Australian-born mother and entrepreneur Sarah Pank has not only fallen in love with the city of Paris, she has grown an ever-expanding business in the City Of Lights – proving that there are global opportunities for those who dare to dream.
Sarah Pank had a childhood very few children ever get to experience. At age 14 her family moved from Australia to the gorgeous countryside of Provence, France. Alongside her three siblings, Sarah spent a year surrounding by all things French, including attending a local French school and learning the native language.
“My parents left Sydney behind and moved into a old mas in St-Rémy-de-Provence, where my brother, two sisters and I attended the local French school. I completed a double degree in Business and Arts (majoring in International Studies in French) in Sydney and completed one year of university in Strasbourg.”
After university Sarah made plans to head over to New York. She recalls, “I stopped off in Paris on the way and never made it on to New York. I did all sorts of things initially just to stay here; babysitting, working for the tourist office and then for a small French start up … the only goal at this stage was to pay the rent and to have enough left over for food and wine!”
Even with no real plan, the young Sarah was ambitious and always knew that someday she would run her own business. Little did she know that she would one day run a boutique Parisian company renting out high quality service-apartments in the very best streets of Paris. So much for the babysitting gig!
I stopped off in Paris on the way and never made it on to New York.
Sarah says, “My parents bought an apartment in Paris, something they had longed to do since living in Provence. I helped with the search, spending hours researching and visiting potential properties. That’s where the seed of an idea for my own business began to grow,” she explains. “It was during this process, and after visiting in excess of a hundred apartments, that I noticed a gap in the market for service-focused, high-quality rentals.
“My parents bought the apartment mainly for their own use but also to rent out, so I took it on myself, acting as property manager and renting out the apartment whenever my parents returned to Sydney. It was a big success and the idea for my own company was born. I left my current job in marketing in Paris to start my own business, Apartments Actually.”
Sarah’s company, Apartments Actually is a curated portfolio of apartments available for holiday rentals in the heart of Paris, as well as a handful of beautiful country houses in Provence. “We are very selective in the properties we represent and plan to remain small and personal,” Sarah says. “I live in the Marais (3rd arrondissement) and all the apartments I manage are within metres of where I live – my most favourite part of Paris.”
Sarah’s company was a dream come true – not only was she able to run a business using her natural gifts and talents, Sarah met the man who would eventually become her husband – and father to her children. She recalls, “I met Brett through a mutual friend in Paris. He is an Aussie but he was living in London when we met, so we spent a great deal of time commuting between London and Paris. We now live together in Paris, with our daughter, Isabelle [Sarah is currently due in February 2017 with their second child].”
Living and working in Paris allowed Sarah to experience the real Parisian lifestyle – warts and all. Life in Paris was hard at times for Sarah, but she explains that the many challenges made it rewarding and exciting and difficult to leave. “We used to refer to it as the ‘Paris roller coaster’.”
The ‘Paris roller coaster’ was made more apparent during the renovation process of her apartments. “I didn’t ever believe people when they complained about the process [renovating in Paris] and I was sure I would be the exception and enjoy every step. I was proved wrong. It is something I would like to continue to do 100 times over but there were times when my husband told me never again.
“We were unlucky in that we had a number of extenuating circumstances. For example, there was literally a hole in the roof of the entire building and its repair lay in the hands of the body corporate. It happened to occur during the floods of May, 2016 [when the Seine overflowed and reached its highest level in decades] so we were unlucky. This halted renovations for many months and caused a great deal of problems.
“All the stereotypes of dealing with the French bureaucracy (and French full stop!) are true and negotiating these difficulties made for a colourful, at times frustrating but most importantly, rewarding experience.”
All the stereotypes of dealing with the French bureaucracy (and French full stop!) are true.
On top of the difficult circumstances, Sarah found she was pregnant with child number two – and along with it, a severe case of morning sickness – adding yet another dimension to the the experience. “When you are living and breathing such problems it’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel and you’re not convinced things will ever be right. It’s easy to lose perspective when often all that is needed is to take a step back and look at the bigger picture or just a good laugh and big glass of wine with a friend!”
Ever the optimist, Sarah reflects, “Life really does have a funny way of working itself out even if it’s in a totally different path from what you imagined. If you remain flexible and open to a divergence from any initial plan, this can be helpful.”
I ask where Sarah gets her tenacity and optimism from and she is quick to reply; “Definitely my parents. They are hardworking and moral. They are very open-minded, with a great sense of adventure, fun and love. We are a very close knit family and they provided us with many opportunities and the self-belief we could achieve what we wanted. I have always known I have their support and this has given me the confidence to try new things and think outside the square.”
I want to be surrounded by love, family, friends, food and people – for me these are the ingredients that make for an extraordinary life.
My question leads Sarah to reflect on her career and life to date. She says, “Life can’t be taken too seriously – something my mother has taught me. It is short and precious and you need to throw all the energy and passion possible toward it. At the end of the day, everyone has their own life to live and you have a small window to do what makes you happy. If you can make you and the people around you happy, then this goes a long way toward a satisfying life. I want to be surrounded by love, family, friends, food and people – for me these are the ingredients that make for an extraordinary life.”
And what has Sarah learned from Parisians on how to live life? She says, “They [the French] are rather complicated and continue to surprise me. They live for each moment and are not obsessed with materialistic objects. They live in the street; cafes, bars, restaurants and don’t subscribe to a 9 to 5 work day or ‘working for the weekend’ mentality. They honour each day. They are direct and open and you’re not left in a shadow of doubt about how they feel.”
Clearly the Parisian way of life has had an effect on Sarah. Life to me is about experiences and trying as many as possible. It’s easy sometimes to lose sight of the bigger picture but if you can keep things in perspective, it makes the challenges in life a lot easier to deal with. I want my life to be about fun, adventure and laughter and sharing this with the people I love. Relationships, food, travel and people are my priorities.”
And I can see no better priorities than love, food, travel and people to live an extraordinary life.
Sarah’s 5 tips on how to live out your extraordinary life;
- Do what you love.
- Remain open-minded.
- Keep things in perspective and take a step back when need be.
- Surround yourself by positive people.
- Work hard and don’t take it for granted.