From commercial litigator to cookie maker: Meet Charlie’s Cookies owner Jacky Magid

Jacky Magid left a successful career in commercial law seven years ago to help her husband Ken Mahlab resurrect cookie manufacturing business Uncle Charlie’s out of administration. A desire to create something of her own and a family background in manufacturing held the 42-year-old Melburnian in good stead, with the re-born Charlie’s Cookies now employing 25 people and “approaching $5 million in turnover this year” thanks to partnerships with hotels, conference centres and airlines.

In 2004 my husband bought the company out of administration. He loved the idea of turning a business around. At the time I was working part-time as a lawyer at Arnold Bloch Leibler – a fairly high-profile law firm. I was working as a commercial litigator as well as looking after our first child.

I joined the business in 2007 to assist with sales and marketing. At the time I was looking around for a business that I could start where I could use my professional skills. One day I was out with a girlfriend and she said: “What are you doing? You already have a business.”

I really enjoyed the creativity of developing a product, as well as the negotiations with clients and the problem solving.

I think the one thing the law gave me was a very systematic and organised approach to business and doing deals. My organisations skills have been a great base, as have my general negotiating skills. To be a lawyer you need interpersonal skills.

I always wanted to own a business. My background is in manufacturing as both my parents worked in manufacturing. Our family trips were always a blend of holidays and work, so I think I understood what it took to run a family business. It was a combination of wanting to create something and coming from a manufacturing background.

The idea of making delicious treats instead of solving complex commercial disputes was also appealing. At ABL I was in the thick of building industry and construction litigation. It was a very testosterone-fuelled environment and I remember having to leave large multi-party negotiations to express breast milk. It was always me and just one other woman in those rooms.

It wasn’t an expensive purchase but it’s been more about the investment we needed to make since buying the company. We’ve had to self-fund it along the way and we have invested enormous time and energy in rebuilding the brand.

We absolutely use a business plan. I think more so now than ever. Perhaps when it was just my husband and I and two other people, our business plan could be over a cup of coffee. But now, as I am the driving force behind the sales and marketing, it is important to be very clear and drive the plan all the way through to the factory floor.

Someone recently asked me where I saw the business in five or 10 years’ time, and it felt like such a long way away. But our children talk about taking over the business. So maybe if the company is around in 10 years, they will take it over. My daughter is very interested in business.

We see B2C as a growth market for us. Previously we have been focused on B2B. We see an opportunity in building a brand for consumers and becoming more accessible for consumers.

I’d like to expand overseas with our consumer brand. Some Asian markets are already knocking on our door. I’d love to see my product in the US, or at least in England. Our colourful Melting Moments cookies have a great story and eye-catching design that I think would do well there.

People keep me awake at night, either my customers or my staff. I want to deliver the best possible service for our customers and deliver on every promise we make, and even over-deliver.

When you go from being an employee to being an employer, creating a workplace that everyone wants to be a part of is important. You want your employees to work hard for you but you want to work hard for them, too.

I think the best marketing I’ve done is the launch of our colourful Melting Moments. I think as a manufacturer, a lot of companies get a bit stuck in the manufacturing process and they don’t spend money on packaging and marketing. It was about finding a range of cookies that would stand out and be different.

The key business advice that comes to my mind is to remember that your company is a mirror of the team you put together. Your team is a reflection of the type of leader you are. That can be pretty confronting and you will probably have some sleepless nights. But it forces you to be introspective often and that’s not a bad thing.

My management style has improved from making mistakes and looking introspectively.

The cookie market is really competitive because there is such a low barrier to entry. You just need an oven, and some flour and sugar. You can’t afford to take your eye off the market and stop innovating.

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