The business mogul who runs the family dinner like a board meeting


December 15, 2018 05:00:35

Australian entrepreneur Carolyn Creswell has made a living from helping people organise their daily meals.

She founded Carman’s Fine Foods with an investment of $1,000 when she was 18 years old. She has since helped the home-grown muesli company become a $100 million business filling bowls around the world.

Along with building their muesli empire, Ms Creswell and her husband, Peter, have to find time to raise their four children, aged from eight to 14.

With so many mouths to feed, Ms Creswell has taken inspiration from the business world to bring order to her busy family life.

Every night, someone is selected as the chair of the “family meeting” to keep the conversation running smoothly.

The chair of the dinner-time board meeting makes sure everyone gets a turn to talk, including sharing their “sparkle” for the day.

“It sounds like we’re in a cult,” Cresswell laughs, before explaining that the meeting helps to encourage everyone to talk.

“They [the chair] try to wrangle the eclectic mix of the six of us and we talk about our sparkles — so the highlight of your day — and what you are grateful for,” she says.

“You get this sense that you can’t just constantly be shy and hide behind the wall.

“It has become part of our family tradition.”

Organising the ‘time management command centre’

The Creswells are far from the first family to deploy business thinking in the family home.

Griffith University sociologist Dr Judy Rose has studied the hidden ways that suburban homes have become an informal administrative and organisational centre.

“I call [the home] the ‘time management command centre’,” she says.

“The family and work scheduling is often worked out at the dining table or with schedules on fridges.

“An amazing amount of scheduling and weekly planning and monthly planners is all worked out — mostly by women.”

In Ms Creswell’s case, this includes writing up a list of tasks for the kids to follow every morning before school: make the bed, brush your teeth, get your lunch and so on.

“They don’t always look immaculate,” she says.

“But you can ask them to do what they’re capable of.”

The business approach to the home even extends to dealing with difficult subjects, like helping her teenage son navigate peer pressure or bullies.

Ms Creswell says she role-plays scenarios. For example, her son’s friends attempting to raid the liquor cabinet while the parents are away.

“I’ll make him practice with me,” she says.

“We call it ‘scripting’ at work — unless you script that conversation, you might get yourself caught out.”

Dealing with time pressure

Dr Rose’s research explores how time pressure — how rushed or pressed for time people feel on a daily basis — can be a way to quantify work-life balance.

She said surveys consistently found working mothers were among the most time-pressured groups in society.

This extends into wealthier families who would be able to afford what Dr Rose calls the “outsourced labour” of cleaners and nannies.

“Australia is kind of unique for that lack of outsourcing,” she says.

“Women who are doing quite well are still quite time pressured, it just seems to be the culture that women are still doing a lot of that work despite the fact they probably could afford to outsource a bit more.”

In her study, Dr Rose cites examples of women who multitask and bring their work duties home and become stressed and fatigued.

This is one way that Ms Cresswell says she has tried to distance herself from business logic, in the name of being a better parent.

“I used to hang it as a badge of honour that I was really busy and that my business was my identity and I was very proud of that,” she says.

“Sometimes I might think ‘I’ve got an amazing deal that’s going down at work’.

“Then I realised that it has really changed me so much in the fact that my priority now is my kids and my family and trying to do the best I can in my ‘adult raising factory.'”





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