Diane Foreman on growing your business – PwC Herald Talk

Global Women member and accomplished entrepreneur Diane Foreman won’t hire anyone for an offshore role without interviewing their partner first, because if the family situation won’t work, neither will the role – and she also checks out their house.

Speaking this morning at the PwC Herald Talks final 2015 event, Growth, she and four other thought leaders shared knowledge about growing and diversifying business in New Zealand. Today’s topic explored the fact that as businesses grow, different opportunities and challenges present themselves which require different solutions.

The panellists were Kirsten Taylor, Founder of SleepDrops (who delivered an inspiring keynote speech on the journey to the exponential growth of Sleep Drops), Dan Alpe, COO Jucy, Steve Maharey, Vice-Chancellor, Massey University, Diane Foreman, Entrepreneur and it was adjucated by Global Women member Fran O’Sullivan, Editorial Director Business of NZME.

The panel shared a wealth of knowledge, and Global Women captured Foreman’s nuggets of wisdom below:

On the importance of the ‘home story’

You’ve got to have everything going well at home before your take your business offshore. Recently Foreman has mentored a huge amount of small businesses (around 40) – one director in particular was making $50 million in sales, had 80 staff, and he had his wife doing the accounts in an exercise book. She said he couldn’t sleep at night because he didn’t have the basics in place. She says you also need to be making money, be profitable, before you take your business anywhere else.

On marketing

It’s important to understand your market and make sure your marketing talks to the audience in the way you want it to. When Foreman launched her ‘Strawberry Boy’ flavour of New Zealand Natural ice cream in China, her advertising campaign featured a boy floating on a giant strawberry down a stream – but then people came into the stores asking for strawberries. She also says get your online marketing sorted too, and get it done by young people. New Zealand Natural experienced a 20 percent jump in sales once they instated effective online marketing.

On generating opportunities in the early growth stage

For opportunities and help with growing your business, go to the people you most admire in the industry you work in. Go to the CEOs, don’t go to your competition in the market.

On selecting the right employees

People are everything, says Foreman. Foreman has a unique recruitment process which she outlines in her book ‘In the Arena’. She never hires a senior staff member without interviewing them five times. She also interviews their partner, because roles that include much offshore travel can be tough on families and the role may not work for long – she cited one example where the candidate was very keen for a role that included a lot of travel, but then talking to his wife she learned that they were about to undertake IVF. She didn’t hire him, knowing during that period the role wouldn’t work. “You have to know the family situation before you take on anyone,” says Foreman. And finally, perhaps controversially, she drives past their house, because “how they look after their biggest asset is how they will look after your business.” So if a candidate’s got a weedy garden with a broken boat out the front, they can’t expect to get a job with Diane Foreman. (“I look really good in a hat and sunglasses,” she jokes about her drivebys).

On internships

Internships are very popular in the US and the UK, says Foreman, yet they’re foreign in New Zealand. She says most graduates can’t believe they won’t get paid, and don’t understand that it’s a great opportunity for them to learn about her business. “We have to teach our graduates that it’s a two-way street,” she says. She also says make sure graduates ask you hard questions about your business – if they haven’t researched your business, they’re not worth hiring.

On prioritising spend

When you’re transitioning to big business, get your product right first, verify it in the market. Then, you’ll feel better about going out and selling it. Then, invest in your sales people.

On using your name on your brand

Foreman doesn’t like to link her personal name with a brand, because if something happens and the business goes down, your name will be inextricably linked with failure.

On working in other countries and cultures

She thinks of it as a marriage between two markets. Foreman trained and educated her people on the business in New Zealand, and they then took these learnings and the New Zealand culture to other countries. She then got them working directly with the best people in those countries, who understood the local market. Between the two of them, they could come up with the best solution. Examples with New Zealand Natural included needing to integrate use of the colour red into the Chinese retail stores, when blue is the brand’s primary colour – and another, need for two cash registers and areas in Saudi Arabian outlets, where men and women cannot queue together. “We had to ‘get’ the culture, then overlay it with New Zealand culture,” says Foreman.