When young Rich Lister Tammy May was 22, she took a leap of faith. She left her comfortable job at an Adelaide law firm and founded her own business.
She’d been working in the firm’s debt collection department when she realised the impact debt was having on people’s lives. Recognising that people, regardless of the amount they earned, couldn’t afford to pay back their debts motivated May to found a budgeting service, to help people work toward their financial goals.
A few months later, at the end of 1999, My Budget was born. Little did May know that she would go on to became an EY Young Entrepreneur of the Year, South Australian Business Woman of the Year and the owner of a Fast 100 company.
May sees starting the business in her early 20s as an advantage. “Sometimes you’re braver when you’re young and I figured if it didn’t work out I’d have plenty of time in the future to recover. I wanted to take the risk because it was making such a big difference in people’s lives.”
Since starting, the business has grown at 50% year-on-year, but carving out a whole new market had its challenges. May had to educate the market about My Budget’s service and why it was important. It gained customers through referrals from clients and other financial businesses and now its main clientele is people and couples in their early 20s to mid-50s.
In the year to June 30 the business turned over around $24 million and it’s now on track to reach $34 million in 2013-14. May spoke to Women’s Agenda sister publication SmartCompany about how she’s managed My Budget’s fast growth and how having a family improved her business.
Mornings largely revolve around May’s kids, but at the latest she’s up by 7am.
“I get up, get organised for work and then get the kids organised for school. We have breakfast and then I drop the kids to school on the way to work,” she says.
“I’m in the office just before 9am and then we have a daily executive meeting that goes for an hour once a week, but 15 minutes daily.”
May’s day is generally filled with marketing, sales, finance and HR meetings.
“My day is largely spent meeting with department heads and also the executive team in general. I also have a daily meeting with all of our interstate managers.”
When May started My Budget she used to be in more of a hands-on role, but now she takes on a senior management executive position.
“Now it’s more about strategic thinking and planning. I used to do a lot more of the work, as well as the strategic planning, but as it has grown I do less and less of the day-to-day type work,” she says.
“It was very much a natural progression to mentor staff who have worked with me into a position where they could take on more and more responsibility. It wasn’t daunting, it felt very natural to delegate.”
Unlike some business owners, May acknowledges that sometimes jobs can be done better by others.
“I know we always think it’s done best by ourselves, but I feel fortunate in having people around me who are great at their jobs.”
My Budget now employs around 250 people and to ensure all management are performing at their best May provides them with regular training.
“We provide senior management with both in-house and external training. There is a culture of learning at My Budget.
“We hold quarterly professional development days and during those days it’s all about team building, sharing stories about clients and ourselves and sharing stories about our values and our value system. This brings the whole team together.”
May believes the sharing of stories and communicating the My Budget values helps to build a positive company culture.
“It’s like a big family… a lot of this is fostered through our development days and then we have a social club which runs activities. We have casual days, sausage days, and the majority of the boys are doing Movember,” she says.
May balances her daily working life with her responsibilities as a parent. At 25, May had her first child, Madison, and while this could have broken the business, she says it was actually a pivotal moment.
“When I had my first daughter it forced me to replace myself in the business, get the right procedures in place and have people able to make decisions without me – it was fantastic for the business.
“Juggling children and work, I love both things. You tend to find the balance which works for you, but you can certainly make it work, although it’s not without its challenges.”
May managed to have children and her career by working from home two days a week and then having her parents or a nanny look after her kids.
Part of what’s made My Budget a well-known brand is the company’s TV ads. May became the face and voice of the business and resonated with every day Australians.
“We work on marketing strategies which keep educating Australians about what it is that My Budget does. Often people don’t realise what we do and the difference it makes in the community.
“There’s nothing better than talking to a client and being able to entertain the difference My Budget made in their lives. Often I’ll see an email from a client and it’ll make me miss the days when I was more hands on.”
Reflecting on her 14 years in business, May says winning the Telstra South Australian Business Women of the year award in 2007 was a highlight.
“It gave me a shock, but also a platform to launch from and opened new doors. Being appointed to the Bank of South Australia advisory board was also a really proud moment. I’m the youngest woman the bank’s ever had.”
May leaves the office each day around 6pm and generally tries to exercise each day.
“I try and exercise either in the mornings or after work, at the gym or on the treadmill. I have dinner with the kids and then once they’re in bed I do a bit more work.
“The children take up quite a bit of my time, but I love travelling and playing sport. I’ve always played basketball, although I’m not playing at the moment.”
Catching up with family and friends and indulging in nice dinners and wine is also on May’s agenda.
Looking forward May wants to continue My Budget’s expansion.
“We open in Perth in January – there’s a lot of exciting things to come,” she says.
“We’re also investigating expanding overseas and extending services to clients to further help them. We’re looking into what our clients want from us at the moment; there’s a lot of planning going into 2014.”
When asked about if she has an exit strategy, she says there will come a time, but it’s not a high priority at the moment.
“I really love what I do and being part of making a difference and carving out this industry, but an exit is always at the back of my mind,” she says.
“It’s there, but I haven’t given it a lot of thought. I don’t know when it will be or how it will be, but I know it’s something I’ll have to think about.”