“The first five years were very hard, I was totally broke" ... Carolyn Creswell.

“The first five years were very hard, I was totally broke" ... Carolyn Creswell.

Carolyn Creswell, the woman who bought a muesli business at 18 for $1000 and built it into a global success story, has won a prestigious Victorian business award.

The owner and managing director of Carman’s Fine Foods has just been named the Telstra Victorian Business Woman of the Year.

Creswell built a small business into one that now exports to 32 countries and sells a product worldwide every two seconds. 

Creswell, who also took out today's Business Owner category, said as a child her parents worked hard to fund her education but did not give her pocket money so she found part-time jobs as a check-out chick at Coles, in a video shop, as a babysitter and in a small muesli business.

After six months in the muesli job the owners told Creswell they were selling. She and a friend put a low offer in, and without a higher alternative, the owners accepted. Two years in, Creswell bought out her business partner.

“The first five years were very hard, I was totally broke," Creswell said."I had enormous responsibilities and sometimes I felt completely overwhelmed."

At one stage she was so short of cash that Creswell's brother secretly siphoned petrol out of their mother's car for her, something she revealed in an emotional speech at today's awards ceremony.

Creswell said her family, friends and future husband had all been a huge support, with her mother happily declaring to anyone in earshot of whichever supermarket she was in at the time, that Carman's was the best product going around.

On one of their first dates Creswell’s then-boyfriend stayed up until midnight to help pack muesli for a large order.

Creswell said other business owners often wondered why they struggled while she had seemingly had an easy ride to the top. But that was not true, she said, documenting some of the battles she encountered along the way.

About six years ago one of the major supermarkets declared they were deleting her range, despite the fact she had already prepared the order and the trucks were ready to deliver just hours later.

"They said 'we will not be accepting one more order from you'," Creswell said.

So Cresswell employed 'people power', encouraging all customers that wanted to see the product returned to shelves to call the supermarket buyer direct.

"They stamped their feet and caused a big fuss and within 18 months I had everything reinstated," she said.

In its first year, Carman's Fine Foods turned over $33,000. Today it's nudging $50 million.

Other category winners in today's Victorian awards were:

* Young Business Women's Award: Torie Mackinnon, Moonraker Dolphin Swims

* Innovation Award: Maureen Clifford, Ndevr Pty Ltd

* Community and Government Award: Mandy Burns, Ardoch Youth Foundation

* Private and Corporate Sector Award: Michelle Loader, AHS Hospitality