Women in Business Series – Janine Cowley

June 17, 2020


Tell us about yourself – who you are and what you do?

I am Janine Cowley, and I am the Operations Manager/CFO and co-owner of Luggage Direct, Qld’s largest luggage company, employing 18 staff, across e-commerce and four superstores here in Brisbane.  Born and raised in FNQ, I have prioritised being a wife and mother ahead of my career, I now have two amazing, successful and married children, and I am still married to my university sweetheart Gary, after 37 years!   

What was your first job and education?

Graduating with a Chemistry/Botany degree, my first job was working for G James Extrusions, at Eagle Farm, testing the anodizing vats.  Between the acid splashes burning holes in my clothes, and my boss’ chain-smoking in our small laboratory, I chose to resign and follow my desire to do Finance, and started working for Westpac, as a Customer Service Officer.

What was the pathway to your career or owning a business?

Gary & I have always felt a call to business.  Our first business was a Taxi which we purchased 12 months prior to Expo88 and sold during expo at a profit.   Although financially tough, I chose to be a stay-at-home mum.  However, when my youngest was three, I started my first business, Applied Engraving, a computerised engraving business, which I ran from under our home.  Since then we have owned a Tax-Free Opal / Souvenir store in the CBD, a Commercial Food Equipment Sales & Service business, and now Luggage Direct.

How did past recessions impact you personally and in your work?

81-83 Recession:  Having graduated with a science degree in 1982, we had to leave our families in NQ, to seek work in Brisbane.  I supported my husband while he went back to university in 1983 to get a teaching qualification.

90-91 Recession:  At home with two children under three, and 17% interest rates on the home mortgage, saw me taking in ironing at $5/hr to survive. 

Who/what helped you along the way?

Surprisingly it has been the men in my life!  My father modelled self-discipline and hard work, which has seen me through many tough times.  Also, my husband has strongly encouraged me to reach my maximum potential in all areas.  Also a big bonus is that my practical / finance/ ”attention to detail” skill set, compliments Gary’s sales & marketing skill set, making us a formidable team.

What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?

Do your best and let God take care of the rest.

How do you deal with challenging times?

ROUTINE: Regardless of what is happening and how you feel, stick to your personal routine – keep walking.  Get up at the same time, eat breakfast, go to work, do your best, come home, have dinner.  Get up and do it again!

What drives you?  

Integrity = let your “yes” be yes, and your “no” be no!

In life and in business you set your standards and make commitments, and you must honour them regardless!

What are you most proud of?

Overall, it is definitely my family!  In business, it would be the expansion and transformation of Luggage Direct from a dirty hot “single site” operation in West End, to a professional clean, safe and air-conditioned operation across 5 sites.

What’s your greatest regret?

I’m quite happy with my life choices.  Perhaps regretted not following my heart and studying Accounting at university rather than science. 

What have been the biggest lessons you have learnt (in life and/or business)?

Although it can seriously hurt you, “failure” doesn’t have to destroy you.  In business, events can come out of “left field” and wipe you out, regardless of your best plans and efforts.  Be gentle with yourself, recover, rebuild and prepare yourself for the time when you get to have another go!

What advice would you give to young women just starting out who want to succeed in the workplace?

  1. Seek professional advice but don’t forget to listen to yourself, quite often your instincts are correct. 
  2. Life is long enough to achieve your professional goals, so feel free to detour and enjoy marriage, children etc. along the way.
  3. Yes, you need to forgive the negative, hurtful people and bullies in your life and move on…. BUT feel free to exclude them from, or at least minimise them, in your future healthier life.
  4. Have your “eyes wide open” to the risks and consequences but be sure to
    “have a go” when you are ready!

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