CAKE Box managing director Tanya Stolk remembers 2002 as a year of highs and lows.
Ms Stolk won a WA Business News 40under40 award that March, but then experienced a ‘mid-life crisis’, which led her to leave her successful cake wholesale business in O’Connor and move to Bridgetown.
At that time, and aged 32, Ms Stolk had spent more than a third of her life running her own businesses.
“I started cooking at 14, had my own cake wholesale business in Dunsborough when I was 20, and then bought into the Cake Box business at 25,” Ms Stolk said.
It was the weight of managing more than 30 staff and big name clients such as Qantas that made Ms Stolk realise she was burnt out and had to take a break from Cake Box.
“When I got to 30, I thought ‘what am I doing here?” she said.
“So I saw a psychologist and he said what I was going through at 30 was what most people were going through at 40.”
At that stage, Ms Stolk said, the business was very profitable, but she missed the freedom her friends had.
“I was working all the time and I was acting like a business woman, but I didn’t feel like one because I was constantly learning on the job,” Ms Stolk told WA Business News.
“Our business was at the top of its game, it was a big business, lots of staff, lots of responsibilities and I guess I just hit a wall and thought there has got to be more to life than this.”
In the seven years of living down south, Ms Stolk got married, had a baby and opened her own surf and skate shop, in which she and her husband still own a third share.
However, her desire to be close to friends and family prompted her to relocate to Perth in 2009.
Maintaining her share in Cake Box while living in Bridgetown, Ms Stolk kept an eye on the business and felt that it ‘lost its sparkle’ after she left.
She said she felt ready to “face cakes again” in 2010 and decided that she would be the one to breathe life back into the business.
“We became mediocre and just like everybody else,” Ms Stolk said.
“I think there needs to be a leader in a business and there needs to be a certain level of passion, and I guess over the years it lost its original identity.”
Since Ms Stolk re-entered the business more than a year ago, turnover has increased by almost 30 per cent, production processes have been streamlined, and only three of the 20 staff who were there when she returned remain.
“It was really difficult coming back because the business wasn’t going as well as we thought, so it has been a really hard road and there were so many things to fix,” she said.
“We weren’t as busy as we used to be, we weren’t doing all the airlines, we weren’t doing all the cafe chains, and looking at the product we found that corners were being cut, albeit unintentionally.”
Ms Stolk said while she didn’t have to sack any staff, she advised them to leave if they weren’t completely passionate about their role.
“I had some of my old staff return when they found out I was back and we have recruited a good team now … as long as people have the basic skills, what is most important is that they fit into the culture,” she said.
Ms Stolk said her goal now was to embark on an advertising campaign to further promote the business.
“I had to bring the business back to where we were, consolidate and make sure we were running efficiently before going out there and starting to market, and that’s where we are at now,” she said.
To nominate for the 2012 awards, go to www.40under40.com.au