For those blessed with an adventurous and creative spirit, the corporate world can feel like an uncomfortable fit. It’s a malaise that Sonia Shwabsky, the CEO of printing services firm Kwik Kopy Australia, knows only too well.
Which is why, in 2007, at the age of 35, she made the difficult decision to step away from Hanes Brands Australasia (then known as Pacific Brands), the multinational where she was making waves, in order to spread her wings away from big business.
“I wanted to go and try other things,” she tells The CEO Magazine, adding that she spent the following 10 years in Nicaragua, a time crammed with experiences that helped her to scratch that itch.
“What I did in those 10 years living in Central America and dealing with the United States market really was like doing an MBA on steroids.”
“I’ve gone and explored lots of different things. I’ve started businesses, I’ve raised international capital in developing regions. I’ve worked at the cutting edge of digital disruption and technology, and been exposed to all these things.”
In 2018, Shwabsky came ‘full circle’ with her return to the Australian business landscape, although this time she found that she slotted back in with a newfound ease. With all the expertise she built up and those years of experimentation driving her forward, she joined Kwik Kopy in March 2022.
“If I had just stayed in Australia and kept on that corporate ladder, I wouldn’t have experienced all of those things. I say to people what I did in those 10 years living in Central America and dealing with the United States market really was like doing an MBA on steroids,” she reflects.
“But it’s even more than that because the experiences are just something that you can’t replicate staying in Australia in a corporate role.”
For Shwabsky, a major drawcard of Kwik Kopy was the opportunity to work with people she enjoys being around as well as the potential to make her mark on the company culture.
“I want to operate in an environment where I have an ability to take a culture and make it even better than what it already is,” she explains.
“One of the things that I’ve really reflected on recently is making sure that you are aligned with the culture and the values of the business. I really enjoy business and I want to be in an environment that makes me happy to come to work. I don’t want to have to think about people trying to knock me down or question my ambition.”
Kwik Kopy proved to be the perfect fit, having already undertaken a significant amount of strategic work with the Brand Council, an award-winning advisory firm specializing in purpose-led transformation. As part of this process, the company embarked on a broad-reaching interview process with franchisees, customers and suppliers.
“What they came up with was that we have a purpose and values that our franchisees are living and breathing. They’re not created, it’s actually how we are,” Shwabsky says.
“So coming into it, it’s not like when you put a value on the wall and ask, ‘What does that mean?’ These were developed out of all of that strategic work.
“We have a purpose that is empowering entrepreneurs to make their mark on the world and that drives everything we do. And then from that, we have our values, we have a customer value proposition, but really importantly, we have our brand line, which is ‘We Make Possible’, and you can see how it all works together.”
A Gold Brand
The brand line was released in 2022 to coincide with the company’s 40th anniversary and the strategic collaboration, led by Trudi Cassin of Brand Council, won a gold award at the Transform Awards ANZ in the same year.
“Kwik Kopy is a perfect example of how deep stakeholder engagement [inside and out] ensures ownership of the strategy, resulting in a renewed drive, innovation, sustainability services, growth and culture richness,” a Brand Council spokesperson said.
“The quality of the CEO [and true board support] ensure franchisee engagement and trust, and long-term momentum and results are achieved.”
“We solve problems and challenges, bringing dreams to life.”
With all of this important foundational work in place, Shwabsky came in at a fortuitous time. “It just makes it so easy to run a business when this has been made so clear and it really embodies what the business is about. So I was really lucky,” she admits.
“Then it was my job to really look at all the information we had and set the plans and implement this strategy across the business.”
That means a firm focus on the relationships like that with business management software firm Op Central, which are so instrumental to the Kwik Kopy business model – and that suits Shwabsky to a tee.
“We’re not a transactional business,” she stresses. “We solve problems and challenges, bringing dreams to life.”