Emma Isaacs acquired the then little-known Business Chicks when she was just 26 years old.
She saw the opportunity while sitting at a Business Chicks event with her friend Olivia Ruello. The former owner of the networking group revealed from the stage it would be their last such event and that they were open to offers. “You’re going to buy it, aren’t you,” Olivia whispered to Emma.
Emma did, despite being “immediately insulted by the name”.
Thirteen years and five kids of her own later (enough for a basketball team, she says), Emma is now the global CEO of Business Chicks, the largest women’s networking group in Australia. She’s changed how we think about business events and has put a wide range of international talent in front of massive audiences across the country, including Arianna Huffington, Seth Godin, Richard Branson, Nigella Lawson, Sir Bob Geldof, Kate Hudson and more.
I spoke to Emma in the lead up to the launch of her first book, Winging It. The book shares some of her wins and failures, key lessons and advice on how to do big things without relying on too much of a plan to guide you through.
The conversation was recorded for the Women’s Agenda podcast. I’ve shared a number of highlights below, but they’re just a small taste of what we cover in the full chat.
On university and pre Business Chicks life
Having been told in school that she was good with people and should consider a career in human resources, Emma enrolled in a business degree.
She lasted six months.
“I could just see it wasn’t going to go fast enough for me. I’m someone who likes to shortcut everything and I’m quite obsessed with time as well,” she says.
Emma met a woman at a party who told her about a job in a recruitment company. She got the job, worked hard, and ended up taking a stake in the business to grow it for the next seven or so years.
On the name ‘Business Chicks’.
When Emma was asked to attend her first Business Chicks event with her friend Olivia, she immediately cringed at the name. She concedes it divides people at first, but believes that in Australia her team have turned the word ”chicks’ into something else.
Still, it hasn’t been easy taking the name to the United States with Emma moving her family to LA to grow the business internationally. “What’s surprising about the US is they are actually more conservative than it seems we actually know.”
On writing and time management
Emma signed the book deal for Winging It in December last year and has turned it around in less than 12 months. She also has since had her fifth baby, and was doing much of the writing while nursing and sleep deprived.
With the help of some colleagues from Australia, she says they set aside the hours for the writing required and just focused on getting it done. They also gamified things — setting goals and rewards for achieving certain milestones.
“I’m tenacious. If I commit myself to something, I’m going to do it.”
At home, Emma says they stick to habits, routines and bed times in order to manage a large family. “We are like the army in our house. The baby goes to bed on the dot at 6:30. We all have a set schedule.”
On cultivating relationships
Emma plays the long game when it comes to business relationships.
For example, it took her eight years to get Seth Godin to come to Australia.
She rarely expects to get a ‘yes’ to the immediate big things she asks of other people and knows from the outset that she may need to put in significant time to make it happen.
“I feel like a lot of people don’t have the stamina to really put the time into relationships,” she says
“For me, building relationships is about, ‘how do I earn someone’s trust and show my credibility? I’m always willing to be creative, stay the course, and put in the time.”
Emma also puts an emphasis on handwritten notes and making an effort to say thank you. She writes unique messages on hundreds of Christmas cards every year.
Emma writes about her grandmother in the book, a mother of six children who worked full-time as a school principal.
“She was a loving and supportive mother and grandmother … but she didn’t stress about parenting.”
Emma’s grandmother taught her that when it comes to kids, “whatever will be will be”.
“They come out the way they are going to be and our role as parents is to guide and lead,” Emma says.
“I don’t want to paint a picture of perfection at all, my kids can be complete ratbags. I drop the ball all the time. That’s life, it’s not perfect or well rounded.”
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Check out our recent conversation with Cyan Ta’eed here.