Meika Doonan From DECO Australia

The indomitable spirit of the Doonan family is woven in DECO Australia’s tale of success. Established in 2004, DECO Australia is celebrating 20 years in the building industry – the brainchild of CEO and visionary Ross Doonan. In its next chapter, Ross’s three daughters are helping to steer the national business in the dynamic and ever-changing world of aluminium building products.

One of Ross’s daughters – Meika DOONAN – leads the strategy and governance side of the business. Her trajectory from ‘business chat’ around the family dining table to joining the ranks among industry leaders epitomises her dedication. We talked to Meika about what it’s like growing up in a family business, innovation within the fast-paced construction world and how she thrived in a male-dominated industry.

“I remember moments around the dining table when dad first started the business where he would bring home business names and logos and we’d evaluate and decide which ones we liked best,” Meika remembers.

Propelled by her father’s bold ambition, a desire to help the family and soak up her dad’s business acumen, Meika embraced the opportunity to spearhead operations at DECO at just 21 – a decision that would define her career journey.

“I had been working since finishing high school for another business and saw it as an opportunity for career growth and development – and boy it sure did that.
“I was 21 and thought I could help get the business up and running and figured I would then move onto something else. Nineteen years later, I’m still here,” she laughs.

Navigating family dynamics and embracing change

Admitting that working with family can be a delicate balance, Meika wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Working with family can be challenging, but also rewarding. I’m lucky to see my parents most days and I get to see my sisters Ella and Clare’s involvement and growth in the business as well as other family members – it is a different dynamic to a typical workplace.

“One of the biggest challenges is trying to avoid letting business talk take over at family gatherings. There are always little things that bob up and the temptation to just quickly discuss is hard to ignore, but it is something we actively do otherwise it’s a slippery slope and we end up in an unscheduled meeting during a Sunday lunch.”

Nearly two decades in the business, Meika stands as a stalwart champion of DECO’s ethos, her unwavering commitment navigating the company through tumultuous waters during the GFC and a global pandemic, and triumphant victories alike.

“DECO started at a time when timber alternatives didn’t exist in the Australian market, we were the best kept secret in the architectural building sector with limited resources and it was a hard slog to overcome barriers and carve out the market. It was something I believed in – to my core.”

Boasting around 120 employees, DECO is known for quality, customer service, and innovation in the marketplace.
“When I look back on the past 20 years at DECO, what stands out the most is the collective effort of our team and the strong reputation we’ve built.
“We also have such a positive and motivated team culture. It’s funny, because at one stage we were known and referred to as the ‘happy orange people’ – also due to the colour of our work uniforms and branding at the time.”

Championing diversity

Amid the backdrop of industry evolution and innovation, keeping up with the trends in the market has played a big part in DECO’s success and Meika admits that it is encouraging to see more acceptance of timber alternative as consumers see the benefits of sustainable, durable and low-maintenance products.
“As the first in the market with our timber-look product range, today there is definitely more saturation of timber-alternatives. Our product team are continuously working on new product designs to ensure we can meet the current design styles and remain the market leaders at the forefront.

“People are increasingly time poor these days and if we can help by providing good quality, aesthetically pleasing and durable products that require very little maintenance and lets them enjoy life more, then that makes us happy.”

As well as products evolving, so too has culture and gender equity in the industry over the past two decades – albeit at a much slower pace in Meika’s opinion.
As she reflects on her role as a woman in a traditionally male-dominated industry, Meika says she “sees things changing”.
“I can recall many instances in the early days – 18 plus years ago – where I would explain something to a male customer or supplier and would get pushback – only to have my male cousin jump on the phone and re-iterate this exactly with the wording I would have used, and suddenly it was acceptable.

“These situations would drive me nuts!
“The landlord of the site we were on at the time refused to speak to me if dad was away. I could recount many other instances of similar nature that were incredibly difficult to navigate how best to approach, overcome, educate, and not let it derail my confidence in my ability and position in the business.”

But Meika maintains DECO is different – a topic she is passionate when discussing.
“We’ve always employed many women in our factory since day one. Whenever we give factory tours, there is always a comment from our visitors that they’ve noticed how many women we employ and how impressive that is.

“I feel a strong sense of pride on this and equally pleased that it is noticed.
“I really do believe that industries benefit from the diversity of thinking of women in our industries alongside men, and the different natural strengths that different genders possess. I think businesses flourish if this is recognised equally and structured to complement each other.
“I grew up with my dad always challenging the norm. As the father of all daughters – he was also very insistent that a girl can do anything a boy could do.”

Volunteering within the sector also gave insight into how the wheels turn slowly when it comes to gender representation.
“I was on one of our industry boards for a few years, and I was very aware that I was not only the youngest person but also the only female.

“I was pleased to represent a different perspective on matters that perhaps for years hadn’t experienced the diversity. I got along well with everyone, we all were volunteering our time, so the passion of the group was great to be a part of, and I was very proud to end up as the first female president on the board.
“More recently I have come across female tradies owning what they do and doing it well and this excites me.”

The great balancing act

Referred to by a business coach as a ‘pace-setter’, Meika says her leadership has evolved over the years and she has learnt the importance of ‘letting go’ – both at work and at home.
Inspired by Australian author and editor Mia Freedman, Meika says she has also gained insights into often unattainable work-life balance.
“In one of her books, she calls bluff on the concept of work life balance. It is not possible to achieve a true equal balance always – there will always be something demanding more of your time from one sphere – sometimes it will be work, sometimes it will be family,” Meika explains.

As a mum of three, she felt enlightened by the concept and realised she was trying to achieve the unachievable.
“I am much calmer about these pressures and the juggle. I put more time into work and go over and above when I need to, and equally into my family life when I need to.
“Life outside work these days mostly revolves around my kids, and we are building a new house – so this is sucking up a lot of time. When I can, I take time out with extended family and friends.”

As Meika navigates the complexities of leadership and parenthood, her strategic awareness alongside DECO’s commitment to innovation and customer-centric solutions will no doubt illuminate a path of possibility and progress for the next decade and beyond.

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