What’s a Jockey got to do with it? was first published on Women in Focus.

Women in Focus is a website and initiative by the Commonwealth Bank of Australia.  It is a place for women to be inspired, informed and connected with other women in business in Australia and around the world.  Angela Vithoulkas, CEO of VIVO Cafe Group, radio broadcaster of Eagle Waves Radio and public speaker, will be the Guru on the Business Beat section and will be providing weekly articles on all things small business.

jockeyWhen I sit down to write this blog each week, it can be a mini time machine experience, a trip down memory lane that uncovers pieces that bring back Ah Ha moments.

I’m learning how much my childhood really did impact the business owner I’ve become today, although since I did grow up in business, it does ask the question where the adult Vs childhood line is drawn. But that may be a bit deeper than where this memory is going.

Early Birds

One of my first babysitters when I was little was a family of jockeys! If I wasn’t with my family I was with them. I remember the very early mornings at the track watching them ride, could be where I developed my “love” of early starts. Looking back now, it must be where I began to think that it was normal for all families to work together, just like mine. This family shared a love for their way of life, for a work they believed in and for conditions that really could break you physically.

When I stayed over on the weekends, we would get up really really early and be at the track around 4am. We would drink hot chocolate and I got to hold the stop watch – only when it wasn’t important lol. I remember asking questions all the time – what makes one horse go faster than the other, who is the best and why? It seems I wanted the answer to the ultimate business proposal – what makes one business better than the other, a long long time before I could even spell the word business.

What If?

I know I would stare really hard at the horses trying to recognise the best one. I would keep looking until my eyes filled with tears, then I would stare at the other jockeys and immediately tell everyone my sitter was the best….Apparently I would insist that I dress like them as well, while other little girls played with dolls… I just wanted a career. We may just have been having another conversation had things gone a little bit different in my life…..

Let’s fast forward to the present. I’m all grown up and you know that I obviously didn’t become a jockey. But I do believe that I breathed in the competitive focus – that and horse presents lol, that’s what I used to call the droppings. I didn’t understand it then but I get it now, those mornings at the track were so intense. People were there to do a job, to perform, to be evaluated and to deliver what was asked. It was a community and at that time of the day, very exclusive. Not a bad business orientation training ground.

My Foot - My Mouth

So I have always had a bit of a soft spot for the races, even though going to them in the day time is a lot more fancy than the morning, I still stare at the horses trying to pick the fastest one! I have been fortunate to score some lovely invites to Spring Carnival and the Golden Slipper, and I have of course carried the small business flag even then. I was sharing a drink with a couple of lovely ladies last year while I was a guest of Myers, and I was really taking a bite out of the CEO of Myers, Bernie Brooks, for some of his retail trading decisions. He walked over to our little group and one of the ladies said “darling, this is Angela; I think she has something she wants to tell you…” It was his wife!

Bernie and I did have a conversation, he was fabulous actually. We chatted while we watched a couple of races, I critiqued his race picks, he lost I won. What can I say; I had an unfair advantage from childhood. He was one of my first radio interviews – his minders told me it wouldn’t happen, but I don’t give up easily.

Small Businesses Rule

All industries have the small business element, regardless how big the $$ are, and the common ingredient is the focus on the work, not the reward. Imagine if big business could tap into the kind of dedication it takes to get up at ridiculous hours, risk your life and know the odds are almost always against you.

The racing industry may not have the physical giants of other sports, but they certainly have the lead in the spirit department. I love that. It’s not for everyone, and I know that many of the thousands that go to the races don’t see what I see, but that’s a great shame. The people who live and breathe this world are of the few, the rest of us observe from the outside and occasionally a privileged glimpse. I wish I could go back in the time machine and visit for just a bit. Maybe capture a few little pieces and bring them back with me to share with you.

If you dare to share, tell me about a time when you put your foot in your mouth, resulting in a positive outcome. I won’t tell anyone..


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