THRIVHER INTERVIEW: Dominique Gill

Updated: May 21, 2018



Thrivher Achievements:

Founder and Managing Director of Urban Fitouts



Thrivher Dive:

  • I can’t start the day without: My workout.

  • Most effective productivity tool is: My construction site earmuffs; when I don’t want to be interrupted I wear them so my team get the signal.

  • Best read of all time:The Biography of Steve Jobs” by Walter Isaacson. I took notes, made summaries and still refer to it years after reading it!

  • Non-negotiable: Exercising, I feel that it keeps me sane.

  • First ever paid job: Working at KFC when I was 16.

  • Top music track of all time: “Strong Enough” by Cher.

  • Mindful habit: I really like colouring in, and my children love it too so we have moments where we just quietly colour together.

  • I'm most afraid of: Disappointing people. I work hard to make everyone happy; clients, family, kids, parents, sisters, neighbours and I’m always afraid that I’m going to disappoint them.

  • Go-to for fun: We’re very big fans of camping, so we try to camp quite a few times a year.



THRIVHER MOVES:


What did you study first to put you in the direction of a career you might want for yourself?

I didn’t know what I wanted to do so I went to France and studied Business. I got into a very good school, which was excellent and provided a broad business training, it’s also an MBA. I then decided to do Architecture because in the Business Degree we covered a little bit of Urban Planning which I was interested in and so I thought, “if I’m going to be an Urban Planner, then I should probably be an Architect" as many planners are actually architects by training.


I came back to Australia to study Architecture which takes years of studying so overall I studied for a very long time! I feel like both degrees (Business and Architecture) prepared me very well for what I do now.



How did your professional career start?

After my studies I worked as an Architect for five years during which, I had two of my children. It turned out that having two kids in childcare was going to cost me more than I was going to earn. Essentially I was paying to go to work. I wasn’t doing that, so I left my job and joined a construction company that paid more. They took me on at the lowest possible level of hierarchy and I was still getting paid more than as a fully qualified Project Architect. I absolutely loved the job and it truly suited me, I was never really good at designing anyway. I was always more interested in the project management, coordination and procurement areas. I stayed with them for the next eight years and in September 2016 I decided to leave to start my own business.


It turned out that having two kids in childcare was going to cost me more than I was going to earn. Essentially I was paying to go to work.


So during that time, how did you juggle having a career and children?

It definitely took some sacrificing and in construction the hours are very long. My Children were in full-time day care from when they were very young. Thankfully my husband worked only 9-5, sometimes even fewer hours so that was handy as he could always help with the pick-ups and drop-offs. We also had lots and lots of different nannies!



Did your work offer flexibility?

It is offered, but I think it really compromises your chances of progressing. I enjoyed where I was working, but the reality is everyone works super, super hard and if you don’t work super, super hard, you’re not going to be doing as well as the ones who do. That’s just who you are competing with, people who work incredibly hard which is really valued by employers generally. If I’d said to them, I want to do four days a week and leave at 4pm, they would have said yes, that would have been fine, but I wouldn’t have progressed as fast. So I didn’t do that, I worked like a dog, didn’t see my kids that much, probably not enough, but I wanted to have a career and do well. Through doing that I progressed very quickly with fast promotions to the point where I realised, I can do this and it’s not that hard!



Was there a specific turning point where you understood that you wanted your own business?

Yes, three years ago, my father died, that was a very big turning point in my life. He died in a car accident very tragically and suddenly. He was a very successful businessman and a massive influence in my life. Throughout my career, if I was having any kind of difficult conversations, or facing a dilemma, I would always call him, he was my go-to person. He was always pushing me and telling me to do things, but a part of me was feeling, “well, I don’t really need to because you’re always there for me and I still have time”. So when he died it was a big shock and from that point on I realised I had been relying on him so much that in a way it had maybe held me back to some extent. As soon as he wasn’t there anymore I thought, “he would want me to start my own business, because it’s something we talked about and I had always said 'one day, one day'”. The challenge was that my current company paid me very well and I had kids, so it was easy to stay where I was, but still I knew that I wanted to do better than that. The irony is that I would so want him to see me now and he can’t do that, but he is still the reason, he is still the trigger I went for it.


it was easy to stay where I was, but still I knew that I wanted to do better than that


When you made the decision to start your own company what steps did you take?

I made the decision in 2016 and I knew I wanted to hit the ground running. I didn’t want to just go crazy and resign so in my last year with my previous company, every night was spent getting prepared. They had put me on very exciting projects and because of the strong relationship we had I felt I owed it to them to finish the projects that I was on, so even though I was ready come February 2016, I decided to finish when the job was completed in September so I could part on good terms with them.



So how did they take it when you said you were leaving to start your own company?

Construction is a bit of a rough industry and there’s a lot of big egos, when I said I wanted to leave they made me a lot of offers to try and keep me but I had to refuse my mind was made up.

I ended up finishing much earlier than I had expected so even though I was prepared, it was a huge shock. While standing there on the street I really felt like I’d jumped off a cliff. It was that massive fear, I just thought - “what have I done?! what have I done?”


It was my ten year anniversary that day and I rang my husband and said, “I’m done, I’ve finished!” he was calm and said, “okay, don’t worry, we’ll go out to dinner, it’s our anniversary, it’s fine, you knew that could happen”. So we went to dinner but that night I woke up suddenly still having this dreaded feeling - “what have I done? what have I done?” It was this sheer panic. I had this great job where people loved me and I had been made a great offer and I still walked.


I had read this quote that says ‘an entrepreneur is someone who jumps off a cliff and builds an aeroplane on the way down’ – and that is exactly what it felt like. There it was, this massive fear, but then it was done and the next day, I woke up and thought “okay I’d better build that aeroplane”.


While standing there on the street I really felt like I’d jumped off a cliff. It was that massive fear, I just thought -“what have I done?! what have I done?”


What was your biggest revelation after starting your business?

I started my company relatively late, I was 38. I’d done so much and had so much experience, I was more than ready. In the end, it didn’t take long to get up and running and it was immediately fun and rewarding, so all I could think of in the first year was, “why did I wait?”



What practical steps did you take when you first take to get your company established?

You need to make sure that there’s going to be people behind you. It is fun and rewarding as I said, but it's also hard and there are so many times when you’re going to freak out, you’re going to be scared, so what you absolutely need is people behind you that are going to repeatedly say, “you can do this”.


I am lucky to be surrounded by very supportive people who believe in me and I believe it is really important to put this network in place before taking the leap.


what you absolutely need is people behind you that are going to repeatedly say “you can do this”



THRIVING AND KICKING:


How do you feel now, on a day-to-day basis, compared to when you were working for someone else?

I feel the best I’ve ever felt. This is definitely the best so far, in my life, in my professional life 100%. The only regret, if I really needed to find one, is not doing it earlier.


This is definitely the best so far, in my life, in my professional life 100%.


Do you have any pinch me now moments, from starting your business?

So there are six of us now and when I started the business in September 2016, there was just me. I remember having the thought that one day I would walk into an office and there would be six people. I remember thinking on that day I’m going to feel really good and when I hired my sixth employee and I walked into the office that morning, I remembered that thought. What’s funny is that in my business plan I said that I’d have six people after two years and I’d managed to get six people after one year, I was like, “smashed it!” I had a very good year, and in hindsight, it makes me think back to that first night after I resigned when I woke up thinking I was crazy. Now I think I was crazy not to have started this sooner.


It makes me think back to that first night after I resigned when I woke up thinking I was crazy. Now I think I was crazy not to have started this sooner.


What are your three personality traits that you think have contributed to you getting where you have today?

I think being impatient is a big drive, I want everything right now. Which is also ironic because I waited so long to finally do it. The minute I decided that this business was going to happen I just really wanted it to happen quickly and that meant I had to work tirelessly to make it happen.


The other one is curiosity, the ability to question everything. People tell me certain things aren’t possible and it’s not that I don’t necessarily believe them but being a female in construction, people would assume that I don’t know a lot of things and they will bullshit a lot. Don’t get me wrong, I love my tradesmen and I get along really well with them, but they will often say “no, you can’t do that” – and it’s not always that you can’t, it’s just that they don’t want to. The temptation is to say, “oh okay well that’s not possible then”, but I never, ever do that. Unless they can prove that it’s physically not possible, not feasible or it’s not going to work then we’ll talk it through and understand how it can happen. It means I go over and beyond, and push a little bit further when clients want something, which is a reason I think clients come back.


My third one is I’m obsessed with efficiency, I want to master it even more. My previous company was heavy with processes, forms and signatures etc., which comes with all large companies. It’s refreshing for me now because I can run my business a lot more efficiently, because it’s me making the decisions, I can make sure we can keep moving ahead fast.



If there was one piece of career advice you could have given yourself in your twenties, what would it be?

Don’t wait. You know, it’s very true for women, where we are such harsh judges of ourselves and it’s a bit of a confidence thing, where we think, “oh I’d better wait until I’m ready to have children or for that promotion”. Don’t wait, just don’t wait. That’s the advice I wish I had been given. I didn’t wait very long to have kids but I definitely feel I waited too long to do what I’m doing now. You know five years ago would have been just fine and then my dad could have seen it.



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