It’s always exciting to hear about business owners being recognized for their effort and determination in growing their enterprises from humble beginnings into respected organizations, and Carolyn Creswell of Carmen Fine Foods is no exception.

Recently named Telstra Business Woman of the Year 2012, Carolyn tells the story on her Carmen Fine Foods web site about how she was working part-time for the previous owners to help finance her way through university. When she was told the struggling muesli maker was going to be sold and she would lose her job, she made an offer of just $1000, and to her surprise, the offer was eventually accepted making her the proud owner of a muesli business.

Carolyn’s story is a great example of persistence. She finished her degree and managed to keep the business going despite her study commitments. Today the business has grown from servicing a small local market to a brand that is widely recognized across Australia, and is exported to 32 other countries. But of course, success didn’t come that easily; in fact it has been a twenty year process. As Carolyn stated in a report on Ninemsn, she actually spent her first five years in business broke and struggling.

The road to success

I think most successful business owners would have a story or two to tell about the moments when it would have been so much easier to just give up and walk away. While they are battling to pay the bills and just survive in business, they have friends all around them with the security of good paying jobs, a company car, excellent superannuation, perhaps a range of other benefits, not to mention the lifestyle they are living. They seem to have it all.

As statistics show, far too many small business owners lose the battle to survive, often without a choice. When there is nothing left, there is nothing left. But some find a way. There incredible persistence, determination and resourcefulness somehow get them through the toughest moments to eventually triumph.

People don’t accidentally become successful, even when they say they do. Success is the persistent accumulation of small events that eventually result in something meaningful – a successful business.

I can remember when I was starting out on my journey in business, I didn’t really have a clue what I was doing, I just knew what I wanted in terms of the big picture. I was only in my very early twenties and things had not been going particularly well. My mother could tell that I was frustrated at my lack of progress. She wasn’t a businesswoman, psychologist, motivator or coach, but she was a tenacious person who had quietly achieved many goals in sport and other parts of her life. She never sat me down for a lecture. All she did was leave a note on my desk that read;

‘Sometimes the last key in the bunch is the one that turns the lock’.

Now this was the 80’s, and I had read and listened to dozens of motivational books and tapes, each packed full of catchy sayings, many I knew by heart, but none that connected with me at all. So why did this line resonate so differently, and still does to this day?

For one, it was a practical metaphor. Who hasn’t fumbled randomly through a large bunch of unfamiliar keys in an attempt to open a lock, convinced the key wasn’t there, and maybe even given up altogether. Then there’s the person who calmly takes the bunch of keys and methodically tries each one until they find the key that turns the lock. Undoubtedly, their single minded determination and systematic approach to testing the keys enabled them to achieve their objective in what turned out to be a relatively short time, and without any fuss or fanfare.

This simple adage made it so clear to me that of all the qualities a successful individual possessed, persistence was the most essential of all – quite clearly, persistence pays! Until then, I had thought success was all about the dynamic charisma and personality of an individual that got them through. I also learned that using processes and a systematic approach to managing business operations was the most effective, predictable and efficient way to achieve results.

As I would go on to discover throughout my life, some of the least charismatic or articulate people I knew in business were also some of the most successful. What they lacked in the personal image they projected, they more than made up for in sheer determination, and their systematic approach to doing business.

These are the business people that I consistently look to for ideas that work, and can be applied as an operational or marketing model in other organizations.

While I have never met her, I’m sure Carolyn Creswell is one of those people whose journey to success can teach everyone of us something new about business, and at the very least, the value of pure determination.

Congratulations Carolyn! You are a wonderful example to us all.