Entrepreneurial DNA

Kathryn Harris, FCPA, CTA TrustOne Partners

Lessons learnt from growing up in a family business.

Entrepreneurial DNA

I know, isn’t she cute? That’s me at about 3 on the job. (Your next thought is omg what is that tiny child doing around that huge machine!)

I grew up in a family business, familiar with the smell of diesel and sump oil. Stories say that at 8 months old I was sleeping on a D8 dozer while dad worked.

We literally lived on the job site. From when I was about 3 we lived in a mobile home (a trailer as the yanks say) that was parked in the yard.

In 1977 my Dad was working with Robin Keith on the Sugarloaf Dam. Our van, which was quite big and needed a semi to move it, was parked on board of works land at Christmas Hills. The house there was the site office. My sister and I pushed our doll prams round the work site, interacted with Robin and other workers, and had a dolly clothes line at the back of the office.

In late 1979 we moved the trailer to Heathcote, to a block of land that Dad bought as he was now working on sections of the Hume from Seymour to Wodonga. This block became our yard. We had machinery, trucks, low loaders, and bits of machinery as our playground. We would perform shows on the back of a low loader and our cubby was a scraper cab up on oil drums.

When I was nearly 8, in late 1981, with the arrival of another sister we moved into our house and each got our own room – which was very exciting. The yard was still at our house and now so was the office. When I wasn’t at school I was with Dad, or sometimes even one of his employees, in the cab of a truck, backhoe or excavator. I learnt to drive following dad as he “walked” a machine from one job site to another. Family weekend drives consisted of us all getting in the car driving to a job site to check progress or get info to prepare a quote.

As we got older we became more involved in running the business. From about 12 we were answering phones, taking messages, stamping docket books (I got quite adept at turning two pages at once as we only stamped the original not the carbon copy). These admin functions processed to preparing invoices, quotes and progress claims.

The earthmoving game is volatile so we also became adept at dealing with debt collectors and even repo agents. We learnt that a family business is just that – a family. Not just the people you are related to but the people you work with too.

Over the years Dads business was diverse – from working on the Dartmouth Dam when I was born – Sugarloaf, then road construction with the Longwood and Berwick bypasses, to sub divisions, sand quarrying and mining. The lesson from this is that business needs to be adaptable, ready to take new opportunities.

So why this long winded story with the cute pic? To explain that family business is in my DNA. I know the commitment involves the whole family, that in a family business it is essential to have people around you that understand the journey, the difficulty of having work/life balance.

I still love heavy machinery, and being in the cab of a prime mover is still one of my happy places. And I’m still involved in the industry with my husband working in civil construction and a number of clients being earthmoving businesses.

While the way I grew up is definitely an era of a bygone time, well out side worksafe regulations, the lessons I learnt about operating a business are invaluable and timeless. 

Kathryn Harris, FCPA, CTA TrustOne Partners

Kathryn Harris is a FCPA and a Chartered Tax Advisor. A partner in a rural accountancy practice she champions woman in their business and leadership roles.