High-heels and Hi-Viz
Jacinta Colley talks life in the timber industry
Jacinta Colley, national account manager, Simmonds Lumber
Jacinta Colley, national account manager, Simmonds Lumber
 
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"Having it all" was once a glamorous cliche from the 1990s, but today women like Jacinta see it as another item on the to do list
HI News 4.6
"Having it all" was once a glamorous cliche from the 1990s, but today women like Jacinta see it as another item on the to do list

At the Hardware & Building Traders (HBT) annual conference in May 2018, the Women in Hardware held an event, where Jacinta Colley was the main speaker. National account manager for the respected timber supplier Simmonds Lumber, Ms Colley told some of the story of her journey through the ranks to her present position.

It was, to most of us who attended, a really enrapturing experience. Both because it was quite a story, and also because Ms Colley was able to share some of the more extreme moments she had gone through.

It is a story that is not just about setbacks, and real difficulties overcome. It's also about a woman who developed a talent for taking advantage of any opportunity, no matter how small, that offered itself. Who conformed when it was necessary to go on, but who also blazed back when she could.

The following is the speech that Jacinta Colley gave. HNN has edited the original speech for the purposes of brevity and clarity.

In year 10 when I was doing work experience at a hairdresser's, sweeping the floor. I often wonder where I would be today if I had gone down that track. Because, I am here today in an amazing industry, full of amazing people.

When I was 20, I had moved in and out of my parents' home, and I was kind of annoying my folks a bit. They said to me, "What are you going to do Jacinta? Have you decided?" Well, I didn't know what I wanted to do.

My father was working for Carter Holt Harvey at the time. One day he came home and said, "There's a job going at Carter Holt as an internal sales representative and we think you should apply."

I'm like, "Are you kicking me out?" And he said, no no, you don't have the job yet.

I thought, okay cool. And he said, "You are going to move to Melbourne."

I said, "I don't have the job yet."

He said "You are going to do what I tell you. You are going to sell yourself and get that job."

In the end he won, and in two weeks I was gone.

Only now, in my late 30s, do I thank him and then only after a couple of wines! Because I would never admit that to him.
Meyer Timber

After 18 months with Carter Holt Harvey, I was approached to work at Meyer Timber in Melbourne, which is a timber wholesaler. I got to work beside a man named Frank Assisi and he became a mentor to me. He was absolutely instrumental in me getting into the wholesale world. And really understanding the ins and outs of a house [timber company] because when I was at Carter Holt all I knew about was pine fascia and flooring. So he really helped me along. No question was ever too hard. He always gave me the time of day, and we are still very close to this day.
Brisbane: Carter Holt, then Simmonds

Carter Holt Harvey kept coming back to me and saying, "We want you to be a rep, we actually think you would do a pretty good job, but you have to move to Brisbane."

I thought, why not? I don't know anyone but I will meet people. So I did that. And if I hadn't taken a leap of faith, I certainly wouldn't be where I am today.

My time at Carter Holt actually turned out to be quite short. Roger Healy who was state manager for Simmonds Lumber at the time, said to me, "You need to come and work for us."

I said, "Why would I want to do that?" And he said, "We're fun and there is more for you to learn in the real world." So I decided to accept that invitation, and I moved over to Simmonds.

I would moved away from a corporate world of red tape, of being told what I can sell at what price and under restrictions. That move to Simmonds would be the best decision of my life.
The first day

I will never forget the first day I started Simmonds. I walked in wearing heels, and the whole bloody place was tiled. It was absolutely hilarious. I am click-clacking along, and one of the boys said, "Are you going to be wearing those every frigging day?"

I replied straight back: "Hell yes!" And when they all laughed, I knew I would fit right in.

I remember Roger taking me for a walk to the sheds and he pointed to different products. I asked him, can I sell anything in the shed? And he said, yes that is what you were employed to do.

So I asked, do I need to know the cost as well? He said, yes you have to make a margin. And I said, am I going to understand that? He said, "Absolutely."

So these were very instrumental lessons for me.
The dumb email

Roger would also be, as it turns out, the first person I would tell that I would be taking maternity leave. He was thrilled, but my CEO at the time was not.

My then-CEO would send me an email in capital letters, in all RED TEXT and it said, "Jacinta, I have received your news that you are expecting. Do you know that company cars are not to have car seats fitted to them? Do you know that this is why I was reluctant to hire a young female in sales?

He added that the next female he would hire would be over 50 years old.

I stayed at my desk for some time, and I really pondered over this email. I thought, "this could be fun!" But instead, I deleted it, and I moved on.

Now I'm sure that hasn't happened to all of you but maybe you have had similar experiences. That happened nine years ago and today I think I would be much stronger fighting back. But at the time, I didn't have the confidence that I have today. And I'm really fortunate now that where I work I have a bit more flexibility, and Simmonds are very family-supportive.
After Roger

About two and a half years ago, Roger made the decision to leave Simmonds Lumber. He had been a real advocate for me, supporting me in being a mum, and juggling work, which can be very tough. I was very pissed off at him for leaving because it was going to get harder.

But his decision to leave and we are still very close to this day would open the door for me to go beyond being a sales rep, and to step up and become a sales manager in Brisbane. And that meant having grown men in their 50s report to me.

After I had managed to do that, another door opened, and I was able to take the position of national account manager at Simmonds. This would be a first in Simmonds, having a female international role, reporting to the CEO. I was also the first female at Simmonds to take maternity leave. So I have experienced a lot of firsts at Simmonds Lumber.

There are some tough things that can happen in the wholesale game. There are some tough things you are confronted with in a very male dominated industry. What is quite unique about Women in Hardware is that there are a lot of you in hardware. There are not a lot of us in my part of the business [timber wholesale]. So I'm amazed at the turnout today [in Adelaide]. It is phenomenal.
Industry awards

I have worked very hard to gain respect in the timber and hardware industry, and that is something I have been recognised for.

After a year at Simmonds, I received my first Timber & Building Materials Association (Australia) (TABMA) award in 2005.

I remember when I had been nominated and someone at the time said, "Does she really have to attend?" The day of the award was Simmonds' annual golf day. But he was told it was important that I attend. It was hot that day and I had to hire a dress because I didn't have one. I was extremely sunburnt. I remember being so nervous that I almost fell off the stairs, it was absolutely hilarious.

In my ninth year at Simmonds, I was very fortunate to win sales representative of the year again.

This slide was in 2015 when I won the national representative of the year in my 10th year at Simmonds. So I am really honoured and proud people in my "game" respect me and feel confident that they can talk to me and ask questions.

I've also lucky that I have a multitude of people who I can look up to in our industry. There is Kirsten Gentle from TMA, Fiona Lucky who is based out of Brisbane, who is another woman who has defied odds and is right up there in the industry. And Tamika Smith, who I've recently just got to know, she is founding director of TSR Property Solutions and Aspiring Young Businesswoman of the Year in 2017 from the Women in Business Awards of Australia (Gold Coast).

I am also close to a group of women who are part of this amazing industry, Women in Forest and Timber Networks (WTFN). They comprise about 5% of the workforce. It is a forum for women to meet and exchange ideas, similar to Women in Hardware, and it was formed to ensure that our voices are heard. We aim to recognise contributions, we celebrate achievements and we support each other.
Looking back

I feel very fortunate to work in such an amazing industry. I don't have a university degree. I am pretty much self-taught by learning from people in my sector and believing in myself.

I was really nervous when I put my hand up and applied for the national role. Not because I didn't think I could do it, I knew I could but because I would be the first female in Simmonds in a national role in a very male dominated business. There are 89 staff at Simmonds nationally and I'm one of 11 women. There are two women in Brisbane.

So reporting to a male CEO, and every other senior manager is male, could that be scary? No. I actually think they are more scared of me, to be honest. In fact, I have a bit of a reputation in the office that if you want something done, then give it to Jacinta.
"Having it all"

Often people ask me how I balance it all how do I "have it all" wife, mum, big job, fitness etc. how have I done it?

My reply is often "You need to know what you want and what you are willing to do for it."

And, of course, make sure you are aware that in our game there are gender differences, because there are. Make sure you're not talking too much women tend to talk a lot, men less. Look for non-verbal clues, and don't fight everything. Sometimes it is best to pick your battles.

Also, be selfless, don't think about the next promotion or next job you are doing, think about what it is that you want to drive for the shareholder and the customer and your employee, rather than your self-interest.

I then back it up by saying be authentic to yourself. Don't wear a mask, it is far too exhausting. I think that is the main thing, be authentic because that is what has got me this far and I'm not going to change now!
HI News 4.6


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