Three Minute Squiz With… Sally Branson Dalwood

Sally Branson Dalwood is someone we felt we knew forever the first time we met her – she’s just one of those women who know how to connect. And it’s those connections that saw her succeed in the first phase of her career as a political adviser and organiser. Putting that behind her, she’s living the entrepreneurial dream with not one, but two ventures on the go – an online cake business with her husband and a newly launched line for parents-to-be – The Suite Set. She’s also a regular guest on the wireless. And she has two kids under 3yo. We’re exhausted just thinking about it… Please welcome the indefatigable Sal to this week’s Three Minute Squiz. 

How and where do you Squiz?
Thank you for making an email that can be read in one go at 6am whilst making toast for a toddler who decides he actually wants cereal instead. After almost two decades of doing media briefings first thing, it is now The Squiz that is keeping me touch with the news whilst also making me smugly feel like a non-judged-better mum by limiting my iPhone time.

You’re originally a country girl from Colbinabbin in Victoria. Do you now consider yourself a city cat?
No, I don’t think I ever will. I well and truly enjoy the benefits of our inner city life, but have a longing for the country that will always be with me. Maybe the next time I pop up it will be in one of those families on Escape to the Country

All former political staffers have war stories. Feel free to tell us your most juicy and don’t be afraid to name names…
No political staffer should ever name names and if they do, don’t employ them. In all seriousness, I know many wonderful politicians. Recognition of their hard work is often eclipsed by other people’s poor decisions or unchecked egos. In instances like this, naming names becomes tempting.

Often times, when I am deep in nappy-changing, I reflect on the varied agendas of my workdays of old. Oh, you know, like that time I was catapulted off an aircraft carrier, or when I climbed a rope ladder down the side of a US warship into a pilot boat floating aside it about 500kms out to sea. One thing I often think about, as I roll my eyes at the commentary on how the Duchess of Sussex carries her baby, is the visit of William and Catherine to Australia. I’m an extrovert, but I will never forget the frenzied screaming of people lined up to touch them. I found it totally overwhelming. I don’t think it would be a life I would wish for, no matter how highly I value service or duty – or nice hats and shoes.

Was it a big jump to get out of politics and back yourself (and your husband) in business?
It was politics that ignited my interest in small business. In my roles in public affairs for the US Mission to Australia and then the in federal government, I was fortunate to meet a diverse range of people who had their own businesses. They fell into two camps: the natural entrepreneurs, with extraordinary ideas, and those who had to innovate because they couldn’t make the 9-5 work for them. Many of the latter were mothers who had high profile/high commitment roles in corporates before trying their hand at enterprise. These women were especially inspiring, but I never thought that would be my path. I was committed to being back at work and tried my hardest to be. In the end, I had to let go of a lot of ego and say that I couldn’t meet the demands of my expectations for work.

When we went into hospital to have our first baby, we packed everything we thought we may need (and more) into homemade, labelled ziplock bags in an effort to be organised. It made a really chaotic time a bit less so. At 2am with a 10-hour-old baby, at least I knew where to find a clean t-shirt in my hospital bag.  I decided to end formal work when Magnus was eight-months-old. I did a load of market research and found that aside from the pain of childbirth, new parents were most anxious about what to pack in their bags for hospital. We’ve now gone into manufacturing packing bags to help other parents-to-be, and so The Suite Set was born. Making sure the bags were high quality, non-toxic, reusable and Australian made has taken extraordinary research and development. We’ve also used only small Australian businesses for every element of building the brand. To this end, it has been an interesting project. Perhaps not the cut and thrust of politics, but perfect for this stage of my life. It was the many lessons I learned in politics that have shaped the DNA of this business.

What’s your advice to anyone thinking about giving up their full-time job to give their own thing a try?
If the sweet siren song is calling you, it will always serenade you until you grab the microphone and sing along. Honestly though, if you become really clear on what it is you want to do, why you want to do it – and can be assured you won’t starve – why not follow that path? It doesn’t have to be forever, just give it a go.

Name four people – living or dead – you’d kill to sit down to dinner with.
I would like three seperate dinners so I could really enjoy each guest’s company. I would please like a liquid lunch with Nigella Lawson so no-one had to cook.

Then I would have full South Argentinian feast with Eva Peron. As a tiny girl I was fascinated her and read biographies on the Peron era well beyond my 10yo comprehension.

Finally, a super healthy detox banquet with Gwyneth Paltrow, a thoughtful and witty conversationalist.  I recently saw her manage a panel of ego driven panelists and it was a lesson in moderation. She is also an extraordinary business person – she has built a modern online empire in Goop, gathering an amazing team in her business. Her podcast series is almost as good as Claire and Kate’s.

Your favourite book/writer?
I loved I AM PILGRIM by Terry Hayes and am waiting to get my hands on The Year of the Locust. In the meantime, every single year I grab the new Jack Reacher, read it in two hours and remorsefully wait another year for the next. There is a certain comfort in the Reacher formula and I’ve enjoyed the evolution of the character and the themes. It is escapism, but there was an especially disturbing release based on the dark web that still gives me the horrors.

I bought every pregnancy and birth book known, but sitting next to my bed always is The Post Natal Depletion Cure with only six weeks of formal post natal care, this looks at the importance of finding ways to continue supporting mothers to be healthy.**

The best piece of advice your mother/father/good friend gave you?
My life has been enriched with good advice. I’ve got an extraordinarily wise, positive mother and have had loads of great mentors*. Rather than advice, it’s a saying that resonates with me. There are often days when I am frantic, wondering how I will fit everything in a day whilst still maintaining a pace of wonder and ‘anti-rush’ for our boys. On these days I say to Jonathan “how will I do it?” and he replies “with ease”. I say this in my head often, “With ease”, and it is a reminder that works for me. We will do it with ease.

*At 41yo, and for the first time in my life, I have not got a mentor – who mentors a post-politics startup founder/stay-at-home mum? If anyone has any ideas…..

What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
Meekness – I was always more of a fan of the Baroness than Maria. I think the Captain missed out a bit there.

What’s your worst and best habit?
Both worst and best would be my enthusiasm for people and things and needing to do all the things and see all the people and make all the decisions quickly and get all the jobs done immediately. On the plus side, I get things done at a rapid pace but some of this enthusiasm could benefit from more reflection – and I often need a nap.

What would you say is the most currently overlooked news story Australians should know about but don’t?
The World Health Organisation has listed vaccine hesitancy as one of the top 10 threats to global health in 2019. Every chance I get, I will bring this up – for my friends with compromised immune systems due to severe illness and for the little kids I know who are too ill to have certain vaccines. I cannot quite comprehend how, in 2019, WHO suggests we are at risk of loosing herd immunity for measles, mumps and rubella.

**Buy these books using these links, and The Squiz might receive a little commission.

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