Kate Parker joined storied airline Ansett Australia fresh out of university; over the course of the next ten years, she would have the opportunity to work in many different roles, getting a wide breadth of experience across the business.
The most surreal experience of all was working through what remains one of the biggest corporate collapses in Australian history, with Parker part of a small team kept on to get the airline ready for a potential sale.
“It was some of the best and worst six months of my working career,” she said.
“Not only were you trying to get people who you owed money to help you out, people who would probably be very unlikely to see that money, but you also were getting calls from employees asking if the airline was going to be an ongoing proposition and whether they should be getting another job.
“We then had people interested in buying the airline, so we had to scramble like lunatics to develop, effectively, a whole new product that was ready for them to sign on the dotted line to buy.”
Following Ansett’s last day, Parker went on to another lengthy corporate stint, taking on the role of General Manager of Marketing, Property at Colonial First State, which saw her work both across the corporate brand and consumer portfolios, including 40 shopping centres.
Applying previous work experience to a new role
“There’s some things that stay the same regardless of what you’re selling and what industry you’re in; making the jump between industries helps you recognise how much is universal and how much is just category-specific,” Parker said.
Working in retail property and shopping centres for 10 years gave Parker a strong insight into retail trends and performance across different geographies, demographics, and categories, looking at everything from grocery stores to luxury retail.
An increasingly strong performer is the food and beverage sector, and it’s here that Parker has plied her trade over the last few years.
Looking to be less corporate, more Startup, since leaving Colonial First State Parker has served as head of marketing at T2, as country manager for Australia and New Zealand at Zomato, and is now CEO of Your Tea, a global ecommerce brand creating tea blends based on traditional Chinese Medicine principles.
The opportunities in the Food and Beverage sector
With the experience of her role at Your Tea, Parker is eager to point out that ‘food and beverage’ goes far beyond the label, and in turn hopes to see a wide scope of Startups and Scaleups participating in the Lion Unleashed program.
With its teas developed by qualified practitioners according to the science of traditional Chinese Medicine, Your Tea is a health and wellness brand, with a range of blends that focus on improving gut health, which despite being thousands of years old is one of the fastest growing health trends today.
“The whole health and wellness and food and beverage categories are where all the growth is happening, so it’s an exciting category,” Parker said.
“It’s also a great brand story in that traditional Chinese medicine is often seen as quite old-worldly, a little bit inaccessible, but Your Tea has very successfully managed to develop a product that has an East meets West approach, so it’s very modern and targeted at the health challenges we face today, and there’s also a real credibility there.”
How mentors have helped Parker through her career
Having gone through such a surreal experience with Ansett, Parker admitted that she has often been able to put subsequent challenges throughout her career into perspective.
“Ansett was such a big business, but literally within three months it was out of the news cycle, and it was like it never existed. It’s so strange for somewhere you’ve worked for 10 years to almost disappear from memory…I think I saw an Ansett light box at a museum once, but now I interview people who haven’t even heard of it,” she said.
However, Parker has also relied on mentors to help guide her through, from bosses and managers to colleagues alike.
“It tended to happen organically for me; as you move through your career you’re exposed to people in a whole range of different areas and you find that you tend to have a meeting, not always of the minds, but a lovely sense of connectedness,” she said.
“It’s not always on a professional level, but even looking at things that could be going on in your life that somebody can help you through.”
How to take on board a mentor’s difficult advice
Having experienced both sides of the coin now, being mentored and mentoring others, Parker believes one of the most important things is listening when a mentor “calls bullshit” on you – after all, mentoring isn’t just meeting up for coffee or making an introduction.
“It’s really quite confronting when you’re deep into something and someone gets you to pause and have an honest look at what it is you’re doing and challenge the things you were wedded to,” Parker admitted.
“The easy thing to do is ignore them, stick your head in the sand, and pretend it doesn’t matter, or you can take the tough call and start to rethink something.”
It isn’t easy, Parker said, and it means then having long, difficult discussions with others within the business to help them understand a different way of thinking, but if a mentoring relationship is a genuine one built on mutual respect, you must understand that your mentor is looking out for you and your work.
“The first thing people do is get defensive, but once you’ve had bullshit called on you and you go through the process, you come out the other end and realise it’s not the worst thing that can happen to you,” Parker said.
Having spent much of her career in marketing, one of the most common mistakes Parker has seen mentees make is losing sight of who they’re working for: the customer.
“People get whiteline fever; they run a process, and they completely lose sight of the fact there’s a customer involved in any way, shape, or form. For me, the most common bullshit call is losing sight of the customer.”
Want to work with Kate Parker? Learn more about the Lion Unleashed program here.