Justin Hillberg – General Manager at SurfStitch

Posted September 15, 2017, by Jenny Sakr
Justin Hillberg – General Manager at SurfStitch

As the general manager of one of Australia’s most popular online retail stores, Justin wears many hats. Read how he juggles it all! 

How long have you been in business management?

I have been in my current role for about two years, however, I’ve been involved in different areas of business management for over 10 years. Whether it has been managing departments, teams, stores or specific projects.

What did you study to be a business manager?

I completed a Business degree at QUT in 2003 where I majored in management, however, I have been an active and eager learner throughout my career. I’ve always been keen to participate in internal and external courses and workshops on various subjects over the years.

What did you want to be when you were younger?

I was pretty active as a kid and dreamt of being an Olympian… Clearly failing this, I wanted to be involved in the sport or fitness industry in some capacity. I knew I wanted to either run my own business or manage a business in an industry I was passionate about.

What was your first job?

My first job was born out of the school work experience program where I was a sales assistant at my local surf store. From this first experience, I caught the retail bug and was fascinated with all things relating to retail. I have been in retail ever since.

Explain a typical day at SurfStitch HQ

What I really love about my role today is that I don’t really have a “typical day”. When you have a large team you tend to spend a lot of your time on people and rightfully so. Mondays are typically filled with analysing reports, forecasting and planning ahead and Tuesday’s we get together as a leadership team and discuss strategy, projects and general business health. The rest of the week is split between people development, performance management and project management. No two weeks are the same which is the way I like it.

When did you first know you wanted to work in business?

I always liked working with people and teams and found myself naturally gravitating to leadership roles from a young age. My first management role was with the very same local surf store. It was this role where I became fond of numbers and understood the value of good leadership. I didn’t really equate this with “business” back then however as I moved through my retail career, these early lessons in leadership and financial discipline became increasingly important.

Name the most interesting thing that’s happened to you in your career

I have been fortunate enough to travel with my career and had the opportunity to live in California for six months with my family. While it was daunting to pick up my family and move to a new country, we had an amazing experience that we will cherish forever. I have also been lucky to be involved in a very fast moving business and industry that has exposed me to an exciting IPO as well as multiple merges and acquisitions that are always interesting, to say the least.

Name the best and worst parts of your job

The best part of my role is working with people and seeing them grow and succeed. It’s also very rewarding to see our team strategy come to life and deliver great results. The worst parts of my role are often around delivering bad news to good people.

What’s the most important career tip someone has given you?

“No one promised you it was going to be easy”. This was from one of my first managers who instilled in me that you always have choices, even when it feels like you don’t. “Own your decisions”.

What do you wish someone had told you before starting in business management?

Invest time and effort in developing your people. This is your most valuable resource and can either add multiples in value or cause you multiples in pain for your business. Take the time to ensure you have the RIGHT people in the RIGHT roles.

Where do people have to start to become a business manager and what is a standard salary package for this role?

I don’t believe there is a single starting point for successful managers however I believe you need to be a good team player and you need to know how to get the best out of people by playing to peoples strengths.
Salaries will vary wildly for managers depending on the level of management, the size of team, the size of the business and the industry you are in. Successful managers are valuable in all businesses and a quick Google will tell you how much the best managers and leaders can earn each year.

Name a career highlight

I can think of many moments over the past few years that bring me joy, however, a recent career highlight for me has been leading my team successfully through a very challenging period in our company. In some moments of serious adversity, our team really supported one another and achieved some excellent turn around results.

What’s next for you?

I’m excited about the future. I have a great team that is strong and hungry to succeed. We have a lot of exciting opportunities ahead of us and we are poised to capitalise on these so the future looks bright.
As far as my career; I feel like I am only getting started in my current role so it feels premature to talk about “what’s next”. I know in the future I would like to be in a position to help other businesses succeed through sharing my knowledge and experience. This could be as part of a board or other leadership type role.

What’s life outside the office like?

I wish I had a hidden talent to blow you away however I don’t. A not-so- fun fact is that I am a house proud gardener and spend much of my weekends, outside in the garden, dreaming up my next ambitious home improvement project. BORING…

Connect with Justin on LinkedIn.

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Jenny Sakr
Jenny Sakr

Jenny found her way with words while interning during uni, since, she's produced articles on it all – from hair and beauty to homewares, travel, career advice and study tips. On a weekend you're most likely to find her lining up for a table at the latest cafe or restaurant.

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