If only that pesky Therese Rein would sell her annoying business and start behaving like a political wife. At least this is the tone creeping into the commentary today after Kevin Rudd said yesterday he needed to have a “sharper chat” with Therese.

Quickly the old men of the media jumped on these comments and added their voices. Dennis Shanahan at The Australian says that now Rudd will be faced with the terrible choice of telling his wife she is going to have to sell the business.

Well guys, guess what? The world has changed. Husbands don’t tell their wives to do things anymore. Or if they do, most sensible women don’t listen. They make their own choices.

What is more, I don’t fancy Kevin’s chances in this sharper chat with Therese. This is one woman who is very determined. What is more, this business, Ingeus, is her passion.

I know this first hand from interviewing her for a story three years ago when I was working at BRW. I had been following Rein and her company’s evolution from start-up to global success, and I was interviewing her on how and why she changed strategy in the early days. Once again she explained how her business was successfully getting work-injured employees, whose cases had been put in the “too-hard basket”, quickly back to work.

This was abbreviated in the story into finding new work for the “basket cases”. Rein rang as soon as the magazine hit the press. Although we had not quoted Rein as using the words basket cases, she was still outraged at its use in the story. One key reason for starting the business was to overcome the stereotyping, she told us.

We were embarrassed and I remember all of us, from editors to subs asking how the word had got through all the checks. We immediately apologised, wrote an apology for the next issue, wrote an apology for the internet – which is still there – and got back to work.

But the phone calls kept coming. I stopped taking the calls and in the end the editor’s personal assistant was becoming so upset by them that we contemplated getting our lawyer involved!

It seemed obvious to me that the use of these words had triggered off some emotional response in Rein that seemed out of proportion to the issue. Don’t forget she was inspired to start her company – and into this line of work after her father, an air force pilot, who had become a paraplegic in World War II, had difficulty getting work.

Like all successful entrepreneurs, Rein started her business based on a passion. She started just as the recession in 1989 was biting. She had three young children, a traveling husband and had to take out a personal loan from the bank. That takes a lot of guts.

She then used her astute skills to build a global empire. Anyone who thinks this woman is going quietly after a “chat” should think again.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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