After more than 13 years working alongside husband Bruiser, Jodie Phillips says it’s all about the people and caring for the extended Whanau they’ve created through their harvesting business Bruiser Contracting.
Currently based in the Waihi / Paeroa area, the husband-and-wife team employ 7 staff with a tower hauler crew. Jodie says working together as a team with Bruiser and knowing their individual strengths helps them to look after their people, the heart and soul of their business.
“Bruiser and I have different strengths within our business; he’s got the operational side and the day to day running covered, while I take care of our finances, health & safety and the people,” she says.
“I get to work with my best friend every day – we get to do this together. We really care about all of our staff, with integrity and family-first at the heart of our business.”
She says sometimes, it’s just about doing what’s right – it’s not always about the money. Her empathy and care for people brings a unique perspective to managing staff.
Early on, as employers Bruiser and Jodie moved away from a culture of ‘beers after work’ and started giving Countdown vouchers instead – a small gesture that benefits the whole family.
“We have two get togethers a year – “Lasagne Night” in June and then a Christmas Party at our place in early December,” she says.
“It’s important to both of us that the kids come along – it’s about Whanau and creating traditions, it’s not just about the ones who works for us.”
Taking responsibility for staff wellbeing has also led to Jodie completing her drug testing qualification.
Since completing the course six years ago, Jodie says it has had a positive impact on both their recruitment and team culture.
“Getting qualified as a drug tester has given us heaps of value, both financially and for staff wellbeing,” she says.
“It’s a bonus to be able to drug test at the interview – it saves us a lot of mucking around.”
They also started offering counselling about three years ago through the Employee Assistance Programme, where staff can access 3 free counselling sessions which are paid for by Bruiser Contracting.
“The beauty of it is they reach out themselves, we’re not telling them they have to do it. A few guys have accessed it and it’s been really beneficial.”
Like many women in forestry, it wasn’t always in Jodie’s life plan to be running a forestry business.
“I worked as a Legal Secretary/Executive for a long time and weirdly, a lot of those skills transferred over into running a logging crew,” she says.
In 2007, the couple brought their first digger, a Sumitomo 300 which they subcontracted out. Then in 2010 they set up their own harvesting business, first with a ground base crew transitioning to a hauler crew in 2013.
For the first 12 months, Jodie kept up her fulltime job as a legal executive while helping to set up and run Bruiser Contracting.
“I found that really challenging, because I was trying to be superwoman and vacuum the house every day – stupid things like that. My focus was split between my job and supporting Bruiser and I just felt really torn,” she says.
“It was so hard for me to give up my job. I had been with the same firm for 7 ½ years and I loved my job – it was a big part of who I was – we really helped people and I loved it!”
“In the beginning of Bruiser Contracting, I had no idea what I was doing, and I didn’t know anybody to reach out to in the industry.”
“Now I’ve got a few contractor friends who I can call when I need to, or they can call me – it’s taken time but it’s made it a lot easier.”
“It’s especially tough if there’s a workplace incident – your emotions are running so high and you don’t always have someone to turn to. Other women in forestry understand what you’re going through.”
Jodie says you can’t beat the bush on a good day, and she loves getting outdoors.
“I drive out to the bush early in the morning and it’s just beautiful. You’re in your work boots, you can swear if you want to, and there’s always some reason to bring cupcakes out for smoko.”
She says now more than ever, the flexibility of working for themselves is a plus, with the addition of grandson Zion (18 months) to the growing family.
“I can be at home and fit my day around what I need to get done. I get to be “Nanny” to my beautiful grandson while his Mum works, he’s been life changing for Bruiser and I, and he is such a joy,” she says.
“Having Zion has changed how we spend our weekends – Bruiser will drop whatever he’s doing to go and drive him around the paddock or look at the lawnmower. It’s taken him 36 years to get work-life balance, but he’s getting there!”
While Jodie says the couple still have a few more years before retirement, she’s also got some dreams and plans of her own, which she’s excited to get stuck into one day.
“That’s a whole other story for another day!” she laughs.