Business mentoring assists food company with capacity building

The Lovely Little Food Company started selling their pies in Farmers’ Markets – but now you’ll find the I Love Pies brand of gourmet pies in 130 retailers throughout the country.

The Lovely Little Food Company recently won the Best Emerging Business Award in the Westpac Auckland Central Business Awards presented by Auckland Chamber of Commerce.

Founded and run by two talented women – Maree Gladding and Jessie Stanley – and with manufacturing and distribution outsourced and staff operating from home. When it was time for expansion, they contacted Business Mentors New Zealand to help them with their future plans and were matched with business mentor Mario Vulinovich.

“The best thing about having a mentor was having a sounding board and a chance to articulate some of our issues and get a different perspective,” Maree Gladding said. “When it is just Jessie and I, we risk getting stuck in a tunnel and not seeing out. Our mentor, Mario Vulinovich didn’t come from our industry so he had a different perspective of our business.”

Mario Vulinovich is Vulmar Consulting managing director and provides strategic advice to major corporates. He’s also a director of technology company LightKnight International Limited. Prior to these directorships, he was country chairman for Shell based in Jamaica.

Mario says he became a mentor because he has always been interested in the small business space, especially after 15 years as an executive based around the world. He believes it is a two way learning process and it’s great to work with people at the coalface.

“It is more about getting the business owners to stretch themselves, keeping it simple and, depending on what the company wants, to work to their goals.

“Some businesses think you are going to come in and solve their problems for them, but it is really about capacity building to get to the next step”

Mario met with the directors of The Lovely Little Food Company on four or five occasions. With The Lovely Little Food Company, he said that Maree and Jessie were very switched on. They had great business sense, which is how they had become so successful. Their concept was simple but really great and they executed it very well. Maree and Jessie just took his suggestions and got on with it. It was more about channelling and aligning their strategy.

Maree said that Mario’s business experience and expertise helped them focus on their core strategy. “He is used to digesting information quickly and pinpointing the issue. He helped us focus on making sure our decisions fit with our core strategy.”

Kerry Carr has been managing the central Auckland agency for Business Mentors New Zealand, run by the Auckland Chamber of Commerce, for nearly seven years.

“We match around 350 clients per year and have 200 mentors in the Auckland Central agency. Our mentors are amazing people with sound business experience – all volunteers and either retired, still working in their own business, in senior management or donating down-time. Mentors provide support when business-owners feel isolated, need to discuss an issue or just get an overview of their business,” she said.

First published in Innovate