From sink or swim, to riding a wave of success

With the call to entry for the 2016 Ethnic Business Awards now open, it’s the perfect time to celebrate some of 2015’s finalists and winners, including Elena Gosse, CEO of Australian Innovative Systems.

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Leaving behind a broken marriage and successful entertainment career in her native Russia, Elena Gosse arrived in Australia in 1992 as a single parent with two daughters, one with a disability.

She’d come to Australia, aged 30, after meeting Kerry Gosse, an Australian businessman while he was visiting Russia. They married soon after Elena arrived, but it was a tough transition. While Kerry spoke fluent Russian, Elena had limited English so was unable to work. “I was very depressed and felt I was living someone else’s life,” she says. “But, I had a choice. I could live in the past or choose to adapt. I chose to fit in. ”

The couple purchased a small family business that specialised in water disinfection and pool chlorine generators. It came with three staff and a modest annual turnover. Putting her under-used business skills to work, Elena saw opportunities that others couldn’t and in 1995 decided that her future lay with joining her husband in growing the business. She started as a company director and secretary and is now the CEO.

Making your luck

Elena explains the choice facing many immigrants: “I never thought to be successful. I just thought I needed to do what I had to do.”

She then set about furthering her education with multiple TAFE and university courses, eventually earning a Bachelor of Business with a double major in Accounting.

Elena began expanding the business slowly but surely. Under her watchful eye, AIS developed a world-leading water disinfection technology it now exports to more than 55 countries. The export market makes up about 40 per cent of its total business, mostly emanating from Europe and Asia. Customers include home swimming pools and commercial projects such as the Waterbom water park in Bali, resort pools at the Grand Hyatt Dubai, and public swimming pools at the Gold Coast Aquatic Centre, the venue for the 2018 Commonwealth Games.

Elena is continuing to grow AIS and has recently purchased another commercial premises opposite AIS’ existing headquarters to house the company’s commercial chlorinator production facilities. She plans to build yet another production facility on the land adjacent to the new acquisition. “We could increase to 100-plus employees and $40million turnover very quickly,” she says. “But, I prefer to continue growing slowly and being available to all my employees and customers”.

She is also proud to point out that AIS now counts a son-in-law, mother-in-law and a cousin, as well as her younger daughter in the business. “It’s worked out much better than I could have hoped,” says Elena.

Remembering her roots

Having lived the migrant experience firsthand, Elena has always made a point of giving jobs to recent arrivals. The 50-plus strong AIS workforce now includes people from more than 14 countries, people with disabilities and mature-aged staff. “I remember what it was like to be a new arrival in this country and like to draw on those experiences to help others,” she says.

As well as running a female mentorship program, Elena sits on the Queensland Government’s Red Tape Reduction Advisory Council and the board of Access Community Services, a not-for-profit organisation providing settlement, employment, training and youth support services to migrants, refugees and the general community in Queensland.

Winning the award

Being one of four national finalists in the Medium-Large Business category and one of 12 overall finalists in the 2015 Ethnic Business Awards helped Elena see her Australian achievements in a new light.

Like many immigrants, Elena saw her story as one of survival – not success. “I hope that my story provides inspiration for other immigrants, and proof that it is possible to overcome obstacles and achieve your dreams,” she says.

As an immigrant, Elena explains that you don’t have the cultural and social advantages of native-born business people. “That means it’s very important to celebrate our success and lead by example. Thanks to the vision and generosity of the awards founder, Mr Joseph Assaf, AM, the Ethnic Business Awards are set up to share and celebrate success rather than promote competition.”

Founded in 1988, theEthnic Business Awards are Australia’s longest running national business awards program. The awards celebrate diversity and multiculturalism, and the achievements of migrants who come to Australia with a “suitcase full of dreams”. Their ingenious and enterprising characters contribute greatly to Australia’s business and social landscape. They create jobs, wealth and ideas, and cement the harmony of multicultural Australia. It is the goal of the Ethnic Business Awards to celebrate their journey.

Do you or someone you know have a story that rivals Elena’s? Visit the Ethnic Business Awards website to nominate for the 2016 awards.

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