In 1990 Helen Cattell was a teacher on a maternity break, after the birth of her first child Adam. Today she is the Managing Director of CleverPak, a thriving flexible assembly company whose specialised services are favoured by leading brands, such as Best & Less, Swarovski, Cellarmasters and Revlon.
We met with Helen at CleverPak’s Silverwater Head Office, and asked her about the journey from school teacher to Managing Director.
Tell us about your evolution from teacher to Managing Director of your own company.
CleverPak’s journey began serendipitously 28 years ago. I’d just had my first son Adam and I was looking for opportunities to delay my return to full-time work, so I could stay home with my newborn.
I took a job packing CDs from home for a printing company. The job evolved when I was asked to take over the management and hire of home packers. I ran the business from home for 7 years before renting a warehouse and investing in machinery when the business grew too big. This was the 90s, before the arrival of digital marketing and we grew our client base by cold calling and knocking on the doors of printing businesses.
How did you juggle your career with family life?
When I was pregnant with our second child, my husband retired from his job as a Navy Submariner to be a stay at home Dad. That was a big step for him to take, particularly leaving what was then such a male dominated career, at a time when few fathers were staying home with their children.
I’m one of 7 children, my siblings and parents provided me with advice and guidance, particularly in the earlier days. My sister had run her own business, one brother was an accountant and another worked in computer hardware production.
I also completed short courses in marketing, accounting and small business through the AIM, which offered me a deeper understanding of the principles and strategies needed to grow a business.
Has the CleverPak journey been all smooth sailing?
No, we encountered challenges around 6 years ago, when the print industry took a downturn. We came to the realisation that CleverPak needed to diversify and pursue clients within industries other than print.
Thankfully we were able to diversify and today our client base is wide. We service requests from a cross-section of industries, for instance we have worked with companies such as Lego on a specialised project.
Your approach to managing people?
I treat everyone equally and fairly. CleverPak incorporates a team approach when it comes to decision making, where everyone has an opportunity to present their ideas and be held accountable.
We aim to create a happy workplace and one of the most important things I look for when hiring staff, is a personality that will suit our culture. I look for people who display a willingness to get on with others, while also performing to their best ability.
The most important business lesson you have learnt?
To never ever give up. Every business has their ups and downs. I have learnt that you have to forge ahead to make the business a success no matter how difficult it may seem.
What is the most challenging part of your job?
To always have my focus on the business no matter what is happening personally.
How do you define success?
To be happy in what I do every day, to have love in my life and to see my children succeed in whatever path they choose. Success to me is having the time to do the things that you enjoy.
What social causes are close to your heart and why?
I am very supportive of women in business because I know how hard it is to be a female in business while juggling family.
How do you rejuvenate yourself personally and professionally?
I get up early every day to do yoga with other exercises, I also take the time to prepare my food for the day. I read a lot and I have a lot of creative outlets such as pottery, gardening, painting and sewing. I listen to a lot of podcasts and read a lot of books to develop myself professionally.
Favourite holiday destination and why?
We have a property at Goodhope near Yass that we bought over 20 years ago with a small cabin on acreage. This is our family’s favourite destination because it is so serene and quiet. It brings us back to nature and provides quality family time together.