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Spotlight on Colleen Abela

Colleen Abela"Colleen manages to be a wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend and community activist. By having her by my side, we have been able to build Castlewood Kitchens into a successful and respected company, one which is still flourishing in these difficult times" Mario Abela

Working with your partner can sometimes be a challenge, but the work done by members of the Business Partner Network underpins the success of their business.

Colleen was recently awarded the NSW HIA Business Partner Award for 2012. Nominated for the award by her husband Mario he proudly stated that Colleen has become an indispensable part of the business.

Five questions with Colleen:

  1. How did you get started in the building industry?

    Mario had been a cabinet maker for many years, and in May 1984 he was working for a kitchen manufacturer when he and a co-worker were approached to start a business making kitchens for a person who was a designer/salesman. The other wife and I became partners in the business.

    I was a high school teacher at the time, and pregnant with our first child.

    In the early days, I just did the accounts, but as the business grew, I did a lot of things, including manning the showroom one day a week. I never went back to teaching, but continued sharing the admin duties with the other wife.

    In 1996, we bought out the other partners, and I took over all the admin and red tape duties.

  2. Describe a typical day?

    There is no typical day!

    Most days I will do some bookkeeping, keep an eye on WHS in the factory, make sure the subbies are compliant, check that there are no HR issues with the employees, handle any situations with Accounts Payable or Receivable, etc.

    Once a week I do the wages, reconcile the bank statements and pay the subbies; once a month I complete the monthly Payroll Tax return, superannuation and the IAS; every 3 months I reconcile all the accounts and do the BAS; yearly I reconcile the accounts and send them off to the accountant, complete the Group Certificates, the Payroll Tax Reconciliation, Workers Compensation and the Long Service Leave return.

    I do all the accountancy work except for FBT and the annual return; I do all the government returns and red tape; I handle all the HR and WHS issues including writing the policies and Employee Handbooks and keeping them up-to-date; I write up the Offer of Employment, tailoring it for each new employee and handle the (rare) occasion when we have to dismiss an employee; I conduct the Safety Meetings with the Employees and Subbies, and do regular site compliance checks on the subbies.

    At the moment, I am working on Individual Flexibility Employment Agreements with those employees who signed AWAs five years ago, as they expire later this month; and organising the annual work Christmas party.

    Recently I went along to the Safety Show to see what is available, and I regularly go along to information sessions provided by the HIA and other employer bodies.

    So work is never boring!

  3. What lessons have you learnt?

    I have learnt that the two most important things in business are to treat your employees like family; and to always be honest in your dealings with employees, customers, suppliers and government bodies.

    There is a lot of competition out there, and if your customers know that you provide great service, and your employees go the extra mile for you because they know you look after them, you will have the edge.

  4. Any tips for new business partners or starting out in business?

    Keep a close eye on your finances, and don’t let your cash flow or debtors get out of hand.

    Treat your employees well, but let them know that you expect the same from them. They will understand that you still have to check on them, and an honest worker has nothing to worry about.

    Don’t be afraid to let an employee go if they aren’t working out- it will only drag the rest of your workforce down.

    Always be honest in all your dealings, and be friendly and helpful if you are ever audited – if the auditor knows you have tried to do the right thing, they are less likely to impose penalties and interest.

  5. Future plans for the business

    Colleen AbelaMario and I have started to pull back from the business, and in a few years hope that our children will be able to take over. We will always be available to help out if they need us, but we will be able to enjoy semi-retirement.

    We hope that the business will continue to thrive, but we don’t want it to grow any larger, as then you lose control, and lose the very edge which makes you successful.

    Colleen represented NSW in the National BPN Awards held in Brisbane in May this year.