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Spotlight on Suzanne Burke

Suzanne BurkeCongratulations to Suzanne Burke, 2013 Australian Business Partner

Suzanne was awarded the 2013 Australian Business Partner award at the recent HIA-CSR Australian Housing Awards.

Amerex Renovations & Additions is a small builder based in Perth and employs ten people. Founded by Steve Burke in 1987, Amerex specialises in major renovations and additions in the older inner suburbs of Perth such as North Perth, Mt Lawley, Wembley and Subiaco.

Suzanne Burke was awarded the WA HIA Business Partner Award for 2012.

Five questions with Suzanne:

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

    I have a Bachelor of Business degree with a major in IT. As a young graduate I worked through the ranks from a Computer Programmer, then to a Systems Analyst, Project Leader, and moved around to other roles such as a Software Tester, Technical Writer and more recently as a Business Systems Analyst.

    Steve and I have two children, now aged 12 (Lily) and 14 (George). Our world took a blow in early 2010 when Lily became seriously ill. I often refer back to 2010 as our Annus Horribilis – a term made famous by the Queen when referring to a horror year. That year Lily stepped onto a roundabout that saw her go in and out of PMH (Princess Margaret Hospital) and ultimately endure five bouts of major surgery, including operations on her brain, and also fought off a life threatening staph infection. It was at this time that I resigned from my role as a Business Systems Analyst, stepping back from my career and devoting all my time and energy to the family.

    When the storm clouds cleared, I was not sure about going back to the corporate world, as it was still unclear as to whether Lily was in fact out of the woods. It was at this time that Steve convinced me to join Amerex. With Amerex now growing at a steady rate, Steve could not cope with the myriad of issues in relation to Human Resources, IT, Marketing, and general administration of the business.

    Initially I was dubious that we could work together as husband and wife, so I jokingly put Steve on three months’ probation. It has been three years now, and in that time I have overhauled the IT systems, professionalised our HR and re-engineered most of our business processes and wrote a raft of new policies and procedures. To say it has been a successful pairing is best measured by the fact that we both took home awards at the recent Western Australia Housing Awards. That is, the WA HIA Business Partner of the Year, and the WA HIA Small Builder/Professional Renovator of the Year 2012.

    These achievements could not have been possible without Steve’s positive attitude and being open to change. Having run the business for a long time without my help, I thought that he would be very reluctant to change anything. To his credit he has supported most of my ideas, and the business has been better off for it. He is proof that ‘you can teach an old dog new tricks’.

    I am very happy working at Amerex, and have found the life/work balance I have is much better suited to our family’s needs. I cannot see myself returning to my former career, the variation that I get at Amerex means that the job is always interesting and rewarding. In turn, I think Amerex is better off with me on board, so it's a classic win-win scenario!

    BTW: Lily had more surgery in January 2013, and this appears to have been a success which will now offer a permanent solution for her problem.

  2. What is a typical day?

    As most Business Partners will tell you, there is no such thing as a typical day! I am lucky that we have a good team of support staff in the office, so many day-to-day tasks are taken off my hands.

    That leaves me to work through my to-do list. I generally have a few of those! I break them into short, medium and long term and put priorities across all of them. Short term and high priority get actioned first, whereas medium/long term and high priority tend to be items from our Business Plan that are flagged for implementation within the current financial year.

    On a weekly basis I always find time to monitor website traffic, and to be across social media updates and interactions, keep tabs on enquiry rates, and other marketing activities. In between, I usually I have a host of other items that absorb my time such as HR activities e.g. performance reviews, new employee contract documents, etc…IT Support, OHS, Job Cost Analysis, and finance and legal matters. I also ensure that I regularly research what is going on in the industry and ensure that others within the business are kept up-to-date.

  3. What lessons have you learnt?

    • Never take short cuts – you will always regret it at some point down the track. If you are going to do a job, do it well. If you can’t do it yourself, seek the help of professionals in their field. For example, I rewrote all employee agreements with existing employees to ensure compliance with the Fair Work Act. With very little experience in the HR field and even less with contracts, I sought out the help of the HIA Workplace Advisor who was able to provide templates to work from.
    • Being part of the management team is not always a special place to be. Sometimes there are difficult tasks to perform and these most often present themselves within the HR realm. Always be fair and reasonable while keeping in mind your decision needs to factor in what is best for the business. Finding the right balance is a fine art!

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

    • Write procedures for everything. Ensure everyone knows what to do, when to do it, and why. If it is too hard, not working, or takes too long, you need to review it, there is probably a better way. Encourage your staff to be part of this process, and empower them to suggest improvements and action them.
    • Write a Business Plan and review it every six months to ensure that you are making progress and continuing to set new targets.
    • Keep in touch with what is going on in the industry. This can be as simple as reading HIA newsletters. Follow up any items of interest that may impact your business.

  5. Future plans for the business

    • At an operational level we aim to keep procedures in step with controlled growth. It is important to keep measuring and monitoring to ensure inefficiencies do not creep in, and to ensure quality is not impacted at any stage.
    • We aim to keep alert and constantly look for opportunities to improve. There is never an end point in business, so we know that we need to constantly evolve. We need to continue to listen to the changing needs of our customers and the state of the industry and economy, and adapt as needed.
    • I have many other ideas in terms of growth and diversifying our product, but revealing that would remove our competitive edge, so watch this space!