Two years ago, Sue Ismiel, the founder of skin care products company Nad’s, was in serious trouble. Her decision to take a break from running the business and appoint a CEO had ended disastrously, with Ismeil forced to take back control of the day-to-day running of the company and bring it back from the brink. But Ismiel has fought back, and is now planning a new growth phase that will see Nad’s use a bold franchising strategy.
Today she talks to SmartCompany about begging the banks for help, working with her three daughters and why it can be hard moving from survival mode to growth mode.
I guess the last time we caught up with you was way back in August 2007 when you were in the middle of a little turnaround phase, after a CEO was brought in and sort of taken out again. Has it been a long rebuilding process?
Yes definitely. Last time I spoke to you guys it was a bit of gloom and doom for me but yes, we’ve been able to turn the business around big time. We’ve been able to survive through the global financial meltdown and also have been able to expand the business and introduce other categories. So it’s been a rollercoaster for Sue Ismiel and Daughters, but today I’m thinking 2010 has been a prosperous year for me. Right now we’re in the middle of finalising budgets for next year and it’s looking even bigger and better. It’s been a complete turnaround with endless opportunities, great new people and great vision.
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How big was the hole the company found itself in? Did you ever wonder if it could be rescued?
When you come back to a business you’ve built from the ground up and you find it in the gutter, it’s a fearful experience. You beat yourself up and you think, how did I let this happen? How did I desert my business, my family? You entertain negative thoughts and you drown even more and then you’ve got to bounce back at one stage, at one point in time.
So when you start thinking differently and you ask yourself different questions and then you remind yourself about the fact that you built an empire from basically nothing. So deep down you know you can do it, deep down you know your abilities. All you have to do is face this setback, accept it and move forward. That’s exactly what I did.
Did you return to the strategies and philosophies you’d used to build the business or did you have an opportunity to change the way you had done things?
The first thing that I did was obviously get rid of non-performing staff. Then the hardest thing for me was to accept the fact that I was no longer abundant. Because you know, the entrepreneurial mind always communicates to you that you have an abundance mentality, so all of a sudden I found myself knocking on the doors of the banks for the first time ever in the history of my business asking them to come to the rescue and then picking up the phone personally and asking the suppliers, you need to be patient with us. So I had to do the ground work. The policy was zero spending – so strip all the costs out or spend wisely and we had to do that for a couple of years to discipline ourselves, to get back on our feet. But you know, now is the time to think abundance, get rid of that poverty mentality, explore opportunities, start thinking of how to grow the business, how to take it to the next level.
Is it hard to make that switch from controlling costs very tightly to focusing growth?
It’s hard for some people. The people who have helped me really cut costs, it was very difficult for them to switch over to an abundance mentality because you are what you are. When you change your thoughts, when you change your strategy, those people tend to drain you. But being in that driver’s seat, really it is my job to articulate to the people around me the importance of seeing the opportunities that are presented to us and making the most of them.
One of the other advantages you had is that you’ve got three daughters that are working in the business. Is that something you’ve been able to rely on?
Oh definitely, it has been a learning experience for my daughters as well because they now know that running a business isn’t easy. It takes leadership, it takes focus, it’s about making the right decisions, it’s about knowing what works and what doesn’t work and that ultimately when you approve something, you’re accountable for it. So they’ve learnt a lot from a past experience and in their individual roles they do apply the discipline that they need to make sure that the decisions are made are based on science and accountability.
And how do you manage the working in a business with three people who I guess would have their own ideas?
Well, my three daughters have their own ways. Nadine who is my eldest daughter is the R&D head, you know people refer to her as my clone. So she’s highly driven, she’s competitive, she wants to go places, she has amazing ideas and of course she complements what I do and helps this business grow.
On the other hand Natalie who’s in marketing, she’s a complete opposite, everything’s perfect in her world, she complements her sister and she’s not as driven if you like and she has her own ways and winning ideas. And my baby Naomi is in graphic design, she is a creative person but in her own way so she complements what Nadine brings to the table from a R&D perspective and complements what Natalie does from a marketing perspective. So it’s a bit of a team effort, not only with my three daughters, the entire group. We have 50 employees and they all share our vision, our values and our mission and we all work together to ultimately achieve the company’s goals and objectives.