Welcome to my regular series entitled "My Light Bulb Moment". This column highlights a blinding flash of insight, business, cultural and sports leaders have experienced, and how this changed their lives forever.

Annah Stretton NZOM

Fashion designer, entrepreneur, writer and philanthropist Annah Stretton has been a highly influential New Zealand leader more than 20 years. Building her fashion empire from the ground up, she has a chain of more than 30 retail stores throughout New Zealand and Australia.

Annah has a huge philanthropic heart, supporting organisations such as the Breast Cancer Foundation, SPCA and Waikato Women's Refuge. In 2008, she was awarded an NZOM for Services to Fashion, Business and the Community. Two years ago, she started RAW (Reclaim Another Woman), its main focus to drive real outcomes for socially disadvantaged women, leaving a legacy that goes well beyond her frocks.

Gauntlet thrown down

"The key moment that changed the course of my life happened in 1980," Annah remembers. "I had recently returned from Dunedin [after] the first year of a fine arts course. I knew at that point I was never going to be the next Ralph Hotere, so I decided not to continue and instead started looking for other ways to advance my career."

Moving successfully into the hospitality management field, her life changed completely one afternoon during an innocent chat by the pool with her brother and father.

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"The conversation started in the same way they always had. Dad had a fascination with the left and right brain and 'nature versus nurture' theory. The gist of it was that I believed I could do what they had done, the very left-brain professions of accountant and a lawyer, yet they could never do what I did - referring to my artistic skills. They made some reference to it all being irrelevant as I would 'never apply myself' and give a degree like theirs the discipline it required."

"There it was, a challenge thrown down! I said 'Pick a degree, I'll show you how easy it will be'. 'You choose!' they said, 'You're the one doing it'. So I did. I chose accounting."

Seven years of part-time business study was foreign to a young woman who had only studied art. But the hard work paid off and she graduated, going on to work in an accounting firm as well as completing her CA.

Light Bulb Moment — Know both sides of your business

"One of the biggest challenges for many smaller operators or start-ups is their tendency to operate from a single perspective - analytical or creative - and this often generates the high number of business failures we read about in the first few years."

"Business is 80 per cent about the business of being in business and 20 per cent about the products and services you are selling.

"You need to know and monitor the numbers. If your focus is weighted the other way then failure is a lot more likely."


Do you want to improve results across your business? Join Tom O'Neil at the Supercharge Your Results half-day workshop on August 18th in Auckland. Register here.