Jennie Lyons has made a big move from being an Executive Assistant to a business owner and board member. With her husband Phil, she bought the Hunter-based business, Pride Dry Cleaning and Laundry and has transformed it to an eco-friendly success story.
Phil’s battle with cancer confined him to a wheelchair, but he and Jennie invested in technology to make the business disability friendly and more efficient. Their experience doing a multitude of roles for several small businesses and working for industry associate HunterNet, gave her a hands-on understanding of business.
Jennie has qualifications in accounting, business management and training. She’s also a Director of the Hunter Business Chamber.
- Tell us a little bit about your career path?
Like a lot of people in Newcastle, I started in banks and then moved into small-to-medium businesses. In all small businesses, you have to do a wide variety of roles. Everything from accounting through to staff management; HR is just a nightmare. You also have to do logistics, customer service, marketing – you name it, you’ve got to do it. But all of that was quite helpful because in 2010, my husband, Phil and I bought a very well-known business in Newcastle that has been here since the 40s.
We bought Pride Dry Cleaning in receivership, but with all those skills that I learned along the way, we’ve been able to turn that around and actually expand our business. It hasn’t been without its challenges though.
In 2010, we bought the business and in 2012 Phil was diagnosed with cancer. Many operations later in 2014, he became confined to a wheelchair. But the challenges and changes in business are actually the keys to leadership and business success, because you have to think on your feet and you have to adapt; and so we’ve adapted.
Technology has changed dramatically for our business. We actually have the only two dry cleaning machines in the world that are designed for a wheelchair user. We were able to negotiate with that company, talk to them about our requirement and then obtain them. But, we’ve also changed all of our systems and brought our staff along for the ride. Changing and adapting must be part of every leader and every business to allow it to continue.
- Describe your leadership style and who and what has influenced it.
At Pride, we have a very consultative kind of leadership style. But that has to adapt; I think every business has to adapt. Depending on your team, depending on the circumstances, depending on your staffing and your customers that are coming through, you actually have to be able to adapt.
As I’ve said, we’ve got a very consultative leadership style, but somebody has to make the tough decision. So, even though we are consultative, when it comes to a point, somebody has to be strong enough to make tough decisions. Even within our staff, on occasion we must switch to an authoritarian style of leadership because sometimes you have to put your foot down and say what’s best for our business and for our customer base, and this is how we are going to do it.
- You are a Hunter Business Chamber Director; how can Chambers help business?
Chambers help businesses in many different ways. I think it’s one of the things that small businesses and medium sized businesses don’t take full advantage of. I can think of nothing better than picking up the phone when I’ve got HR issues and having somebody at the end of the phone, not even always to give the advice, but just to reinforce my thoughts and validate what I’m doing.
Then there’s the legal department; I can’t afford the lawyers, but I can pick up my phone, use those legal services and it saves us a lot of money; it’s just gold.
The networking – leadership and small business can be quite isolating. You can have staff all around you, but you’re still quite isolated. It’s excellent to network with people with similar minds, bounce ideas around and it’s amazing how much business you can do whilst under the guise of networking.
- What makes business unique in the Hunter?
This is a little controversial, but I actually don’t think business is unique in the Hunter. I think business is business. We have a beautiful spot to do business, but we’re not unique. I think we look to the Hunter as a closed area too often. Lift our eyes, look at what’s happening in Australia and in the world. We’ve got the V8 supercars coming so the world is going to focus on the Hunter. We need to take advantage of that, look at the opportunities that it’s bringing to us and run with it.
- Which local business leader do you find inspiring?
I have many people who inspire me. But, I also find, especially as part of the Hunter Business Chamber and during a previous role I had with HunterNet, small business and medium businesspeople inspire me. To walk into somebody else’s business and for them to light up and tell me all about their business, how well they’re doing, how they’re doing it and what areas they’re covering, that inspires me. It gives me goosebumps actually.
I just find the people who are real, go to work every day and employ more of the workforce than any of the big business put together; they’re putting their whole lives and their homes and their families on the line. That inspires me and gives me goosebumps.
Pride Dry Cleaning and Laundry is a family owned and operated business that has been taking care of Newcastle and the Hunter’s dirty little secrets since 1942. It offers dry cleaning, laundry, clothing alterations and clothing repair services. The business is based in Islington and also has an outlet at the Williamtown Air Force base. It offers free pick-up and delivery and has Newcastle’s first 24 hour dry cleaning ATM at Islington.
Pride is the only privately owned local dry cleaner registered with the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). The business’ support for local organisations and for people on return to work programs saw it win the 2015 Drycleaning Institute of Australia’s Outstanding Community Service Award.