Geminder: running a business is a marathon, not a sprint

Any business owner who works with family knows there is a constant balance needed in order to remain successful.

Click image to zoom Tap image to zoom

Pic: Fiona Geminder (center) with Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, Visy staff and members of the Pratt family at the launch of a Visy packaging facility in Truganina

For Fiona Geminder, Co-owner of Visy – one of the world’s largest privately-owned packaging and recycling groups – a focus on family has been the thread that has tied her life and career together over the decades.

“You don’t tell Picasso how to paint.” – Jeanne Pratt

Established from very humble beginnings by Fiona’s grandfather Leon Pratt in 1948, Visy now employs more than 7,000 people operating across 120 plants and factories throughout Australasia.

What started as a way to make fruit picking boxes lighter has become one of Australia’s most renowned family-owned businesses success stories.

I recently caught up with Fiona as part of a virtual conference for ANZ’s leaders in which we discussed her role as a leader and “annoying aunty”, the progress being made in ESG at Visy, and how she is managing work-life balance through the pandemic.


Family focus

Fiona, who has a background in advertising and a law degree, credits her keen interest in business to her father Richard Pratt.

“I ended up working in the business… and he said to me ‘just remember, it's not a sprint… it's a marathon’,” Fiona explains.

When not limited by COVID-related restrictions, Fiona spends most of her days visiting staff at Visy’s many factories – something she really enjoys.

“We're a very family-oriented factory business. I'm very involved with everybody - I know their lives [and] what they're doing. They become my friends, which is a really lovely part of our culture.”

Fiona says Visy has a policy to “hire the best people for the job and then get out of the way” - something she learnt from her mother, Jeanne Pratt.

“My mother always used to say to me ‘you don't tell Picasso how to paint’. So effectively… I influence but I don't mandate. It's up to people to make their own decisions about how [the business] should move forward.

Leading a business

For Fiona, having a problem-solving mindset is critical to ongoing success, particularly in an industry which is impacted by the weather, supply issues and, of course, COVID-19.

“The bushfires last year were really stressful - it put pressure on our supply of wood so we learnt a technique of how to use burnt wood which was extraordinary and a world-first,” she says.

As for her own ability to manage work-life balance, Fiona says the fact family has been a focus in her business for a long time has kept her in check.

“We're a business family. My husband (PACT Group Founder and Chairman Raphael Geminder – affectionately known as Ruffy) is a passionate businessman, I've got two girls in business at the moment and my son works at Visy.”

One step at a time

Being a female leader in the highly male-dominated industry of manufacturing, Fiona is keenly focused on what Visy can do to increase gender balance and representation across the business.

“It is very challenging - there's no silver bullet,” she says. “I'm very proud to say 43 per cent of our new hires are women. It's [been a] gradual process but it's a start.”

Fiona says Visy has also been implementing policies to encourage female participation and learning from other businesses, both in the manufacturing industry and beyond.

As for what the future holds for Fiona, she says statutory retirement is definitely not in her plans.

“I'm going to be here till I'll drop dead in my chair!”

You can listen to my whole conversation with Fiona in the podcast above.

Shayne Elliott is CEO of ANZ

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

editor's picks

13 Apr 2021

Investments making an impact

Dan Simpson | Head of Impact Investing, ANZ Private Banking

Impact investing continues to grow globally as investors look to contribute positively to social or environmental outcomes.

02 Dec 2019

ANZ Board Minutes: banks on the production line

Andrew Cornell | Past Managing Editor, bluenotes

Graeme Liebelt believes the financial services have a lot to learn from manufacturing. And it’s time to get back to basics.