In our regular #MyFirstMcJob series, big cheeses remember when they were still Mini Cheddars
Hi, Rachel! Who are you and what do you do?
I'm Rachel Carrell. I am founder and CEO of Koru Kids. We are a childcare technology company, building the world's best childcare service.
What was your #MyFirstMcJob?
Working at my local aluminium smelter, half an hour from our house in Invercargill, a town of about 50,000 people on the south coast of the south island of New Zealand.
How did you get that job?
Apart from farming, the other big industry was aluminium production, which employed something like 10% of the town. They gave scholarships with a little bit of money attached, but the real prize was that you got a summer job working at the aluminium smelter.
How long did you work there for?
Two summers while I was at university.
What did you have to do?
My first year, I was in the Workplace and Environmental Monitoring Output Team. The aluminium smelter had to operate within all these regulations, so we were the internal team making sure that we were not breaching our consents. One part of my job was to collect the water samples so they could test the water emissions from the aluminium smelter into the local waterways, I had to wade out in these huge waders to a specific point in the estuary outside, take a water sample and put a bottle top on it. All that sounds fine except there were these nesting birds who were very concerned with protecting their nests, and would dive bomb me. I took my responsibility very seriously. It was important to take the water sample in exactly the right place. I remember walking through in these waders, crying, as I was getting dive bombed by these birds, which was terrifying.
How about in the second year?
I was driving the vans which I was not great at. I scraped three in my first two weeks. They had to be sent out for panel beating, which single-handedly reduced the fleet from seven to four. My boss’s job was to direct the fleet, which was very easy – all you had to do was sit in an office, answer the phone, pick up a radio and tell someone where to drive to. After I scraped those vans they gave me my boss's job and put my boss on driving the vans, which he was very happy about. And I got to sit in an office and read magazines all day. I had a lovely time!
What skills did you learn at the aluminium smelter that you still use today?
We had to wear this really scratchy, hot woollen uniform, for safety. What particularly impressed me was the CEO who basically just sat in an office all day also wore this uniform. That struck me as a really good example of leadership. He could have chosen to set himself apart and worn a suit and tie to signal his status, but he didn't. And I always really liked that.
Are you still in contact with anyone you used to work with?
Why is alumni – and not aluminium! – important to you?
We've got lots of alumni at my company at Koru Kids. I view them as absolutely the extended team. I know how much they still believe in the mission. We invite them to things like our summer parties. There's an open door for them to come back. I always say to people when they leave: “I'll do anything to help you. If you want a LinkedIn recommendation, any introductions, anything ...” I also say: “This is a lifetime voucher. You can ask me for the rest of your life to do these things.” I really believe in the importance of alumni and the importance of having been part of someone's life. Everything at Koru Kids is a direct result of the hard work, blood, sweat and tears of everyone who's been here before. That’s really important to acknowledge as our success grows. None of it would have been possible without the people who already came. I owe huge debt of obligation, which I'm happy to pay for the rest of my life, to my own alumni.
What would happen if you went back and did a day's work in the aluminium smelting factory?
I think I would find it quite relaxing because I didn't need to make any tough decisions. Being dive bombed by birds wasn't easy. But the wonderful thing was at the end of each day I got to just go home and switch off. That was actually an incredible luxury and it's not something I've honestly had any job since I've left university. I knew at the time that I wouldn't probably be doing anything like that for the rest of my life, so I did relish the weirdness and wonderful differences of what I was doing, like sitting up one of the towers for six hours, monitoring the air quality. People pay a lot of money to go traveling because you're trying to make yourself have interesting new experiences. Half an hour from my house, I had incredible new experiences that were equally wonderful and valid.
If you could go back in time and give yourself one piece of advice, what would you say?
I would say: “Look in your rear view mirror because you're probably about to bump into something.” That’s very specific advice!