Emma Lynam is a business woman.
She is the registered owner and operator of Master Shredder; a business that shreds confidential documents for other businesses. Her assets include her company car and two commercial shredding machines, all of which she purchased herself. Emma started her business in 2014. Her goal? To support herself and have a purpose in life. She’s doing both… and she’s doing it with Down Syndrome, Autism and hearing loss.
Emma now has more than 30 clients on her books and visits around four to five clients a day, dependent on the volume of work. She is known for her tenacity. She works five days a week and doesn’t leave until the, often huge, bin of papers in front of her has been completely shredded.
Santo Spinella, Director of Explore Property, was immediately impressed with Emma’s work ethic.
“Emma is always on time and possibly the hardest working person I have ever met. The minute she is set up she will just work, work, work until the job is done. No task is too big either. We recently completed a huge archive clean-up and Emma was available to attend extra days to work through the large amount of files that needed shredding.”
Emma finished high school in 2012 and her mum, Jo, was told that Emma wouldn’t be able to work. Emma’s communication skills are low and she doesn’t read or write. Jo, however, was committed to finding Emma a role in the workforce.
In 2013, Jo attended a two day workshop organised by the Community Resource Unit (CRU) in Brisbane. The workshop was run by people with disabilities who used their laptops and iPads to tell their stories. This workshop changed everything for Jo as she discovered that these people were doing voluntary work, and small amounts of paid work, in the workforce as well as living independently in their own homes.
At school, Emma had done some office work with the year 12s; shredding, filing and putting newsletters in envelopes. The only thing Emma enjoyed was the shredding. The idea of a shredding business came to Jo during a meditation.
“I almost saw it roll like a movie. I could see Emma shredding. I could see how it would be confidential for clients because Emma can’t read. The whole thing just played out in my mind effortlessly.”
The name of the business was something Emma came up with, due to her love of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The Shredder is a supervillain who appears in this show. Master Shredder was born!
Emma started shredding in November 2014 while working at Lifeline in a voluntary capacity… and she still does their shredding today! However, the goal now, for Jo, was to build a bigger customer base for Emma.
Jo sent hundreds of letters to local businesses and thought the phone would soon be ringing off the hook. Sadly this wasn’t the case. Jo then narrowed it down to organisations and businesses that used a lot of paper and had a need for confidential shredding. She approached a legal firm, Mackey Wales Law. The principal, Terry Fanning, could see what Jo was trying to do and gave Emma an opportunity. He also insisted on paying Emma. That legal firm opened the door to another legal firm, Purcell Taylor Lawyers.
Around that time, Jo also contacted the Queensland Country Bank.
“My letter arrived on the desk of the HR manager and he immediately showed it to the CEO. Coincidentally, they had been looking at diversity across the whole organisation and were working towards that goal… but they couldn’t figure out how to incorporate disability. My letter gave them the answer!
“What impressed me most about Queensland Country Bank was how, when you normally speak to employers about disability, the focus is always on risk, risk, risk, but they didn’t mention it once. They spoke to me for about an hour and all their questions were focussed on how they could make it happen.”
Queensland Country Bank became another of Emma’s valued clients followed by the Transport Department and many more since, resulting in the thirty plus clients Emma regularly services today.
When asked what a good client for Master Shredder looks like, Jo doesn’t hesitate.
“The answer is simple! Any business or organisation that is willing to give Emma an opportunity is a good client.”
As Emma cannot read she uses visual cues to help her with scheduling. Her work schedule, at home on her wall, displays photos of employees from each client she works with. This tells her immediately where she’s going that day. Emma also receives assistance from support workers to get to each client’s location as she cannot drive, although driving is one of her many goals!
The shredder is over 100 kilos so the support worker also helps Emma load the shredder into the back of her modified car, which has a hydraulic lift in the boot and a ramp to make the loading and unloading easier.
The support worker then helps Emma set up the shredder onsite before leaving. Support workers are never present when Emma shreds because they can read and this would be breaking Emma’s confidentiality agreement with her client. When Emma has finished shredding she calls the support worker and they continue onto the next client.
Emma provides each client with a 100 litre bin to place their papers in. If they have a requirement for it to be secure, Emma gives them a lock and keeps the key. A 100 litre bin will take about an hour for Emma to work through and Emma has been known to work her way through a 240 litre bin, the size of a household rubbish bin!
Jo says, “Sometimes at the Transport Department she’ll work five to six hours straight and she won’t quit until all of the paper is shredded!”
The shredded paper is brought home and stored for the week before going to a local avocado farm. This resource helps to keep moisture in the soil and weeds under control.
Emma always wears a uniform to work which clearly displays her business name. It’s important for her to present a professional image. Jo has seen how easy it is for people to judge people with disabilities, based upon their clothing.
“If Emma were to wear, for example, a Lion King shirt, that would put her in the role of the perpetual child,” Jo explains.
“When Emma and her support worker are walking along Flinders Street and people see Emma in her uniform, it says capability and confidence.”
When asked what Emma enjoys about her business, it’s clear that she’s no different from any other young person. She enjoys spending her hard-earned money!
Emma loves shopping, eating out, going to the movies or theatre with friends, attending Zumba classes and buying her favourite DVDs. Emma’s business allows her to enjoy an active social lifestyle but most importantly it gives her purpose.
In 2017 Emma won the John McDonald IGA Community Achievement Award for working in the community, raising awareness and changing people’s perceptions about disabled people in the workforce.
Jo says, “Just by doing what she’s doing, in her own quiet way, she’s an educator, sending ripples out across the pond, showing people that anything’s possible.”
It’s clear that Emma loves her work, and she’s good at it! Jo says Emma enjoys a sense of completion when her bin is empty and she’d love to see more disabled people being given the opportunity to enjoy this sense of purpose, satisfaction and fulfilment.
Jo encourages people to think outside the square and be imaginative.
“If there’s a disabled person in your life, talk to them about what they love, what fires them up and what they’re good at. You might be able to turn it into a small business… and the rewards could be life changing!
“Emma has gone from being someone who no-one took any notice of… just another person with Down Syndrome… to someone who has a role in society, who’s part of the team, included in work functions and morning teas, a valued member of society with a purpose.
“The Master Shredder!”
By Susan Mattocks for BDmag