During lockdown we had a momentus change that slipped by without much fuss due to everything else going on, but we can’t have this pass by without a big thank you and some insight into the history of Vargo + Lewis. One of the original founders of Vargo + Lewis, Shary Vargo, stepped down from her role as Director at the end of March 2020.
As we launch into the next exciting phase of the Vargo + Lewis journey we want to acknowledge Shary’s significant contribution to our business and wish her well in her next stage of career/life. Before we let her go, we asked for some insights into her journey with Vargo + Lewis.
Can you tell us how and why Vargo + Lewis Ltd started back in 2006?
With a Learning & Development background and experience in three international Management Consulting groups, I met Sally Lewis at my son’s high school career’s presentation. We exchanged cards, and the networking began! After several conversations, working together on projects and lots of planning, we ultimately created a collaboration of ideas that led to the birth of Vargo + Lewis.
We were going to have a quirky name for the business but the marketing professional who helped us get started advised we use our names. She concluded this after her research, where she discovered both of us had well established relationships in Canterbury. So, we went with Vargo + Lewis.
What are some highlights of your time with Vargo + Lewis?
The greatest highlight for me is all the amazing relationships I have been able to develop through the business. Those relationships initiated vast opportunities to support a diverse range of organisations and people.
Additionally, there were certain projects where we were able to make a significant difference and when I see those people today, they still tell me how their lives were changed.
What do you feel has been the biggest accomplishment in your career?
Having a career that aligned with my values; freedom/learning/building relationships. Having your own business gives a sort of time freedom, but it’s not for the faint hearted! Often you feel like you are thinking about the business all the time. And, in reality, “time freedom” sometimes looks like the freedom to work at night to get done what you didn’t get done in the day as you exercised your time freedom.
What were some major turning points in the story/history/life of Vargo + Lewis?
Well, as other businesses will also attest to, we faced a few challenges beyond our control, but Sally and I, with the support of John, always had a positive outlook for the future. Facing major crises isn’t something you ever want to happen, but when it does, what you are made of comes to the forefront. Some major events were:
- Christchurch series of earthquakes: We lost our offices at Forsyth Barr House and just got on with the “new normal”. I think the healing that needed to take place was more personal. The business, to our amazement and delight, continued to thrive. I remember having a house full of friends and family who needed a roof over their heads after the big February quake. Despite all that was going on, I found myself working on Skype with clients in the West Coast. I think the adrenalin was pumping in those days just after the big event. It was a bit awkward because house guests and kids kept coming into my home office to ask me questions, like, “what’s for lunch?” Much like we had again in Lockdown.
- Economic downturns: Prior to the quakes, there were economic downturns, but the worst was the global financial crisis. We witnessed many small consulting businesses struggle. Once again, the relationships we had established and the diversity of the services we offer, kept the business strong. Like other businesses, we agreed on changes to our structure, adopting a contractor model, that also enabled the viability of Vargo + Lewis.
- Business Partner changes: When founding members of a business leave, the turning point is often one of mixed emotions: celebrations and separations. Sally’s departure from the business was sad because she had to leave to support an unwell husband, not the type of leaving any of us had wanted. However, all the shared energy and commitment to Vargo + Lewis has given us a friendship that continues to this day.
Are there any inspirational or amusing events that occurred along the way?
We had lots of fun along the way. Coming from learning and development backgrounds, Sally and I were continuously learning ourselves, creating new programmes/services and trying different ways of doing things. I remember one day, we were particularly overwhelmed with a new business venture we had implemented, I said to Sally, “I’ve got an idea”. In her, “enough is enough” tone, she stated firmly, “No more ideas!”. Sometimes you must consolidate and re-energise before the team is ready for, yet another, idea that means change.
What are you most looking forward to in this next stage of your work life?
After a three-year succession management plan, finishing my Directorship with Vargo + Lewis happened on 31 March, just as Covid-19 lockdown was starting. That part wasn’t planned! Interestingly, I was immediately approached to be deputised onto the Pastoral Care Team for lockdown in my rural community. Without reservation, I could freely respond with a ‘yes’! So, you asked, “what am I most looking forward to?” As I continue to provide coaching and mentoring to leaders and professionals, I also look forward to greater time freedom, allowing me to support not for profits and community groups to make a difference.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Of course, I wish Kirsty Allott and Helen O’Neill, the new owners, the best of success as they manage the business. I have total confidence in their professional and relational skills to continue the good work of Vargo + Lewis. There may be challenging economic times ahead, but we’ve been there before!
Thank you Shary for these highlights, and for your hard work, dedication and inspiration. We wish you all the best for the future, with that “time freedom” filled with family, friends and fun.
Kirsty Allott and Helen O’Neill