International Women's Day - Kate Holden
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International Women's Day - Kate Holden

Kate Holden

Always a mile-a-minute, Rabobank head of marketing Kate Holden’s pace is set purely by her drive for change – and whether it’s delivering foreign aid in a developing country or supporting Australian farmers, there’s no plight too daunting for this powerhouse of energy.  

Following the adage ‘Everyone dies, but not everyone lives’, Kate’s path has evolved thanks to the opportunities she wasn’t afraid to grab.

Having studied economics at University, Kate embarked on a marketing career that’s covered software development, government, tourism, foreign aid, finance and food manufacturing, whilst spanning Australia, Indonesia, England and Germany.

Now having been with Rabobank for six years – her longest tenure yet – this globetrotter’s wheels are down, and Kate believes she’s found her home in the agricultural space.

And it’s our Australian farmers who are the inspiration behind her boundless drive.

Kate Holden

“When you’re on-farm with clients you can’t help but be revived and inspired, our farmers manage complex businesses, and their skillsets expand well beyond the practicalities of farming,” she said. “They understand the intricacies of economics and markets, of technology, biology, chemistry and geography, they manage people and run offices, and they can generate profits that would leave many urban based businesses astonished.”

This is the reality Kate wants to lead Australian agriculture’s story, as opposed to the Aussie battler so often stereotyped.

Growing up in Adelaide, Kate spent holidays at friends’ farms ‘shooting rabbits and riding motorbikes’, and had some appreciation for where her food came from but admits the move to Rabobank caught her off-guard.

Prior to Rabobank Kate had been working in West Timor, Indonesia for a microfinance NGO – an experience that had a profound effect on her, professionally and personally.

“I was totally out of my comfort zone, it was a language I hadn’t spoken regularly since Year 12, and a completely different culture – every morning I’d have a rinse with my tap and bucket, jump on a motorbike and head off to work, where something completely unexpected would happen every single day,” she regales.

Kate attributes this management consultant role to honing her leadership skills. “I learned to slow down, and actively listen to peel back the layers of the onion to get to the root cause, rather than jumping into solution mode.”

Arriving back in Australia after what she now describes as ‘a pivotal life experience ’ Kate swore to seek out extraordinary roles where she could make a real difference.

“I’m always passionate about whatever I do - some may label me a workaholic - and because so much of my energy goes into my work I want to make sure it’s directed towards a good cause.” 

When approached by Rabobank Kate laughs she initially thought ‘a bank, no way’. However Rabobank’s support for food, farming and rural communities globally, including in developing countries, quickly piqued her interest.

“Clearly this was not just another financial institution, and the more I learnt about Rabobank the more I was sold, I totally drank the cool-aid,” she laughs. “I feel so fortunate to be working for an organisation whose purpose is to help feed the world sustainably and whose values and culture align so closely with my own.”

Leading the Rabobank marketing team, Kate has overseen triumphs such as the RaboTruck and RaboTV, initiatives designed to share agri knowledge and inspiring stories, and help close the urban/rural divide.

And despite her dizzying schedule, self-development remains a priority, with Kate recently embarking on her MBA. 

But it’s her role as a coach and mentor that Kate is perhaps most proud, and rightly so.

Kate Holden

“To see the marketing team grow in confidence and deliver work with real ‘wow’ factor gives me great joy,” she smiles. “It’s so easy to say people are your most important asset - but to actually live that every day with so many competing priorities is a challenge. I invest a huge amount of my week supporting my team to be better, and it’s no co-incidence we enjoy the highest team engagement scores across the bank.”

Kate’s leadership mantra is to foster innovative and challenging thinking, “creating a team culture of investing money in initiatives as if it were your own”.

And when it comes to entrepreneurial know-how, hers is a pedigree that speaks volumes.

Kate’s father and mother started out as computer programmers, each going on to build hugely successful businesses - her father’s company was eventually ASX listed, and her mother retired with a staff of 300 across the UK and Australia.

“I grew up in a household of high achievers with no gender bias, so it never occurred to me that there was anything I couldn’t do because I was a female.”

“I do find it fascinating talking to my mother, she started her computing career in the UK when it was absolutely pioneering, it was a new industry and very much a level playing field.

“But when my parents moved to Australia when I was two, Mum was told they’d never had a woman in a systems analyst role, and that they wouldn’t possibly know what to pay.”

“Her response was swift – ‘pay me what you pay the men’.”

Her mother never got a call back. Once she did secure an IT job however, Kate’s mother proved that the smallest shift in behaviour can sometimes have the largest impact on a workplace culture.

“Mum was the only female in IT, and when the staff took their coffee breaks, the men would go to one room and the women – who all bar mum were secretarial staff – to another,” Kate explained. “She found the whole thing incredulous, so one day she took a big breath and turned left with the men, and when questioned why, she explained that they were her colleagues with whom she had the most in common. They couldn’t argue with that logic!”

This story has come to represent Kate’s philosophy, to not follow a set path, and to have the courage and drive to change the status quo.

“It’s not to say I haven’t had my fair share of gender bias, and sometimes feel I’ve had to work much harder to be heard than my male counterparts. However what I discovered early on in my career is if you always bring any debate or decision back to the customer, what they think or need, it’s pretty hard to argue with. So that’s always my true north.”

“And I’m ever grateful for the amazing women (and men) whose collective true north enabled the freedom, choice and equal opportunities we enjoy today.”

 

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