Karen Matthews is a much sought-after business advisor, mentor, and speaker.
Tapping into her 25 years of experience in strategic thinking and planning, together with her unique ability to teach operational execution and personal leadership, Karen’s business transformation consultancy has already successfully led Senior Leaders, Founders, and CEO’s through personal and strategic growth development, standout marketing initiatives and the delivery of strong financial results.
Congratulations on all of your amazing success, it’s certainly such an inspiration for women everywhere. Could you please tell me a little about your business journey and what lead to your position today?
Prior to starting my own business, I spent 25yrs leading turnaround, change, and growth for several well-known brands including:
- Ella Baché, where I was CEO for 10yrs and responsible for the development and implementation of Australia’s first skincare franchise.
- I also set up and ran a new business arm – Licensing – for the stagnating fashion retail group FJ Benjamin. As VP Licensing, I was responsible for establishing a design, development, and wholesale business for a number of well-known brands including Guess and Ann Taylor
- My last corporate role was Retail Director for Freedom Furniture where I led the turnaround, growth, and re-positioning of the Freedom business and brand.
Brand-led turnaround and change have always been my passion. I love working with great teams to achieve a vision and to see an entire business aligned and linking arms for a shared vision means everything to me. To make long-term growth a reality however means businesses need to be able to bend and twist without losing sight of the vision.
Change is constant and unpredictable and throughout my executive years I quickly realised that business leaders who do not continue to innovate, reinvent and challenge the status quo and instil this way of thinking into their business DNA, while quickly lose relevance.
Right from the get-go, I had no tolerance for jargon heavy process and inauthentic rhetoric. Nothing frustrated me more than meetings, planning sessions, and processes that appeared to be tick-a-box. Invariably, the outcome of these sessions would be a temporary lift at best, and then very quickly everything was BAU.
My passion for no-BS business planning and authentic leadership was born and I believe they were and are still my super-powers. Back then, my leadership style didn’t have a name and in some cases may have been considered ‘fluffy’, but now realise I was actually ahead of my time in this thinking.
2. What inspired you to write your first book?
In 2016. I launched my own Advisory business to leverage my experience and love of transformation and growth. My vision is to show ambitious people and businesses how to think differently about planning, turnaround, and long-term growth and support them as they navigate the challenges of constant change.
I was and am frustrated with the outdated ‘set and forget’ notion of traditional planning and passionately advocate for my proven, no-BS process for transformation and long-term growth. My book, Demystifying the Road to Change, captures my process in 3 clear stages, which I strongly recommend is implemented via a 2-day workshop:
- Part 1: Reality Check – an objective and honest view of the business as it is now – the good, the bad, and the ugly.
- Part 2: Decide and Act – Prioritise the issues, finalise purpose, values, and vision statements as the overriding business compass, and prepare both the business and implementation plans (I provide a one-page template for both of these).
- Part 3: Make it Stick – the crucial ‘make sure it is not a short-term blip’ bit. The KPI’s, reports, meeting schedule, and agendas. The business process design and making sure the back end or engine of the business matches the promises and intent of the purpose, values, and vision. And, most importantly the leadership piece – the crucial ongoing, varied, and continual communication that will keep the business on track and looking forward, no matter what.
My book is a one-stop step-by-step guide for any leader and my dream is the see this well-thumbed workbook, dogeared and underlined, sitting pride of place on every leader’s desk.
3. What advice would you give to women in business?
- First and foremost, know your brand. What are your values, what do you stand for, what difference do you want to make and what are your non-negotiables?
- Be proud of your brand and know that owning your brand is the first step towards being an authentic leader.
- Never be afraid to speak up and have an opinion. Express it with passion, clarity, and confidence.
- When you make a mistake, own it. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off and keep moving….great leaders have and will continue to make mistakes.
- Surround yourself with the right tribe – formal and informal. Be part of a community of like-minded people with whom you are aligned and together you become each other’s cheer squad and sounding board all at once.
- Always remember EQ is a super-power – trust your gut.
- Listen, learn and keep moving. There are no bad experiences, just experiences. Don’t be in a rush to join the dots….one experience will lead to the next and one day, it will all make sense. Trust the journey.
4. What are the 3 keys to success?
- Know your brand and what you stand for and own it. Always be you and lead from the heart, no matter how hard. Decide to be an authentic leader and commit. It is not always easy (in fact it is often easier to not be authentic), but it will lead to long term success
- Learn from every experience and every set-back. Use challenges and experience to strengthen your brand, confirm or adjust your path forward and keep striving forward, eyes firmly focused on that vision.
- Respect and honour people. Decide to bring out the best in people and allow them to shine – great leaders have great teams of talented people who are all experts in what they do. Use it to power forward.