The four biggest barriers I’ve faced in business, and how I’ve overcome them

- October 21, 2019 3 MIN READ

Working in a fast-moving consumer goods company is exactly that: fast-paced, ever-changing and full of both challenges and opportunities. In the last 20 years, I have faced many barriers and obstacles that I have had to overcome. While they can be difficult to navigate and sometimes stressful, the good thing is that for each challenge, there is always a solution. They’re also a great opportunity to unlock personal growth and develop new abilities. I firmly live by the motto of “What doesn’t challenge you doesn’t change you,” write Belinda Tumbers MD AMEA Snacks and 2017 Telstra Business Woman of the Year.

If you’re facing barriers while trying to build a business, remember you’re not alone. Here are the biggest barriers I have overcome in business, and what I’ve learnt in doing so

Turning around a stagnated business

 I was appointed Managing Director of Kellogg’s ANZ operations in 2015. At that stage, our business hadn’t been performing well for over two years, and there was a lot of doubt as to whether we could stabilise what is a very mature and highly penetrated cereal business. The first thing I did moving into the role was surround myself with the right team – a diverse team aligned with the vision and plan we needed to execute. Secondly, we peeled back the layers to unpack what was wrong with the business. From there, we developed a very simple and clear playbook, and executed that plan for the next three years. Our team was able to convince the broader organisation that we could return our business to growth, and we did.

I firmly believe that with the right team and a clear plan, anything is possible. Our business in ANZ is over 90 years old and needed new thinking and a new approach. Our team challenged the status quo and did things differently – and it paid off.

Structurally changing a business to better compete

 Recently I stepped into the new role of Managing Director of AMEA Snacks, and I was taking over a business that operated like a startup but actually was a business of scale. The way we operated needed to be reviewed to ensure we had the right processes, systems and policies in place to fuel our growth in the future. I have spent the past year listening to the team and figuring out what was working and what wasn’t, understanding what best practice looked like in the local market as well as globally, and then co-creating with the team a list of recommended changes that would set us up for future success.

Navigating my way in what has traditionally been a male-dominated environment

Early on in my career I would attend forums and would be one of the only females in the room. There have also been times when I would go to external meetings and they asked me if I could send a man instead, because they didn’t want to deal with a female.

There have even been times recently when I am confused for an Executive Assistant instead of being recognised as a Managing Director by male equivalents. The good news is that things are changing and we are starting to see more women in senior sales, senior retailing and CEO positions in the food industry.

Diversity is so important. We need different perspectives brought to the table and there is plenty of evidence that suggests having a diverse workforce (gender, age, ethnicity) also leads to better business results. There are so many incredible programs giving women a platform for recognition in business, one of which is the Telstra Business Women’s Awards that I was lucky enough to win in 2017. It gave me the opportunity to network and meet some amazing women who all have their own stores about trailblazing across a number of different industries.

I have spent time mentoring women in the industry and ensuring we are providing equal opportunities for our workforce, driving diverse representation on leadership teams. If all business leaders can do one thing to drive better diversity in our leadership teams, we will see faster progress.

Understanding and adapting to different cultural norms

I have been very fortunate to live and work in Australia, the US, New Zealand and now Singapore. While they’re all largely English-speaking countries, they are each very different culturally. Very early on when working in the US I learnt that the way I operated in Australia was very different culturally to how our business operated in the US. I needed to adopt situational leadership and adapt my style to a different working environment. In my role based out of Singapore, I work across ten different markets spanning from Thailand to Japan to the Middle East. I constantly need to ensure I am aware of the cultural differences by market and adjust my style accordingly, to ensure this doesn’t become a barrier to influencing future business success. I spend more time now building relationships, listening to the markets and working out the best way to work with each – it is definitely a journey but I’m learning more and more every day!

Nominations are now open for the 25th Telstra Business Women’s Awards. Anyone can nominate an exceptional businesswoman, even yourself. To do so, visit:

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