Starting an SME and Starting a Family

Starting an SME and Starting a Family

07 Mar 08:00 by Gabby Symons


When I started People Equity in 2006, I was very clear about what I was setting out to do. The vision was always to become a specialised recruitment firm in the Retail, FMCG and Consumer space, with deep networks of talent across all the key disciplines. ‘Quality’ and ‘value’ were the cornerstones of the business, and everything we do reflects this, to this day.  I also wanted to create a place that the team could call their home, with the flexibility and trust to juggle all aspects of their own busy lives.

While the business took off from the moment it opened, the work behind the scenes to bring it all to life has been nothing short of hard-going.  While I was 100% ready to put everything on the line to do it, that decision came with a lot of sacrifices and many hurdles, financially and personally. A bit more about my story…

My Journey as an SME Owner from Day One

The first office was the size of a shoebox; no back-office support, no templates, no established brand, no website – all the things you take for granted when you join an established business. Trying to build a business and revenue with virtually nothing, is a whole new level of challenge, along with the constant tug of war between working ‘on’ the business and ‘in’ the business. I chased minutes, every day.

Those first couple of years saw me put in an insane number of hours growing the team, the operations of the business and the People Equity brand. My energy came from my drive to succeed, from the love of our industry, and from the positive impact that our roles make on people’s lives and careers.

Building a Business and Building a Family

Baby number one came along two years after the doors opened and when my first son arrived three weeks early, I wasn’t prepared. Even in labour, I had the laptop open writing up handover notes! The intention was to take ten weeks off for the first and to come back three days and then slowly scale back up to five days over the first year. Even with a gorgeous new-born in my arms, it was difficult to ‘step away’ as I felt I needed to continue to support the business and especially the team, who also had their own lives to manage and juggle on top of their workloads.  Writing proposals, running meetings, interviewing in between sleep and feeding times and general back office management that comes with running a business became a part of my first month home from hospital. In the end, the pressure of not being back at work and trying to juggle things in between sleep and cuddle times while still trying to be an amazing Mum, made my maternity leave more stressful. So, I went back much sooner than I had planned, breast pump in tow.

My Support Team

Twenty months after my first was born, I had my second son and this time I was back after just four weeks. Looking back, this period of my life as a new mother was nightmarish. My second son rarely slept, so I would spend the day at work at full speed (and pumping milk in the breaks) and then I‘d be up all night with him (tag-teaming with my husband), then repeat that cycle week after week, on next- to-no sleep. With a lot of amazing extra hands to help me, along with the People Equity team, we all pulled together, and I managed. I was challenged with the quantity of time I had with my family, so my focus shifted to the quality of time spent with them. This meant bucket loads of love and cuddles and a heap of fun times when I wasn’t working.

Being OK with my Priorities

Work has been a priority for so long and has eaten into so many weekends and nights. That is a choice that I have made, but I’m proud of how I have managed, the mum I have become, the wife I am to my husband and where the business is today. I am also so proud of the passionate team that represents the People Equity brand, and although I haven’t practiced it too well from the top, I continue to maintain a business with a very supportive and flexible culture.

I’ve learnt a lot about myself over the years. With the business being at the stage where it has enormous levels of capability and leadership within the team, I can now let go and step away from it. The focus for me recently has had to be about changing my own habits and priorities. Having just returned from a six-week holiday with my family with my phone off and email totally diverted, I am so refreshed and have better perspective.  But I know this is a personal ‘work in progress.’

How Does this Relate to International Women’s Day?

Despite the advances women have made in the workplace and the way organisations are set up to support women, choosing between career and a family life, or having both, and getting the balance right is still a conundrum faced by women, at any level, in any role. I believe, however, that society still judges the working woman and while the leaps that have been made are wonderful for women in the workplace, the reality is that the judgement is still there. With so many talented women in the world, it is imperative that we work out how to set them up for success. My belief is that we should be more proactive in our education of women at an early age to chase their dreams and ambitions, that sacrifices to achieve their goals are OK and that they do not have to be everything to everyone between home and work.  We need to offer more support to working mothers and erode expectations that women need to be masters of everything.   The way we can do this is by talking and sharing our stories.  Let’s start here…I’d love to hear some of your stories.