Catherine Marriott on leadership and what really matters

08.02.21

Catherine Marriott was the 2012 National Rural Women’s Award Runner Up, she’s a Chief Executive Officer (CEO), a board director, a graduate of the Australian Rural Leadership Program, a Graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors, and has been a Councillor, a Commissioner, a keynote speaker and a facilitator, but none of the “shiny stuff” matters to her. For Catherine, all that she is and all that she does comes down to one thing: a love for people.

“You wouldn’t believe it, I’ve just reversed out of my driveway and hit the roller door and ripped a hole in the roof of my new car!”, Catherine laughs through the phone at the beginning of our conversation with her.

“I’ve got you on Bluetooth, I’m just on the way to the smash repairs but we can still chat!”

Catherine Marriott’s approach to a minor car accident is not dissimilar to how she approaches most bumps in the road; with resilience and humour to boot.

With a damaged car roof and patchy reception, Catherine shared her insightful and captivating perspective on 2020, leadership and career.

2020: Confronting the uncomfortable

“How could 2020 not have taught you a myriad of things?” she begins.

“2020 was probably the toughest year I’ve had mental health wise, but I would not change any of it for all the tea in China.

“It forced me to slow down and reflect without the noise of travel schedules, work and social media. It was really confronting, but out of difficulty always comes some sort of reward, and for me it is an amazing sense of happiness and contentment with where I’m at in life and who I am.”

It takes grit and courage to do what Catherine did, to sit in the uncomfortable and come out of it being unapologetically you.

“I’m really grateful for 2020, but that doesn’t mean I want to do it again!” She adds in her usual pragmatic manner.

Driving research and extension

Catherine is now the CEO of Riverine Plains Inc, which specialises in farmer-driven research and extension that delivers on-the-ground benefits to farmers.

Riverine Plains motto is “Farmers Inspiring Farmers”, which Catherine loves as it is the most empowering way to learn.

She is quick to add, “I’m not a farmer, I don’t want to be known as a farmer, but I do want to contribute to agriculture. It goes without saying, the person in the paddock is hugely important, but what I love about agriculture is it is so much more than that, it’s the people, the opportunities, the innovations, the challenges and the shared successes.

“That’s why I’m in ag – I don’t want to be a banker… or a ballerina” Catherine laughs.

Shiny stuff aside

When asked about her greatest achievement, Catherine quickly dismisses anything “up in lights”.

“What matters to me is the little moments like when someone approaches you in the street and says, ‘I’ve never forgotten what you said at a forum six years ago and as a result, I’m now doing…’ something that makes them happy.

“The fact that I have said something that resonated with someone, that is my life complete,” she explains.

Catherine has a genuine desire to make a difference at the grass-roots level, and any accolades which follow are just a bonus.

“I know I won the Rural Women’s Award, but what meant more to me was the $10,000 that allowed me to run a leadership program and build a women’s leadership business,” Catherine said.

It comes as no surprise that Catherine doesn’t spend time embellishing her role as CEO either, instead she prefers to approach her new title with a focus on productivity, collaboration and teamwork.

“It’s less about the title and more about the task that needs to be done and who I need to bring along with me, because a CEO is nothing without a team,” Catherine explains.

Catherine-Marriott-Rural-Womens-Award

To sum up her vision for the new role, Catherine says she wants to “Develop a strong value proposition for members and partners to identify gaps and opportunities and then pull together collaborative solutions to address these.”

Avoiding righteousness

You do not have to speak to Catherine for long to know she is authentic and generous, and her approach to leadership is no different.

“I’m a leader who at the root of everything I do, believes in a collaborative approach. If you’re on board, come on let’s drive this ship and if you’re not… next! I’m not here to have everyone agree with me,” Catherine candidly explains.

In fact, Catherine actively seeks out those who don’t agree with her.

“I realised I was agreeing with everything I was reading on social media and that is actually a really dangerous space to be in, because then you get righteous. It was a very conscious decision to start engaging in conversations with people who think differently to me and not be ego driven or combative, but to be curious and treat it as a learning experience.”

Catherine relishes those that keep her grounded and she’s got a team around her who do exactly that.

From fellow Rural Women’s Award Alumni Sue Middleton who has taught Catherine that she is enough just being herself, to her sister whose wisdom is a constant source of strength, to Jane Sale from Yougawalla Station who exhibits a quiet confidence that all will work out, and Alexandra Gartmann who reminds her to think about herself sometimes.

Finding your passion

When it comes to energy, Catherine has it in spades. And that’s the lens she says to look through when making decisions for your future.

“When thinking of a situation, focus on your energy level. Strip away all the identities you have and do some scenario planning in your head. Imagine yourself as a truck driver, a photographer, a farmer or a netball coach and watch what happens with your energy. For me, when I think about working for a farming organisation, I get all these ideas pop into my head and I feel energised. Once you have established what it is that excites you, find someone who is willing to introduce you to people and help you to get there.”