Nicole Kersh overcomes obstacles to fulfil destiny as cabling guru

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Nicole Kersh is the NSW & ACT winner of AIM’s Young Manager of the Year Award. Next up is the national final in Brisbane. We had a coffee with Nicole last week and asked her for a few tips for young managers like herself...

Nicole’s the Founder and Managing Director of 4Cabling.com.au, a wholesaler and retailer of cabling and IT management accessories in Australia. She started out as a sole trader in her parents' garage in 2004, and now the business is ranked 64 on the BRW Fast 100: Australia’s Fastest Growing Businesses Oct 25 – Nov 1, 2012.

She told us that cabling was pretty much in her blood, and that’s the primary reason she developed 4Cabling (and probably, in our opinion, why it’s so successful.) She remembers now how, rather than the typical reading material you’d expect to find lying around her childhood home—like cookbooks, novels and stuff like that—her house was mostly cluttered with cabling journals and technical magazines.

On the obstacles as a young, female entrepreneur:

When Nicole was building 4Cabling, she mentioned she ran into some challenging obstacles, particularly because of her age and gender, and particularly because of the male dominated industry she was entering. She talks about how she felt ambivalence from the industry about her credibility due to the fact that she was young, female and unmarried. Her solution, at the time, was to wear a wedding ring to give people the impression she was married, and by default, older (and wiser).

It seems to us Nicole’s a bit uncomfortable about admitting what she calls this example of “subterfuge,” as it’s not a strategy she’s advocating young women necessarily adopt. Instead, our discussion was more around the problem of gender bias in the workplace and identifying the lengths some women feel they need to go to in order to overcome this kind of unconscious bias.

Nicole’s advice to young women facing gender bias: 1. Be as honest as possible; and 2. Do what you need to push forward without compromising your values.

All in all, however, Nicole seemed basically positive about the future. She talked about how she thinks gender bias is a problem that should lessen in severity, naturally, with time. She says it’ll be the result of the growing influx of younger workers into the workforce—especially female managers.

On managing older workers:

A common sticking point for young managers can be managing older workers. We asked Nicole if that had ever been a problem in her career. She said she’s certainly aware of it, telling us that of the 17 people she manages they’re mostly older than her. But despite these generational differences, she hasn’t experienced any difficulty at 4Cabling. Why? Nicole says she’s invested significant energy creating a working environment of trust, respect and shared vision. And she’s spent a lot of time building the best team possible.

As an example of the positive atmosphere at 4Cabling, consider Nicole’s answer when we turned the tables and asked her for the advice she’d give an older worker, managed by someone younger, who’s a little concerned about the age gap. It’s all about respect, collaboration and looking on the positive side of things, she said. For Nicole, a situation like that is actually an opportunity for an older worker to impart their experience and knowledge on the younger guys, and that’s exactly what she’d tell both generations.

On the fine line between rolling your sleeves up and getting involved, and micromanaging:

Nicole said there’s no area of the business she won’t help out in, including packing, placing and filling orders. She says it’s good for building strong relationships with her staff and demonstrating her enthusiasm and commitment to the business.

But what about micromanaging, we asked? Nicole explained how her enthusiasm and involvement stops short of micromanaging because it’s more about support and less about monitoring and evaluation. Nicole maintains an open and relaxed style; she encourages innovation and leads by example. And it clearly works, as the success of Nicole’s style is reflected in the business’s success.

On AIM’s Young Manager of the Year award:

We asked Nicole what the Young Manager of the Year award means to her. She talked about how entering has been a great challenge, important because it’s pushed her outside her comfort zone and taught her valuable new skills. It’s been a great opportunity to reflect on her career so far, as it’s easy to get stuck in what you’re doing and avoid self-reflection. Nicole also talked about the importance of the award for recognising young managers and passing on key experiences and learnings about management.

Applications are currently open for Young Manager of the Year, 2013. Nominate yourself or someone you know before October 13!