That night back in August 2018, the couple made the decision to uproot their lives in Australia and settle in Wānaka.
Hayley, originally from Auckland, had never previously contemplated returning to New Zealand to live with her South African husband Steven. A chartered accountant specialising in tax advisory, she had been climbing the corporate ladder in London and Australia, working for global accounting firms such as KPMG and Grant Thornton, as well as banks Barclays Capital and JP Morgan, and in media with Newscorp and Fox Sports.
Steven, the son of South African test cricketer Denys Hobson and himself playing in the premier league for Sydney University at the time, was working for an Australian bank as a data project manager.
They owned an investment property in Wānaka and enjoyed visiting every winter for their annual ski holidays, but the idea of living in the resort town seemed too much of a stretch.
The couple’s biggest reservations about the move were that there wouldn’t be the same job opportunities, and their two daughters Jamie (6) and Georgie (5) wouldn’t have access to the same schooling and extra-curricular activities in a smaller town as they would in a big city.
“The clincher was, Sydney was becoming too hard. Back then we were spending a fortune on childcare, as well as a lot of time in traffic. We would have had to have an au pair to take our kids to after-school activities. Even though we were earning good money, the fact that we ultimately had less time meant that we weren’t enjoying the lifestyle we wanted as a family,” Hayley explains.
After arriving in Wānaka in January 2019, it wasn’t difficult for Hayley to find roles locally but she never really settled and felt that there was something missing.
In March 2020, she took the plunge and began setting up her own accounting firm, Drive Accounting. Fast-forward to 2021, Drive Accounting now has 7 team members – including tax, management reporting, bookkeeping and payroll specialists – with client numbers rapidly growing.
“I’m now creating my version of the corporate world with Drive Accounting. We bring best-practice accounting from big business and apply it to small businesses. Our team is adding value to people and small businesses around New Zealand – and it’s so rewarding,” Hayley says.
But it hasn’t been easy. Starting out just before lockdown, she’s helped a lot of businesses who are hurting thanks to COVID-19. “One of my personal values is that if you see someone down, you help them out. If we uncovered historic issues, we fixed them for free. I still had to pay my staff but it’s a value I find very true. It creates goodwill but it’s what I believe is right.”
Creating momentum with the business has been hardest part about moving to Wānaka.
“I even bought myself a t-shirt that reads, ‘Everything will be all right’,” she says. “If it’s so easy, everyone would set up their own business. The reality is, it’s hard for everyone.
“But there are moments when you think it is great. You feel fulfilled helping clients and see their appreciation in achieving their goals. It’s rewarding being an employer too. It gives you a sense of social responsibility.”
The social aspect of settling into a new town has been easy for the family – despite not knowing anyone before they moved here.
“I didn’t feel it was hard to make friends. Plus, our girls have access to the most amazing opportunities – they go to a wonderful school, they get to go to art classes, ballet, tennis lessons and ski in the winter. And after-school activities are all within a 5-minute drive from home or work.”
Steven continues to work remotely for an Australian bank as well as helping Hayley build their mohair wool brand, The Glamorous Goat.
“I’m 1000% happier here,” he says. “I look out the window to the mountains when things get crazy. In Wānaka I can appreciate being in the moment. In Sydney I never thought about doing that. I was always in a rush with city life.”
Despite the couple working harder now while both businesses are in the growth phase, Hayley loves the fact that she’s got more time to focus on her health and wellbeing.
“We’ve bought a caravan and I’m starting to do walks. You’re here for a reason, not just to look out at the lake but to get outside and into nature. There’s just something about being by the mountains and the lake,” she says.
“The best thing for me personally is getting more time back. I can spend that time working on the business and building a team, while spending time with my family.
“I get to create my own goals.”
Hear from those who have already made the move.