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All in the family Doing things the old-fashioned way works for this business

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When family-run shortbread business Heather Brae started out in 1941, the company and industry were in a very different place. The company has grown from selling its wares at small general stores and humble milk bars to become a supplier to major supermarkets. There is also a view to begin exporting next year.

Despite such obvious growth, the business is still based in Thomastown, a source of pride for managing director Bassam Wakim.

Now the hard work has been recognised with the Whittlesea Council nominating the company for a Northern Bussiness Achievement Award. Wakim says it is an honour to be nominated for the award.

“We work fairly closely with the council, so they have an understanding of our business, our growth and our philosophy and I think that’s why they selected us,” he says. Wakim purchased the business in 1989 and before took over, the business had only changed hands once. It has always operated as a family business, and Wakim hopes to keep it that way. “I just love being here and growing the business because we’ve got a very good team of staff, and now that my kids are growing up I want to stay here so it’s ready for me to pass onto them.”

For Wakim, the company stands out because of its ethical buying policy.

“We pride ourselves on being an Australian owned and Australian made product, so to differentiate ourselves from the rest we buy Australian made products,” he says, “Where they can’t be sourced locally we’ll buy them from a broker or agent from Australia.” While Wakim admits there are a lot of other good quality companies in the norhern region, he is hopeful Heather Brae will get the award.

“I know what we do, we do very well. We care for the environment, we look after our staff, we’re growing the business and we employ local people so all those things put us in a good place to win.”

A number of the company’s 45 staff have been working there for more than 10 years. “We have had a mother and her daughters working together, a couple that got married after they’d worked together, so it’s a happy work culture,” Wakim says.

The winner of the northern Business Achievement Award will be announced at a business breakfast on December 1