Building a Family Legacy:
Marlene Nicholas knows a thing or two about bricks. Now retired, Marlene has worked in her family’s brickyard business, Willis & Williams Pty Ltd, since she was a child. “I learnt to weld by the time I was 12, thanks to an uncle who worked in the yard, and I learnt to drive as a young teenager by driving dad’s utility around the wood stacks in the brickyard,” Marlene said.
When she was 18 and training to be a teacher, her parents went away for a month. “My father said, ‘You know how to do the wages. You know what to do with orders. You can manage things.’ So I ran the business while they were away. It was a bit overwhelming – they were all men and I was a woman. But that was my introduction to the world of business.”
Marlene brought a caring touch to the company that had been run by men since it was founded in 1876. She would arrive with an old case of ham sandwiches on Friday afternoons for the workers to enjoy with a cold beer, before handing out their pay packets.
Marlene managed the business over the years when needed, allowing her parents to travel. When her father passed away in 1991, Marlene took over as Managing Director of Willis & Williams Pty Ltd, becoming the first female MD of the company. She juggled her work for the family business, which was all done on a voluntary basis, with her paid career in teaching and education management. “I was working about 70 hours a week, but I loved the business and I was determined to see it carry on,” Marlene said.
Now the Old Red Brick Company leases the Willis & Williams site. “They approached me and I couldn’t see any reason why we shouldn’t take them on. So they’ve been leasing the land for the purpose of on-selling old red bricks for years now,” Marlene.
Willis & Williams Pty Ltd is the site of one of the earliest brickyards west of Adelaide. “What makes me happiest is that the site is being used for the purpose it was set up for in 1876,” Marlene said.
“The Old Red Brick guys are doing a wonderful job. They see me as part of the company too – well, we do own the land. I get royal status. When I call in on a Friday afternoon I get a glass for my beer – I don’t have to drink it out of the bottle like they do.”
In May 2007, Marlene was introduced to MGI Adelaide by a business advisor, to set up and manage a superannuation fund for her two sisters and herself. “Due to changes in the law, we were able to move our funds and existing mortgages that we held into a new super fund that didn’t attract federal income tax,” Marlene said. “MGI set up the structure for us, to ensure it met legal and accounting requirements. MGI’s superannuation expert Jo Scrima has advised and managed the fund since its inception.”
When Marlene’s mother died in December 2015, it was time to start divesting financial interests. “We had to settle mum’s estate which was quite complicated. We have had exemplary service from key staff at MGI, and we will be forever indebted to them,” Marlene said.
She has been driven by a desire to ensure assets are distributed fairly between families. “Because I’m involved in a family business, with sisters and children and grandchildren, it’s very important to set up finances correctly.”
MGI Adelaide partner Jo Scrima said the passing of Marlene’s mother was the catalyst for sorting out the family’s finances. “Marlene was running the family business and her sisters were involved, but in a passive role. Since 2015, all three sisters have been making decisions about the business, and deciding how to split things up fairly,” Jo said. “There have been important decisions to make about their mother’s estate, the Willis & Williams Pty Ltd family business, a family trust and the superannuation funds.”
Jo has been the guiding force in splitting the existing superannuation policy into three individual policies to facilitate a new direction for the sisters – and financial freedom. “This was a challenging process, but my sisters and I had full confidence that Jo would carry out and complete all the necessary documentation to meet the timeframe,” Marlene said.
“This she did with her usual professionalism, giving us regular feedback during the process and always answering our many questions. My life in managing the super funds has now become a breeze!”
Jo said dealing with estates is a stressful time for clients, who are forced to deal with financial decisions as well as grief. “The more complex the structures, the longer it seems to take. So we get to know the families quite well!”
MGI Adelaide manages Marlene’s superannuation funds, the accounting requirements of Willis & Williams Pty Ltd, the family business, Marlene’s mother’s estate and all personal tax returns.
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