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Effective change in business requires disruption with Karen Matthews

Tory Archbold Interviewing Karen Matthews

It’s such an honour to connect with likeminded and powerful women and my guest today, Karen Matthews, is no exception. With over 25 years’ experience leading turnaround, change and growth, Karen is the queen of business transformation.


Karen has led business turnaround strategies for several well-known brands including Ella Bache, Guess, and Freedom Furniture, and has won several awards over her career including Telstra NSW Businesswoman of the Year and PwC National Franchise Woman of the Year. She is as authentic as they come and it’s my privilege to be mentoring her through the exciting changes happening in her business. 


In this conversation, Karen and I discuss some of what she talks about in her recent book, “Demystifying the Road to Change”. We talk about the telltale signs that a business needs to change and how the first thing that needs to happen is a reality check. 


Change is disrupting, which is why many leaders aren’t willing to do what needs to be done. We talk about people and culture and how this is an area that the need for change often shows up. We also take a deep dive into how to make change a fluid and dynamic process and what leaders can do now to take positive action as they leapfrog into 2022. 


Karen and I also talk about the importance of brand and how it’s the centre of any long term successful business. 

Topics Discussed

[1:30]: Women at the top of their game in their 30’s and 40’s is the greatest comeback because you have to get over yourself. The comeback is challenging because of your own fear. 

[2:30]: Karen was Telstra Woman of the Year, CEO of Ella Bache, Retail Director of Freedom Furniture and had two children in that time. For her, the awards were not about what she achieved but how she achieved it because she was truly being who she was. 

[4:15]: Karen talks about trying to articulate her natural process around change and put it into her book, “Demystifying the Road to Change”.

[5:10]: The first telltale sign that a business needs to change is flat sales and profit. The signs before that are around culture and people. 

[6:50]: The thing that stops many leaders is the lack of willingness to get rid of toxic people. Karen talks about her time at Freedom and when they removed toxic people who were bringing in big money, it gave the people underneath them the freedom to fly. 

[8:50]: Going through significant change at Ella Bache, Karen worked with franchise owners to find a different path. 

[10:00]: To make change a fluid and dynamic process, start with a reality check of the business. Make a decision to change and then prioritise 3 or 4 things. Actions for these need to be really specific and keep assessing the actions and priorities as you go on. 

[12:15]: Your whole business process needs to be built around your prioritising, planning, and doing. On top of that is the vision. Karen gives an example of how YouTube pivoted when they started out as a dating site. 

[13:30]: When you own your story, you own your power. Karen talks about her time at Freedom and how her style wasn’t a fit for that business. She left feeling like she had failed and it took her time to rebuild her confidence in her style. 

[15:50]: Take an honest look to assess where your business is right now. Then it’s about deciding to do something about it. A lot of leaders put it off because they don’t have the headspace. 

[17:50]: Tory talks about the lessons she learned in her first business and how she’s taken them into her second business. She is taking the month of December to work on her business, knowing that this shapes everything. 

[18:40]: So many people think brand is a logo but it’s so much more than that. Most people don’t put the time into truly defining their brand. It will shape everything and is the centre of a long term successful business.