Economy

Diary of an entrepreneur: How Natalie Archer created an extraordinary business

Kirsten Robb /

For Natalie Archer, founding director of strategic advisory firm Bendelta, wanting to live an extraordinary life meant doing what she does best—creating an effective strategy.

Archer makes sure to do three “extraordinary” things every day, whether it is watching the sunrise on a morning jog down Bondi beach or having meaningful chat with one of her staff. “If you want an extraordinary life,” says Archer, “you have to do extraordinary things.”

Archer started Bendelta 11 years ago with business partner Anthony Mitchell after the consulting company the two worked for fortuitously exited the Australian market, leaving a niche opening for a firm with a focus on tailor-made strategic advice.

Bendelta, a firm which focuses on helping companies with strategic and leadership direction, now turns over $8 million a year. It boasts clients including major banks and telcos, medium-size companies such as Sara Lee and Ella Bache, and not-for-profit organisations including the Red Cross.

Archer says the company is now at a size where it can get more deliberate about the kind of work it does. And you better believe she wants it to be extraordinary.

Mornings

Archer wakes at 5am and before the sun comes up she’s off on her morning jog along the Sydney coastline.

“For me that’s really important: the harder I’m working, the more important physical exercise becomes,” says Archer.

“I became really ruthless in terms of not allowing anything to interrupt that. Because I travel so much, if I let [travel] become the reason I couldn’t do it, it would just never happen,” she says.

On this particular day, Archer races home to tuck into some toast before getting a cab to the airport. While she’s waiting in the departure lounge for her Melbourne flight, she does a reference check for a potential employee of Ella Bache, a company for which she sits on the board.

Daily life

Archer is down in Melbourne to visit Bendelta’s Victorian team, something she and Mitchell try to do every few weeks.

Her days are a combination of client meetings, market activity and time spent with the team. Her 30 permanent staff and several contactors, including hard-core analysts and top neuroscientists, are what she is most proud of.

“Anyone who works here could have any other job they want,” says Archer. “They’re brilliant.”

“If you want a successful business, your key role is to design an environment to attract and sustain talented people, no matter what you’re doing.”

Thanks to an implicit trust in her staff, Archer has instituted the “The Bendelta Code”. The first rule of the code? There are no rules.

“If we hire you it’s because we trust you, so use your own judgment,” she says.

“If you hire people with aligned values, your job is just to support them, give people autonomy, freedom and flexibility,” says Archer, referring to the company’s particularly flexible working culture which allows staff to pick their days and hours.

After spending quality time with the Melbourne office, Archer is off on another plane to Canberra to have dinner with her team in the capital. With all the business meetings, it’s common for her to eat out up to four times a week.

“Let’s just say the domestic side of things has taken a backseat to the business side, I have not been honing my culinary skills,” laughs Archer.

Leisure time

In her down time, of which there isn’t much, Archer loves to catch up with her group of very good friends in Sydney or just have a movie night at home. You might find her enjoying her very eclectic playlist on her iPod too, which will range from classical music to Bruno Mars, The XX and indie rockers The Jezebels.

Archer is also a keen horse rider, having ridden since she was a young girl. Recently, she literally got back in the saddle to start taking dressage lessons. “I was so rusty,” she says. “It was embarrassing.”

In an effort to fulfil her creative tendencies, Archer has also started a creative writing course. She says she wants to fill all four ‘quadrants’ in her life – creative, physical, social and spiritual – to their fullest. “Eclecticism gives me energy,” she says.

Like any good strategist, Archer has tried to come up with the ideal approach to having a work life balance.

“I have tried a number of different strategies [to balance life and work] and what I’ve found out, in terms of what I do and my personality, is that if you think you’ll have a balanced day, in the sense that you’ll get in at 8.30am and leave by 6pm and all your evenings will be to yourself, that rhythm doesn’t work,” she says.

Future

Archer has big plans for Bendelta, starting with a recently implemented “one million, one billion” policy.

“Our goal is to directly impact the positive potential of a million people and through those million people indirectly impact another billion people,” she says. The company is actually tracking the policy’s success and they’re well on their way.

Archer grew up in a business orientated family, with an entrepreneur father and brother in investment banking, so she always knew she’d own her own business.

“The context I always knew, but content evolved over time,” she says. 

Archer completed a psychology degree and a commerce degree, so she says the combination of business and people was instinctual.

She says she currently has no plans to sell, but like any good strategist, she’s always looking to improve the value of her asset. And she plans on having a lot of fun while doing it.

“I just want to do things where I get to the end of the day and say, that was a really cool day.”

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Kirsten Robb

Kirsten Robb is a former journalist at SmartCompany. Previously, she worked at News Corp as a property reporter for Leader Newspapers and the Herald Sun, and holds a Masters of Journalism at Melbourne University.

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