Kiwi Business Story: Rewa Willis at Sherson Willis

Posted by The Icehouse on Aug 16, 2023 12:00:00 AM

Rewa Willis is the Co-Founder and Director of Sherson Willis, an Owner Manager Programme alumni, Financial Skills Workshop attendee and a Te Puni Kōkiri cadetship recipient. 

This Kiwi Business Story is based on a podcast from 22 June 2023, and all figures and facts quoted are from that time. You can enjoy the complete podcast here

Rewa Willis_Kiwi Business Story_Image

Tell us about your career journey.

I left school after the seventh form. I didn't go on and do any kind of tertiary study and went straight to Pacific Magazines. At 18 I became the New Zealand fashion editor for Girlfriend magazine. I then moved to Raynish and Partners, a boutique advertising agency.

I was doing an AUT night course on communications and that’s where I met Trish [Sherson], who was also at Raynish and Partners. After having our second children, we were literally sitting around feeding our babies, saying: ‘What are we going to do?’ We talked about doing our own thing and that's how it came about. That was 17 years ago and we’re still business partners today. When we started off it was just Trish and I, working from home for the first five years, and now there are 13 of us.

What do you offer as a company?

We specialise in communications support for executive teams, boards of directors and their senior advisors, around transactional reputation and reputational or issues management campaigns.

So, as an example, if a client wants to list on the NZX, we will work with them ahead of time to make sure that they are in good shape because, obviously with that, comes a lot of public scrutiny. Once they are listed on the NZX, we might then help them with their financial reporting, and what does that comms out to their shareholders look like. We have expanded our offering to include Pākehā-Māori and that's something we're looking to grow.

How did you hear about The Icehouse? 

I actually don't know! I feel like The Icehouse name has been around for as long as I can remember. (Rewa received a Te Puni Kōkiri cadetship to do the Owner Manager Programme (OMP).) [The cadetship] came about when I signed up to do OMP. It was something that was offered, and being a small business, the investment in OMP is significant, so that really helped. 

The other thing I had to think about is I always like to keep things balanced between Trish and me. I want to make sure that any investment in “me” learning is going to be the same kind of investment for Trish.

How was your OMP experience?

I really enjoyed it. We had a great cohort on OMP 58. I had a little bit of impostor syndrome; ‘Is my business big enough?’, ‘Am I smart enough?’

There were also a number of us who just needed to be more passionate about our business; ‘How do I be passionate about the business again?’, ‘How do I find a succession?’

Succession planning, recruitment, staffing, were always major issues for everybody that sat around the table. So you realise quickly that despite being from different backgrounds and businesses, we're all facing similar problems.

How did you balance work through the new learning?

I had to learn to just slow down. We did TMI profiles as part of OMP. I'm a completer, a finisher, so I like things to be done. So there were definitely frustrations there, where things were not moving at the pace I wanted them to be moving at but, again, it’s a good reflection; to look at yourself, take a step back, tick things off and stick to the strategy.

You also did The Icehouse’s Financial Skills Workshop?

When you start a business, you're on the tools, because it's what you know… We have an amazing finance manager, but knowing your numbers is critical to business success. You need to know what margins you're making, and there was definitely a point when Trish and I first started the business where we had all this revenue coming in, but what was dropping out the bottom was pretty minimal. So it’s good to understand how your numbers can fund growth.

What excites you about the future of your business?

The sky's the limit, isn't it? Once you look at things slightly differently, there are so many ways you can go, and that was one part of OMP – how do Trish and I, as business owners, start stepping back. How do we grow our team and the leadership in our team, so our team members can step up. I think that at some stage in the future we can start stepping back, but that’s a work in progress!



Topics: Auckland, Owner Manager Programme, Financial Skills Workshop, Te Puni Kōkiri cadetship, Professional Services

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