|Born||1963/1964 (age 56–57)|
|Education||University of North London|
|Title||CEO of Australia Post|
Christine Holgate (born 1963/1964) is a British business executive, and has been the chief executive (CEO) of Australia Post, since 30 October 2017. Prior to that appointment she was CEO of the vitamin and nutritional supplement company Blackmores from 2008 to 2017. She is also a board member of Collingwood Football Club.
Christine Holgate is the first female CEO in the history of Australia Post. She is also an inaugural chairwoman of the ASEAN – Australia council board. In 2014, Christine Holgate was one of the only 20 business leaders invited to the G20 Summit held in Brisbane, Australia. She is also the first women awarded the “CEO of the Year” by the CEO Magazine. In 2015, Holgate ranked the top “100 Women of Influence” by the Australian Financial Review in 2015.
Early life and education
Christine Holgate grew up with her four siblings, in Cheshire, England. Holgate's father was an entrepreneur and ran a construction company. Since Holgate was young, her father insisted her on running “little businesses” to earn her pocket money. When Holgate was 15, she cleaned windows with her friend and had a truck selling ice–creams.
In 1982, by the time Holgate turned 18, she left Cheshire for London. In London, Holgate met Flo, who financially supported her to pursue a business degree at the University of North London. Christine Holgate had three post-graduate diplomas in Marketing, Management and Purchasing and Supply. She finished her diploma in Management in 1986 and completed her Master of Business Administration degree in 1991.
Holgate first worked as postie for the Christmas season when she was 18. After graduating from the university, Holgate worked for Allied Healthcare and BBC News. In 1988, she joined the Caribbean Cable & Wireless telecommunication and started her international career. During her 12 years at Cables & Wireless, Holgate directed the company’s Marketing department, arranged customer division and conducted projects across Caribbean, Europe and Hong Kong. In 2000, Holgate joined J.P. Morgan as the “Managing Director of Marketing” of its European subsidiary. She was the only woman in J.P. Morgan's executive team in Europe during her incumbent period. Holgate worked for J.P. Morgan for 18 months before joining Energis. In May 2001, Holgate was recruited as the Group Director of Strategy and Marketing by the Internet provider Energis. Her job was to lead the Energis’ strategy and planning teams in Europe and monitor its marketing activities.
In November 2002, Holgate received a job invitation from David Thodey, the former Telstra chief executive. In 2003, she came to Australia and worked for Telstra, which its precursor was Telecom Australia, as the Marketing direct. Holgate's role was expanded into building Telstra's business sales and managing the operations of its channels while she continued to lead its marketing team. Christine Holgate left Telstra and started working at Blackmores in 2008.
In September 2008, Holgate was appointed as chief executive officer and managing director of Blackmores. Holgate sister's death from cancer spurred her to join Blackmores, the Australian health supplement corporation.
Within the first two months, Christine Holgate identified that Blackmores operations in Malaysia, Thailand and Taiwan were neglected. In 2009, Christine Holgate allocated Peter Osborne to direct Blackmores business in Asia to minimize the entry barriers. Before the allocation, Peter Osborne worked in Asia for more than 20 years. Osborne understands the market, regulations and politics in China and speaks Mandarin fluently. From 2008 to April 2012, Christine Holgate increased Blackmores' annual sales to $234 million. She also strengthened the local management of Blackmores and improved its marketing offering in Asia. Blackmores started gaining profits from the markets of Thailand and Malaysia and prepared to enter the Chinese market. The profits from the Asian market accounted for nearly 25% of Blackmores' profits.
In 2011, Christine Holgate faced the public relation crisis related to the deal between Blackmores and the Pharmacy Guild of Australia. Under this deal, pharmacists "would be prompted to promote" Blackmores health supplements to their patients during the prescription process. The proposal of Blackmores caused "national outrage" and the "strong level of public concern". Holgate was criticized for referring the deal as a "coke and fries" option. She explained the phrase was quoted out of context as Holgate commented the proposal "would add the "Coke and fries" to those drugs and provide pharmacies with a "new and important revenue stream"". Holgate conceded that linking the medicine with junk food "was highly unfortunate".
In 2014, Christine Holgate was one of the only 20 business leaders invited to the G20 Summit held in Brisbane, Australia. Holgate was urged to have a photograph with the president of China Xi Jinping to increase sales of Blackmores in the Chinese market. At that time, Blackmores' generated sales were under $ 1million, while the required capital for labour and marketing was around $10 million. Holgate was told to have no chance of having the photo as all electronic devices were forbidden during the event. Before the event, she went to see fortune-telling and followed the advice of wearing "a piece of green". Holgate managed to have her photo with Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Chinese President Xi Jinping. Her picture with the two leaders was widely spread in China and attracted the local consumers. At the end of 2014-15, Blackmores sales in the Chinese market increased to $50 million and reached $500 million in 2015-16. In September 2015, Blackmores joined the ASX200 index, the top 200 most prominent companies in Australia, and Christine Holgate was named the first female CEO of the Year in November.
During Holgate’s nine years at Blackmores, its share price rose from $18 to $90 and peaked at $220 in 2016. Holgate transformed Blackmores, the international member of the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) into the major health supplement exporter to Asia. Holgate resigned from Blackmores in 2017 to head up Australia Post.
On 30 October 2017, Holgate joined Australia Post as its CEO, the first woman in this role. She was appointed “group chief executive officer” and “managing director” of Australia Post during its transformation phase as the leading Australian e-commerce postal delivery service. Her job is to manage the modernisation of Australia Post’s logistics system and its 33000 workforce. Holgate had no previous experience in managing the logistics system. Holgate's allocation was decided based on her strategic ability to exploit the potentials in the Asian markets and enhance the business profitability. She also had direct experience as a Christmas postman during her study in North London.
Taking a new role, Holgate visited branches across Australia to meet postal employees and noticed the skepticism of the workforce. Before her arrival, Australia Post had divided its business into two product lines, including profitable StarTrack and the traditional postal service. Holgate consulted the staff and received agreement to unify the two businesses. She integrated the two business and decided to preserve the Australia Post’s traditional red colour and name.
In 2018, Holgate launched the “Everyone Matters” campaign, an adverting campaign supporting postmen and post offices in regional areas. The net promoter score increased over 30 percent in six months. Holgate also addressed the trust issue of employees and launched “Equal pay for equal work” campaign. She invested $300 million on upgrading parcel processing systems with automation and tracking devices. Holgate also restructured the Australia Post's executive team to align with her customer-oriented and Asian-focused strategies.
During the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, Holgate presided over a number of scandals at Australia Post, including significant delays and cuts in service, the surveillance of staff, the planned payment of executive bonuses at a time when other public servants were expected to take pay cuts, a bipartisan Senate committee accusing Holgate of attempting to avoid parliamentary scrutiny of Australia Post, and Holgate's personal intervention in the attempted delivery of Pauline Hanson's One Nation-branded stubby holders to locked-down public housing towers in Melbourne after Hanson made inflammatory comments about tower residents.
Further scandal was caused when Holgate revealed at an appearance before a Senate committee on 22 October 2020 that Australia Post had purchased four Cartier watches valued at $3,000 each as gifts for senior management executives after securing a lucrative deal with three Australian banks. Communications minister Paul Fletcher announced an investigation into Australia Post and asked Holgate to step aside as CEO.
Awards and recognition
In 2015, Holgate won the "Women in Leadership" Award from the Australian Growth Company Awards.
In November 2015, Holgate was awarded "Australian CEO of the Year" by CEO Magazine, the first woman to win the award. In 2016, Holgate was runner-up in the Australian CEO of the Year award.
Holgate is married to Michael Harding, the chairman of Downer Limited. They were married in January 2016 in Aldeburgh, Suffolk, England. Holgate has close relationship with her nephews Brian and Eddie, sons of Holgate's late sister, Elizabeth. They are the reason for Holgate's wedding being held in England.
Women in leadership
Answering The Weekend Australian Magazine's interview question on how to have more female executives, Holgate advised companies to research the women aged from 30 to 50. She suggested the uncomfortableness of women after their maternity leave was the barrier for them to return to work. She believed creating the connection with female employees during their pregnancy and after birth helped them overcome the barrier. Holgate also advised companies to think differently and seek for female executive leaders from the different routes.
In May 2016, Christine Holgate was one of a guest speaker at the Business Women's lunch, a fundraising event of the Odyssey House for children's development. Speaking at the event of the Odyssey House, Christine Holgate disagreed with the gender quotas. She explained that allocating unqualified female candidates for executive roles to fulfil the gender quotas made gender equality in business backfired. She believed setting targets would equalize gender in the board positions. Holgate also shared her point towards Michelle Gordon's description of "euphoric terror feeling" in Gordon's High Court judge role. Holgate believed female leaders had more advantages when compared to males thanks to their ability to express personal emotion and their "lack of toughness" on operating approaches.
On 16 November 2018, answering The Australian about the role of managing leaders in gender diversity, Christine Holgate affirmed that leaders "have to take the initiative". Christine Holgate said "It is not women on boards that are going to give us economic equality. It is women around the executive team in real roles".
In 2017, Christine Holgate attended the business summit held in Sydney, Australia. Speaking at the event, Holgate affirmed the potentials of the Chinese market to Australian businesses when responding the prediction of Chinese Premier Li Kequiang and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. She said seizing opportunities to enter Chinese markets would develop the Australian economy.
Challenges and strategies
Answering the Chanticleer’s interview in 2015, Christine Holgate addressed the trap when developed countries do businesses in the emerging markets. Holgate said “every country is different”. She also commented that “Don’t assume what you do in Australia and what’s right for Australia is right for the market places up in Asia.” Holgate advised companies to “invest in learning the market place” and “hire a strong local team”.
In 2016, Christine Holgate and Blackmores faced the Chinese restriction of the “cross border e-commerce trade”. Speaking on the event, Holgate said doing business with China required the patience and this restriction offered opportunities as “it shows the Chinese government believes in the free trade zone”. She told Australian companies to stay and keep investing in the Chinese market. Holgate also mentioned the importance of the diversification strategy. She advised that “don’t put all your eggs in the China basket”.
In 2017, China “delayed infinitely” the restriction of the “cross border e-commerce trade”. Commenting on the “China-Australia Free Trade Agreement”, Christine Holgate said the agreement was the “win” for Australian businesses as it removed the uncertainty of the regulation. Holgate also advised companies to be prepared for the regulation risks in the future.
Speaking on the opportunities of small businesses in the Chinese market, Christine Holgate said the number of companies expanding their businesses in the region was limited. Holgate commented that the “China-Australia Free Trade Agreement” in 2017 would not support Australian small businesses with the restriction through the Chinese ports. She also warned Australian companies to avoid discounting their products and keep a premium price. Holgate suggested that small companies engage with Chinese students studying in the local universities in Australia and have “joint venture” with the government of China.
In 2019, Christine Holgate attended the China International Import Expo trade fair in Shanghai. Responding to the interview on the sidelines of the event, Holgate said more European competitors were entering the Chinese market. She noted that Australia ranked “the top three most desired brands” but Chinese customers “have choices” and warned on the competition for the market in China. Holgate also suggested that Australian businesses adopt AliPay and WeChat Pay, digital payment platforms in China, to engage with the local market.
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