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Doing it her way

The tough times in business can be a catalyst for bold decisions says Hilary Dixon, founder of the highly successful recruitment firm Dixon Appointments.

Hilary decided to start her own business when she found herself out of a job because her boss went broke. ‘If I was going to be mucked around I decided it would be me who was doing the mucking around, not someone else’ Hilary told a recent Women’s Table lunch.

Dixon Appointments grew steadily into a $120m business through strategic partnerships and collaborations. ‘A third of my work was through government and then they decided to change the rules to effectively favour international companies.’ She couldn’t compete but when a big company offered her a subcontractor role her independent streak kicked in again. She decided to pull together her own coalition of suppliers including an international company and after tough negotiations she won.

‘The success drove the business ahead in leaps and bounds,’ she says. Business Review Weekly magazine recognised Dixon Appointments as one of Australia’s 100 fastest growing companies. ‘Only three per cent of people who win the BRW Fast 100 award each year are women. External approval is very important and I think more women should apply for awards,’ Hilary said.

Five years later government work had grown to make up 75 per cent of the business. Despite having performed beyond expectations the government decided not to select Dixon Appointments in a competitive tender. ‘I literally had staff in counselling. It was devastating.’ This time it prompted her to exit the business, which she did by selling it to her staff.

So what are some lessons Hilary has to share? ‘Don’t panic, think and talk to people, and use your networks. Understand the things that worry you and take a control of them.’ For her type of business cash flow is a big issue so she set up a system so she could check it every morning.

Finally, ‘If you’re tired of hearing people tell you they have the answers, keeping listening because eventually someone will turn up who actually does.’

Hilary spoke at The Women’s Table on 9 September 2015. TWT is a forum to advance women in business for themselves, centred on monthly lunches with inspiring guest speakers. More information here

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