Cathy, you have an Honours Degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Auckland, yet 30 years ago you took over Adrenalin Publishing, the home of NZBusiness. Please tell us why you made this change and how the experience has been.
“I have had a very round-about career, somewhat typical of women, as we don’t always follow the straight and narrow! In my last year of University, while finishing my Mechanical Engineering degree, I received a scholarship to Ceramco – a big conglomerate – as part of their management training programme. During this, I became involved with sales which I discovered I had a flair for and ended up managing a department with sales of $2m.
Eventually, I left for a three-year ‘OE’ (Overseas Experience) and when I returned to New Zealand in the late 1980s, I wanted to get back into engineering and sales, ended up involved in sales and latter management for car leasing. There was no real job security in corporate management then due to a lot of corporate takeover activity. So, I decided to go into business for myself, armed with an engineering background, strong sales and senior management experience with HR and strategic capabilities.
I bought two magazines: Company Vehicle and Windsurfing, one tied to my previous role and one to my hobby. That change was stressful, as I didn’t know much about publishing, and my regular paycheck disappeared. I’d always been good at writing at University (I got ‘A’s in my exams with essay style answers) and I was also interested in photography. So, I built the business up from a staff of two when I bought it, to peak at over 20 staff 10 years ago. Now, I’m going back to smaller business as the magazine industry contracts. We all work from home and I’ve relocated to Tauranga. I have a daughter here, and I can communicate with my employees virtually.
As I said, it was stressful at first because I was feeling my way using my management skills, but my engineering and operations skills also helped me to build the business quickly. Five years into it, I moved to the North Shore. This aided staff retention as people wanted to work locally and I grew the business with a lot of part time roles that tended to suit mothers with school age children who valued a short commute. Managing staff can be the hardest part of running a small business; there are lots of ups and downs, but we’ve found ways to get through it. And I still utilize my engineering skills!”
Cathy has shared numerous articles she has written: https://management.co.nz/search?search_api_views_fulltext=cathy+parker
Did all that you had to juggle affect your state of well-being? And what advice do you have for our members who may be considering a major change of career focus?
“Running your own business is not that great for your well-being, but there are good sides. I had my children later in life, after starting the business, and I worked some crazy hours. However, there’s also some flexibility to go to prize-givings and coach sports teams by working flexibly. There is stress at the end of each month about paying the bills; is there enough revenue coming in?
My biggest disadvantage is that I’m the only owner and lack a strong support network, however two of the people I worked with on the corporate side are good friends and mentors to me. When I first went into business, I didn’t have good coping strategies but over the years, I’ve gone through some major stressful events that have helped build my resilience. My Mother died when I was 20 and Dad died 20 years ago, and I had two divorces, so you learn about yourself.
Be kind to yourself. Look after yourself. Take those little breaks and do something nice for yourself. Take a walk or lie down on the sofa and read a book. I like computer gaming and playing bridge because my mind has to be 100% on the games, skiing and windsurfing also offer a focused release. As I’ve been working from home since 2019, I’ve lost the fishbowl that I had at the office. 80% of what I do can be done anytime and anyplace. I take my laptop outside and write in the garden under the umbrella. Give yourself permission to go and do something with your partner, or take your child to sport, or simply say ‘I’m leaving at 4pm!’ Women are historically very bad at that!
If you’re considering a major change of career, my advice is, if it feels right, do it! You need to be true to yourself in all aspects of your life and career. Your job needs to give you joy. Learning curves can be steep, but they can also be freeing if they get you away from a challenging situation. When you’re happy and fulfilled, you’ll arrive in a good place.”
As a Member of the Institute of Directors NZ and other boards, how do you think business is progressing in Aotearoa NZ?
“I think it’s really mixed; some are thriving and doing fairly well, others are facing huge challenges, and part of that reason is lack of workers over the last few years. Hospitality was impacted more than other businesses (during Covid.) And Inflation at 7-8% in some areas didn’t help. Some businesses are facing much higher inflation though, in my business printing went up by 40% because of the paper price during Covid. Factories weren’t running and they’ve never caught up; the supply chain and shipping prices went through the roof. This had a huge impact on my business, Adrenalin Publishing, and others will have been more impacted than the 8% inflation might indicate. Some are OK as they can put up prices. Magazines, you can’t, as we rely on advertising. Corporates are doing moderately well, as they have resources and can sometimes control pricing.
Government just keeps making it harder. In the car industry, the new clean car taxes are causing peaks and troughs in sales as the rules and amounts change. Unfortunately, the government often doesn’t take all things into consideration. Generally Labour governments are not well in touch with business. The environment just continues to become more challenging. Labour did do well during Covid; my business only survived with the wage subsidies, but it’s a very challenging business environment at the moment.
We are facing uncertainty right now with an election coming up. Who will be the new government and what changes will that bring? It’s easier to hold on to the present and not do anything until the new government is announced. GDP, Interest rates, and inflation are all bringing us to a turning point, but how quickly? And how long before it gets better?”
You are familiar with gender inequality and all that it brings to women. How do you think the country is doing with regard to balance and decreasing the gap, also in the LGBTQ+ arena?
“I think we’re starting to understand gender inequality, but I think it will be the next generation who will experience the full benefits. Those of us who are older have come through the hard times and it set our careers back. If you look at the big corporate pay gap reports, inequality is being experienced in the top echelon. There is more equality at the middle management level. We can’t fix the higher level immediately because that’s the path people have come through in last 20 years. In another 10 years it will become a hell of a lot more even than it is now.
Both my daughters are now working in large corporate firms; both companies have similar issues with the existing top level (Partners and senior managers) which are heavily skewed male. But as they move up, the landscape will ultimately change. Both of the firms they work for have good programmes in place and it’s more equal now with if anything an advantage for females to move up to help close the gap. Most companies are prepared to close the gap, but they have to have the mechanism in place. The barriers have mostly been removed. We’ve made significant progress across the board and there are more opportunities for women to be hired for different jobs. For instance the engineering industry has changed hugely since I graduated and it makes me smile when I think about how I was viewed vs how my engineer daughter is!
LGBTQ is receiving more general acceptance, it is much more visible now which helps as people fear the unknown. A lot of the corporates are supportive of sexual diversity, gender diversity and racial diversity. There will always be some that pay lip service only, but most are accepting. I was on the board of the Rainbow NZ Charitable Trust, A lot of corporates would send along representatives of the diversity group to events, the ones that impressed me were those – including the Engineering consultancy my daughter works for where the CEO of the company also attends to support the team, hopefully more firms will show this level of commitment.
More articles by Cathy: https://management.co.nz/article/who-minding-gap
You’re a former member of Global Women and a Council member of the Superdiversity Institute for Law Policy and Business. Do these organisations move the dial forward for women? If not, where can they do better?
“Global Women is certainly doing a good job (Champions for Change is a great example) in helping to get the pay gap conversations underway. For me, the best thing about Global Women is the opportunity to meet with and be inspired by other women who have achieved a great deal; that was more of a focus for me. You need to see it to be it, and to talk to others about their issues.
Members of Global Women told me that they had trans children and they wanted to talk about their journey. I was happy to share my story with them. There is strong support for LGBTQ and Trans in Tauranga with counselors and psychiatrists on hand. They have some very active groups, and the city plans a very good Pride week.
I made some great contacts at the Hui when I had the great opportunity to talk with women like Michelle Dickinson and Ruth Richardson. The Superdiversity Institute did a lot but it’s not really operating now. It published reports at a time when it had NZ Asian Leaders and Lawyers and super diverse women.”
And Cathy’s closing thoughts…
“I’m happy to be in Tauranga. I’m shrinking my business which I hope will make it a lot more profitable and less stressful. I’m already writing the online editorials and taking on the sales, so for me, the wheel has come full circle.”
Cathy, we miss you at Global Women, however, greatly appreciate your continuing interest in women’s equality and your intelligent insights into the business landscape.
Maggie Eyre is a much-celebrated presentations, personal presence and leadership coach and trainer who in 2023 received a King’s Honour and made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit (MNZM). Speaking with Maggie is like imbibing a good champagne; she sparkles with vim, vigour, and vitality!
Maggie tells us what it was like to receive “the call” about her honour:
Initially it was a shock as the email alerting me to the award went straight to my SPAM which meant I didn’t see it. Sometime later, I received a phone call from the cabinet office while I was out riding a bike on Ohope Beach, enquiring as to why I hadn’t responded and informing me that the deadline to accept the honour was imminent. I hastily accepted it and biked home immediately to complete two hours of paperwork, while keeping the whole thing confidential. Excitement and stress – quite hard to put together!
Once the awards were published, there was an avalanche of emails and social media. I’ve never received so much mail in my life; friends and people I worked with years ago were getting in touch. So many wonderful, kind tributes and responses. I was overwhelmed, very moved and excited. It was lovely to reply to everyone and reconnect.
The Governor General will bestow the award on September 7 – I’m super excited.
How did you choose your career path and what does it mean to you?
“At the age of eight I knew I wanted to be an actress. I’d been taught by Marist nuns, who were amazing. They were my heroines – possibly my angels. They were strong women leaders with feminist values and good at seeing the problems and strengths of different students. They seemed to get me and really gave me the message that I could do anything. Anything, back then, was acting!
I went to Teachers Training College and learned how to teach primary-aged children. That was great because you have to keep things simple in order to keep children engaged. It stood me in really good stead for teaching adults later on.
Theatre and performing arts were always important to me and I went on to train as a professional actor at Theatre Corporate. Prior to this I studied dance and theatre on a QEII Arts Council Grant in New York.
One day, the Director of Theatre Corporate, Roger McGill, asked me to design a course for a corporate group. I quickly recognized that theatre skills were transferable from the stage to the boardroom. Both sets of people need to be authentic and sometimes they’re vulnerable and feel outside their comfort zone.
Back then, I decided that one day I’d, set up a business bringing theatre skills into the corporate world. I have Roger to thank for igniting the entrepreneur in me. He first sowed the seed for me to start teaching and training in the business world. I’m forever grateful to him.
In 1989 I became the Founder/Director for the Performing Arts School in Auckland and worked in this role for four years. The school still exists but is now called TAPAC. You may find it strange, but I had a fear of public speaking, so I learned to manage it through teaching and ‘doing it’ every day. Understanding my fears helped me to help others with theirs. It was a gift from the theatre; a massive opportunity to earn more money and reach more people.
My late mother, Jean, was my greatest role model. From a family of 8 kids, she’d left school at 13 with no education. She was wise, welcoming, kind to everyone and always completely herself. I learned about unconditional love from her. Authenticity is everything in business. I see so many people stand up to speak and they’re a closed down, artificial version of themselves. Telling your own story and being true to what you believe in is what it’s all about.
Do you use your acting background in your speaking and training?
Yes. I did years of theatre sports and improv in TV shows like ‘Give Us a Clue.’ I know how to ad lib when my mind goes blank; I know about facial expressions, smiling and warmth, gestures, suiting the action to the word, the word to the action. Understanding stage craft with my acting background has given me a wonderful tool kit to use especially when I am giving a keynote speech and I pass on theatre techniques to my clients.
Another iteration in my career was a seven-year stint in a top PR Agency in Auckland. It was an important step in my metamorphosis from theatre to corporate stage. I learned so much from colleagues and clients about what drives business, and I could see that being able to tell your story, whether it’s at work or in play, is a key skill. My background as an actor informed my work at the agency which was a natural bridge to move into presentation skills training and building a business of my own.
What does the King’s Honour mean to you?
This honour is deeply important to me; it’s very moving to have my hard work recognized nationally after so many years. The award also belongs to my clients, the community, the boards I’ve represented, the people I’ve trained globally and my Fresh Eyre colleagues who stand alongside me as a team. As I assimilate the news, I can see how the award is returning me to my core values of service and making a difference in people’s lives.
Tell us more about your work, not only in the realm of public performances, but also in the community?
“I sit on two not for profit boards, TYLA – Turn Your Life Around and StarJam. It’s a privilege to work with both.
I’ve always been motivated to make a difference in life for kids who are struggling or have a disability, because I was a pretty mixed up, troubled and a rebellious teenager. I got into petty crime and was raped when I was 12. But I managed to turn my life around because I had a good education, mentors, counselling, and a lot of people around me who helped me work on my issues over the years.
I’ve been on the TYLA board for 10 years. The recent murders in downtown Auckland have brought this work close to home, because sadly the young person who went on the shooting spree was one of our rangatahi from a few years back. It’s so sad and disappointing; there’s still a lot of work to be done. We must show our kids that they don’t have to end up dead or choose a path of violence.
I’ve also been on the StarJam Board for 10 years. StarJam inspires young people with disabilities through music, dance, singing, and performance.
While the stories of StarJam’s young people are frequently punctuated by barriers, discrimination, and frustration, they are also stories of great hope and inspiration.
I feel really blessed to be part of these two boards. They’re both part of my tribe and bring real meaning to my life.
What have some of the roadblocks been in your life and career and how have you overcome them?
Like many people, I’ve had a number or roadblocks in my life – too many to share in the confines of this story. The two I’d most like to share with the Global Women community relate to health and the challenge of running a small business.
I suffered from endometriosis until comparatively recently and found it hard to manage a high-pressure corporate job while being in constant pain. I have also had on-going issues with depression. I’m proud of the way I’ve managed my health issues and have learned to inform myself thoroughly on the conditions, seek excellent help and advice and talk to others in the same position.
I’ve also learnt about the power of giving back. Getting up every day with a commitment to give to others is always a good strategy.
While I love running my own business and get great satisfaction from it, it’s also been very stressful and remains so. When you’re a small business owner, everything falls back on you. You need to be your own motivator, sales agent, admin. manager, CEO and CFO. I’ve always worked very long hours and, like many others in Auckland, found the Covid lockdowns very stressful.
I don’t have all the answers, but I know the most beneficial strategies have been to hire a coach to help manage and motivate me and work with trusted contractors who ‘have my back’. Staying in touch with family and friends and fostering reciprocal relationships is incredibly important.
As a member of Global Women, is our organization focused sufficiently on developing women as leaders?
Belonging to Global Women is wonderful! I’ve been a feminist since I was 17. I was active in the women’s movement and always got a lot of support from other women. I often turned to friends like Marilyn Waring and Sue Kedgley for support and advice. I’ve always had a lot of women friends, but more recently I’ve missed being part of a larger group of women with shared history and values. Global Women has become that place.
I love being with other like-minded women who share their stories about what it takes to lead, as women, in sometimes patriarchal environments. Women need these forums as we still have work to do to achieve gender equity, inclusion and overcome biases. We all stand on the shoulders of the women who paved the way before us and I feel called to do the same for younger women, whatever their pronouns, who are coming up today.
Belonging to Global Women makes me feel less alone and gives me a safe place to go and not be judged. I have huge respect for Theresa Gattung as a human being and a Chair, and for Agnes Naera as the CEO. So, the leadership I’m seeing so far is excellent.
Tell us about any of your prominent clients and what sets them apart from your ‘regular’ clients.
Over the years I’ve done quite a lot of working with high performance athletes and coaches in a number of sports – particularly in women’s rugby. They’re great to coach because they’re already used to being coached and are 100% committed to everything they do. I’ve also worked with a number of high performing women CEOs, directors, academics and with the former Prime Minister of New Zealand, Helen Clark, and other politicians who have a similar mindset. They’re all people who expect feedback, have expectations, and aren’t afraid. They walk in with a positive attitude, ready to go. Leading one- or two-day workshops in business with my Fresh Eyre colleagues is my passion. It’s my happy place because transforming human beings to be more confident is what matters to me.
On the other hand, a large number of people I train in the corporate and business worlds aren’t used to being coached and start out by not being committed to being the best they can be. I want to help people become memorable, so we often have to break through a few barriers. One of the biggest hurdles is getting them to tell stories and use more down-to-earth everyday language.
However, it’s not just the “prominent” clients who make an indelible mark, it’s those who seek my guidance and mentorship to be able to break through what is holding them back from shining on their stage – whether it be as a panelist at a university conference, a speech at a wedding or someone who is “shy” and in search of a confident voice to live life more fully expressed. These too are the clients whose commitment illuminates my work.
Would you provide three tips for women to gain and grow their confidence in public speaking?
Closing words from Maggie:
Everyday I’m grateful to be alive! I’m grateful to my clients because they keep me going and give me purpose. Every day, when they come in the door, I know in my heart of hearts that I can make a difference and help them succeed.
Keep on collecting your stories and be brave enough to put the important ones out there. Never ever give up!
Thank you, Maggie for your invaluable intelligence, insights, and inspiration!
All interviews and stories written by our Editor in Residence, Jenni Prisk (Global Women Member)