Passion, Determination, and Sweat – One Woman’s Journey to Building a Brand in Regional Queensland
Patrice Brown started life living in a hut with a dirt floor and no power on “Yatton” a cattle property in Brigalow country located between Rockhamptonand and Mackay. The eldest of five children, she schooled through correspondence, before attending a 14 pupil State School for a year followed by five years at boarding school in Rockhampton.
“I learnt from a very young age that you had to jump out of bed early in the morning and do a hard day’s work. That is expected when you grow up in a big family in the bush.” says Patrice.
This month, Sarah-Jane interviewed Patrice to discuss her journey of establishing her career and launching a successful business in regional Queensland. Patrice was the Telstra Business Women’s Award Entrepreneur for Queensland in 2016 and the Institute of Managers and Leaders Queensland Business Owner/ Entrepreneur in 2017. She has held several director roles over the last 20 years and with her husband raised three independent Aussies who are proud of their mum’s achievements.
From an early age, Patrice developed a passion for science and engineering which are traditionally male-dominated fields. “I always had a desire to learn more and get out into the big wide world. It didn’t really cross my mind that I would face any barriers by being a woman.”
An eye-opening experience, Patrice quickly learned of the realities of taking up a career in a male-dominated field. “I remember a pivotal time for me when I was sixteen. I was with a friend in the boarding school dormitory when she received a letter from her sister. Her sister was working in the sugar industry, and she wrote about being very excited because she had been given a supervisor’s job in a sugar mill. She then went on to write that she had just found out that she couldn’t take the job, because she was a woman. The board of directors voted that she couldn’t have the position.”
“As a sixteen-year-old girl, I thought ‘well this is bullS*#t.’ It was at that moment I decided I was going to be the first woman supervisor in the sugar industry. I thought ‘I’m going to make sure that women can be appointed to supervisors’ roles.’ That became my passion. I was determined to make it happen.”
I told everyone I was going to be the first female supervisor. I studied sugar chemistry at the Sugar School in Mackay for four years from Jan to May and worked in the mills between June and November each year from 17 years of age. To further my opportunities to succeed I also enrolled in a Bachelor of Industrial Chemistry by correspondence through CQUniversity”
“To prove my capabilities as a woman I volunteered to work on weekends at the mill. My bosses at the time gave me the dirtiest jobs that could think of, doing caustic cleaning and hosing inside vessels in very hot conditions. The boys were paid to do the same work. They were just testing me out. It was tough work, but I did it to prove that women could physically do the job, which was no surprise to me growing up on a cattle property. In subsequent years I was paid overtime, as the men were to do the weekend hard-yards”.
“After all that determination, I achieved what I set out to do. I was the first woman to be appointed as a shift supervisor in a sugar mill in my mid-20s.”
Patrice went on to work in the timber industry in New South Wales for CSR in managerial roles in the environmental sector. Patrice and her husband, Andrew, an engineer also working with CSR, have three children. Patrice continued working full time while simultaneously completing a Masters of Civil Engineering through UNSW.
“It was pretty full on. When I’m having a hard day now, I stop and think: No, this is nothing compared to what I went through having three young children, working full-time, and doing a masters.” Patrice advises other women in similar situations to get help at home. “Do yourself a favour and engage a cleaner and have your ironing done. I haven’t ironed a basket of clothes since 1995, but I’ve worked my butt off in my career.”
After being appointed an Associate in two large engineering consultancy firms and managing offices in regional Queensland, Patrice decided to establish her own business. “Starting my own business came about more by accident than intention. I could have easily stayed in the corporate world, but I found there was a real expectation that you would move to a capital city. That was something that I didn’t want to do. I didn’t want to raise my children in a large city.”
“I thought, well, I’ll start my own business! I did that in 2003. I ran the business on my own for about five years. When I was managing a couple of large impact assessment projects in Queensland and New South Wales, I realised that I needed staff. CQG grew rapidly, I employed some wonderful staff, my husband joined the business and we had over 40 people in 2013.”
“The decisions you make through life, what you choose to do, and how hard you work at it make all the difference.” says Patrice “To stay on the right track, you need to look to the future. The world is continually changing at a more rapid pace then it has before. It’s important to stop and ask yourself the hard questions: Are you doing the right thing to have a crack going forward?”
“In 2013 things started to really hit the wall in regional Queensland, post the GFC, and coal prices tanking, and a change of government which resulted in contracts being cancelled. We also finished up some major projects. It was a whole bunch of things that hit at once. We ended up downsizing the company and really focusing on what was needed in regional areas. I could see that there often wasn’t a genuine, value for money service to businesses in regional areas from the big consultancies. We focused on filling that gap.”
“One of the toughest business lessons I’ve learned is not being ready for change, and not making the tough decisions quickly enough. Our business survived the downturns and is doing well now, because we have kept the hunger for success and haven’t taken our clients or our work for granted.”
“Today we have offices in five different locations and about 25 staff along with casuals and contractors. We have had a lot of successes in the business that have made me proud. We were the only consultancy in Australia invited to meet with the UNESCO mission during their visit to Australia to look at the management of the Great Barrier Reef world heritage area. We were also successful in gaining the approval for the Great Keppel Island tourism resort which was a very controversial project which had been attempted by many other consultancies prior to us project managing that Environmental Impact Assessment.”
“Our brand has been very important to the business. Early in my career, I thought our logo was so significant. I was adamant that anything that went out had the logo on it so people would easily recognise our product, but a brand goes far beyond just a logo. We could change our logo tomorrow, and it would make no difference to our clients or the work we do.”
“Our brand is about the culture we have developed within the business. It’s about doing things right the first time, about listening to clients, and coming up with practical solutions. It’s the care factor. If people are engaging CQG Consulting, they know that they will be looked after. They will be listened to, and we’ll provide quality outputs. That’s what our brand is.”
“CQG’s business brand is a reflection of my own personal values, particularly integrity. At some point in your career, you have to realise that you are who you are. Your personal brand should reflect your inner core. It’s what you believe in. It’s what gets you out of bed every day.”
“There have been times when I’ve been asked to compromise on this. Clients have asked us to modify our reports to make the environmental impact look less than it is. It has only happened a few times, but it is in those moments that you have to just walk away and say ‘No, you’ve not having my brand. We’re not going to be associated with this project.’ I’ve lost projects like this where big foreign owned consultants are happy to step in and go for a lower standard. They might be making more money, but I sleep better at night.”
“I have had children, and there’s no way in the world I’m going to write a report that says contaminated land is less contaminated than it is, or that it needs less cover than it does, because it could be my grandchildren in the future that are playing in that playground.”
Patrice reflects that her parents were an inspiration to her. “I was fortunate that even though we grew up in a remote area, my parents were adamant we received a good education. My father always had a thirst for knowledge and was very instrumental in the cattle industry and with fighting for land rights and forging relationships between pastoralists and Aboriginal groups throughout Queensland.”
“I followed in the footsteps of the work that my father did, and we started doing both paid and pro-bono work with indigenous groups in Cape York. We trained people on their country, on how to take water samples and how to do wetland assessments. We also camped out on an island West of Aurukun doing world heritage mapping with the elders. That was really interesting and fun to do.”
“Our key focus moving forward is sustainability: helping to ensure there is the right balance between development and protecting social, cultural, and environmental values.”
“Last year we started a new company, Tunuba Pty Ltd, 50% owned by CQG and 50% owned by Darumbal [a not-for-profit indigenous business]. We are bringing together white fellah businesses and Aboriginal people to work together to secure and deliver projects in Central Queensland. Darumbal People are a proud and organised mob and I am proud to be working with them”
Patrice gives her advice to other women looking to start or grow a business: “Women are amazing creatures. Our strengths are our innate ability to protect and to quickly judge situations as being safe or risky. Trust your instincts. Know you are a unique being. Be proud of who you are, and assign value to your time. Put your hand up for awards and board positions. Try something new. Have a crack – we only live once, make it a good one!”
This article was brought to you by Sunshine Women in Business
ATech is pleased to be delivering the Sunshine Women in Business program, proudly supported, and funded by the Queensland Government. Intended to support Women in, or those starting a Business throughout Queensland, the program will deliver throughout 2020, a range of educational content, resources, events and provide the opportunity for five people to gain access to professional mentoring.