Welcome to My Net Worth, our regular column on the lives and motivations of our country’s top business, legal and political people, in their own words.
Swedish-born entrepreneur Cecilia Robinson first ventured Down Under in 2005 to visit her brother, and on her first night in New Zealand she met his workmate James, who later became her husband. In 2010, on a visit back to her homeland, the couple saw the idea of home-delivered meals in a bag, and two years later, they and three partners founded My Food Bag, with the Robinsons as co-chief executives. In just two years it was turning over $65 million a year. In 2016, the partners sold a majority stake to a private equity firm. Cecilia Robinson, who had previously worked as an au pair in the US, had enjoyed similar success with Au Pair Link, a nanny-recruitment website she founded at the age of 21. By the time she sold it in 2014, it had become the largest such company in Australasia. Her latest venture, with her husband, is Tend Health, a service that offers online or in-clinic appointments with its team of doctors and nurses. Robinson is a former EY Young Entrepreneur of the Year, NEXT Woman of the Year (business) and winner of the supreme honour at the New Zealand Women of Influence Awards.
I was brought up in Sweden. My dad is from the UK and my mum is Swedish. We spoke English at home and I spoke Swedish at school. Being bilingual was an important part of my childhood – I had two languages and two cultures.
We were a low- to middle-income family and both my parents were teachers. They worked really hard, and taught me a lot about the value of working for what you want.
I've always been quite studious. I had really high expectations of myself in terms of my achievement and I worked to achieve good grades. I had a goal from an early age, about 13 years old, that I wanted to be a lawyer.
I was really set on going to university and I'd been accepted into law school at Stockholm University. Then I came home one day and told my parents I was going to be an au pair in the US. Wiping kids’ bottoms instead of pursuing a degree wasn’t the original plan, but my parents were supportive because they understood the value of travel. At the same time, though, I think they were kind of like, “Okay, well, let's see where this ends up.”
I saw it as a pathway to becoming my own person and being more independent away from my family. It was quite a formative part of who I’ve become. I was in Connecticut for a year. That’s one of the smallest states in the US. It’s not very exciting, but 45 minutes on a train to New York and you're in the middle of one of the most exciting cities in the world. It was a fast-paced way to become an adult.
I got accepted to law school again, but instead, I packed my bags and headed to New Zealand, where my brother Peter was living. He’d had a breakup with a girlfriend so I came to be his support here. On the night I arrived, my brother introduced me to a guy called James, who is now my husband.
I like applying myself to things that make a difference in people's lives, big problems that take a lot of resource and thought and execution to resolve. That’s what really intrigues me.
Personal purpose is important. When James and I resigned as CEOs from My Food Bag and decided to retire, we'd gone through quite a turbulent personal process. We’d had a stillborn baby, we lost another baby at 17 weeks and we had all this personal stuff happen. And we thought we’d just retire and focus on our two kids. We loved that time, but it slowly dawned on us that if we didn't do something and continue to add value, we'd get bored, so we refocused and started Tend.
The idea is only 1% of success in terms of entrepreneurship. It’s the actual doing and the turning of the wheel and making something happen and putting yourself outside of your comfort zone that is the 99% that matters most.
I’m pretty stress resilient. I tend to internalise a lot and I'm the person who will take on a big load. What I’ve learned over the years is that my coping mechanisms are quite high. It helps me to prioritise and to be able to look at things rationally.
My husband and I are really boring people. We tend to just focus a lot of our energy on our children and our friends and family. I love listening to music. I love good food and wine. There’s a fallacy that I couldn’t cook because of My Food Bag. I love to cook and I take great pleasure in making beautiful food.
I’m really family focused. My husband and I haven't compromised our children to get to where we are; we're really proud of the fact that we're really hands-on parents. We put our kids at the heart of what we do and then operate around that.
My friends would probably say I’m slightly f**king crazy, to be completely honest. That I’ve been a go-getter in terms of doing things and that I was loyal and hardworking, too.
Being heavily pregnant, my recent spending splurges have been on maternity wear. My shopping list is very grey right now. It's basically just items of clothing that I can actually fit, which is a very low barrier.
As told to Jacqui Loates-Haver.
This interview has been edited for clarity.