Jessica Gilby Co-Owner of Gilby & Tonkin Mechanical in rural, drought affected Quilpie is a long term resident of Outback Queensland. She is committed to improving the infrastructure and services in her rural community of under 800 people, and in 2014, she purchased and reopened the local mechanic business, which had been closed for 4 years.
Jess was an instrumental member of the local volunteer committees of women who have established The Quilpie Sport and Recreation gym and the Mulga Mates Day Care Centre, providing crucial services to the town. In her quest to grow Gilby & Tonkin Mechanical Jess is recruiting internationally to attract qualified employees to Quilpie.
How did you start a business in Quilpie when you had never run a business before? What were some of your learnings?
Zach (my husband) and I were based in Birdsville looking for a change while also wanting to stay in Western Queensland. So, we bought a mechanic business based in Quilpie, which had been shut for the four years prior. There were 40 years of memories in the business from the previous owner, and we hoped to build our own legacy while being productive community members. We were young, ambitious, pregnant with our first child, and there was no mechanic for at least 210kms. In 2014 there were six people under 30 starting businesses in Quilpie. It was a great time to move.
I have had to learn everything that is involved in running the business. There is a steep learning curve starting a business. Building a team, software. Advertising. Staffing. How we can work together as business owners, and as family. But there are additional challenges in a regional area. It isn’t just finding reliable staff, it is housing the staff and then helping them to become a member of the community, so they don’t feel isolated.
For example, we are now recruiting internationally for a mechanic because of skill shortages and housing shortages. However, we will bring the entire family in one go. The mechanic will need people to go home to. We could also connect their partner with job opportunities, for example we have the childcare centre here, which is also in need of staff. Potentially they could train up others in the family.
We have developed as business owners over the years. We have expanded our business RACQ contract for the area, which is great. As time passes, you learn different ways to do things and we are still developing our skills as business owners and people. Learning is a lifelong project.
How have you helped customers experience Australia?
Australians travel internationally, but they haven’t thought about going out west. Last year we repaired a rental van for a psychiatrist that used to travel to Bali each year, but because of COVID he was travelling and working around Australia. It is amazing that he has never thought about going west.
Everyone used to think about international flights, but now people are travelling more locally, and more slowly, and we help them to enjoy the experience and feel safe. I enjoy meeting people from all walks of life, and all stages of life, and helping them if they are in a crisis.
How have you volunteered with others in your community to change Quilpie?
Any small town is powered by volunteer committees, and the women who spend years on them. Over the past 5 years a great deal has been achieved by committees in town, and I have been lucky enough to be a part of the change.
Volunteer determination has delivered The Quilpie Sport and Recreation facility, a modern fully equipped gym with a virtual fitness wall.
It also resulted in a change of management for the local day care centre Mulga Mates, which now boasts a qualified Kindergarten teacher.
The gym and Mulga Mates have both increased skilled employment opportunities locally, and provided a pathway for women in the community to upskill.
I have now stepped back from those organisations, as they are running smoothly. I learnt so much from those experiences, including corporate governance and negotiating with government agencies. These skills are valuable to my business.
What did you learn about yourself when you lived in a city and what were you doing at the time?
I was working from Miles to Melbourne cleaning up mustard gas bombs left from the line that divided Australia during World War II. It was the longest stint I have lived in a city, and it was confronting how many facilities that we take for granted in rural areas that are so hard to access in capital cities, including health care, parking, even the seeming lack of community activities. It made me question why more people don’t want to live in rural and regional areas.
What is one piece of advice for female leaders?
Work/family life balance is a myth, It’s a flow. Talking about business in front of your kids doesn’t have to be a bad thing. You just need to be aware of your language, don’t talk about problems, talk about challenges. They are learning from you. They are learning about the bigger picture. Women are worried about talking about business in front their kids. But why is it a problem? Have you just decided it is a problem? Everything is neutral until you assign it value.
You are the female economy. Whether you are a female consumer, business owner or a woman in the workforce, you can create gender equality by choosing female led brands.
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