When Anneke van den Broek was six years old she launched her first business, selling mice to the local pet shop.
“I went up to the local pet shop and decided that my mice were more attractive than the ones they were selling, so I asked the owner of the pet shop if he would like to buy my mice.”
She learnt a lot about breeding, management and the alarming fact that male mice often eat their young.
“It’s kind of ridiculous, I know.”
She used the money for pocket money and to buy lollies.
Van den Broek has come a long way since then, but she hasn’t lost her entrepreneurial spirit.
She’s the founder and chief executive of pet supply company Rufus & Coco, which is stocked in nine countries, and which sells 2.5 products every minute through Woolworths, Coles, IGA and online.
“I have a true belief that pets are good for people and they’re good for humanity,” van den Broek told Yahoo Finance.
“And my mission now is improving humanity one pet at a time.”
Not just pets
Eloquent, confident and clear, van den Broek isn’t afraid to talk about her goals, her challenges and her concerns.
But what’s most striking is how frequently the entrepreneur refers to the women who have helped her along the way.
There was the colleague who pushed her towards completing her MBA; the office she’s built that is full of women supporting her to pursue her career on her own terms; and the mentors who have helped her feel like she had a safety net when taking those gigantic business leaps.
And today, the younger women she’s helping through her mentorship roles, and her daughter who she hopes will grow up without even considering gender-based limits.
“The thing I’m most passionate about is inspiring future generations and promoting greater equality and diversity in the workplace so that the whole conversation about women’s pay goes away because it really is just the best person in the job,” van den Broek said.
“The thing I’m the most proud of, even in my own small way, is that even with my own daughter and son, they see somebody who is creating something and doing something and there’s no limitations to it.
“I don’t set myself a limitation on what I can do. And I think that’s great, because that means that when my son chooses a partner in life and when my daughter goes to get a job, they’re not seeing the limitations that I certainly felt as a young person.”
As van den Broek put it, her family was “very traditional” when she was growing up.
There was no expectation that she would have roles outside of being a mum – expectations she quickly demolished after shooting up the ranks in business to direct 300 David Jones fashion shows across the country at just 23.
And executive roles at Sportscraft and senior marketing roles for Bonds and Blackmores cemented her status as a keen businesswoman, and marketer.
Which brings her back to equality in business. In addition to diversity of views, there are just some things women understand better than men, she argued.
For instance – what it’s like being a woman.
Women in business
“Women understand consumers,” she said.
“Because let’s face it – how much of the household spending is done by women and women are innately better positioned to know what women want.”
And the multi-tasking stereotype also comes in to play. Van den Broek has Slack, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, her work phone, email and mobile phone all firing at any point in the day.
One of the first photos taken of her in her role at Rufus & Coco is of her typing on a computer while breastfeeding.
It’s an almost superhuman ability to manage so many things at once, and is definitely a “skill in business”.
The thing is that women are good at business, she enthused. They’re more than twice as likely to start up a business – boosting the economy and their own personal careers and finances.
But they’re also more likely to face internal and external challenges.
In what is now a widely-quoted Ted Talk, founder of Girls Who Code Reshma Saujani warned that society is raising girls to be perfect and boys to be brave.
She quoted a report from Hewlett Packard finding that women will only apply for jobs if they meet 100 per cent of the criteria, while men will give it a shot if they meet only 60 per cent.
And as van den Broek told Yahoo Finance, she completed her MBA because she wanted to “step up on my inner confidence”.
It’s why today she seems as passionate about lifting women up in business as she is about helping people lead happier lives with their pets.
She believes that women have to invest in themselves – reaching out to people you admire in the field for a coffee, finding a mentor.
Or it could be completing that MBA or joining Like-minded Bitches Drinking Wine – the networking group launched by Shopo founder, Jane Lu.
The important thing is just to ask, van den Broek emphasised: “You get what you ask for, but maybe not the first time.”
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