Carolyn Hartz And Her Journey To The SweetLife

Carolyn Hartz has an incredible story. At the age of 55, she founded SweetLife despite a not-so-sweet start in life, being raised in an alcoholic home, with no business experience, computer skills or any idea she was going to be so successful.

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Her company is now in its 12th year and the most recognised distributor and manufacturer of xylitol-based products in Australia. Seeing a hole in the sugar-free market in Australia, Carolyn confesses she really did need to start from scratch.

I’ve been very fortunate to interview Carolyn for our SHESAID audience. Her answers reveal her personality, passions, secret of her success and her wit! So please grab a cuppa and enjoy reading about Carolyn’s journey, take in her advice and marvel at her wisdom. Thank you Carolyn, you certainly are a living, breathing inspiration.

What are your 5 most prominent personality traits?

My five most prominent personality traits are passion, confidence, optimism, compassion and drive. I have always been driven, which I think comes from growing up in an alcoholic household where there was barely enough money for food and clothes or to pay the bills.

I knew from an early age that I had to work hard to escape this environment and make something of myself. This was also the source of my compassionate nature, seeing first hand the vice-like grip a disease like addiction can have on people, and how they are sometimes powerless to help themselves.

What sort of employment background do you have?

Worked for an accountant for three years straight out of school, an airline stewardess for three years, and modelling – I was Australian Model of the Year 1974. Then when I was 30, I decided to be a stay-at-home mum to raise my children, but I studied part-time for three years and got my finance brokers licence.

I also completed a real estate course. I did not practice either, but a lot of the subjects I took were useful when I started my company at the age of 55, when the youngest of my children went off to university.

When did you consider becoming a business owner?

The seeds were first sown when I accompanied my husband to a conference in New York in 2000. I got talking to a woman who told me she had just bought into a company that sells xylitol, the natural sugar free alternative. I had given up sugar because I was diagnosed as pre-diabetic, but I was missing my sweet treats. She gave me some to try and I was blown away, because here was something that looks like sugar and tastes like sugar but has none of the harmful effects.

She then asked me right there on the spot if I would like to bring the product into Australia. The idea of owning and running a business had never been on my radar before. I replied that I didn’t think I would be able to do it, because frankly, I had no previous business experience. She was having none of it and said something that I will never forget: “Of course you can, you can do anything.” And that was the start of my journey.

What sort of support did you have?

Well, first of all there was my family who just told me to go for it, so that was fantastic. From the New York-based company I received both moral and logistical support. I knew nothing about imports, exports, distributors, labelling, packaging, or indeed anything about running the business.

Fortunately, they were so encouraging and patient. In the beginning, they even helped me to bring xylitol into the country from China, which is where it was being produced at the time.

Did you have a mentor?  If yes, who were they and how did they help?

No. I taught myself with my husband’s assistance. Took a computer and business course while I was working full-time. Learnt on the job and from my own mistakes. I now have a business mentor who has helped me tremendously, especially in learning to focus and keeping me out of rabbit holes – my biggest downfall.

Can you tell us what steps you took to start and grow your business?

Because of my own health issues, I researched and learnt how to manage them without drugs. Everything was built on these principles and my business developed accordingly. Much of my learning is from my own experiences and talking to hundreds of my customers. Started small and grew with the business learning on the way. I did a lot of research into my products and the health industry.

Bear in mind that the only people who had heard of xylitol were dentists, so I was really taking a leap into the unknown. The public knew nothing about the product and neither did naturopaths, doctors and dieticians. So I had to beat the drum for it.

I went to dozens of expos to introduce xylitol and spoke to thousands of people. I also took out an ad in a small magazine that featured health articles. The response was phenomenal and we sold out pretty much straight way. This convinced me that I had a viable business option which could succeed.

I learnt importing, packaging, marketing, bookkeeping, etc and all the tools I needed to run my business ‘on the job’, but I also did a business course about three years after I started as the business grew very fast and became much larger than I ever anticipated. I had only thought I would work 3 days a week not 7 days a week!

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You’ve mentioned you had no computer experience and you did a computer course. What sort did you do and what did it teach you?

I took a week-long course for absolute beginners, because the only thing I knew was how to turn the computer on, and only then if the button was in a prominent position! The course taught me so much, including how to use a word processor, how to navigate a desktop, how to create and save documents, how to work with files and how to start and shut down a computer. And I have my very patient husband to thank for showing me how to send and respond to an email. I truly learnt the hard way by my mistakes.

You also did an online business course. What sort?

For three years I studied EMyth, an American course which I loved as all our assignments were based around our own business. It was part-time and done by phone and online. It was a thorough grounding in just about everything to do with owning a business, such as writing a business plan, marketing, taxes, communication tools, business organisation, cash flow and running a successful online venture. It was very real and helped me see where one could improve every aspect of your own business, not just text book learning.

Would you recommend a business course to others wanting to become their own boss?

Oh, absolutely. Before starting SweetLife, I wasn’t aware of just how many different skills business owners need to run a successful operation. You need to be able to do so many things and handle such tasks as negotiations, business management and market analysis. Passion and determination will only get you so far, and that isn’t far enough. A formal training also prepares you for many of the eventualities that may crop up.

Furthermore, as your business grows and develops, the range and complexities of your skills will also need to grow, and whether through formal business training or a mentor, you need the proper tools to tackle fresh challenges and search for new opportunities. You are the only person who has a deep emotional connection to your business and you owe it to yourself to be fully prepared.

What tips could you offer others who want to begin their own business who are getting older?

First of all, do it. Don’t even entertain the thought that you are too old to start anything new, let alone something as bold as a brand new business venture. You are not too old.

I would also say, start your business to solve a problem. Be the solution that consumers are looking for. And solve a problem that you are passionate about. For example, I am passionate about providing Australians with a healthy, natural, sugar-free alternative.

Starting and running a business is hard work, requiring perseverance and commitment; and while passion on its own won’t make your business a success, it will keep you energised and focused. Be prepared to work hard, keep learning, ask people for assistance when you don’t know something, make mistakes, fall down and keep getting up.

My final tip is to ignore the naysayers, and there will be plenty of them, especially if you are someone who has to blow out lots of candles on your birthday cake. The only way you will silence the cynics and doom merchants is by becoming a success.

Look, I started when I was 55 with a product nobody had heard of and you could list my previous business experience on the back of a very small stamp. As you can imagine, there were plenty of naysayers who all said there were too many cards stacked up against me. I listened to none of them. Once I set my mind on my business venture, I went for it 100 per cent. Failure is not a word I use.

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What advice can you offer others who have experienced trauma /abuse/addiction to create a meaningful, successful life?

It is very difficult to give advice to anyone, as we are all so different and our experiences are different. The best advice I received was from people who had gone through similar circumstances and really understood how it feels; people who have come out the other end and accepted what had happened to them in the past and have propelled themselves forward using their past experiences to achieve their dreams.

I try to inspire others in this way as well. Encouraging them not to go back, not to dwell on the past, only work on the future. We can’t change the past, but we can have enormous effect on the future. Of course the old memories will resurface when life gets difficult, but to remember that the worst is over and the future is now up to us as an individual.

At this stage, we control our own destiny, we are no longer held back by the past. That time was possibly out of our control, but now we are in control of our own future and we can strive forward to be happy and successful in whatever we choose to do. Know that it will be difficult at times but that is OK. Don’t be hard on yourself.

The most awakening time in my life was my time at Holyoake (similar to Alcoholics Anonymous I think) when I was 37-years-old (30 years ago), where I participated for many months as a co-dependent, as I wasn’t an alcoholic. I not only learnt how to cope with other people’s alcoholism, but I learnt a lot about myself and my own issues that had developed as a result of being brought up in an alcoholic environment.

I learnt to understand why I behaved the way I did and I learnt to forgive myself and be proud of who I was. I learnt not to be ashamed of my past but to embrace it. In doing so I not only helped myself, but I could help those around me. I could actually inspire other people to follow their dreams and never be held back by a past they had no control over. Thirty years ago it was not as accepted as it is now to speak up so it was not easy. How lucky we are today that times have changed so much.

For thirty years I have said: I am what I am today because of my experiences ‘yesterday’. I like who I am today. My past has made me strong, compassionate, driven, understanding and very aware of those who have or are experiencing personal trauma. I know it can be difficult at times to move on, but remember: the ‘glass is always half full’, it’s what we do now that counts.

The past can’t be undone, but the future is in our hands. It is clean and bright, we just have to embrace it. There is no such thing as failure – failure is just a stepping stone to success. One can have a successful meaningful life. Sometimes, I think I am even better off because of my past as it has made me aware of what I DON’T want in my life.

I only focus on what I do want in my life and I know that it can only happen if I make it happen. Very importantly I have made sure that my own family have the very best start to life that I can give them.

Click here to find out more about SweetLife Australia.

Inspirational Women: Nicole Lamond Philp

Each week, SHESAID features an inspiring woman who has been kind enough to share her story with our readers. She might be a leader in her chosen field, someone still on their own path, striving to make a difference or simply someone with a remarkable story to tell. These women contribute their own knowledge, expertise and life lessons in order to truly inspire others.

Name and role:

Nicole Lamond Philp, director of Universal Village, a Fair Trade food company that imports and distributes Qi Tea and is also the owner and distributor of Rhino Coffee.

What do you do on a day-to-day basis?

I run all aspects of the business and outsource operations to a 3rd party logistics company. I have a national sales and merchandising company that does my sales nationwide. Mostly I’m focused on marketing, including promoting Qi Teas which are in Woolworths, IGAs and soon to be in Coles. Some of this is creative work, which I love the most – creating campaigns, writing copy etc.

How/when did you know this what you wanted to do as a career?

I’ve never really thought of it as a career, it’s more that I wanted to be involved in Fair Trade – I wanted to introduce Fair Trade into Australia and see it in the mainstream.

“Fairtrade is about better prices, decent working conditions, local sustainability, and fair terms of trade for farmers and workers in the developing world. By requiring companies to pay sustainable prices, Fairtrade addresses the injustices of conventional trade, which traditionally discriminates against the poorest, weakest producers. It enables them to improve their position and have more control over their lives.”

Where do you find your inspiration?

People who take a different path in life to the one they were born into – people who take up the challenge of what they are ‘called’ to do is really inspiring. Any work (whether art or in business) that is striving for what is good, true or beautiful is awesome.

Did you have a mentor? Who/what helped you to get your career off the ground?

Yes, I do have a business mentor, Dale Simpson of Bravo Consulting. He’s been fantastic. He keeps me looking at the big picture – what am I trying to achieve? Because the goal wasn’t about a $ profit figure or something so tangible. It’s easy for one’s dream to get buried in the day to day minutiae and Dale helped keep the dream alive, so to speak. And it’s so valuable to have someone in your corner on the days when you feel like chucking it all in!

What were the stumbling blocks, initially getting started on your career path, and since then?

The fact that I didn’t really know what I was doing when I started the business was a bit of a stumbling block! I’d also only ever worked in admin, I’d never been the person at the top actually making decisions. It took me a long time to get out of that mindset and grow in confidence.

How did you overcome these?

I went and did the first year of an MBA, then switched over to the Master of Entrepreneurship and Innovation, which was a great course.

What are your goals for the future?

To meet really inspiring people who are making the world a better place. To grow Qi Tea to be the most significant green tea brand in grocery in Australia and to see Fair Trade products in every household in Australia. To become more loving. To live in a house that feels like I’m living in a work of art. To spend some time living on a boat or in a shack near the edge of the world.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to follow the same path as you?

Choose something you’re passionate about and go for it! A general rule of thumb in the early days is everything costs double what you budget and will take twice as long as what you think, so always, ALWAYS crunch the numbers. Timing is the essence of life and each year brings its set of (hopefully) victories and challenges. Take time to reflect and appreciate and learn from them all. Never compromise your values or your dream to make the world a better place.

7 High-Flying Women Share Their Secrets to Success

Are you despairing of ever smashing through that metaphorical glass ceiling and rising to the top of your chosen profession?  SheSaid has persuaded real-life women who are scaling the heights of seven very different fields to share their stories – and what they credit with their success.

The Retail Afficionado: Jennifer Jones, 38 (above)
Former Diesel Clothing managing director and founder/CEO of homewares company Have you met Miss Jones, a lifestyle-publication favourite

Tell us your potted career history: I witnessed first-hand the passion and love my parents had for their homewares business in the Philippines and I made it my personal goal to start my own business by the time I was 30. So just shy of my birthday I resigned from Diesel Clothing. First I tried my hand at selling almost anything and then, on my Dad’s suggestion, I went back to the Philippines to source a homewares collection.

Have you had to make personal sacrifices? The most confronting aspect of moving from a corporate career to your own business is the sheer amount of work you need to do yourself. I didn’t want to take out loans or get investors so I started with my savings and a fierce determination to succeed. While you do make sacrifices, especially financial, you know every aspect of your business and how to do things, and you have more time to do the things you love as you’re calling the shots.

What do you credit with your career success? I was told that when you start your own business everything you’ve done in the past, no matter how insignificant, plays a part in your success. This couldn’t be more true and all the roles I’ve had in the past have given me instinctive knowledge about starting my own company. We now release two full ranges a year of over 300 items and supply over 800 stores across Australia. Find something you truly love doing, then make it your job!

The Banker: Melanie Evans, 36
Head of home ownership for Australia’s second-largest lender, Westpac Group

Tell us your potted career history: I started in banking at 17 years old while studying my undergraduate degree. Having held senior product, marketing and P&L roles in banking, super and investments, it’s fair say I’ve grown up in a male-dominated environment!

Have you had to make personal sacrifices? I believe that those who achieve career success – as defined only by them – tend to be highly successful in life beyond their career too. So I’m very conscious of leading a happy and healthy life. I’ve never thought of anything as a sacrifice. I make explicit decisions on a daily basis about how I spend my time and I own those decisions. I’ve had very good role models in that regard. I make time to go for a run in the morning or at lunchtime, I prioritise family commitments, I make sure I eat well. I don’t hide the fact that I am spending time on myself because I think I am better person for it.

What do you credit with your career success? Understanding your business and most importantly your customers; hard work and tenacity; building solid relationships based on trust and respect; challenging convention and encouraging others to challenge your own thinking; always learning by seeking out people and experiences that will give you new perspectives; caring about people and developing those around you; enjoying yourself and being happy.

The Engineer: Sally Glen, 40
Australian director at Independent Project Analysis (IPA), the industry leader in the quantitative analysis of project management systems

Tell us your potted career history: I don’t recall really choosing engineering but growing up in the outback and being good at maths seemed good perquisites… and I happily went off to remote Tom Price for my first job. I’ve had three out of four good bosses, only two employers and interesting work. From starting in construction and project management, my work now involves governance and project economics, plus evaluating over 200 projects in the last decade (flying and airports are overrated!). Lots of public speaking, including teaching project professionals, is not where I thought engineering would take me.

Have you had to make personal sacrifices? We decided early on to have one of us home and it was an economic decision that I work. I have worried about how much I’ve been away from the girls (now five and seven) during their very young years. I think that has probably been harder on me than them and maybe it is giving them good role modelling for what is possible. The single income has postponed some plans but it has been of enormous comfort to me from many overseas locations that the kids had a parent at home.

What do you credit with your career success? I manage everything in large part because of my husband’s role as stay-at-home parent. I have an aptitude for process improvement and the puzzle solving that goes with operations management, and I have a scenario planning mindset to seeing off problems. Being more senior is isolating and I have to work on those likability issues that tend to be felt more by women. I credit my children for teaching me to be “present” and I have a small, core group of family and friends who help with my sanity from time to time. I also run.

The Journalist: Kate Mills, 40 
Former editor of BRW magazine and founder of www.professionalmums.net, a platform for flexible work opportunities for women in law, accounting, engineering and management consulting

Tell us your potted career history: Nearly a lawyer, but then accidentally fell into journalism and instantly loved it. Started in legal journalism but spread into becoming a general business commentator and spent the last three years as first female editor of BRW.

Have you had to make personal sacrifices? As editor my life came down to my family (husband and two girls) and work so I have been through periods where you just don’t see friends and you have to keep an eye on your physical and mental health so you don’t burn out. Any sacrifices have been worth it though – I love what I do.

What do you credit with your career success? Hard work and some luck. Early in my career I met an editor at a party who gave me my first big break – she overheard me making a group of lawyers laugh and thought I would be good value! I am like a lot of women who are the quiet hardworking ones that get things: we need to make more noise though about our achievements – that is one reason more men get ahead. My new motto: hear me roar!

The Lawyer: Anna Elliot, 38
Senior associate and leader of the Sydney labour and employment team at global top-20 law firm, Squire Sanders

Tell us your potted career history: I trained as a lawyer at Hammonds (now Squire Sanders) in the UK. After five years, I moved to Sydney with the intention of staying for six-12 months and returning to my role in London. After a brief career change honing some invaluable business development skills at KPMG, I met my husband and realised I was staying. So I re-qualified and continued my career in employment law in commercial firms here. Seven years later, I received a fantastic opportunity to re-join Squire Sanders to set up the labour and employment team in Sydney, when its newest Australian office opened in November 2012.

Have you had to make personal sacrifices? Yes. Although moving to Sydney was the right decision for my personal life, it set my career back about five years and I am still catching up with my former UK peers.  I also took less time off for maternity leave, and had less time at home once I returned to work, than I would have liked. I absolutely love being a mother and I am also passionate about my career – I have been very fortunate to have a husband and employers who are supportive of both.

What do you credit with your career success? Being hard working, committed and driven. Also maintaining relationships and never burning my bridges, which was a key factor in being approached for my current role.

The Property Manager: Kate Brown, 36
Group director, sustainability for global property company Grosvenor, run for the Duke of Westminster 

Tell us your potted career history: Completed a Masters degree in Art History and found my first job in property as a graduate asset manager in London, moving into development soon after. Once professionally qualified, I was posted to Sydney as a development manager, taking on the new (international – across our 19 offices) role of group director, sustainability five years ago.

Have you had to make personal sacrifices? The first three years of full-time working while undertaking a post-grad course – four nights a week, four hours a night just for the lectures and coursework on top – was very tough. I kissed goodbye to ANY social life! Now with a young family and an international role, the sacrifice is different: time away from home.

What do you credit with your career success? Never being afraid to ask the question; for a new challenge. People only know what you want if you tell them. So many people are dissatisfied… don’t die wondering! There was a need for my role but it didn’t exist. I asked the question and after some discussion it was created. Also being prepared to feel scarily out of my depth. Being a group director aged 30 was a little daunting – I made plenty of mistakes, but had to learn quickly.

The Television Careerist: Sarah Stinson, 33
Executive producer, Channel 7’s The Morning Show and Daily Edition

Tell us your potted career history: I started in the newsroom at Channel 9 in 1998. I was meant to do a week-long internship; I ended up staying for 8 months, simply by creating new jobs for myself. From there I went to the Today Show as production assistant and after two years, to my dream job at A Current Affair, starting as a researcher before moving up to senior producer. I then went to Today Tonight (Channel 7) as a producer and was promoted to chief of staff, where I really cut my teeth in management. This paved the way three years ago for my progression to executive producer of The Morning Show, and more recently the Daily Edition.

Have you had to make personal sacrifices? On the face of it, yes – I’ve been called back from holidays for every form of natural disaster. In my early 20s I spent more time in a dark edit suite than a dark nightclub (in retrospect, this may have been a good thing). I’ve spent pretty much every Sunday morning for the past 15 years chasing stories when I should be sleeping in. But this is a lifestyle, not a job, so I wouldn’t necessarily call them sacrifices, but rather a relatively small price to pay for long-term gain.

What do you credit with your career success? I have always been resourceful and incredibly determined. If someone tells me something can’t be done I see it as a challenge – an invitation to make it happen. I love recognising talent in other people and helping them to play to their strengths. More than most industries television is a team sport – it’s a constant relay. We all rely on each other to get the best product to air each day. And the two vital ingredients for any successful career: gusto and gumption.

Which women inspire you? We’d love to know your female role models and who you look up to!

Nicole is the founder of TheMoneyMentorWay.com and developer of the 12-Step Prosperity Plan, an achievable and even enjoyable blueprint to take Aussies from worry to wealthy. Nicole’s writing has earned her top personal finance awards in both the United Kingdom and Australia. Her career credits include founding and editing The Australian Financial Review’s Smart Investor magazine, and reporting and editing for the magazine arm of the UK’s Financial Times. Author, qualified financial adviser and Fairfax’s Money Matters columnist for the last decade, Nicole is a regular on television and radio. She talks money without the mumbo jumbo. Follow her on Twitter at @NicolePedMcK.