than 50 national and international food awards and now exports its award-winning macadamia-based goods- including muesli, macadamia oil, walkabout mixes and Brookfarm bars- across the world.

Winning the 2007 Telstra Australian Business of the Year Award gave Brookfarm increased media coverage and opened up new business networks, but the business hasn’t compromised on its quality or its local ethos. The founders have avoided the supermarket chains and continue to give back to local communities by supporting the independent grocery sector.

Here are the Brooks’ insights on achieving sustainable business growth and staying true to your business ethos.

What is the most important lesson you’ve learnt?

Quality is everything. Deal with the issues as they arise – never ignore them. We have strived to create a workplace culture where people share our passion, where we genuinely encourage better ways of doing things.

What qualities do you think are essential when leading a business?

Passion for our vision is the absolute foundation of our business. As leaders, we know how important it is to communicate and develop this vision with our team, listen to them, and ensure they have ownership and responsibility to see it through.

How has Brookfarm avoided the traps that can come with a growing business?

Growing too fast, too soon, can lead to staff burnout and put a strain on finances, equipment and maybe even compromise the quality of our product. With detailed planning and forecasting, as well as constant communication between all departments, we review team targets and ensure we’re working within our capacity. That way we can identify new staff or equipment needs as they arise. We’ve also learnt that careful research of overseas markets is crucial to understand international packaging, labeling and tariff requirements.

How have you planned for the future of the business?

We believe in succession planning not just for key leaders but for every department manager or team leader. So we have identified one or two staff as replacement candidates in each area. That way, we are developing an effective management team to gradually hand over to our sons and their teams when the time is right.

How do you ensure the essential work/life balance as a small business owner?

Family time, leisure time and fitness outside of work are crucial to achieve our work/life balance. It has been very important to us that each family member actively pursues their outside interests such as skiing, karate, studying, walking, the gym and farming. All of our staff are encouraged to maintain a good work/life balance, so it’s important to lead by example.

Brookfarm’s full story can be found in a new eBook that celebrates the achievements of 20 Telstra Australian Business of the Year Award winners from 1992 to 2011. Click here to download the eBook for free.

The 2012 Telstra Australian Business Awards will be held in Sydney, on 29 August.

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Carly McKenna

Carly McKenna

Carly McKenna is currently working as a journalism intern for Dynamic Business. She is also a third-year Media student at Macquarie, a music enthusiast, and a lover of all things literary.

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