Business Consultant, Mentor, Public Speaker and Co-Founder / Poppy Renegade
Imagine not finishing high school or going to university. Now imagine your life as one of Australia’s most respected successful and award winning #girlbosses – who has just embarked on a movement championing confidence and encouraging women to #StandTall.
Can you see it?
Sali Sasi, is a trailblazer. A larger than life creative, with the business acumen of a seasoned CEO and the drive of a natural born entrepreneur. Yep, she is fearless, but has had to be. A young Sali skipped across Australia with her family before calling Sydney home, but her #careerstory really began at High School when her teacher realised her potential and encouraged and a new education path at a local business course. At 27 Sali was diagnosed with breast cancer and credits the experience as the
“Biggest catalyst in me not ever wanting to settle for anything I wasn’t truly happy or content with because it really was an eye-opener as to how short this life can actually be.”
Today’s #careerstory is for the rookies and the experts, the students and the teachers. It’s for the style runners, and mentors, and most importantly, the girls smart enough to know that they are destined for great things… university or not!
Whatever you are doing, stop, take a breather and read how the beautiful Sali Sasi has impacted the world.
My bet is that she is only warming up!
Hey Sali, so incredibly blessed to have you here today. Let’s start at the very beginning, can you tell us where you grew up and how your experience shaped the person you are, and the career that you are in today?
I grew up in Adelaide, moved to Canberra in 2002, then to Melbourne in 2007 and finally Sydney where I’ve stayed put since 2009. In 2008 I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 27 – no family history, no gene that tested positive, no nothing. It was probably the biggest catalyst in me not ever wanting to settle for anything I wasn’t truly happy or content with because it really was an eye-opener as to how short this life can actually be.
A survivor? Wow Sali, thank you for sharing, that must have been a very emotional time for you and your family. Where did you go to High School and how was that experience for you?
I went to Parafield Gardens High, a public school which was about 17km north of Adelaide. I was never an academic student, but my teachers would always say there was something about me. I would skip pretty much every class and attend the bare minimum (except for Legal Studies – I loved that class and the mock debate sessions!). I had a brilliant school counsellor who could see potential in me and he created a unique program that allowed me to be a teacher’s assistant at the neighbouring junior Primary School. By the end of Year 10 I was adamant that school wasn’t for me so he called my parents in and recommended they let me quit and have me enrolled in a business college which would allow me to take on an office apprenticeship. It was exactly what I needed – on the job training rather than a classroom setting. I’ve been working ever since and have always excelled in my work roles.
Your school counsellor! What a champ! Identifying what you needed and providing that for you. Did your high school, in general, play an important role in helping you choose your further education and future career?
No, but being given the opportunity and well wishes to leave and take on the apprenticeship allowed me to realise at a young age that I really do enjoy working and working hard at that. I’m hands on and I love to get involved. Throughout my career my roles have always involved me ‘getting out there’ be that networking, sales, training. I love to feel like I am a part of something and not sitting solely behind a desk. As for further education, I may not have taken on further studies within a school setting but I have always either taken on courses to improve my skillset or understanding (for example my next course is one by the Collective Hub for Digital Marketing 101. Regardless if you are an expert or a rookie I believe it’s important to not only continue learning but be willing to see a diverse range of teachings from numerous people and businesses.) I also believe in reaching out and connecting with experts / mentors in areas you need improvement on.
Such great advice, thanks, Sali – I couldn’t agree more. So, in the end, did you go to College, University, Tafe or another equivalent? Take us through the courses that you studied and why you chose them?
The only thing I did was take on a business apprenticeship through Midlands Business College in Adelaide. After 4 weeks in-house learning you were then placed in a full time admin role whilst studying on the job ( I got a whopping $280 a fortnight back then in 1996)
Tell us about your career journey so far. Who you have worked for, and explain any highlights.
My first ever job was at McDonalds and did that whilst still at school. I loved the feeling of earning money – even if it was barely nothing it still gave me a level of independence and I thrived on that. It was probably the catalyst to realising I didn’t like school and wanted to work full time instead which led me quit at the end of year 10. My admin positon was at the local Salisbury Council and I worked across both the Parking and Dog inspection departments. It wasn’t a complicated role but it was a desk job with my very own computer and phone line and I got to solve problems and make decisions like wavering fines. Again, not huge responsibility but it was something. That something gave me the feeling of liking the ability of making decisions. When I applied for a higher role after a year and a half and I missed out I felt embarrassed and you could say undervalued so I handed in my notice and quit. After quitting, it was only a matter of weeks and I landed two jobs! Retail Store Manager and a Bar-chick. I was working 6 days a week and 3 of those were doubles where I would do 8-6 in the retail role then 7-2am (sometimes 4am) at the nightclub. Looking back now I realise I’ve always enjoyed working hard. I enjoy being challenged and when a role is tough or has long hours I enjoy it more than one which leaves me twiddling my thumbs counting the hours to hometime.
A few years later I decided to get a ‘real job’ and applied for a role as Customer Service Operator at the Optus call centre. To date this is one of my all time favourite roles and companies to work for. I loved walking in and the floor would be buzzing with employees. I was fortunate to have one of the best Managers I’ve had in my career who was encouraging, tough but fair and most of all inspiring. He loved getting our team excited about not only challenging ourselves against the other teams on the floor but also against each other. It was the first time I had a role that had real clear cut KPI’s and it’s definitely the reasoning behind why I enjoyed it so much. I liked seeing where I was at and then pushing myself to get a better result the following month. The KPI’s gave me a lot of pride in the work I did and it also gave me a real sense of structure and accountability. I knew what was expected of me each and every time I walked into that office.
I then moved to Canberra and fell into recruitment where I spent the next 10 years in the industry. The KPI’s and the thrill of making the sale was why I lasted so long. I loved making placements and I loved building relationships. In 2012 I co-founded an eccomerce store called Stylerunner, which was an absolute whirlwind of a ride and it really taught me a lot about what it takes to make a vision come to life.
Wow, Sali, what a trajectory, seriously! So let’s jump to present day. How did you get into the job that you are in now?
I really felt challenged about the perception I was creating to people about ‘how easy’ the start up journey was. I would speak at events and have women come up to me and tell me they either felt inadequate because they weren’t an ‘entrepreneur’ or that they wanted to quit their jobs and start a business thinking it would be ‘easy’. With that, I was more drawn and passionate about starting a community that would inspire women to #StandTall in their personal and professional lives than I was selling lycra! Poppy Renegade was born.
It would be my ultimate dream to eradicate the word ‘inadequate’ from our vocabulary. What is the hardest part of your current job at Poppy Renegade?
Learning to stop. I have an addictive personality so often when I work on something that I love I can get completely consumed by it. Learning to say to myself, ok today you have done enough, it’s time to switch off and enjoy time with my family’ can be hard at times. If I could clone myself so I could be doing two things at once I would!
What does a day a typical business day look like for you at Poppy Renegade?
It’s ever changing depending on what clients I am working with and their needs along with what Poppy needs are too. Some clients I solely work with remotely so I can slide that into my day how it best fits and often that means working in the hours that Harvey is asleep so anytime from 8.30pm onwards. Other clients, I might be required to be on site a few days. Throw in meetings, events, planning sessions and content creation for the Poppy Renegade site and it’s a pretty busy day.
Who has been your hero, or greatest inspiration growing up and why?
As cliché as it may sound my mum was a great inspiration. She was a really hard worker growing up. She worked nightshift in a factory and would come home at 730am, prep me for school then get the house sorted before having a nap, getting up before I got home so she could have dinner on the table for the family. I always looked at her as a workhorse and I know she did everything she could beyond how tired she was in order to provide for her family. I know I get my work ethic from her.
Finally, let’s end with a BANG! What advice would you give girls who are interested in your career?
Roll up your sleeves – working for yourself is hard work. It’s not as glamourous as social media makes it out to be BUT if you have the grit and determination to make it work it will be worthwhile. Remember people often do business with people not businesses. Focus on your networking skills. Being great at building genuine relationships is key. Get connected and go beyond having a transactional relationship with someone where you only contact them when you need something.
Stay focussed. Remind yourself of your ‘why’ every single day. Being your own boss might sound easy but it’s often harder than having to report to someone, especially in the initial stages when you have to work really, really hard to bring in the dollars – the hours are long and the reward seems minimal. Stay focussed and resilient and it will pay off.
Continue to educate yourself. This doesn’t mean you have to enrol back in school but like I mentioned earlier – sign up for short courses in areas you need to develop your skill set, connect with experts and ask as many questions as you can! Go to conferences and listen to people who have done what it is you are wanting to achieve, learn from their mistakes so you can avoid making them too. Read books, online articles – everything and anything that gives you a wider understanding of your industry, market, customer base etc.
Celebrate the small wins – Showing gratitude each day and celebrating the wins, even the teeny tiny ones will help you stay positive and relentless in the pursuit of creating the life you want.
Sali’s Most Valuable Resource List, that she can’t live without!
- Well I genuinely love jumping onto Poppy Renegade – we have so many contributors so often I am not even seeing the articles till our Editor has pushed them online. I also love Shoe String Media for anything start-up/entrepreneur based; Smart Company for anything business, Refinery29 for a bit of everything and Broadsheet Sydney to keep up with what’s happening in Sydney when it comes to food!
- Name an Instagram Account or Snapchat that you can’t go a day without checking: Libby Babet, she is always so bright and bubbly that you can almost feel her energy through her insta page. It’s an easy way to remind myself to step away from the desk and walk my ass around the block!
- Books that you love: The Four Agreements; The Alchemist; – these are the two books that I have read throughout life when I’ve needed to several times for a little guidance or reigniting of the soul.
- People: Lana Hopkins – Founder of Mon Purse and Bianca Monley – Founder of Eat Fit Food. These two women are some of my favourite inspirations. They both have actualised their dreams and created kick-ass businesses. They continue to innovate and push the boundaries of their visions. For two super successful women, they are also incredibly grounded, humble and supportive. My husband Nathan is my biggest support. He is an amazing resource for me to deliberate my ideas or conflicts with when it comes to business. He is the perfect soundboard and often gives me great perspective and advice.