Catriona Wallace: “Take a sister wherever you go”

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According to Dr. Catriona Wallace, Founder of vendor relationship management platform Flamingo, Fifth Quadrant, and most recently the Ventura project providing a CBD mentorship space to facilitate the launch of female led start-ups, it is the year of the female entrepreneur in Australia.

‘The tide is already turning, don’t compete with each other,’ says Catriona, ‘take a sister wherever you go and the more of us that succeed, the bigger the swell is going to be. For us leaders, it’s important to make sure it’s a smooth not rocky path for these upcoming women.’

Catriona believes the insurgence of automation and artificial intelligence is transforming the range of skills needed to be successful in business ventures.

‘The logic is that machines and computer learning can take away a lot of the traditional things that were masculine orientated around tasks, results focus, planning, rostering, executing…a lot of that can be automated now. What can’t be automated and what was typically a feminine archetype: social networks, collaboration, reduction of hierarchies, rise of empathy, customer, development of distributed leadership…come naturally to women so we are seeing organisations having to build these into their company.’

A child of four with a father who was an entrepreneur, Catriona did not grow up with boundaries around gender roles at home. Originally, Catriona wanted to be a farmer. On her journey as a female entrepreneur it has been her diverse career choices that seem to have set her up with a unique entrepreneurial acumen.

Catriona states, ‘25 years ago it wasn’t common [for women to become entrepreneurs] I knew I didn’t want to go into a corporate environment. I did what I thought was interesting and became a cop and worked as a detective in Kings Cross and went on to become a prosecutor training people in that branch.’

She has always trusted her gut interests to lead her free and varied career pursuits; finishing a degree in Economics and English Literature, she has a PhD from the graduate school of management, written a book, owned a nightclub, taught on the MBA program. Catriona realised she was being charged out of $1000 while she was working in a graduate management consultancy position on a salary of $25,000, and decided to change direction.

Catriona started a management consulting practice, walked into Prudential Insurance, sold herself at $800 a day and was astounded at the ease of it all. “I made a fortune and that’s when I started to do philanthropic stuff, I really gave it all away and essentially continued on that path of building my own practice.”

At 27 Catriona unexpectedly fell pregnant and was a single mum for five years. ‘Of all the women entrepreneurs I know, it’s not really the business stuff that’s difficult,’ Catriona states, ‘it’s the ‘my partner,’ ‘my family,’ ‘my kids,’ this is the really hard stuff. There’s a spotlight on us and we don’t want to look like we are failing. There needs to be a lot more conversation around that.’

Against these odds, Catriona’s IT software startup Flamingo focuses on enabling businesses to personalise experiences for individual customers. The company is operating in Australia and now the US in 2015 after a $2.1 million funding round closed late last year. In turn empowering customers globally to have tools to better manage their vendors rather than the other way around. Flamingo helps enterprise win and retain customers through providing digital customer experience tools, co-creation labs and analytics. The company is one of the first significant vendor relationship management (VRM) platforms globally and consequently has attracted a huge amount of interest from both media and industry.

Similar to Flamingo Catriona’s latest start-up, the Ventura project, will be the first of its kind in the world. Launching in March 2015 the Ventura project will provide Sydney’s budding female entrepreneurs with Australia’s first creative space with mentorship solely for ambitious women in the start-up phase.

Dr. Catriona Wallace is an innovator, but also a role model whose career has been dedicated to facilitate social liberation for consumers and women. She reflects, ‘I am very confident to talk about my successes. I can confidently say who I am, this is what I have done, this is why I am the best in the world at what I do, and I absolutely believe it and I can make other people believe it. I have grown up having to deal with senior executives who want to give me a run for my money so I have had to master it and know confidentially how to present myself.’

So make sure that, like Catriona, you are not afraid to try, fail, and that when you reach the top be sure to bring a sister up with you.

This article was written by Saul Sebag.

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