'I Will Care For Your Baby': RedBalloon's First Corporate CEO On Taking Over From Naomi Simson

Kristie Buchanan, RedBalloon

Kristie Buchanan was officially appointed RedBalloon CEO in February, and immediately set about restructuring operational roles and her relationship with the board.

Six months later, she’s stepping into the spotlight.

“We call [founder Naomi Simson] our megaphone in that she is fantastic at LinkedIn influencing, talking about [the company’s message],” Buchanan told Business Insider.

“Naomi is no longer in the position of being able to share the operational detail of what it is we’re doing.

“It has been an adjustment for her but not necessarily one that has led to frustration or negativity, but light-hearted ‘Ooh, this is something I used to do and now you’re doing it’.

“Losing control of something that you’ve created, it would be naive to suggest that it makes no difference to a founder.

“I’m not any CEO; I didn’t get recruited externally and come in and sit here for 6 months. I have been living this business and building the brand she created for 5.5 years.

“She knows that, and so there’s that sense of trust that whatever we do now, we’re building our future together. She knows that her baby is in safe hands.”

Prior to joining RedBalloon as marketing manager in 2008, Buchanan managed the Air Wick brand at British FMCG giant Reckitt Benckiser, which turns over some £9.5 billion a year.

She said her corporate background and relentless focus on operational detail set her apart from others at RedBalloon at the time.

Late last month, Simson told a Commonwealth Bank event that RedBalloon was a haphazard, ‘mum and dad’ shop for the five years from when it was founded in 2001.

Simson recognised that she was good at defining her team’s vision, but not the finer details of management, and it took having to sack one of her first employees to turn the company culture around.

Simson handed over some control of the company in 2011 to general manager Jemma Fastnedge, who was promoted to CEO until March 2012, when she went on maternity leave.

Buchanan stepped up to the plate as acting CEO at that time, and noted that founders Naomi and Peter Simson were still very much involved in signing off contracts and major decisions, as well as receiving detailed weekly reports.

Naomi Simson, RedBalloon

I think that a title is one thing but letting go of control and responsibility is another,” she said.

“This February marked a new era for RedBalloon in terms of more robust corporate governance.

“It’s not the CEO role specifically but appointing a board of directors and clarifying what the role of the board and individuals on the board, and what responsibility did they want to have in the day-to-day running of RedBalloon.

We’re a formal business, a serious business: we have a board, governance.

“We’ve still got the agilty of a startup but we’ve also got sensible big business practices now and we’ve got big ambitions for growth as a corporate in our own right as opposed to a startup that’s still defining its future somewhat.”

RedBalloon formally appointed to its board Atlassian co-founder Scott Farquhar and Richard England, who is also a director of Allianz Australia, Chandler Macleod, Macquarie Atlas Roads and others, alongside founding directors Naomi and Peter Simson.

Buchanan reports to chairman England, and now produces formal, monthly reports for the board at a “helicopter-level”.

“Naomi and I have always had very transparent and frank discussions,” Buchanan said.

“Where it feels sometimes like responsibilities may be blurred or two people are sometimes doing the same thing, or a bit inefficient, I’m the type of person that expresses that when I feel it.

“We used to catch up once a week and we would share ‘is this the sort of thing that you’d want to be involved in, or isn’t it’, or she wouldn’t know about something that I didn’t [share].

“We’d define that, define that and define that and now we’ve created a very black-and-white relationship where we’re very clear on the types of things that we do or don’t need to share.”

Now read: The First Sacking Helped Turn RedBalloon From A Haphazard Workplace To One Of Australia’s Best Employers

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