Elizabeth Hines' mostly male clients sometimes think she and her team are right about how their office should look - after all, their wives are usually right about such things.
It's one of the upsides of the all-female workforce she's deliberately recruited at her Auckland design and fitout company Spaceworks.
"We love it," says Hines of the girl power dynamic. "I have this philosophy that if you get boys into a room they'll talk about things entirely differently to how they would chat if there was a couple of girls in there and I feel exactly the same about this place. There's a fantastic chemistry because we're all female."
Hines, who comes from a family of business owners, is one of 16 finalists in this year's local Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year competition.
She added retail and hospitality sector fitouts to the company's services arsenal during the recession, growing staff numbers to six and opening two satellite branches.
Her love of creative industries became a love of building businesses - she's also involved in two startups her parents run and she wants to diversify Spaceworks' portfolio.
Her first nine years out of school were spent working for a paint company, but in 2006 she took the leap from junior designer to owner, buying her boss' office fitout firm and getting comfortable with entrepreneurship.
"Initially I found it very difficult to be out there in business for myself. You're having to do a lot of self promotion and it's hard to get that right in your head. But once you're not just doing that for yourself, you're doing it for your staff and for everything, you can get past that stage."
Another finalist, Working Style founder Chris Dobbs, admits to being "young and dumb" when he started the men's clothing company amid the sharemarket crash 26 years ago.
"It was a hard time to start a business, but we (partners Andrew Cole and brother Tim Dobbs) knew no better. I had a $6000 personal overdraft. I know kids now have a lot more than that, but it was still no money."
Months of peddling made to measure shirts door to door - Dobbs reckons he was visiting 30 people a day at his peak - paid off and the business became cashflow positive. It now has seven stores and Dobbs reports July was a record high month for the company.
You might expect Dobbs, a qualified marketer, to be a fan of corporate speak. In fact, his business plans are filled with anything but. That's thanks to his mentor, former business consultant John Marchant, who helps spell out goals in plain language.
"He's an 80 year-old rooster who is ex military. He comes in and tries to stay awake through the meeting.
"Our planning document has a lot less waffle than a lot of the traditional planning tools they teach you at university, the ones that I got taught. Your strategic plan should be simple, you should be able to write your vision down and write down the factors that influence the attainment of your vision."
This year's finalists were picked by Icehouse chairman and Cross Ventures head Greg Cross, Jucy CEO Tim Alpe (the 2010 Entrepreneur of the Year), Seaworks chairman Bill Day (the 2000 Entrepreneur of the Year), Diane Foreman of Emerald Group (the 2009 winner), Trends International Publishing owner David Johnson (the 1998 winner) and Andy Lark, chief marketing officer for Commonwealth Bank Australia.
Entrepreneur of the Year programme director EY's Jon Hooper says this year's entrants have all achieved consistent double digit growth in difficult economic times.
Ernst and Young will announce category winners on August 27 and the New Zealand winner will be announced at an awards ceremony on October 18.
The finalists are:
Alan Clarke, Abano Healthcare Group
Chris Dobbs, Working Style
Dawn Engelbrecht, Safe Kids in Daily Supervision
Gavin Faull, Swiss-Bellhotel International
Kat Gee, Kagi Jewellery
Sam Hazledine, MedRecruit
Craig Heatley, founder of Rainbow Corporation and Sky Network Television
Cilla Hegarty, NZ Tax Refunds
Elizabeth Hines, Spaceworks Design Group
Scott Houston, GreenButton (cloud computing)
Maria Johnson, Little School (private preschools)
Tami Louisson, Shott Beverages
Jan Meyer, Rutherford & Meyer (natural food products)
Barry Payne, BayCity Communications
Brent Robinson, Rakon
Simon Thwaites, Silvermoon (jewellery)
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