Poachers Pantry case study

More than 20 years ago, Susan Bruce left her life as stockbroker and merchant banker to take up farming at her family property nestled in the countryside 25 minutes from the centre of Canberra.

"When we started out I looked at a variety of things that we could do from the farm – emu farming, lavender growing, Bed and Breakfasts…"

When Susan’s brother suggested smoked meats, Poachers Pantry was born.

As Managing Director of the family owned and operated business, Susan has seen Poachers Pantry grow from an initial speciality of high-quality smoked goods to include other delights, such as its own selection of boutique wines, produced from the Poachers vineyard, which also boasts a cellar door, café and farmer shop.

Demand for their gourmet products has spread. Poachers Pantry now supplies to restaurants, hotels and airlines, including Qantas, and is poised to transition from a boutique producer to commercial supplier. "We’ve got a really good, strong brand," Susan says. "We’re in a position to really grow the business."

With a background in financial analysis, Susan is the first to recognise that with this type of change, "It’s easy for the wheels to fall off if you’re not very careful".

Keeping the momentum moving in the right direction, Susan enrolled in the Leadership 21 program through Melbourne Business School Executive Education. The program offers a unique series of planning and implementation sessions conducted over a period of months. Participants integrate changes into their business during the program period and report back on successes and challenges during subsequent sessions, gaining support through coaching modules and peer sessions.

"The course is broken down so that you can actually work and learn as you go along", Susan explains. "The real proof in the pudding is the take-homes that you can get and then, once you’ve taken it home, doing something with it."

The program created valuable opportunities for Susan and other small-business owners to tackle the specific issues small businesses face. Through peer learning, Susan is better prepared for the challenges that lie ahead. In particular, Susan says she will keep eye on "problems between intergenerational shifts or roles, and leadership and responsibilities."

Another ‘take home’ was the need to actively share the business’ strategic direction with her team of employees. "We did a big presentation to the team in early 2012, which pulled together the strategic plan we developed with the program format, which has lots of things that we were going to do to achieve the KPIs."

Later that year, at the Leadership 21 alumni day, Susan reports, "Those things that we said we were going to do as being steps on the way to creating where we want to go – we’re doing it. And I think that’s the real testament to this program."

For Susan, the right decisions have made all the difference. From stock broker to farmer, boutique producer to commercial supplier – Susan is keeping the momentum moving in the right direction for herself and Poachers Pantry. Of Leadership 21, she reflects, "This is a simply amazing program. I wish I had done this 10 years ago."