Crushing On… Emily Kucukalic

Walking into the Brand New You office, two things ran through my head. First: the dreadlocks on Emily’s Puli dog put my unstyled hair to shame. Second: I should have worn a hot pink power suit. 

Emily Kuzukalic is the Founder and Managing Director of Brand New You, Australia’s number one personal branding agency, and the only person who can effortlessly pull off a bold hot-pink power suit. 

I met Emily two years ago when I first moved to Sydney where I attended a Brand New You seminar on ‘Personal Branding’ at the Women’s College. 

Picture me, a clumsy, five-foot-three, fresh-faced 18 year old, recently plucked out of small Hobart, now in a seminar on personal branding. Yes, in retrospect, it was a somewhat incongruous decision -but I don’t regret it in the slightest. Regardless, at some point during the day, the witty and exuberant Emily chose me to stand on stage in front of the whole group in a lesson on building a powerful presence (i.e. power posing). 

The interaction went something like this:

“Stand with your feet hips width apart” she instructed. 

I stood there (quite stubbornly) assuming that I had stood hips-width apart.

She told me repeatedly to keep moving my feet further apart

To an impartial observer, it may have sounded condemning, like “Alice, move your feet wider. Your hips are bigger than you think they are.” But for me, it taught me that when women deny ourselves the opportunity to take up the physical, emotional and mental space that we deserve, we block our ability to present our most authentic self forward. A lesson that I continue to carry with me, four years later. 

So, for ENID’s seminal “Crushing On” series, I don’t want to toot my own horn but…. *toot* *toot* because I don’t think I could have selected a better interviewee. She’s brilliant, super hilarious and has a lot to share on personal branding and its benefits for university students.  

Tell us a bit about yourself! 

My name is Emily Kucukalic. I am the youngest of three and my older brother is a genius. My dad is the coolest person you will ever meet, who brought his children up to be strong and believe in things. My mother taught me to be financially independent – no matter what. That it is no-one else’s responsibility to give me a living. My sister taught me to laugh, be silly and did all the sewing for me to get certain brownie guide badges (yes I cheated at being a Brownie!).

I have been married for a whole lifetime (21 years) to Adnan who came to Australia from Bosnia just before the Yugoslavian civil war. He is simply one of the kindest, most intelligent, and funniest people I have ever met. He inspires me every day and from him I am forever learning. We have a teenage son and a dog! 

My number one strength is fun, so humour and playfulness are a big part of my identity. I love to laugh at myself and see the lighter side of any situation.

When I first found out about the VIA Character Strengths (a tool we now use in our business), I was so worried that my number one strength was weak, or less intelligent somehow. But now I know that it really is a strength and I have built my business using it.  My other signature strengths are love of learning, curiosity, creativity and zest, energy & enthusiasm.

Tell me more about your business, Brand New You

I am the Founder and MD of Brand New You – Australia’s number one personal branding agency. I started my business more than ten years ago after a successful corporate career. 

Brand New You (BNY) is Australia’s number one personal branding agency. Through our unique programs, we focus on understanding the individual’s strengths and how to project these, creating great impact. Your personal brand is your way of making your stamp on the world. It is about being deliberate, distinctive and authentic.

For more than a decade, BNY has built a reputation for delivering insightful and relevant programs which uses material and research from leading world authorities and institutions, combined with marketing techniques. Our team supports the highest performing teams across the world’s best organisations, and count more than 35% of the ASX 50 as our clients.

Specifically, we draw on:

  • Psychology techniques and research – traditional and modern.
  • Acting techniques developed by leaders in their field.
  • Marketing and Branding research and insight from across the profession.

Combining these techniques, we help people to increase their presence, impact and influence.  We provide training and share skills in developing:

  • Your personal brand.
  • A voice of authority. 
  • A powerful presence.

Describe your job in a nutshell?

We work with people to understand their key strengths and to work out how to show these to others in order to forward their career, their impact and their presence. We use a suite of marketing, psychology and acting insights and techniques to help bring an individual’s brand to life.

I absolutely love my job because every person that we work with comes out stronger for the experience. 

What are your qualifications? How have these helped in your current role? 

I have a Commerce Degree with a double major in Management and Marketing as well as an Honours post grad in Marketing from the University of Western Australia (I am a Perth girl originally).  I feel embarrassed, these days, talking about my qualifications. 

It feels that young people are required to have degree upon degree and that can make me comparatively underqualified! But, my degree helped me to learn discipline and marketing techniques, how to understand finance and gave me an amazing suite of memories from my time at uni. It taught me how to research, seek others’ opinions and not build an opinion without facts.  

What interested you about personal branding? 

I was reasonably successful at an early age when there were not many female senior executives.  At EDS (a Fortune 500 company), I was the only woman on the leadership team and at AGL, there were two of us.  And, not surprisingly, I was brand and external affairs and the other lady was in HR! 

I understood that a great deal of my success came from having a strong personal brand, from being able to confidently explain why I was the right person for a role. Something that, in my day, men just did better. And then I realised that this was not a ‘gift’. You could learn how to do this, and therefore you can teach others how to do this. So, I launched Brand New You.

I learned through my career that people buy from people, not organisations. And that people work for people, not organisations. So, if I could turn what I knew about branding and marketing into a skill set for people, I would be able to help them. 

What has been the biggest career highlight? 

Weirdly, one of the pivotal moments in my career was getting made redundant from AGL. I was in the executive team and this was the most senior role I would ever hold in my corporate career. At that level, you do not lose your job because of skill, it is what you stand for. So, while it hurt at the time, what I stood for was different to what the new CEO valued and, in the end, it felt good to be let go.

And, it prompted me to put my money where my mouth was – I started BNY – something that I had been thinking about for at least 5 years.

We invented the market for personal branding in Australia

Another career highlight was this year (can you believe it?) when I was asked to interview Buck Angel for an event. He is a transgender man who has made a living as a porn star, adult entertainment producer and a sex educator. He was amazing and I was so proud to be trusted with that interview.

What’s it like being the founder and Managing Director of a company? Is it super glamorous? 

There is literally nothing glamorous about owning your own business! I am very proud of what the team and I have achieved. It was hard in the beginning because we invented the market for personal branding in Australia. No-one knew what we were talking about. People thought that we were going to tell women to wear makeup and high heels (which we would NEVER EVER do!).

I am really lucky that I love what I do. I mean that. And I could never imagine not working. I will take this moment to acknowledge my wonderful husband who supported me through all the first years when we were trying to make this work. He is my biggest champion. 

How have you managed and handled the growth of Brand New You? Did you ever have a strategy or did you just go with the flow? 

Whilst throughout my career, I have written and delivered strategies, I don’t have one for Brand New You! This does drive my team mad from time to time! We are small, nimble and open to developing. I have always believed that you need to remain open to opportunity.  

That is the same with your love life! 😊 If someone had described my husband to me and told me that we would end up together for a million years, I would never have believed them! He ticked no boxes! Lists are hard to make work.

How have you been staying organised and motivated during these bizarre times? 

As soon as COVID-19 hit, I told my team that now, more than ever, we needed to be there to help our customers. I believe that two types of people showed themselves from a business sense during this time:

  • Those that would get in there and tell people what to do – when everyone else was confused or lost.
  • Those that would connect others to create solutions and help people in need.

BNY did both. We kept supporting our clients with the same service, even when they pulled back on payments. We created an online program, including making donations from every sale to charities. 

I have never believed in resilience training. Resilience is what you get from facing adversity. And this was as hard a thing as I had ever faced in my career.

I also never stopped getting up at the same time, dressing for work and going to work.  I called all my clients and friends on a regular basis. I stayed open and available.

What are the first five things you do when you wake up and what are the last five things you do before bed? 

Oooo—that’s hard, I am really boring! Morning (I am a morning person!):

  1. Check the news
  2. Check Instagram – I stalk some appalling accounts, but they amuse me to no end!  
  3. Take the dog outside
  4. Coffee with husband
  5. Make the bed

Night time:

  1. Dinner
  2. Some bad tv show picked by my husband and son – West Coast Customs at the moment
  3. Last check of news/emails
  4. Watch my show in bed – currently Normal People
  5. Listen to an audible book to go to sleep – currently three on the go: Jared Diamond Upheaval, John Tierney and Roy F Baumeister The Power of Bad and Dan Jones Crusaders.

What should we be reading/watching/listening/doing to actively improve our personal brand?

Well, with an unashamedly blatant plug for my business: do our online personal branding course! Seriously, it is fantastic! 

Also – know your strengths.  We use the VIA Character strengths survey.  It is free, was developed by real psychologists (don’t start me on the expensive, poorly researched tools that are sold) Penn State University and the American Psychology Network. It takes about 15 minutes and then it ranks your character strengths in order.

When we work with clients, we use this as an input into developing their personal brand. You can try it here – https://www.viacharacter.org/pro/bny/account/register.

Once you know these – start deliberately playing to your strengths and choose books/shows/activities that work for them.  For me, I read lots of varied books, I (pre COVID-19) go to the theatre quite a bit and read things like the Baffler and the Idler to see a different perspective. I also seek out people who are strong at what I am weak at. My dear friend’s top 5 strengths are the same as my bottom 5!

So, what is personal branding?  Why should we be concerned about our personal brands?

Your personal brand is how people describe you. It is about the impact you have, the impression you leave. It is about how you make people feel. Maya Angelou summed this up perfectly:

Your personal brand will be the difference between you landing the job of your dreams and someone else getting it instead. It is your single greatest differentiator – so you have to think about it all the time. 

What advice would you have for young graduates? 

Don’t take just any job – if it doesn’t feel right at the beginning, it rarely gets better. Or at least, that has been my experience. So much about loving your job is liking who you work for – judge the role on that.  If you like your boss (and it is always mutual), then you can create your own work.

Work hard. Be prepared to not earn a lot (especially right now). Stick to things. Don’t give up. Don’t expect the world to see you because you are great.  You have to tell them. 

What are your goals for the next 12 months? Is there anything that you are looking forward to?

I think that 12 months is too long for right now. I think month to month is where we are at. 

Initially, my aim was to get through this without having to let go of any of the team. 

The next months are all about carpe diem for me – seize the day. We will remain creative, innovative and informed so that we can help our clients to survive.

We will absolutely walk away from clients who are not right for us.

And we are going to have fun. And laugh. We know that creativity comes to the fore during economic hardship – so it is time to be creative!

Check out Brand New You and Emily on Instagram. Or if you are interested in attending any of their professional seminars or perusing their many resources, check out their site here

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