From working as a photo developer for a Dubbo newspaper, to running one of the largest financial planning firms in Newcastle, Cassandra Kavanagh injects personality and creativity into everything she does. Rethink is more than just finance; it’s a café, collaborative workspace, legal firm, future wellness centre, and just a pretty cool place to hang out.

I’m thinking of starting a whole new blog called COOL MUMS, in honour of Cass from Rethink Financial. She was dropping pretty awesome parenting-truthbombs throughout the interview that really showed insight into her open-minded and forward-thinking approach to life. Cass shared the story of her eldest son, who’s about to finish school, not really knowing where he wants to go in life or what he wants to do. Instead of pushing him to go to Uni or do an apprenticeship or find his path ASAP, Cass is the complete opposite; she’s telling him to get any job, even it’s being a “dishpig”, or travel for a couple of years. She believes that if you take action and take a step in any direction, you never know where it’ll lead, and that is exciting. ‘I don’t want to push him to go to Uni, because it’ll just stifle him.’ #coolmum

Cass admits that she might be slightly biased when it comes to tertiary education, and it’s understandable given her background and the path she took to get to where she is today. ‘I didn’t go to Uni. It’s such a young age to figure out what you want to do.’ [Editor’s note: Amen to that. I studied law, for goodness sake, and look at me now!] And yet Cass has definitely reaped the rewards of her go-getting, hard-working, slightly disruptive (her words!) personality; she learns on the job, and she does a damn good job of it.

Cass and Jess at the Rethink Passionate People with Purpose event last month

Cass and Jess at the Rethink Passionate People with Purpose event last month

Cassandra and her husband, Dustin, began Rethink Financial about ten years ago as a humble team of two. They’ve since become a blossoming ‘family’ incorporating not just financial planning services, but accounting, law, property and coaching. Not long ago, they moved into a sprawling old premise in Newcastle with a fresh, warehouse vibe, with attached café, ‘pod’ meeting rooms, fake grass and bean bags. Because no workplace is complete without beanbags! It’s the kind of space you’d expect from a co-working hub or creative agency, but Rethink is shaking up the industry, humanising the experience for clients and proving that you don’t have to conform to suit-and-tie stereotypes. The company culture that Cass has worked hard to instil in the team extends to Rethink’s client base as well.

Growing up in Dubbo, Cass painted quite a vivid picture of her childhood as a ‘bit of a feral kid’, the youngest of three girls, by five years. She loves to tell the story of the Smurf Village she created under her bed as a child. Which is pretty much the coolest thing ever: ‘When I was 10 or 12, smurfs came out in the BP service stations and every Saturday my dad would take me there and they’d put aside the new release of the smurf for me. Then he got me a piece of ply and wheels and I made a village. I made mountains out of papier mache, a stream with blue paint and sparkles and rocks and twigs from the garden for the trees.’

Moving on from the smurf obsession, Cass left school after Year 12 and had dreams of becoming an interior designer or doing architecture (presumably to build a real-life Smurf Village?!). Instead, she did a secretarial course that set her on the path of business management to where she is today, a partner and the ‘little big boss’ of Rethink Financial. Over squid and champagne, I listened to Cassandra being interviewed by her business development and marketing manager, Jess, at their event series, Passionate People with Purpose, and met with them soon after for an in-depth chat.

Amy from Cool People (right) hustling hard at the Rethink event

Amy from Cool People (right) hustling hard at the Rethink event

You’ve always had a creative streak, and do you feel like you’re fulfilling that creativity now?

Dustin was only 21 when he started out in financial planning and we had a business in Dubbo for 12 years. But when we came to Newcastle, I wanted to do things differently. I didn’t originally want to be involved but I was new to town and didn’t know anyone and I really loved the interaction with clients and meeting new team members. So I got sucked into that! But I wanted to be more creative and do something I was interested in. I felt like I couldn’t be myself. So when I started taking on more leadership roles in the partnership, I sat down and said: ‘This is what I want to do, we’re doing things my way.’

Rethink Financial's cool new residence

Rethink Financial's cool new residence

How did you want to do things differently?

I wanted the team to be empowered, and to speak up and be able to come into work and be themselves, with a real family feel to the team. One of the things I always say is ‘You stay, you play’. The culture is non-negotiable. We have a life/success coach who comes in one day a week and works one-on-one and in groups. So how much each team member embraces it or how deep they go in their coaching is their call, but they need to be open to it.

What was it like working as husband and wife?

I used to be in partnership with a husband and wife before we moved here, which was a bit of a nightmare at times! [laughs] It was a very intense 12 months. Then I went on to work with my husband! But it taught me how to be very professional about what a husband and wife relationship would look like when we started bringing on new team members.  I was so adamant about it that I changed my name in emails so there wasn’t an association with being Dustin’s wife, so there was a separation. It’s challenging, because we’re very different in the way we work. But we’ve always been able to work well together.

Is your recruitment process as non-traditional as the business itself?

Yeah, so I guess Jess is the perfect example – when we recruited her I said, ‘I don’t really understand what your resume says but I know that we need you!’ I just had a feeling that I needed her. I’m very observant to people’s responses and attentive to team members. I want them to come in and share their ideas. I know what I don’t know. And two years ago [when we recruited Jess], I knew that we were at a point in the business when we needed some more purposeful presence in the marketplace and I didn’t have any idea about how to do that. It’s about being clear about what I’m not good at and hire my weakness.

They say you should never be the smartest person in the room!

Exactly. It’s something I do with my children too – I don’t focus on the things they’re bad at, like science! The Kavanaghs aren’t going to find cures to anything! [laughs] I recently had parent-teacher interviews at my daughter’s school and there are things that she enjoys and is good at, and things she’s not. So I decided to talk to the teachers who she engages with and has respect for and loves their topics, instead of talking to the teachers who she struggles with. It made me feel better and made her feel better and it was awesome. I went home and gave her a high-five and said ‘you’re awesome!’ #coolmum

I seriously need to start this Cool Mums blog!

[laughs] Look I definitely think there’s a line, I tell my children not to be disrespectful in class and don’t put the teacher or the class down. You have to learn a bit of everything. But I also know you don’t have to be good at everything and if it’s not something she innately loves then she’s probably never going to need it. It’s the same concept in business – there are people in here so good at their particular areas but everyone’s different!

Who’s the coolest person you know?

You know what, I’m going to say it’s my daughter. She is just cool (and crazy). I get that everyone is here to teach me, and she does that for me. I learn a lot from her. She has some incredible awareness that just blows my mind for someone only 12; she’s incredibly wise and they’ve dubbed her ‘mini Oprah’ at school. She also has a genuine eagerness to learn and she’s so open, which as a child I wasn’t. She’s quietly confident, with this innate sense that everything will be okay. I watch all my children with great excitement as to what their futures might look like. Seriously, #coolmum.

Thanks to Cool People fan, Jess, for putting me in touch with Cass and sharing in the laughter that was our catch-up last month!

by Amy Lovat