Tanya Van Der Water took over as CEO of Buckaroo Leatherworks after her father’s passing in 2012. Before her tenure as chief executive, she learned the ropes of running the business from her father, and got his blessing to carve out a role for herself and “put my own stamp on the business.”
At Buckaroo Leatherworks, Tanya Van Der Water worked with her father for over a decade. Since taking over as CEO, she has worked hard to continue growing the company. She has “introduced an export strategy, changed the focus of our customer service strategies, and implemented new measures within our factory environment to better accommodate high volume demand.”
At the same time, Tanya Van Der Water also acts as the brand ambassador for Buckaroo Leatherworks. As ambassador, she looks for “creative ways to communicate with our end user audience and network of distributors.”
Currently, Tanya Van Der Water sees herself as “an advocate for Australian manufacturing and particularly women in manufacturing and the construction trades.” She carries a wide and diverse skill set, which she has developed from joining the company’s day to day operations and “surrounding myself with as much talent as I can.”
In 2016, Tanya Van Der Water saw Buckaroo Leatherworks receive recognition as the Best Business at the Illawarra Women in Business Awards.
We are all one big family, and this carries over into our communications with consumers. Tanya Van Der Water, Buckaroo Leatherworks
Jerome Knyszewski: What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Tanya Van Der Water: Something that I think makes us stand out from the others is our strong values that we carry with us through everything we undertake. Family values are extremely important for me in leading Buckaroo to success, and we make sure that our staff feel safe and valued coming to work. We are all one big family, and this carries over into our communications with consumers.
Jerome Knyszewski: Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Tanya Van Der Water: My Dad used to tell me, “don’t walk around like you know everything”, and he was right. Don’t feel like you need to take on everything by yourself. If there’s something you don’t know, find someone who DOES know. Accept help when you need it, and you can then focus on utilising your own strengths to benefit the business.
Jerome Knyszewski: None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Tanya Van Der Water: I’ve been in the business for almost 20 years, and have been with my husband for the same amount of time. Until 3 years ago, he had a career separate to mine; however, these days we work together. His entry into the business meant that I had someone holding me accountable. I didn’t have that before. Suddenly, I had an aid right next to me that knew my strengths, knew my weaknesses and was really able to push me in the right direction. He challenged me to step outside of myself and look in on the business — develop a new culture, lead from my own position and not my Dad’s, which was always a default of mine. He saw things that I wasn’t able to see because of how involved I was in the business, so his input allowed me to identify my place in it, with increasing confidence.
Accept help when you need it, and you can then focus on utilising your own strengths to benefit the business.
Jerome Knyszewski: Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. The title of this series is “How to take your company from good to great”. Let’s start with defining our terms. How would you define a “good” company, what does that look like? How would you define a “great” company, what does that look like?
Tanya Van Der Water: A ”good” company to me is one that can maintain some sort of success and level of sales but isn’t necessarily taking new and innovative steps to grow and reach new heights. A “great” company is one that takes those necessary risks to make waves in an industry, as well as treating their employees well to bring them along for the ride.
Jerome Knyszewski: What would you advise to a business leader who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill. From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth and “restart their engines”?
Tanya Van Der Water: It helps to find out what motivates you. If what motivates you is helping people, find a way to incorporate helping people into your business model, and you’ll wake up every day more motivated to succeed. Also, do things that excite you; take the risk, and you’ll have the outcome to look forward to.
Jerome Knyszewski: Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?
Tanya Van Der Water: We have very regular business strategy meetings, where we discuss our current situation as well as the future situations we are aiming for and how we can achieve that. Forecasting is also essential for us as a manufacturing business, particularly during the unprecedented times caused by COVID.
I lead with a much clearer head these days.
Jerome Knyszewski: In your experience, which aspect of running a company tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?
Tanya Van Der Water: One of my struggles is, and probably always will be, exploring who I am through my business. I have brought so many of my weaker character traits into this business, and as a direct result, I wasn’t able to push it to its potential. Through personal development getting to know what makes me the person and therefore leader I am today, I have grown and shaped the leader and person I want to be tomorrow. Things like people-pleasing and a deep fear of rejection are so harmful for a business leader to carry. So, being able to move away from that has opened up so many opportunities for both myself and the business. I lead with a much clearer head these days.
Jerome Knyszewski: Great customer service and great customer experience are essential to build a beloved brand and essential to be successful in general. In your experience what are a few of the most important things a business leader should know in order to create a Wow! Customer Experience?
Tanya Van Der Water: We have a team of people designated to providing high-quality customer service in a timely manner, so customers feel heard and acknowledged.
Jerome Knyszewski: What are your thoughts about how a company should be engaged on Social Media? For example, the advisory firm EisnerAmper conducted 6 yearly surveys of United States corporate boards, and directors reported that one of their most pressing concerns was reputational risk as a result of social media. Do you share this concern? We’d love to hear your thoughts about this.
Tanya Van Der Water: We have a digital marketer on our team who handles all of our social media, and we’ve found that a mix between sharing our own content and reposting our customer’s content wearing our gear has been successful. We’re also very active on social media and engage with comments below our posts as well as messages on a daily basis. Of course, there’s risk with any form of public media, but in our case, it has helped to boost awareness of Buckaroo and connect us on a more personal level with our end-users.
It’s in your best interest to ask for help when you need it and sometimes put your pride aside to prevent getting burnt out early on. Tanya Van Der Water
Jerome Knyszewski: What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
Tanya Van Der Water: Going back to the errors I encountered when starting out as CEO, it’s good to have a comprehensive knowledge of many things, but you don’t need to be an expert in everything. It’s in your best interest to ask for help when you need it and sometimes put your pride aside to prevent getting burnt out early on. Also, making a schedule for your daily tasks is super important to make sure you don’t drown yourself in too many commitments at once.
Jerome Knyszewski: Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Tanya Van Der Water: I would love to make it mandatory for all businesses to have women’s and men’s groups as part of the staple day to day activities. The idea of sharing stories, identifying unknown commonalities and finding strength in storytelling is something that I see of real value. So many people bury their worries and internalise a lot of fear and pain, and I believe COVID has actually made this worse. Showing love and support in a trusted and open environment really breaks down those walls and allows teams to operate with less judgement of one another and a kinder outlook of themselves. I believe this would increase productivity and provide a safer space for people to undertake their regular workday.
Jerome Knyszewski: How can our readers further follow you online?
Tanya Van Der Water: You can follow what we’re up to on Instagram at @buckarooleatherworks or check out our website www.buckaroobelts.com.
Jerome Knyszewski: This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!
Tanya Van Der Water: Thank you! It was a pleasure.