'Why I grew up always taking risks'

I come from a long line of business risk-takers, perhaps not your standard perception of them, but risk-takers nevertheless. Three generations of women in my family have been business owners and self-employed.

I celebrate that and I’m immensely proud of it. That’s why sometimes it feels ironic when my mother, number two in the line and the biggest risk-taker of us all, wishes I was more cautious.

I've been behaving more like an adult in the business the last few years, but as a consequence that can make me score low on the fun factor KPI.

My mother came to Australia at 16 years of age. She had her first food business by the time she was 21 and was one of the first single women to get a home loan without a co-sign. She is ferocious. All my memories of growing up are wrapped up in the different businesses my family had and how my mother ran them.

Her English skills weren’t great (still aren’t, really), she can’t read or write, and she can barely read Greek. She use to take me to the solicitors to help translate; I could read a lease by the time I was nine years old.

My parents bought and sold businesses across their working lives, risking everything each time they signed a new lease and set up a new business. I never saw them nervous or doubtful. They worked seven days a week most of the time and sacrificed personal happiness to build a future.

It’s the typical migrant story: make a better life for your kids and send them to university so they don’t have to work in a shop like you. I think it’s the only thing my parents ever failed at. I never finished high school and food retail stores are what I’ve been doing for the past 30 years.

Finance has always been a wall that SMEs have faced – getting a loan with a bank requires security, and you probably don’t have a lot of wiggle room on that.

In 1971, my mother saw a corner store business that only had one thing going for it: location, location, location. The problem was that only she thought it was an opportunity.

The bank left her with a 40 per cent shortfall. She had to resort to finance companies and 22 per cent interest rates. Can you imagine any of us doing that today? She literally bet everything on it. A normal bank loan already has possession of your life, but balancing three other finance companies was a weekly adventure for her.

I was nine and filling out the slips for her to make the payments. I have a very clear memory of the day we finished the voucher book – she was out looking for another investment! If you ask me what risk looks like, I will tell you it’s a little five-foot Greek woman everyone calls mama, who refuses to retire.

Angela Vithoulkas, Eagle Waves RadioIt’s always seemed natural to me existing in an intense risk environment, making choices that should really come with safety garments. The level of risk I take hasn’t changed much from when my parents drove the business. I vividly recall signing off on my own loan when rates were 18 per cent and just shrugging them off.

The greatest gift Mum has ever given me is the excitement and joy I still get from a new business risk. The complexity has intensified, sure, but that peek behind the curtain of uncertainty is an adrenaline rush.

Angela Vithoulkas is the founder of Eagle Waves Radio.

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