“Jump in the deep end, then swim hard”.
Sonia Chadburn knows a thing or two about jumping in the deep end. Newly appointed CEO of NAK Hair Australia, Sonia talks with KULT about the future of the haircare industry, how being a mum of three shapes her work life, and what it’s really like at the helm of Australia’s fastest-growing haircare company.
Before working at NAK Hair, you worked in very different industries; what drew you to the hair industry and what excites you about the haircare space?
I love the fact that the hair industry and the broader beauty industry are constantly improving. There is so much evolution in this industry and it is astounding how much creative talent is driving that evolution. I also feel proud to work within an industry that is embracing clean beauty and sustainability, as other industries I have worked in did not have that focus. Working in an industry that supports your own personal beliefs is very rewarding and makes you proud to go to work each day.
What are your go-to NAK Hair products?
Hydrate Detangle Mist has been a game-changer for my daughters’ knotty hair! Personally, I love the Structure Complex range and Dry Clean Shampoo is amazing. A lot of dry shampoos leave a white residue and can feel chalky, whereas Dry Clean Shampoo looks and feels invisible. Once a week, I treat my hair with Ultimate Treatment which feels so luxurious!
How has your relationship with your own hair changed since you started working at NAK?
I definitely give it a lot more attention now! I have become more creative and I love talking to our educators to get tips and hints on styling methods.
What does the NAK Hair mission ‘to create beautiful haircare for everyone’ mean to you?
For me, it means making high-quality haircare accessible to every hair type, and every budget. We have a wide range of product offerings from budget to premium price points and cater to every hair type.
After just over a year at the company, you have been appointed CEO of NAK Hair. Do you feel it’s an advantage for female-focused brands to have female leadership?
It has certainly been a whirlwind, but honestly the best year in my career so far. I absolutely love NAK and everything it stands for, and I think the reason it has been such a natural progression is because I represent so many of our customers, being in the target age group and being a person genuinely interested in beauty, and also actively supporting ethical and sustainable products.
I do think it is an advantage to have female leadership, as when we are designing our branding, corporate direction, communication strategies, and new product development, we're naturally thinking the same way as our target market.
We are working to deliver products that we ourselves can’t wait to try! We have some amazing female leaders in NAK and I’m so proud to work alongside them.
How does being a mum of three kids shape your work and how you manage the NAK Hair team?
Having three kids makes me very efficient! I am very busy, and I have to be organised and efficient to stay on top of everything. I manage the team, by NOT managing them! I have full trust in the team and I really believe that you get the best out of people by letting them take ownership of their roles and give them accountability. I see myself as more of a mentor and leader, rather than a manager. Our NAK Hair team is so amazing that I mostly just admire from the sidelines with pride!
What do you think businesses can do to facilitate more women to pursue leadership positions in the workplace?
Personally, I’ve experienced so much positive reinforcement, encouragement and support from management over my career to push myself as far as I wanted to go. But then again, I’ve never been backwards in coming forwards either!
I believe the best way for a business to facilitate more female leadership is to lead by example. For employees to see other women in leadership, they will be empowered to see themselves in a similar role.
Personally, I am not a believer in gender quotas in recruitment – but this can also be a tool for businesses to drive equality.
The biggest issue I see is that many women won’t put themselves forward for leadership positions until they consider themselves 100% capable – often we are our own worst critics. Women need to have confidence in themselves to voice their leadership goals in order to be supported.
NAK Hair is experiencing rapid growth in the Australian and global markets. What are the most important factors facing NAK Hair to ensure responsible growth and expansion?
We need to balance the competing priorities of all stakeholders to ensure that growth in any one area does not disrupt the other. For example, our rapid growth has put enormous pressure on our staff, and - for NAK - our people are our greatest asset. We are investing heavily in systems and resources to support this growth so that NAK remains a great place to work.
We also focus heavily on our existing customers, many of whom have been long-term loyal customers. Our priority is always our Australian customers, and we will not progress any international growth until we have provided for our local market first.
Describe what ‘a day in the life’ of Sonia Chadburn looks like.
I juggle more than a clown at the circus. My day usually starts with the demands of a young child, followed by rushing to get ready for work, with a bit of nagging for children to finish their breakfast/get dressed etc; the usual family morning routine for all working parents. I’m very lucky to have a very supportive husband who does the heavy lifting with getting our kids organised for school, and school drop off/pick up.
Before I know it, it's 2 pm and I haven’t had time to eat lunch! Each day is wildly different, which is one of the things I love about NAK. Nights are the kid's homework/dinner/bath/bed routine, etc., and if I have a heavy workload I will catch up on work after the kids have gone to sleep. Being organised and on top of my workload is essential for me, as I have little time to catch up if I fall behind. My days are 100% work and kids… it’s not very glamorous!
One thing I like to do for myself is run; a long run on the weekend is my time to switch off and relax.
What is your favourite thing about life at NAK HQ?
It is so fast-paced and exciting, and the vibe is electric sometimes. I love the fact that NAK can so easily pivot and change as required, which has been one of the many reasons that we have been so successful during COVID. We are not a company that gets bogged down in red tape or bureaucracy and coming from some other industries that are laden with red tape, it is such a breath of fresh air.
The energy and culture of NAK is so positive, and it is really a great place to work. You feel like everyone has your back, and working with that support behind you is a wonderful feeling.
What inspires your work?
I want to be a role model for young women and be someone they can look up to, and most importantly for me, I want to show my children that hard work always pays off. Study hard, work hard, be a good and kind person, and you will be successful.
Hair & Make-Up: PENNY ANTUAR
Photography: TOM PARRY