'Passion & purpose can beat skills': Australia Post CEO Christine Holgate

‘Passion & purpose can beat skills’: Australia Post CEO Christine Holgate

Christine Holgate
If you’ve got purpose and passion, then you can get through some of the most difficult challenges confronting a business or a career, particularly when it comes to massive change.

That was one of the key messages Australia Post CEO Christine Holgate delivered at the QUT Business Leaders Forum on Wednesday, noting how such traits are helping the organisation get through the massive decline in letter deliveries.

She said “passion and purpose” can beat skills any day, and that it can lead you to overcome some of the biggest challenges put in your way.

It’s a reassuring lesson to hear from a leader steering one of the country’s most iconic organisations through a period of significant change.

And it’s also an awesome message to hear from one of the most high profile and successful businesswomen in the country right now, with Holgate making the move to Australia Post after leading a significant period of growth at vitamins company, Blackmores.

Holgate also shared messages on the importance of having emotion in your team, as well as the value of resilience, kindness, authenticity and continual learning. Indeed, she’s frequently been described by many in the business community as someone who leads with kindness. She has a strong sense of social purpose, a “soft heart” and a reputation for being accessible and trusting. She even describes herself as a “free market socialist”.

And it wasn’t pay that saw Holgate make the move from Blackmores for Australia Post, given she took a significant pay cut to take on the role.

During her speech, Holgate revealed how Marcus Blackmore once questioned why he should hand her the keys to his bank account, when it was suggested she was a good candidate for the CEO role at Blackmores.

“Why should I hand you the keys to my career?” Holgate responded, a line to remember whenever you’re taking on a new career or opportunity, even if you don’t say it aloud.

Holgate did hand over the keys to her career, and Marcus Blackmore the keys to his bank account. On Holgate’s departure to lead Australia Post last year, Blackmore told The Australian that no amount of money could have persuaded her to stay. She was joining Australia Post “for altruistic reasons”, he said.

In her role leading Blackmores, Holgate oversaw a significant rise in the share price, and finished up with $500 million in sales in her final year with the business.

Holgate said her time with Marcus Blackmore instilled in her a deep sense of value for social contribution that she’s taken into her new role. She visited 117 post offices after joining Australia Post in order to meet as many of the frontline workers as possible. During those trips, she said she learnt about the deep sacrifices people were making for the organisation, and the value and the importance of the service. She also decided she wants to “save the postie”.

That desire to elevate the importance of the Australia Post service means Holgate now arrives at work to a “couple of hundred” emails every morning, given she has her phone number and personal email on Australia Post’s corporate website.

She said that some of her first moves with Australia Post have been to work on consolidating branding across the business, to tap the pride and passion of employees, and to build up more trust with customers.

During the session, Holgate also shared how she got her early career started. She  credited a woman called ‘Flo’, who saw something in an 18-year-old, shaved-headed Holgate, when she arrived in London decades ago, knowing nobody and having nowhere to live. Holgate has previously described Flo as her “guardian angel”, who once told her that “you can do better than this”, which saw Holgate enrolling a business course at college and starting a small cleaning business with the older woman in order to help pay her way through the course.

Holgate arrived in Australia in 2003, initially working for Telstra, and was later headhunted to lead Blackmores.

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