Melbourne Business School News Laura Mirsch is using her MBA to break new ground at Coles

Laura Mirsch is using her MBA to break new ground at Coles

After years of building businesses, Laura Mirsch is now doing it inside one of Australia's largest retail companies.

"I like to build things, and I think that's really come through in my background, intentionally or not," says Laura, who graduated from Melbourne Business School's Part-time MBA program in 2022.

"I spent a lot of time working from the ground level up."

Before her MBA, Laura helped build boutique breweries in Australia and the US, where she was born and met her Australian husband. Those breweries include Stone Brewing, which, then and now, is Southern California's largest brewer.

Since moving to Australia, Laura has helped Melbourne's Hop Nation and other local boutique brewers grow their businesses.

After completing her Part-time MBA, Laura consulted for a year at Grant Thorton before becoming Head of Wholesale at Coles Group. Now she's taking the leading Australian retailer into largely uncharted territory as a supplier, and not just a retailer, of groceries.

Marie Festa, CEO of Chief Executive Women

Getting the right experience

Before leaping from boutique brewing to heading Coles' new business, Laura felt she needed more experience and the right qualification to unlock bigger opportunities as an import to Australia and a woman.

""I spent the vast majority of my career as the only woman in the room, and it was abundantly clear that I needed to be the most qualified person in the room to even have a seat at the table.""

"I just knew that I was going to have to do some things kind of on my own terms, and I was going to really have to back myself. And especially transitioning from being an international transplant to Australia and then working in an Australian business environment. I knew that I needed Australian credentials."

Laura spent two-and-a-half years studying her Part-time MBA while working at a local brewer, coping with the COVID-19 pandemic and starting a family.

"It was a very, very interesting two and a half years," she says.

"It was also when I was pregnant with my now two-and-half-year-old, so I made it through a combination of COVID and being a young parent through lockdown."

Building friendships

One of the biggest benefits Laura gained from her MBA studies was the contacts she made.

"I'm still very much in touch with a number of the students from my cohort, students that I had in syndicate groups. There's a lot of really deep and long-lasting friendships that are forged," she says.

"I also was really fortunate to meet a number of other women who had young kids and were dealing with some similar issues.

""It was great to chat through career transitions with other people, so it’s really that wealth of experience and backgrounds from my classmates that was the most valuable thing to me.""

During her studies, Laura moved from production manager to supply chain manager at a Melbourne brewer. Then came a career-changing year as a fresh graduate, consulting to Grant Thornton clients, who included Coles, putting her in the running to apply and become Coles' new Head of Wholesale.

Building a new business

"This is a brand-new business for Coles," Laura says of her current role.

"We're really capitalising on the opportunity that we've been given with the sale of our (Coles) Express sites and setting up a wholesale capability within Coles Group. And that’s the first time that’s happened."

Coles sold its Express sites after Shell Australia off-loaded its refinery business to Viva Energy. Coles still supplies the stores through its new wholesale arm, but Laura’s team is tasked with expanding the business to also supply hospitals and other buyers of bulk groceries.

"It's an incredible opportunity for us to launch into a market that is pretty huge across Australia and just a great chance to stand up a team to service that."

While the task seems daunting, Laura's experience at Melbourne Business School has given her the confidence she needs for the challenge.

"The single-most formative class I took was Leadership and Change with Amanda Sinclair. Taking a subject that pushed everyone in the room to be quite uncomfortable and reflect and mindful was incredibly valuable because that’s the single-most important thing any of us do as leaders," she says.

"When you see that, and you can actually picture yourself in the top job, that's a unique experience, and it’s really validating to know that the hard work you’re putting in is going to be worth it."

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