Anton Assaad was staring at redundancy after years of working in retail. He didn't panic, though. Instead he took 12 months to decide what would be the next phase of his career. The decision turned out to be life-changing. He saw a gap in the Australian market for quality Scandinavian design products. And so, in 2003, Great Dane Furniture was born. Today he travels to Denmark every couple of months, on the hunt to replenish his stock that not only includes the wares from premium Scandinavian design houses but vintage specialists too.
Which five words best describe you? Passionate, driven, entrepreneurial, upfront and a little mad.
How did you get your career start and what path have you taken since? I started in retail when I was 15, working in Macy’s department store in San Francisco. When I returned to Australia, I worked at Made in Japan, which really cemented my passion for design and retail. Then I went on to run the finances for the retail clothing chain Mooks in Melbourne, which gave me a great grounding in retail finance and how to manage the back end of a retail business. This business was sold to Just Group: I was made redundant and sat around for 12 months working out what to do. I had found Scandinavian design during this period and couldn't believe there was no one really retailing and importing Scandinavian classics in Australia. I found some contacts online and then contacted a cousin in Spain to ask him to fly up to to Denmark to check out the contacts I had made. It was a very freaky thing as he had decided to sell Danish furniture in Spain - I hadn’t spoken to him for almost three years — and I knew it was meant to be. So I unloaded my first container with friends in the back streets of Prahran and sent an email to everyone I knew, managed somehow to get Carlsberg to sponsor the night, 200 people showed up, I sold a great amount of stock and flew to Denmark two weeks later.
What's the best lesson you’ve learnt along the way? Never give up, listen to people who believe and support you, and most of all, believe in yourself and your own judgment. You will make mistakes on the way, learn from them, suck it up and keep pushing forward.
What’s your proudest career achievement? Working with Arne Vodder and putting his designs back into production for the first time in 50 years.
What’s been your best decision? Employing the right people for the job. My wife works with me and does all the marketing. The Great Dane brand is where it is today largely due to Emma's work.
Who inspires you? My kids, they inspire me to constantly be better at what I do and who I am.
What are you passionate about? Scandinavian design - very predictable, I know - and food! I love food, cook constantly and I'm addicted to Rick Stein, whom my wife recently bumped into at the Prahran Market and had her photo taken with him. Also love Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall from River Cottage, these guys love what they do and you can see it in everything they are doing.
Which person, living or dead, would you most like to meet? Heston Blumenthal, he changed food and clearly made his own path.
What dream do you still want to fulfil? Setting up a boutique farm producing and selling beautiful produce, surrounded by great design and loads of family and friends.