Emma Isaacs on learning how to delegate

Emma Isaacs is Founder and CEO of Business Chicks, an Australian community of over 35,000 women from all fields of business. The organization produces over 60 inspirational events every year, publishes a quarterly magazine called Latte and facilitates thousands of new connections each week through its online platform. This week Business Chicks will be launching in the US with events in San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York, bringing together women around an inspiring speaker. Emma has been a self-starter from the get-go. At the age of 18 she took over a small recruitment agency and successfully grew it to become an award-winning company before selling it and starting Business Chicks. On top of all her achievements, she's also a mother of four.

What did you want to be when you grew up?
The boss! Of what I’m not sure, but I was the eldest of three kids and my neighbors and family remember me as a child who was always telling others what to do and bringing people together for adventures. When I was seven I had my first business selling candy. I’d bring the kids in my neighborhood together, tell them to borrow money from their parents, then I’d use that money to go and buy sweets. We’d all put them in smaller packets and sell them back to the parents at an inflated price!

Who would you most like to be stuck on a desert island with? Why?
My mom, dad, sister, brother, husband and my four kids. Family is everything to me, and as I’ve always been an entrepreneur and have always worked so hard for my dreams, this sometimes means I’m sacrificing the quality time I yearn for with them. My son is only eight weeks old and even though he’s in the office at Business Chicks with me most days, I’m working so hard that it’s not quality time with him. I’m lucky enough to be taking my baby to a deserted island soon though – next month I’m hosting a Leadership Gathering on Sir Richard Branson’s Necker Island in the Caribbean, something I’m really looking forward to!

What single book has had the greatest impact on you? Why?
I’d say Dr Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly. As a leader, vulnerability is a skill that should be mastered, and not feared. It’s a strength to be vulnerable with your team and people, not a weakness as most see it. We presented Brené at Business Chicks a couple of years ago now and her talk was so powerful, and something I’ll always remember.

When do you go to bed and when do you get up?
I’m usually not in bed before 11pm, and because I’m breastfeeding I’m up a few times in the night too. Generally the day will start when the baby decides, which is usually around 5.30am. I’m not sleeping much at the moment as we’re working hard on our launch into the USA, plus working across three timezones has its challenges! My motto is ‘I’ll sleep when I’m dead.’ As an entrepreneur I’ve always found that if I’m truly engaged with my work, I don’t need as much sleep as others. Having said that though, I definitely crash from time to time and take myself off to a health retreat to get back on track!

Can you briefly explain your career path to date?
I’ve always been an entrepreneur, having started my first business (a staffing agency) at the age of 18. I grew that business before successfully exiting when I was 25. From there, I bought Business Chicks which is a global network for women who align with our values of unlocking boldness, believing anything is possible, and supporting one another. For the past decade I’ve been busy building Business Chicks. We now have over 35,000 members and have produced over 2,000 events with past guest speakers including Diane von Furstenberg, Rachel Zoe, Sir Richard Branson, Jamie Oliver, Arianna Huffington, Seth Godin, Simon Sinek, Candace Bushnell and many more. We also produce new digital content online each day and publish a glossy magazine called Latte. Although it’s not core business we believe we should use our voices and power for good, so we’ve raised over $10million for various charitable organizations. We’re all set to launch Business Chicks in Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York in July 2015, and are so excited to bring the concept to the women of North America.

What is the biggest obstacle you’ve overcome, as it relates to your career or industry?
Learning to delegate and learning to let go was something that I struggled with in the beginning. I’m pleased to say now that I’m a master delegator and have no problems with it at all! To grow and to reach scale requires a committed bunch of people and I work hard at finding them, giving them opportunities that match their strengths, and then letting them do their roles. I firmly believe that there are a lot more people who are smarter than me and better at a lot of things than me, and I love watching them shine.

What motivates you?
Successful people who want to give back motivate me. They inspire me to be a better person and to give more too. I’m always thinking of ways I can help others and have built my whole career on a foundation of generosity.

What do you wish you’d known at the start of your career?
That everything was going to be ok! You spend so much time worrying about everything when you’re starting out in your career, but these are wasted thoughts! Just believe that everything will be wonderful, work hard, and the rest will take care of itself.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Building a beautiful culture at Business Chicks, and attracting the types of people we have to the business. We have a team of over 30 people in our Sydney, Australia office and we’re just starting out in the US so have two people in our New York office. My people inspire and motivate me to be better every day, and I’m so proud of them all. To me, the employee experience is every bit as important as the customer experience, and I want my people to feel loved, to grow, to be challenged, and ultimately achieve a lot while having lots of fun.

What do you believe has been the key to your success?
A positive mindset. Being an entrepreneur requires so much resilience – you have to get up more times than you fall, and this takes a bunch of positive self-talk and a strong sense of self-esteem. You have to back yourself.

What is your life motto?
If it is to be, then it’s up to me.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
My mom always taught me to be kind to everyone, and it’s a lesson that’s served me well. I always try and be polite, friendly and kind to everyone I meet. Sometimes it’s the basic lessons that equip you in your career the most.

Who do you most admire in business? Why?
I admire leaders like Richard Branson who continues to evolve and make business fun; Arianna Huffington as she’s built a massive organization but also knows how important it is to achieve a sense of balance and wellbeing in your life; and Diane von Furstenberg because she’s built a global brand and worked hard her whole life, but is generous and kind at the same time.

What do you believe is the secret to rising up to the top?
Helping others, working hard and networking well. Successful people know that networking and influencing others is a key skill for getting what you want in your life and in your career. They use their relationships to help others, and continuously work to build their networks and ask for what they need too. 

What are your favorite traits about women in the workplace?
The level of vulnerability and openness we have; the abundance of emotional intelligence we have; our sensitivity to ensuring that our decisions have a good impact on people, planet and profits; and our tremendous capacity for every role we undertake. Women are amazing!

What's next?
We’re most excited about launching Business Chicks into the USA. We’ll be holding three launch events in San Francisco (on July 7 with guest speaker Jane Wurwand who founded Dermalogica), Los Angeles (on July 8 with Arianna Huffington) and New York (July 10 with Rachel Zoe.)  All the details are up at businesschicks.com