‘One minute can destroy your whole career’: Christine Holgate reveals how she overcame her darkest hour

Leadership

Team Global Express CEO Christine Holgate has revealed how the words of renowned fashion designer Carla Zampatti helped her through her darkest hours.
Group CEO Team Global Express Christine Holgate speaks during the Power of Resilience talk at the Forbes Australia Women’s Summit at ICC Sydney. Image: Getty for Forbes Australia

Missed out on seeing her at the Women’s Summit? Christine Holgate will speak live again at the Forbes Australia Business Summit. You can secure your ticket here.

Holgate had been suffering suicidal thoughts and was due to front a parliamentary inquiry into her sacking as Australia Post CEO for giving Cartier watches to four of her executives, when she met with Zampatti.

“I used to meet her on a Thursday afternoon,” Holgate told the Forbes Australia Women’s Summit on Wednesday. “Forgive me if I get her accent wrong, but she went, ‘Darling, what are you going to wear?’ I went ‘Carla, Wear? I’m lying on the bathroom floor vomiting most days.’

“And she said, ‘Darling you have to look fabulous. The whole country will be looking at you.’ It was Carla’s jacket.”

Zampatti died a week before Holgate gave evidence. “But wearing her jacket that day, I felt I had her armour, her soul, her protection. I had the vibe of people like Wendy McCarthy. I had the strength,” Holgate explained.

Holgate agreed that it had been one of the hardest things she’d done.  “Because, to go to parliament, the very place you were abused, and to speak up against the very man who abused you (prime minister Scott Morrison). And it’s his house, not yours, and a lot of people are telling you not to do it.”

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She said she was told she would become unemployable if she admitted to having had suicidal thoughts.

 “But if I didn’t do it, I would never have been able to live with myself, because if you don’t speak out you tolerate it. How would I ever have deserved the right to lead people again and to ask those people to respect each other if I was prepared to be abused and silenced.

“I was still quite ill when I went to parliament but I had to find that strength to speak and … I knew it was the only way we could get things to change.”

 She said that resilience was a feature that employers often overlooked when hiring. That 3 out of 5 women in the workplace suffer bully harassment in their life.

“When something happens to you and somebody in one minute can destroy your whole life and whole career, you go through a whole set of experiences… It was the Saturday morning that followed that I was depicted as a prostitute in the Saturday morning paper. That wouldn’t have happened to a man. Yet it was deemed okay. I was told I was not allowed to speak. I was silenced.”

Group CEO Team Global Express Christine Holgate is interviewed by Forbes Australia Editor-in-Chief Sarah O’Carroll. Image: Getty for Forbes Australia.

 It took a long while to recalibrate. “But one day I just woke up and – excuse me for swearing – I just thought ‘fuck you bastards!’ You feel incredibly alone, but once you get to that stage you can lift your head up and you can take it and use it for positive change.”

Holgate told the story of how as a teenager she’d had an argument with her father and found herself homeless in London at a train station. “I don’t think at that moment, sitting on the floor of Euston Station, I had any ambition to be a CEO. I had an ambition to have a roof over my head. … that girl never leaves you.”

She said it was important to  frame adversity correctly.

“Bad things are going to happen. You can’t change that, but don’t let them define you.”

Holgate said she was struck by the empathy of others when she told her story. The founder of Oz Harvest, Ronni Kahn, gave her a spoon as a present.

“She sent it to me on a particularly bad day. And she talked about the power of sharing. The idea of sharing food, but my advice to you is that on a bad day, share your troubles because if you’ve got a problem, somebody else has. A simple act of kindness, that’s what that spoon was. I’ve carried it every day since… and I think if we can all do just one simple act of kindness we’ll all get through this and we’ll all be so much better.”    

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