Swedish-born Sofia Ambler admits she fell into running a Kiwi business by accident.
It was her pilot husband John who was the “aviation geek” looking for a business to buy in New Zealand, so the family could move from Hong Kong and Sweden and he could cut down on commuting.
He planned to run the company, while Sofia re-entered the finance industry here.
Two weeks after they bought Auckland helicopter charter business Heletranz, they packed their lives into containers. They brought their three daughters to live on a lifestyle block. Then they hit a snag.
“It didn’t take long before we knew that to be able to take Heletranz where John wanted to go with it, we needed to expand the business and buy more aircraft.
“We were too scared to give up two incomes, so John went back to Hong Kong and worked for another nearly four years for Cathay Pacific.” Ambler was left in New Zealand to manage the business.
In a new industry, a new country, and new to owning a company, she faced a steep learning curve – plus the complication of becoming a lifestyle-block farmer.
She spent her time helping on the front desk, doing marketing, project managing the building of a new hangar – basically fighting fires – before heading home. Then, exhausted, she’d make dinner for the kids and look after the lambs, chickens, and pigs.
“It probably took me three years to understand where I added most value to the business and that it was okay to say no to certain things, or to delegate,” she says.
There are now six full-time staff and seven helicopters. John looks after all operational aspects of the business, as well as flying a private jet for a high-net-worth individual.
The business caters for wealthy tourists, domestic charters, new luxury packages, Waiheke Vineyard lunches, airport transfers, and filming and photography, like yacht race coverage.
A highlight included flying then-US President Barack Obama when he was in New Zealand.
As if she didn’t have enough to do, Ambler last year bought The Luxury Network, a way for luxury brands to collaborate and share high-net-worth clients.
She says she wish she learnt earlier to put in place early the structures you need to grow your business, or you’ll quickly outgrow them.
She admits she should have put more time into delegating.
“I’d say to other women, don’t beat yourself up, because it’s really easy to feel that you’re not being as good a mum as someone else. You have to realise you can’t be at every assembly at 2pm.”
And you shouldn’t be scared of having people around that are better than you. “It makes the product stronger and the brand stronger.”
Know your numbers, says Ambler. “I think it gives you so much more confidence as a business owner and as a leader to try to inspire others, by knowing exactly how you’re tracking.”
First published 28 February 2019
Story by Brenda Ward
This article does not contain any financial advice and has not taken into account any particular person’s circumstances. Before relying on it, we recommend you speak with a financial adviser. This story reflects the views of the contributor only. Content comes from sources that we consider are accurate, but we do not guarantee that the content is accurate.
Sign up to our newsletter to receive the latest news, updates and event invites from JUNO investing magazine.