Welcome to Work Wives, a new series where we interview two co-workers, mentors, and friends, who not only work together but champion and challenge each other to do their best work.
First up, we chat to members, Hannah Chipkin and Pippa Joseph of MerchGirls – a creative agency that designs and manufactures super stylish merchandise and promotional products for events like the Australian Open, Meccaland and our own 9 to Thrive Summit! (Keep an eye out on Instagram on Friday to take a peek what swag attendees are taking home.)
How did you two meet?
Hannah: Through a tiny ad in a Melbourne button shop. In 2010 I was in a button store sourcing trims for my former fashion label business and I found a little printed ad at the cashier saying ‘We can make everything. No job too small’. At the time I was looking for a new manufacturer and this ad answered my call! I called and it was Pippa on the end of the line. We met a few days later and I immediately took a liking to her. She quickly became my manufacturing partner and we worked closely for 3 years until I finished up with the label.
What are your working styles like, two peas in a pod or completely different?
Couldn’t be more different.
Hannah: Pippa is a big picture person. Pippa is mega productive and the best list maker you will ever meet. She is also the most creative problem solver and always up for the challenge and the crazy deadlines. Pippa makes magic happen with her gut instinct and power of persuasion. Every business needs a Pippa.
Pippa: Hannah’s strength is ideas and innovation. The creative brain power this woman has is amazing. She is a perfectionist and won’t let go of her vision until it has been cross-checked, finessed and implemented. She gives me lots of work to do! She has an inner confidence that makes her a good leader and wins over clients with her warmth and infectious enthusiasm to do good work.
How did you come to be working together?
Hannah: I was approached by the Australian Ballet in 2015 to create a bespoke merchandise range to increase their revenue. I had just finished up with my former fashion label and had time on my hands, but I wanted a partner to work with. Luckily the stars were aligned at the time. I approached Pippa who I had worked with closely in my last business and floated the idea to her. She jumped on the opportunity. I took hold of all things creative and Pippa took control of all Production. It has been the kind of partnership you can only dream about.
What’s one thing you know about each other that no-one else knows?
Hmmm….some things are better left unpublished!
We got a meeting with our first major client by saying we had dinner with the President.
Globally, women are coming together to support and lift each other up, how important is it to champion the women you work with?
Merchgirls is currently a small team of 5 women. Every person employed has either has come well recommended through word of mouth from our trusted circle. I believe this has helped create a friendly and supportive culture within our company. As we are a small team, everyone is a crucial part of the process and we have immense respect for each other. I think the key to a happy working environment is making the staff feel valued and trusted. Of course, all happy workplaces must also offer good music, coffee and lunch.
How do you manage tough conversations at work?
Almost nothing is off limits between the team. A small office has transparency. Pippa and I are quite direct people and resolve any external issue quickly and efficiently. If we ever have an issue with our internal operations, it will be a coffee outside the office and talking to the staff member one on one. With direct communication and fair expectations, most conversations don’t need to be tough.
What’s the first thing you do at your desk in the morning?
Hannah: Coffee and put on the music.
Pippa: Coffee and write the team to-do lists.
How many tabs do you have open on your computer right now?
Pippa: 53 tabs
Hannah: 5 tabs
How do you role model for younger women in your work and home lives?
In the work place, we teach the women we work with to push themselves, push boundaries and that anything is possible. The result is a group of motivated do-ers that jump in and get things done. When things go off course, we just fix it. Nothing is too hard (when you work with Pippa).
We both have daughters and often talk about the challenges that comes with being a working mum. Our girls have grown up knowing their mums both have an important part of their life outside of the home and on the whole they are pretty accepting of this. We are proud that our children are growing up seeing their mums working hard and also witnessing the caring and supportive relationship between and Pippa and myself. We talk honestly and openly with our kids about what we do at work and why we do it, so they can really understand. My hope is that our girls see strong women and mothers who work hard, love intensely, laugh often and most importantly, women who are on an equal playing field in this life.
Hannah: This year, work has amped up a lot and we have had to have many more late nights at the office and babysitters to do pickups for school, make dinner etc. My eldest daughter told me one morning at the kitchen sink after a particularly busy week that ‘she felt like she was living in an orphanage’ and that she thought it would be best if next year I quit Merchgirls and work from home so I could be a ‘mum babysitter’. I quickly understood that the impact of my work life on my kids. I called my mum. She told me to spend one on one time with the girls more often. SO date nights were born (one a month) and that has been a saviour. Time spent together is more special and treasured. I Iie with my daughters every night I am home while they fall asleep.
Pippa: I come from a strong line of independent women and there is absolutely no difference in our household between male and female roles. I have always worked within a few days of having my children, working with baby on my hip. For me, life is work. Work is life. And family is also part of this.
Do you have a mentor? How did you find them and what’s your relationship like?
We have recently engaged a business coach to help us focus on the big picture business stuff we don’t have time to work on in the day to day. Most specifically – getting systems and processes in place. He’s a seasoned entrepreneur and the father of Pippa’s close friend. So far, so good.
How do you de-stress after work?
Hannah: Netflix and a cup tea.
Pippa: What’s that?