A chat with Global CEO and Augusto Founder, Michelle Walshe on the power of impact.
“I remember this thing my Dad used to say to me,” recalls Michelle.
“He said, ‘nature abhors a vacuum’, (actually Aristotle said it first) but it basically means that if you make space for something, it’s a universal truth of nature and physics that it must be filled. Like, if I get rid of my couch, it won’t take me long to get a new one, right?!
“It’s easier said than done. How do you make a space when you don’t necessarily have control on what will fill it -we just know we can do better? It can be scary.”
It’s a theory Michelle’s led with for most of her life, but it became particularly meaningful more recently when faced with a series of significant decision points around Augusto’s future.
Could saying no create space for better?
Michelle and husband Leon Kirkbeck have always been rule-breakers, risk-takers and applied a philosophy to their work of ‘why not?’ from when they started Augusto 14 years ago. As natural storytellers and creative minds, they’ve always asked, how do we do better? Of ever-increasing importance to them in the past few years has been the balance of profit with purpose – doing good for people and the planet.
“The thing is, the people that work for us can always choose to leave and work somewhere else,” says Michelle. “But for us, this is our thing. Our livelihood. Our future. We have to wake up every single day and want to come to work. And I’m at the point where I can only do that if I know I’m working on something that’s truly making a positive impact. We want to tell the stories that will change the world for good. And luckily for us, our staff feel the same.”
It’s a philosophy Michelle and the team have remained steadfastly committed to.
“It sounds ideal in theory I suppose, but in reality, when you’re running a business and responsible for people paying their mortgages and feeding their kids, how do you get the balance right when it comes to choosing the work you do? It can get really hard.
“When it comes down to it, if you want something badly enough, you have to have the energy to climb over the walls that will drop in front of you, the things that test you.”
Some walls can be predicted and planned for but having just moved their family to New York to grow the US arm of their business, Michelle & Leon, like so many, could never have been prepared for the walls thrown up in the face of a global pandemic.
“In the blink of an eye we were scaling back the US operation, packing up four kids, and on a plane home to New Zealand trying to make sure we could weather the storm and hold on to our most important asset, our people.”
In that moment, when project work is harder to come by, cashflow is tight and you have many mouths to feed, you could forgive a business needing to consider any work that comes its way.
“It was such a big moment for us,” says Michelle. “We were given this chance to really reflect on the business and where we want to be 5-10 years from now. We know we need to balance our commitment to do better with the need to survive and protect our people.”