Usually when the average 18-year-old manages to scrape together $1,000, you might expect them to put it towards a car, or perhaps blow the lot on a trip to Bali. Not Carolyn Creswell.
Unbelievably at 18, Carolyn found herself offering her life-savings to buy out her employer.
“It was a small business that made home-made muesli for a few cafes and delis in and around Melbourne”, Carolyn says.  “I worked there one day a week while I was at Uni, and I loved it. When the owners put the business up for sale, I thought my job would be in jeopardy so I offered them $1,000 which was initially dismissed, and then finally they took up my offer.”The subsequent growth of Carman’s is the stuff of entrepreneurial dreams.
Carman’s now exports to over 32 countries”I am not an overnight success”, Carolyn says. “I have been chipping away at this for 20 years now.”Some would disagree with Creswell’s self assessment.  Only 20 years from cottage industry to a multinational, trusted Australian brand is akin to overnight success, especially if you consider Creswell’s youth and inexperience in the beginning.
Although successfully completing an Arts degree at Monash University, Creswell has had no formal business mentor or coach, nor has she done any business studies.  She has learned on-the-job and believes that because she has done everything herself at one time or another for the business, she can empathise with her staff much more easily about their jobs and the hurdles they may be experiencing.
Carman’s has been named one of BRW’s Fastest 100 Growing Companies and Carolyn has recently won the 2012 Telstra Victorian Business Woman of the Year Awards, the Ernst & Young’s 2007 Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award (Southern Region) and went on to win nationally; Young Australian Entrepreneur of the Year.  She was also a finalist in the 2007 Telstra Business Woman of the Year awards and the 2008 Veuve Clicquot award which is presented in 17 countries annually to honour exceptional women in business.
Carolyn is married with four young children and prides herself on the balance she maintains between her career and her growing family.

1. Tell us about how motherhood has changed your life?

I worked really hard in the pre-child days of Carman’s, making the muesli by hand, chopping up the dried fruit & nuts, roasting the muesli in batches and hand-packing it into little hand-tied bags, then at night time my boyfriend and I would drive around delivering the muesli to supermarkets, as we worked out there was less traffic on the roads at night and we could do the deliveries in half the time. Pete and I are married now with four children under seven, so I need to make sure that I have a more balanced life.


For me, it’s all about being in the moment. When I’m working at Carman’s I am 110% focussed on the job at hand; I work with a lot of mums and we all give it our best while we’re there so that we can get out the door at 5pm (or earlier if we’re doing the school run). When I’m home with Pete and the kids I am 110% focussed on my family. The BlackBerry is set aside and we’ll begin preparing dinner, helping Will with his homework, teaching Lily the alphabet, encouraging Oliver to count and feeding Grace our new born. Each night we all sit around the dinner table and talk about our day, then we go for a walk after dinner – I make sure when I’m home my family has my complete attention.


2. Tell us about what you do?

I am truly blessed to work with some amazing women who are so capable in their field. Although everyone at Carman’s works independently, many decisions are made as a group, as part of a conversation when we all sit down to have lunch together. I see my role at Carman’s as support for the Carman’s team, helping to solve problems and make tricky decisions and I spend a lot of time working with supermarkets to help meet their needs and develop new products. We’ve just launched Carman’s Instant Porridge Sachets, that are made from ground Australian oats with dried fruit, nuts, and Chia seeds – they’re great for our customers who are mums, as they’re ready in 90 seconds, so they’re convenient yet are still a really wholesome breakfast for your family.


3. What has been your greatest challenge?

Managing the growth of the business has been an ongoing challenge. When I first started out I was hand-making muesli and selling it to a few local deli’s and cafes, now Carman’s is available in places like Sainsbury’s in the UK and Whole Foods in the USA. In the early days, my goal was as simple as getting past the break-even point of making a profit, today our goal is for Carman’s to be one of the number one food brands in supermarkets in Australia… and maybe one day – the world!


4. What do you love about what you do?

I love hearing customer’s talk about how much they love Carman’s. We are sent letters and emails every day from customers thanking us for helping them with a genuinely healthy product that tastes great…. We’re even sent pictures of our customers on holidays with their box of Carman’s muesli – we received  one from the Grand Canyon the other day!


If I find out that someone has referred our products to their friends and family, we send them a thank you pack to show our appreciation for their support. Sometimes the smallest gestures can make the biggest impact. I still often find myself loitering around the cereal and muesli bar aisles at the supermarket and if I see someone with Carman’s in their trolley I can’t help but thank them for their support and tell them it’s my muesli… My oldest son Will finds it SO embarrassing!