Startup founders & execs share the most important lesson in life their mother taught them

- May 10, 2020 7 MIN READ
Airwallex co-founder Lucy Liu and her mum


It’s Mother’s Day on Sunday, so we asked leading Australian startup founders and executives for the lessons their mums taught them and helped shape their way they take on the world. We promise to try and do better on the other 364 days of the year too.

Here’s what they said. Have a wonderful day mums and thank you.


Lucy Liu

Co-founder and president, Airwallex

It’s no secret that building a global company demands a lot of your time and energy. When I first became a mother to my now 20-month old daughter, there were initial challenges balancing my new duties as a mother with my professional responsibilities.

My mum was a pillar of support during this tricky time and taught me how to be the best mother I could be to my daughter. My mum is the most selfless person I know, and now that I am a parent myself, I fully understand the strength that it takes to bring up a child.

There’s a saying in Chinese that I relate to wholeheartedly – 为母则强, which means that being a mother makes you stronger than before, and I have my mum to thank for teaching me that.


Crystal and her mum Margaret

Crystal Boysen

Head of People, Canva

My mum, Margaret, is someone who was put on this earth to serve others.

From a very young age, she taught my brother and I the importance of helping others, leading with compassion, and finding the positive in any situation.

These life lessons have really shaped who I am today and are lessons that I hope to pass on to my children as well.


Mike and his mum Pam

Mike Pritchett

CEO and cofounder, Shootsta

I grew up as one of four boys that all had an extreme adventurous streak, to say the least.

Broken limbs, cuts, stakes through legs, and concussions were all a weekly occurrence. Somehow my Mum, Pam, managed to stay extremely cool in situations that would make most faint.

The lesson I picked up from her is that any situation is rarely as bad as it seems and panicking only makes matters worse.

It’s a really relevant lesson given what’s happening with COVID right now. And its something I’ve reflected on as I’ve been running my business with a cool head during this period.


Carolyn and her mum Sandra

Carolyn Breeze

ANZ General Manager, GoCardless

If you ask people who know me what my best quality is, they will tell you it’s my work ethic. My mother, Sandra, taught me the value of being independent. I always felt the need to either be working hard or working toward something.

My mother was a single mum from the time I was 11. My dad was not the one at work and my mum was not the one cooking at home – she was both of those things. I often get asked ‘how do you do it? How do you juggle career and family?’.

This question always reminds me of my mum. She is the hardest working person I know.


John de la Motte

CEO and co-founder, Compass 

John de la Motte. Photo: Josh Robenstone

I have been very lucky to have a strong, close and supportive family. My mother, Karen, has provided emotional and intellectual support to me my entire life.

From assisting me with Math and English curriculum and assignments in school, to Accounting and Finance subjects at university and more recently overseeing the payroll, taxation and finance across our over 100 staff.

I have learnt and continue to learn so much from her and while we quite often have strong debates, she continues to offer different points of view and is willing to challenge my sometimes stubborn or set views.

Her support, continual belief in my often grandiose ambitions and unconditional love are unambiguously a reason why I have been successful in my studies and career and more broadly a key contributor to the success of Compass.

I am fortunate that I get to spend more time than most with my mother, with her having an office beside mine at Compass. She has taught me to be loyal, kind and that you can achieve anything you set your mind to.

Wishing her and all mothers a very happy day this Sunday.


Joel Thomson and his mum, Anne

Joel Thomson

Founder and Chief Storyteller, SalesPreso

The most important? That’s difficult, there have been lots of life-lessons, my motherAnn Thomson) has taught me. I’m going to choose a big one that spans both my personal and professional life, that is, to give myself choices.

Looking for possibilities and options in life is one of my mother’s great strengths. She’s able to look at life and see options where others see obstacles, she’s creative and determined; it’s a great mix. She taught me, from my school years and into my career; to always take a path with possibilities. It’s possibly the reason I’m quite a generalist; it’s undoubtedly a big part of why I’m a founder in a startup.

If you take this path, you have opened yourself to so many options. However, you are also forever problem-solving; so knowing that you’re skilled in the art of seeing those options wherever there are obstacles is invaluable.


Rob Graham and his mum, Anne

Rob Graham

Founder and CEO,  Schrole

I think the most important thing I have learned from my mum, Anne, is that you should always treat people the way you would like to be treated.

My mum is the kindest person in the world and has lived her life with the idea that we should always treat people with respect. She has always been there for me and my family and would turn up wherever we were living in the world at a moment’s notice when we needed her.

She faces each day with a smile and, even while she has been in lockdown with Covid-19, has continued to reach out on a daily basis and show great concern for her family and friends. She always thinks about other people and I would like to think that everyone in the world could take a little lesson in kindness from her.


Vijay Sundaram

Chief Strategy Officer, Zoho

Vijay Sundaram

Don’t be in a rush to judge or criticise people: this is the biggest lesson I learned from my mother, Rajam, although I cannot say I successfully practice this all the time. She never ever said anything negative about anyone. In fact, she took offence when any of us did.

For her there was always a reason why someone might have acted poorly—perhaps they had a bad day, or they were having health issues, or money issues—mother always would explain away the objectionable behaviour of others, pointing out their past virtues if she needed to. So many examples cross my mind as I write this.

This brings a huge perspective in life. People are complex and their behaviour and attitudes are often determined by their set of circumstances; something we may never know.

If you followed mum’s principle, you would never have put yourself in a position of being critical of someone only to suffer the guilt of realising later that they had been challenged in some way—perhaps physically, mentally, or financially. The world will just be better if we can all get this right.


Charlie Youakim and his mum Cathy

Charlie Youakim

Co-founder and CEO, Sezzle

The most important life lesson my Mum, Cathy, taught me was to treat others with kindness and respect.

It’s a lesson that has served me well in my personal and professional life and one that I think is increasingly important during difficult times like the one we’re all experiencing now.


Jason Waller and his Mum

Jason Waller

CEO, InteliCare

My mum, Maxine, ran a bunch of small businesses when I was growing up.

They ranged from garden bags to kids clothes. From her I learned the value of an entrepreneurial spirit, hard work when starting something new, and how to balance family with opportunity.”


Richard Jagger and his mum, Jill

Richard Jagger

CEO, Bio-Gene

My mum, Jill, showed me the value of resilience and humility – two very important traits that continue to serve me well in business and life in general.

My Mum taught me that when things aren’t going well, the key is to keep pushing through because success can be just around the corner. Always remember those that helped you get the opportunities you have today.



A very young Tony and his mum Dong Zhi

Tony Wu

CEO and co-founder, Weploy

The biggest lesson my ma taught me is strength.

I recall a time when I was in primary school and we had a shop. A group of men came in and then left the store.

My mum, Dong Zhi, quickly went and had a look around then told me to man the store while she chased them down. As I got out of the store and found her, I saw her chasing four men down an alley yelling at them to give back what they stole.

For me, that taught me to always be strong in life, no matter what challenges are in front of me.


Aaron Beashel with his mum Kay

Aaron Beashel

Co-founder, Simul

Go the extra mile: My Mum, Kay, always went the extra mile for me. There was never anything she wasn’t willing to do, anywhere she wasn’t willing to pick me up from or drop me off at (even at crazy hours).

I feel this come out in me all the time. I truly believe that, whether it’s putting that extra little bit of polish in a product feature or going that extra mile to support that customer, these little things add up over time to create a great experience for customers, and that subsequently helps you build a great company. I don’t think I fully realised it until now, but I think I have my Mum to thank for that.


Robert Read

CEO, MedAdvisor  

MedAdvisor CEO Robert Read.

My mother, Mariette, came to Australia from Holland when she was 28. She was a lawyer in Holland, but like many migrants, had to redo her degree here after she married my father. She did her first-year exams in a foreign language, 9months pregnant with me and a gurney sitting next to her just in case I arrived. By the time she finished her degree, she had 3 kids under 5.

Mum had to work hard throughout our childhood to give us an education. I was one of 4 kids, but that didn’t stop her starting her own firm. She has an amazing capability to deal with pressure, complexity and take it all in her stride. I have taken some of that can-do approach with me.

She also has a love of travel and languages which I admire. Her ambition to discover new things, understand and empathise with differences is one of the teachings that come from those experiences she had and we had as a family.

She taught us to drive our own learning and to handle tough environments or challenges well, Mum copes with anything with an unflappable steadiness and care for those around her.