Hacy Tobias is a self-proclaimed princess, and proud of it. When you meet her though, you’re instantly aware that she is not your typical princess. There are no airs and graces. Instead she is smart, grounded, considerate and very generous of her time and energy. Hacy’s sparkling and infectious energy gives little away of the journey she’s been on over the last five years and the professional and personal transformation that has led her to where she confidently and unapologetically stands today.
Hacy shared with Nicole Watson from Women in Focus the unexpected turn of events that paved her way from being a highly respected, and well paid, top ranking executive to now managing her own small business and her cathartic healing through penning her experience.
How did you find yourself on the journey from Corporate Princess to Small Business Princess?
I certainly didn’t plan to become a Small Business Princess. I had been a Corporate Princess for 33 years and had a very nice life. I worked very hard for it, usually putting in 16 hour days, but I really loved what I did. They talk about the Stockholm syndrome and I didn’t realise that you get caught up in that environment until you’re out of it. I was doing fabulous work in my last company and one day I had a meeting with the CEO and 20 minutes later, I and my handbag were leaving the building for the last time. In a nutshell, for the next 12 months I was being head hunted for other jobs however, nothing eventuated. Next thing I knew, this opportunity came up to start a business from home and be part of an American Health and Wellness company specialising in anti-aging, something very important for women might I add! I found myself in small business by accident, it wasn’t by choice.
In hindsight, were there any signs or red flags around the time you lost your corporate position that you may have missed?
Only six weeks before, at the annual general meeting, out of the other 10 General Managers I was the only one singled out and named for her outstanding contribution to the business in front of press and analysts. If I had to look back - and believe me I analysed it for months and months – I didn’t pick up anything. It came right out of the blue. It is a very sobering lesson when you think that things are going well. Organisations, no matter how well run, can also be very unpredictable and the only thing we can really rely on are ourselves.
What was your toughest moment in your transition and how did you find your way through?
The simple fact is that it took a long time to transition. I very much saw myself as a Corporate Princess and even when I decided to start my small business, I think it was like ‘Hacy Tobias - skin care secret agent’. I didn’t change my LinkedIn for two and a half years and didn’t come out of the organisational closet because I still saw myself as, embarrassed to say, a terribly important general manager. Changing that was hard.
It’s very common that your role defines you. Women can experience this just as much as men, maybe more if they have an additional role being a mum, but really it’s who we are and when that is taken away you think – who am I? Coming to terms with that was hard for me. Working from home isn’t something I would have chosen to do either as I love being around people and managed teams for over 30 years. So it was a bit of a culture shock. It was about getting my head around that transition and who I was going to be.
I also had to change my mindset, for example, understanding the concept of cash flow. Being in the corporate world meant I got a cheque in my bank account every month. Back then, if I was writing a board paper and something wasn’t right I’d just print it out again because I wasn’t paying for the paper, the ink or the postage. I also didn’t even know there was such a thing as a mobile phone plan because I’ve never had to have to pay one. It’s those types of things that were hard and realising that the only person who can do something about that is yourself. I suddenly didn’t have my wonderful PA who was amazing. She would have had the papers for my next meeting ready for me and so on. Now I have to do the filling and paperwork, and I am not a lazy person but it‘s all of those things that I need to do now. It’s a complete change, almost like you have been dropped onto another planet – the planet called small business. This planet is different and it has a different atmosphere, the oxygen and nitrogen levels are different and it takes a long time to get used to it. There are many hats to wear because you still have to be CEO and manage what you do and you’re also the do-er, the auditor of yourself and the chief financial officer, chief marketing officer, chief motivational officer – all of those roles in one.
That’s a lot to experience at once. If you had your time over is there anything you would have done differently?
If you’re aware of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross's five stages of grief, this was similar to my experience. Losing your job is like dying in a sense. I probably would have tried to quicken up the process. I also think that I shouldn’t have taken so much of the corporate with me. I now work for a company where there is a system and people are incredibly successful and earn much more than I did in the corporate world, which was fairly nice. When I first started, I thought I was ‘too smart’ and I held on dearly to the corporate world's mentality and didn’t take any notice. That was purely my stupidity and arrogance, so I had very big lessons of humility to learn. Really it has only been in the last 18 months that I’ve taken on board what I should have been doing. In hindsight, I would have slapped myself across the face -metaphorically - a lot earlier and followed the system straight away. That’s all part of the learning and I had to go through it. Also, I haven’t experienced the rapid rise I had in the corporate world which I thought was so easy. Now I have to wear a lot of different hats and can finally say, ‘you know what, I didn’t get there in a couple of months either and that’s perfectly ok!’.
I’ve had more personal development in the last 4 years than I have had in 33 years in the corporate world and I was responsible for HR. What can I say, it is an incredible growth journey going into small business!
You’ve also written a book about your journey that will be an inspiration to others. Was this a healthy way to reconcile your experience?
It was quite cathartic because as I was writing and typing it I was reliving it. There were a lot of sections where I was chuckling and then there were sections where I was getting quite teary. Through the writing process I was able to relive the experience and then it was done and dusted. It was a good way to mentally go through all of it and it was free – I didn’t need to pay for a therapist! One of the reasons I wrote the book was to help other going through similar situations. There are a lot of people, particularly post-GFC, that are losing their jobs or are at least nervous about the prospect and don’t have a plan B. For those people who have started in small business, I have made probably every mistake there is and at the end of the book I have got 20 'princess rules'. They sound really basic but let me tell you, corporate world doesn’t prepare you. I didn’t know I needed a bookkeeper because I didn’t know what a bookkeeper did. I only had an accountant to do my personal tax. The book is meant to help anyone in small business to learn more quickly and avoid the mistakes I have made. I stress that you’re not alone and that you have to keep going. Another aspect of the book is how important it is to have people around you who are going to encourage you. So I think that a community like Women in Focus is a fabulous organisation to help people who are in business for themselves as it’s different to the corporate world. Initially I didn’t have any small business friends and now I have a lot who are my cheerleaders and supporters. They are there for me for the bad days and trust me, you will have bad days and good days.
With your book, you’re donating 20% of all the profits to Lou’s Place – why is Lou’s Place so close to your heart?
I’ve always had a thing for the homeless but particularly for homeless women because we don’t see them as much, they’re more invisible. A staggering 40,000 women sleep homeless every night in Australia and that is really scary! I am a member of ZONTA, an international women’s services organisation and one of our local projects was a liaison with Lou’s Place. It was something I put my hand up for and as I got to know Lou’s Place I realised how amazing it is. The knock-on effect, which I talk about in the book, is that I now drive all over Sydney and collect toiletries and clothes to help the women at Lou’s Place. It doesn’t get government funding, so whatever I make from the book sales I wanted to give something back to support Lou's Place.
How can the community also give to Lou’s Place?
You can make donations on the website www.lousplace.com.au which are tax deductable. But they also need toiletries. For example, when you stay in hotels the little shampoos or conditioners are fantastic because the women come in and have a shower and use those toiletries. Also clothes are needed as most of them sleep out rough so if you have any clothes that have become too big or too small for you, or if you hate orange – whatever it may be, Lou’s Place is always looking for clothes and we can all help make life a little more comfortable for women in less fortunate circumstances.
Inspired by Hacy's story? You can connect with Hacy through the Women in Focus Community.
Also, if you are interested in reading Hacy's book, "The Diaries of a Corporate Princess", you can order it at your nearest Dymocks book store.
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