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Veteran-owned businesses: Berdene Oxley-Boyd, Tremy Lawn Mowing Services

Berdene Oxley-Boyd spent 30 years in the Army before transitioning out in early 2020. Today, she runs a successful lawn mowing and garden maintenance business with her partner in Griffith, NSW, as well as helping others transition smoothly.

At a glance:

  • Berdene Oxley-Boyd moved back to her home region of the NSW Riverina after a medical transition out of the Army after 30 years of service. 
  • With her partner, she’s launched a successful lawn and garden maintenance business. 
  • Many skills she picked up in Defence have proven invaluable in her new career – although she still does a double take when people don’t immediately follow instruction!  
  • As an active member of the NSW RSL Young Veterans Committee, she’s now investing time in helping others transition from Defence.

After WWI, veterans Hudson Fysh and Paul McGinness were given an assignment: survey an air race across northern Australia. As they drove more than 2,000km setting up supply dumps for the competitors, they developed the idea that would become Qantas.

Peter Liston, co-founder of the Veteran Community Business Chamber, wants the organisation to help inspire that entrepreneurial mindset in veterans today.

“We’ll know we’ve succeeded in that goal when we have developed an entrepreneur ecosystem that not only nurtures and inspires the seed of entrepreneurship from within the military community, but also helps develop solid business acumen and creates funding models so businesses can access the capital and support they need to grow,” Liston says.

In Australia, there are numerous examples of excellent veteran-founded businesses and, over the summer, we’re sharing their stories – what inspired the founders, how they started their own businesses, how they’ve built them and, of course, why their experience as veterans makes these founders a force to be reckoned with. 

Our fourth instalment in the series: Berdene Oxley-Boyd, Tremy Lawn Mowing Services.

You were in Defence for 30 years – how did you find the change when you were out? 

It was difficult. It’s a big transition – I just didn’t realise how much the Army looked after us. 

From the age of 18 until I was 48 I had lived in service accommodation, either in the barracks or Defence housing, so coming back into the civilian world was difficult. From getting my own Medicare card and negotiating the health system to finding a place to rent, it was a challenge. 

I was posted in Victoria at the time, and the Greensborough RSL sub-Branch – where I was a committee member – provided me with fantastic support. I then moved back to the NSW Riverina, which is the region I grew up in. I was like a wounded bird, I wanted to go home.

That was in 2020. Fast forward two years and you have a thriving garden maintenance business in Griffith, NSW with your partner. How did that come about? 

I initially got an admin job when I first came out, but of course COVID came along – because I was the last in, I was the first out. My partner was a truck driver, but he loves being outdoors and lawn mowing, and he wanted to start a gardening business. I thought ‘why not?’. He’d supported me through my career and my transition, so it went from there. I look after the administration, office and accounting side of the business, and he mows lawns! 

At that point you were already doing a Certificate IV in Business Administration at TAFE. Studying must have been a challenge during that first year of COVID. 

We had 10 weeks of face-to-face learning and the rest was online, which was extremely tough. It was mentally challenging, because instead of having face-to-face contact with our teachers we were doing everything online. But we were lucky – it was a good group, and the teacher was very supportive. 

You’re now more than 18 months into running your own business – how’s it going so far? 

It’s going well – we’ve grown, and as we’ve grown we’ve increased our services. We began with lawn mowing and have expanded into pruning, weeding, and window cleaning. We took on our first employee 12 months ago because the workload was just getting too much for my partner, and now we’re interviewing for our fourth and fifth employees. We like to create flexible jobs, so if people want to work three days a week, for example, they can do so. We’ve employed three people with disabilities – I believe in giving people a go.  

And what have been the biggest challenges? 

When people don’t do what you ask them to do! When you’re in the military and you give someone a task, they do it. If they don’t, there’s a discipline system to back you up. In Defence, everyone in your team is there to back you up and you’re all aligned – outside, people have different motivations, different cultures and are from different backgrounds. 

Also, cash flow’s always a challenge for small businesses, and COVID’s a struggle too. We do a lot of aged-care-in-the-home work, so any close contacts have to isolate, which means we’re doing a lot of rescheduling at the moment. 

How has your Defence experience helped you in business? 

There are so many skills I picked up in Defence that are valuable in the business today – from management skills, technology, time management, problem solving, data analysis, flexibility, reliability and those oral communication skills, too. 

Another, of course, is logistics – for example, making sure the workers have fridges in their cars for water, they’ve got sanitiser, wipes and masks. All of these things you naturally had to think about as a senior NCO. 

You’ve also joined the local SES – how has that contributed to your day-to-day life? 

Joining the SES has really helped my transition out. I had lost that sense of purpose. You have all of these questions: Who am I? What am I? By joining the SES I’ve found another family – I’ve still got my training wheels on, but I’m planning on moving into the incident management structure. 

We had some storms recently, and I was on the radios, talking to the teams on the radio, doing all of the logbooks and the data entry into their emergency management system. You’ve got the same banter as you get in the military, so that’s helped a lot, too. 

You volunteer as well with RSL NSW Young Veterans Committee – why is that important to you? 

The current chair of our RSL NSW Young Veterans Committee Sarah Watson inadvertently helped me face up to reality back in 2015, and tell my parents what I was going through at the time. 

I didn’t know Sarah then, but I was watching 60 Minutes with my parents and Sarah was telling her story about what she was going through. Because we were watching that together, it started a conversation and I was able to open up to my parents – and now Sarah and I are working together supporting others who are transitioning out of Defence and making that change.

The RSL supported me and I’m giving something back to help support others who need it. I’ve increased my networks and I now know services in regional NSW that people can access. 

 

Join us on 10 March to see a panel of veteran entrepreneurs discuss how they started their own businesses, how they’re continuing to grow those businesses, and their tips for success. Register now for ‘How to build skills for business and employment’ using the form below.

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