Belle Roche Brocante

My new business is 5 weeks old today! The concept has been years in the “what iffing” and, back in October, I finally took the plunge and decided to give it a go. I’m now the proud online seller of authentic French vintage decorative items at 😀 Quite a change from a career in technology!

It’s been a huge learning curve….getting the website up and running was trickier than expected (my tech skills came in handy, but not as handy as you might expect!), but the end result looks pretty good, and I’ll continue to tweak it. Shopify tells me that I’m in the top 3 online stores that launched on their platform that week 👍

Online marketing is something I’m still getting to grips with, getting good traffic from Google Ads and FaceBook, people are signing up to the newsletter, but SERIOUSLY need to lift my Instagram game and start reaching out to the interiors professions. So, lots to get stuck into in the coming weeks 💪

Wishing you all a happy, healthy & peaceful 2018 xx

Diversity policies coming out of our ying yangs…..

That’s a rather excellent quote from a gender diversity debate I attended just over a year ago. It was made by the wonderful Kerryn Phelps as she expressed our shared frustration at how slow progress has been.

I’ve worked in a male-dominant environment throughout my career, most clients were male, as were most colleagues. I quickly got used to being the only female in the room, while resolving to redress the balance any way that I could (for example, mentoring less experienced female colleagues).

For many years, I described myself as “gender blind”, I didn’t focus on gender at work and didn’t expect that it would be an issue. With hindsight, I believe that I was incredibly lucky to have had such positive experiences in my early career….they fostered a confidence that I would lean on later in life. That said, things did happen, but not very often. One very old school, male client (aka the dinosaur) suggested, in a room full of executives whom I was training, that I sit on his knee as there weren’t enough chairs after he joined our session. I ignored him and kept talking. Later, another client told me that I had pretty much “buried the guy” ⚰️ with my “death look” 👹, which is why the dinosaur shut up straight away. I didn’t even know I had a “death look” until then….but I’m glad that I do! 💪👊

Years later, having moved to Australia, my expat friends and I realised pretty quickly that Australia was running waaay behind the rest of the world when it came to gender equality. The stories we heard from Australian working women were nothing short of shocking. Most organisations’ talent pipelines bore this out….women progress to a certain point in their careers, and then…..nothing…..I was fortunate enough to work for a corporate that took this issue seriously, especially in their technology team, where the gender diversity stats were dire. Knowing that I was passionate about advancing talented women, my then boss encouraged my proposal to target our female talent, before their careers stalled, and to make some speculative investments in addressing possible causes.

My proposal was not about “fixing” these women, but making sure that they were getting the right opportunities for face time with senior execs and possible sponsors. It did also include skills development to assist them with career planning and telling their story. It was a huge success….female engagement increased significantly, male perceptions shifted, our talent pipeline looked better than ever, and we learned that we had a much richer and more diverse pool of talent to promote from. A win all round 😀 This was achieved by working on these activities in my free time (I still had my day job as a CIO), supported by a passionate, cross-functional team of volunteers. Then, I got a new boss….who suggested that I step away from “all that gender stuff” as “it’s not a good look and is perceived as that’s all I’m about”. This was while I was running the largest and most successful technology transformation the company had ever undertaken…..what a load of undermining bollocks!

More recently, I’ve been unlucky to work for an organisation that spends LOTS of money on diversity initiatives, but has a toxic, low trust culture where these investments have little hope of really succeeding while the entrenched bad behaviours are accepted and allowed to continue. Not acting quickly and decisively enough to address issues is a failure of leadership and governance. As they say, the tone comes from the top…

So, what have I learned (so far)?

F19C2E4C-10C3-412F-903B-A93E823975B3First and foremost….yes, it’s possible to source interesting, well-priced items in reasonable quantities. Yes, that involves a reasonable amount of digging around in manky cardboard boxes at the crack of dawn…..but that’s what those hand wipes are for! The best sources are the larger, regular markets which attract professional & semi-pro sellers. Yes, I had some lucky finds at some very dodgy markets, but need to consider time/effort trade-off. Have also got a much better idea now about how to identify the better markets (reading between the French lines, so to speak).

Lots of really funky mid-century stuff surfacing, gave me some new inspiration, and lots of slightly bigger pieces that I would have loved to have bought. Definitely need to sort out local transportation & storage….again, starting to refine my thinking 🤔 and btw how brilliant is the TGV?? Australia seriously needs one of those 🚄 Sooo wanted to source some old French linen, but, the one time I found a promising seller, I had to leave early 😐 this is definitely on the list for the next buying trip….

My accent and semi-mangled French are not a disadvantage, and led to lots of friendly banter with brocante sellers. It has also helped when asking for a discount, once you’re polite and not taking the piss. Also, a smile goes a long way 😀 Over the entire trip, the vast majority of French people I met were friendly, helpful & interested, even when they were completed baffled by what I was doing! 🤓 It was also interesting that older women, in particular, were incredibly supportive of my having a go at doing something completely different 👊💪

I’m still not a morning person! Don’t think that’s going to change…no matter how early I get to bed 😴 that said, even though the markets do start super-early, it wasn’t unusual to see sellers pulling up in their vans at 9.30/10.00….so, all is not lost if I don’t get there by 7.00 😅 also figured out that it’s better to give myself more time (not just 24 hours) in a place. There are other sources besides the official markets, so best to have more time to explore up your sleeve. TBH there’s also a need for some time out….lots of travelling, early starts, carrying heavy loads around and speaking another language are pretty tiring (am sure it gets easier once you know where you’re going).


Les Belles Parents

Today is my last day in France. I took my parents in law (“belles parents” in French, which I think sounds nicer 😀) out to lunch to say a huge “Thank You” for allowing me to camp out in their spare bedroom for 3 weeks (considering that my Mum used to say “visitors are like fish, after 3 days, they go off”!).

The talk of the town has been a new restaurant,  L’or Q’idee, which is owned and run by a female chef, Naoelle d’Hainaut, who won France’s Top Chef (like Master Chef) TV show a few years ago. She also has many years of cooking at Le Bristol in Paris under her belt, and it showed. The food was top notch, though my father in law felt that the service was a little slow. This may or may not have had something to do with the fact that he sprung a surprise art auction on us shortly after we sat down, and was therefore in a hurry to get away to buy a painting he had his eye on. He was like a cat on a hot tin roof throughout lunch. When Naoelle walked the room to greet her diners, guess who told her that her food was deserving of a Michelin star, but that the service was too slow??!! 😂😂

My in laws are children of the war, and therefore, nothing is wasted. They especially don’t like to see food wasted (my father in law in particular). Thankfully, Hubby had regaled me with many, many stories of his Dad’s bargain food purchases over the years (for example, trays of fruit that are on life support!)….sell by and use by dates are considered to be interesting information, but not a consideration! When my father in law saw me put some leftover food (which had already been reheated once) into the compost tray, he pounced on it and put it back in the fridge! I had to have a lie down to recover 😂😂 …..and, 3 days later, I removed it from the fridge and snuck it back into the bin 😱😱 My mother in law explained the war time psychology to me, and now I know how to handle leftovers 😉

That said, they still have the occasional “words” about using up stale bread. My father in law takes great pride in using up a baguette, even if it’s so stale, you could hammer in nails with it 😂 This usually ends with my mother in law taking it off him, after he has negotiated for just one slice 😂😂

Both belles parents continue to contribute to their community through volunteer work (at their church, and, teaching French to new arrivals in France), and are very interested in, and support, the arts.

After 60 years of marriage, it is so lovely to see them be playful with each other, laugh together, share interests and comfort each other. Their energy and enthusiasm for life is remarkable, and no doubt, a key factor in their good health.

To wrap up, I am very grateful to my belle maman for the new Hubby handling strategies that I’ve learned by observing her interactions with my belle pere! 😀👍


The other Tour de France

Given that the purpose of this trip is to establish whether or not it’s possible to source sufficient objets to scale the business quickly, research has taken me to  regional France, as well as Paris and its countryside surrounds.

Spent an interesting 2 days in Lyon, loved the place, and they run weekly, well-stocked “Puces” 👍. Can’t say enough nice things about Lyon, and I look forward to more buying visits.

Next was 24 hours in Toulouse…..frankly, I hated the place (crowded, run down, claustrophobic, has clearly been badly managed by the local council), not helped by the fact that their weekly market (which was a handy 1km walk from where I was staying) had been moved due to renovation works (which were not visible….), no one recognised the alleged alternate location I’d read about & no one was answering the market contact number. All in all, a wasted 24 hours, but, at least I now know….which is the whole point of research, eh?

Final stop is Bordeaux, which is where I am tonight. So far, the buildings remind me a little of Edinburgh 👍 Really looking forward to visiting their weekly market tomorrow, and, if I have time, a little street close by the market that has lots of small dealers’ stores. Then, back to Paris in the afternoon…..

The Fragility of Trust

So, what was it that finally made me question a corporate life? Many things, I guess, but there are a few that stand out as mind-changing….

The first was a growing unease that what I was doing day to day was not having a positive impact in our world. In previous roles, I could always clearly link the output of my work to supporting others (customers) when they most needed it. This was very important to me, and the teams I led, and a source of some pride. It wasn’t just about the technology, it was about doing the right thing by customers.

The second was when I started to feel misled, and flat out deceived, by my 2 bosses in my shiny new role at B3 (Big Balls Bank). The resources and budget that had been confirmed during the interview process just did not exist. Not only that, the process and means to address this were out of reach. However, I pride myself on being able to solve problems (have always enjoyed “fixing” situations), so determinedly carried on fire-fighting, strategising and making tough calls, with no team and no budget, but managing to deliver some really good wins anyway. My technology boss was happy because she didn’t have to worry about my customers (no “noise” is good), and my business boss (and his team) took delight in continuously pointing out & rehashing every issue that ever existed in how the larger technology team supported them….most of which I could do nothing about as it was before my time. However, that didn’t stop me from taking it onboard and feeling responsible…..being a “good girl” has been part of my make-up for a very long time. I started to dread our executive team meetings and the inevitable tech bashing that would occur (it felt increasingly personal). As I learned, being constructive and transparent only works when there’s a degree of reason being used by all parties.

The third was the straw that broke the camel’s back. As my Mum got sicker and sicker, I was sleeping less and less, always on edge, unable to relax if I hadn’t spoken to her that day (nighttime in my case). At work, I was asked to take on a second customer team, which I was very happy to do, seeing it as acknowledgement that I was doing a good job. However, after 4 weeks of throwing myself into it, I was brought up short when my new client executive was surprised to learn that I was still looking after my old client team. She had been working under the assumption that I was assigned to her full-time (what the…..??!). Turns out that my technology boss hadn’t advised her of this, even though she knew that the client wanted a dedicated technology executive…..unbelievable……a few days later, I left for Ireland as Mum went into the hospice. My technology boss called me at home a week after Mum died to advise that I was being taken off my new client account, and that she was going to circulate a message saying that I was having a hard time in my personal life, so she was lightening my work load…..unfuckingbelievable……even though I was in bed running a temp of 40, I had enough wits about me to disagree and request that she “position it” using the facts…..which were that the client wanted a dedicated technology exec. Needless to say, that didn’t happen, there was no communication, leaving an awkward vacuum and me to explain it to anyone who asked (most people assumed that I’d stuffed it up somehow). I felt very embarrassed and used, and pretty disgusted that anyone would use the death of my Mum as an excuse to cover up their mistake. It wasn’t until a few months later that she apologised, and only then after I raised it with her.

Roll forward a few months from this, the frustration of being a small cog in a giant wheel, coupled with the near impossibility of getting things done without being a paid up member of the back-slapping political boys’ club that was technology at B3, and I had had enough. I was dreading going into the office, the job was literally making me sick. This is NOT who I am. I DON’T do victim-hood. Having decided to leave, it was fortuitous that I got laid off (though I’d have preferred to be the one in charge of the timing 😬). Being a mug to the end, I’d worked most of a public holiday and until 10pm the night before I was laid off 🤓 The “good girl” lives……

Hand Wipes

Went to “fait les courses” (“run errands”….apologies right now for rusty French/dodgy spelling & grammar!) with my Mother-in-law. Maintaining my glorious track record of causing havoc in French supermarket checkouts (Hubby is still embarrassed about a certain exploding box incident in Burgundy this Summer….not to mention the new English swear words that the entire checkout line learned 😂😂), I was swiftly overtaken in bag packing by an elderly lady who MUST have been at least 90. Thankfully, French people don’t “tut” so I could only imagine the disapproving looks about the delay 😬

Fresh from my latest international incident, visited a giant “depot” with my Father-in-law to check out lots of attic contents. Very happy to say that it’s official…..the first objets have been purchased (some pics above)! We managed to get a little discount (7%) but I learned that if it’s not an actual market, haggling isn’t really welcome 😬 Needless to say, also spotted lots of larger items that were interesting (my favourite was an enormous timber wardrobe, the size of 2 portaloos (seriously, you could walk around in it!), that would have made an awesome outdoor room), however, not quite in that space just yet 😉 Second lesson of the day: bring hand wipes when digging around in old stuff!

The adventure begins….

Well, here I am, sitting in the first class lounge waiting for my flight to London…….aaaarrrrrggggghhhhh…..I’m really doing this!!

7 weeks ago, I was employed at B3 (Big Balls Bank) as a technology executive. I was working from home to review confidential proposals from our service partners, when I got a call requesting a face to face meeting, that day, with one of my 2 bosses (don’t you just love matrix reporting 😬?) The urgency was a surprise, I jumped in a cab and raced into head office….where I was advised that, due to cost pressures, I was being laid off. Great……

Two truths: 1. even though it was a shock, it wasn’t a huge surprise, my team was small and niche, and a great candidate for consolidation….2. after two very successful, but hellish, years, I’d had enough and was ready to leave. So, my second reaction to the news was relief 😅

The following weeks were filled with a wiiiide spectrum of emotions, and some enthusiastic champagne drinking 🥂(if they ever make this an Olympic sport, I’m a shoe-in🍾). However, the scary thing was that my usual clarity and focus about my career appeared to have disappeared…..I just didn’t care any more and had no interest in getting back into the corporate rat race…..WTF??!!

Which is why I now find myself heading to Europe to chase a business idea……