Women of Active – Joanne & Gudrun Willcocks
Joanne and Gudrun Willcocks share a unique bond with Active Tree Services that has shaped much of their lives.
As the wife of Active founder, Mark Willocks, Joanne has been there every step of the way as Active evolved from concept to company. For the couple’s daughter, Gudrun, there has never been a time without the family business that grew up as she did.
Both remain passionate about the company and connected to it, with memories, shared experiences and an overwhelming pride in what the business has achieved.
Looking back at more than 40 years of Active, Joanne notes even in the very beginning she had an inkling the business would be a success.
“I always had a positive feeling about it. Mark’s work ethic is very strong, and when you looked at the work and what came with it, to me it was going to succeed.”
The launch of Active coincided with the first years of their marriage, and Joanne reflects the early days were often spent together looking at jobs.
“We’d go and look at jobs all the time. Life was all about building the business.”
By the time Gudrun arrived in 1981, Active was firmly established as a local tree business and the family set their sights on bigger tenders.
“I remember taking Gudrun out west with us when she was only two months old to look at jobs, and we travelled through all these country towns. I loved it,” Joanne reflects.
“A few years ago, we went on a trip looking at powerlines around Australia, stopping wherever Active had a workshop. I’d get out of the car to check the power pole numbers and the more outback we got, the better. I have seen places I never thought I’d see and met the most amazing people along the way. We still enjoy going out an looking at what’s involved.”
Gudrun also shares fond memories of travelling and meeting new people as the business steadily expanded.
“We couldn’t go on holidays without looking at trees and meeting people in the field,” she says. “I even used to go with Dad on a motorbike to do quotes when I was little. Recently Mum and I travelled to South Australia and caught up with crews in the Adelaide Hills and that was incredible, the guys were fantastic.”
Over the years both have had hands-on roles in the business at various times. For a while in the early days, Joanne looked after the growing businesses’ books.
“I put Gudrun in daycare one day a week, but it quickly became too big a job. Quite frankly I was pleased when Mark relieved me of my duties,” she laughs.
Gudrun notes she spent time answering the phones at the Sydney office in her late teens.
“I owed Dad money because I’d crashed a car, so I answered the phones for quite some time.”
The years have not been without their challenges of course, with Joanne noting one of the biggest pressures was ensuring consistent work for employees in a contract-based industry.
“Whenever we won a tender that was a huge relief. A good tender allowed people guaranteed work. That was one of the biggest pressures we felt in business but also often resulted in the biggest breakthroughs.”
Meanwhile, the people of Active have always been a highlight, particularly in the early years when get-togethers and barbecues were a regular event.
“We were lucky to be surrounded by great people,” Joanne reflects. “The business was associated with family and we’d often have people over to the house or at the Ingleside yard. We’d sit around the fire and mix with people across the board. Mark loved that and I did too.”
Gudrun notes the social activities also stand as her favourite memories across the years.
“Everyone was really part of the family. There has always been such loyalty. At one stage, I used to study at the Active office at Ingleside and it was wonderful to have relationships with people over a lengthy period of time.”
Those relationships continue today, with both Gudrun and her brother Richard involved with the Active board. Richard, who has also previously worked in the field, serves as the family representative, while Gudrun supports with feedback and is also involved in the charitable trust.
“It’s a huge honour,” she notes. “I look at the charities we support and ensure they reflect Dad’s values.”
Meanwhile, Joanne says she’s immensely proud to see both her children involved in a family-owned business that has been such an important part of all their lives.
Looking back at where it started to what it’s become, both Joanne and Gudrun note they are in awe of what has been achieved.
“For Dad it’s never been about ego,” Gudrun says. “He just focused on building, building, building. Any success we had was always channeled straight back into the business and all our energy as a family has often focused on Active. It’s been a tremendous privilege to watch it grow into the sophisticated company it is today.”