In 2001, Cindy Drake, a qualified accountant, quit her job in London and headed to post-war Bosnia.
She was originally following her partner, who was tasked with removing landmines as part of an army peace-keeping mission, but Cindy quickly found her feet helping local Bosnian women with micro-financing loans.
“Dad had told me to get an accounting degree and I did that, but it was a bit boring so I went overseas to make it a bit more interesting and ended up in Bosnia,” says Cindy, who grew up in Melbourne.
Cindy helped train locals in accounting procedures so they could eventually take over the financial framework of the loans and be audited under international accounting standards. The experience was a revelation.
“The microfinancing loans were mainly to help women rebuild their lives and businesses as a lot of men had been killed in the war,” Cindy says.
“It was quite an empowering position to be able to help Bosnian women in families launch their lives again.”
After her success in Bosnia, Cindy was asked to set up a similar micro-financing software program in nearby Kosovo.
“What I really loved about that role was working with the locals,” Cindy recalls.
“It became really meaningful to show people another way or another element to their lives and to help them on so many different levels.
“After that, I stepped away from accounting and the numbers, and became more people-orientated in relationships.”
Which is where coaching comes in. After a few years, Cindy returned to Melbourne to start a family. She worked in government and not-for-profit roles in Melbourne, but none of them engaged her as fully as her work in Bosnia and Kosovo.
She wanted to become a business coach but wondered whether The Life Coaching College could help.
“I spoke to Glen Murdoch (CEO and founder) at the College and he made the point that if I didn’t know how to help people personally, how could I expect to help them in business?” she says.
After sitting in on a module at The Life Coaching College in 2017, Cindy was hooked and signed up for the Advanced Diploma in Executive & Leadership Coaching at the College.
“The trainers who deliver the coaching at the College make it so comfortable that you feel really in the moment when you are in the training room,” Cindy says.
“The other advantage of the College is that Glen is really big on helping you to not only become qualified, but to market your business and put yourself out there, and I think that’s often a missing gap for people once they become a certified life coach.”
Cindy offers one-on-one and small group coaching via her business Cindy J Drake Business Coaching and works with a team of coaches at the Outcomes Business Group. Her overarching aim is to reduce feelings of overwhelm among small business owners through planning and development.
“You get so much professional development as an accountant or in government, and the small business owner is often too busy running on the treadmill,” she notes.
Her own childhood experience plays a part, too, in her determination to serve small businesses.
“My dad ran a small business and was great in business to a certain point, but he was such a workaholic, everything was about work, and our family fell apart,” she says.
“So my ethos is ‘happy life, happy business’ because having a good perspective on both, and paying attention to both, keeps you fulfilled.”
Most interestingly, Cindy says the economic fundamentals she learned in microfinancing in the former Yugoslavia are crucial to her approach with small business clients in Australia.
“With microfinancing, you give a loan to five women individually but as a group they’re responsible for making the repayment, and if one woman couldn’t make her repayment the other four had to pay on her behalf,” she says.
“We use that mindset in small group coaching calls to help keep people accountable because if you have to do things for yourself motivation levels can be lower than when you’re committed to a group.”
Her time in eastern Europe also taught Cindy the importance of slowing down, of stopping to smell the roses.
“When I started working in the Balkans, I would go out with the locals and finish my coffee within minutes, but the locals taught me to sit and enjoy the coffee. They had so many interesting stories to share, and this was a lesson in life I’ll never forget.”
This story was written by Johanna Leggatt. Johanna is an Australian journalist with more than 15 years’ experience in both print and online. She has worked across a wide range of subject areas, including health, property, finance, interiors, and arts.