Living, sharing the dream
Q&A: Sally Duxfield, owner of Makahika Outdoor Pursuit Centre and Aotearoa’s first fully sustainable, luxury off-the-grid retreat opens up on her projects and passions.
Sally Duxfield leads in the art of experiential architecture, leadership coaching and mental fitness to influence change. She is owner of Makahika Outdoor Pursuit Centre in Levin, as well as Arete – Aotearoa’s first fully sustainable, luxury off-the-grid retreat. She talks to NZBusiness about the people, projects and passions in her life and the growth experiences available to both companies and individuals.
NZB: What have been the defining moments in your career that helped steer you to where you are today?
SALLY: I was privileged enough to spend nearly 16 years with the New Zealand Defence Force. The early 80s were with the Army Aviation Unit and I then completed my commission with the RNZAF as an operations officer in the Special Duties Branch.
Some ten years later, leaving that career to pursue motherhood, I was soon in need of stimulation (no disrespect to my gorgeous daughter), and discovered the joys of establishing my own consultancy in late 1997.
Pivotal moments for me include the realisation that dreams are achievable with great planning. I mean, who doesn’t know this? How many of us have had our passion and dreams stymied by external commentators, saying things like “that’s nice but you really need a proper job” or, “that’s so risky, you should just appreciate the job you have”. These are well-meaning friends, mothers and fathers quite possibly trying to protect us from disappointment, but unbeknown to them, smashing our aspirations of ‘unicorns and tiaras’ into an unreachable or unattainable possibility. Or, simply, we didn’t have the skills to break the dream down into achievable chunks, so it always remained overwhelming.
When my husband retired nine years ago it was an absolutely defining moment for me. Overnight, I went from a six-figure income to “Hi darling, I’m retiring at 57, if you could just keep me in the manner I’ve been accustomed to, it would be grand.”
Heck, I had to replace that income! Here I am, some ten years later, the primary income earner, having quadrupled our income and grown a sensationally fun business or two. And I have found a use for my stay-at-home hubby – he builds things!
NZB: Who’ve been the key people in your life who’ve helped you along the journey? What contribution and advice did they bring?
SALLY: I love this question. We seldom take the time to reflect on those who have left their legacy on us. Air Vice Marshal Robin Klitcher taught me about the gift of language, articulation of message and attention to detail. My father taught me his extraordinary work ethics, trading on a handshake and seeking naughtiness and fun in most things in life. My mother shared her gift as an extraordinary hostess, her love of food, dinner parties and how to turn out a meal for 20 in a very short time – which has become my gift of Manaakitanga.
NZB: What is the story behind Arete? Why is being off-grid and carbon neutral so important to you?
SALLY: Isn’t it interesting when you compare yourself to another? All of my business adventures, growths and ideas have come from the ‘Blue Ocean’ model. What is in the market that is abundant and low investment? And what is in the market that is scarce and high investment? And what does the slice of the ocean look like between those two?
My desirables for Arete Retreat were no WiFi or power plugs, and magical forest or bush to inspire and embrace my clients while we discover our journey.
These were the blue ocean pieces – clients absolutely present with you for two to three days, with no external distractors.
I found nothing that met all of those criteria. So, with my usual bulldozer activator personality, I thought ‘bugger it, I’ll build my own’. And that’s how it started. No forecasting, no budget, unicorns and tiaras in my head – building started two years ago and the finishing details are under implementation as I write this.
Clients have blessed us with their presence for the past year, and we are regularly hosting a range of small groups, from high performance athletes and managers, to executive leadership teams, through to yoga retreats and well-being weekends.
Our home is on-site. We are surrounded by kereru, large wapiti stags, and ruru sweep our skylines at night.
My desire is to ensure we manage our environment; to ensure we leave a legacy for generations to come. To be totally present strongly supports the neuroscience of de-stressing, reducing overwhelm, alleviating dopamine stacking. This aligns with my expertise and market position working in the neuroscience space of high performance, decreasing overwhelm, and leaving individuals and organisations with an immense sense of control and well-being.
NZB: How has your business been impacted by Covid-19?
SALLY: Covid was both a blessing and hindrance for us. We managed to complete a huge amount of building and landscaping during 2020, keeping my team engaged and employed. 2020 saw us lose close to $350k of revenue. 2021 saw another $150k of bookings being lost; that combined with nearly $120k in cancelled or postponed school bookings have stretched our financial reserves.
But to balance this, I am struggling to keep up with my consultancy work. Therefore the purposeful building of three strong silos of income – Makahika OPC, Arete NZ, sallyduxfield.com – has worked perfectly.
NZB: What has the pandemic taught you about business management?
SALLY: A question close to my heart. I start with Dream. Don’t stop dreaming. It’s a time to lean into the challenge, think outside the square and be fluid with your skills. That delightfully overused word ‘pivot’ is actually a good start. It’s not so much to stop and redo, it’s more about what can we do differently with what we have or do. It’s the imagination piece, the brain storming and setting our mindset to seek the opportunity, joy and adventure of the unknown.
NZB: How confident are you about the future of your businesses? Indeed, what is the future for Arete?
SALLY: It’s on track for 2022, and actually over-performing based on projections. It can’t fail; it’s the most divine experience, unchallenged by others in the Australasian market with a model that can be repeated worldwide.
The funny thing is, I can see my accountant at his doctors complaining of chest pains every time he speaks with me – and my on-site team in absolute fascination about what’s going to come out of my mouth next. I’m totally confident that we will continue to soar and achieve and to serve others by creating experiences to inspire change.
NZB: What advice can you share with other people who are considering starting up a business?
SALLY: Dream, Plan, Do, Be!
Articulate your Dream. Get the flip-chart and brainstorm with your partner, friends, strangers, coaches, anyone – go for the exploration of all things shiny that you see in your vision.
Then bring it down narrow and deep. Do one or two things really well to start with. Do not become a font of all knowledge. Do not have 53 products – have two to three great ones. Embed, then rework the dream and push it out slowly.
Learn how to effectively plan. Understand the neuroscience of planning, the how to gain control of your world (OK, just buy my book at this point and come on a planning retreat!).
Then just start. Pick the elephant that you’re going to focus on and then just choose an end to start at. Any end will do, but you have to start. I adore the five-minute procrastination beater rule. Start the thing you’ve been avoiding and commit for five minutes. Assure yourself if after five minutes, if you’re still hating it, you can stop and move onto something else.
But about 90 percent of the time, once you’re doing it, your little brain goes, “actually, that’s not too bad”, and you can smash it out and sit and soak up the serotonin and dopamine release, satisfaction and pleasure!
Next, tick off the list. Write a list and methodically every day, tick it off. Transfer at day’s end the things you haven’t achieved and put them onto tomorrow’s list. (Oh, and now’s a great time to buy my Plan It, Do It planner that partners with my book!)
Invest in a business coach. Serve yourself so you can serve others. Reflect. What will I do more of, what will I do less of?
Then define, reapply and repeat.
Oh, and seek Joy!
Learn more about the Makahika Outdoor Pursuit Centre here.