Building a marine business: Leonie and Felicity

Now in its 11th year, Vision Environment began operating in 2008 when directors Leonie Andersen and Felicity Melville left their “comfortable, secure jobs at CQUniversity”, as they describe them, to start a marine monitoring business servicing the resources industry. Three months later, the global financial crisis hit.

Thanks to a few long-term contracts and a lot of perseverance, they managed to survive their first year in business. By the time renewals and their second year rolled around, some new projects were coming through the pipeline. They were officially up and running.

As we celebrate World Maritime Day 2019, with its theme of empowering women in the maritime community, it seems apt to ask Leonie and Felicity to share a few secrets to their success.

Right place, right time, right services

“After that, we had the start of the LNG boom,” says Leonie.

“We were in right place at the right time, we met the right people and we provided the right services,” she says.

Felicity adds, “we had amazing growth in our second and third years and we were proud to be able to hire a strong team of local expertise.”

The business started baseline monitoring for British Gas and eventually that program was taken over by Gladstone Ports Corporation as their environmental monitoring program. Vision Environment’s client base continued to grow.

“We began to really cement our reputation for highly accurate real-time data that companies and regulators could rely on,” Felicity says.

Innovate and collaborate

Their success was much more than a fortunate coincidence, of course.

Leonie and Felicity had built up a good business, but it was through introducing new ideas and convincing different parties to work together that they really began to change the way many of Gladstone’s major operators were monitoring.

“We were doing lots of monitoring for companies with overlapping or adjacent sites,” Leonie says.

“So we made a suggestion: why didn’t they all share data?”

Felicity explains there were benefits for the collaborating companies, Vision Environment and, of course, the natural marine habitat around Port Curtis.

“The goal was to help all these companies access a far richer environmental data set and also to improve overall monitoring outcomes,” she says.

“We asked all of these companies to help fund a holistic program, which also enabled us to invest more into our software and equipment, so we could offer the highest quality data collection and presentation.”

Women in maritime

Working in two traditionally male-dominated industries, resources and maritime, Leonie and Felicity have brushed up against their share of gender equality challenges.

Leonie’s advice to younger women (or indeed, anyone!) looking to start a business in these industries is to “know your own strengths and embrace your true self”, she says.

“Back in the boom days, I would turn up to a meeting and I’d often be the only woman there. I’d go dressed in a suit and my look would be quite masculine – which I felt I had to do to make sure I was taken seriously.

“Nowadays, I have the confidence to walk in and say my piece, knowing I have every bit as much experience and expertise as the next person!”

Felicity agrees confidence comes with time, but says women absolutely shouldn’t let it stop them from making a start.