Kathryn Polgar, CEO, Ricky Richards "An equal world is an enabled world" - Image Magazine

 

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Kathryn Polgar, CEO, Ricky Richards "An equal world is an enabled world"

To celebrate International Women’s Day on 8 March, we talk to Kathryn Polgar, CEO, Ricky Richards about her professional journey, her take on leadership, women in the industry and womanhood in general.

Kathryn arrived in to Australia 18 years ago. She had a background in textiles and was initially employed as a customer service representative for a Marrickville-based textile manufacturer that direct-coated fabric to be made into roller and  vertical blinds.

“I had a mentor in my Sales Manager who saw my potential and desire to learn, and gave me an opportunity to rise through the company in operations and inventory management. I left the business for a couple of years to try other things, but I ultimately came back to what I loved,” she explains.

When textile manufacturing in Australia came to an end around 10 years ago, Kathryn was offered a redundancy passage. This turned out to be a positive move for her as she used the time away to reflect on at what she really wanted in her career and who she really wanted to work for.

“I had watched Ricky Richards from the outside, as I was often at the same trade shows as the Sun Control division, and the team were always having fun - they were mostly women, which was quite unusual at the time.  I approached Ron Gottlieb, the owner, to see if there was an opportunity and ultimately joined the business in the role of National Service Manager.  Within 12 months I was Operations Manager and a year after that I was General Manager.  That was six years ago, and the business has been evolving in this time,” says Kathryn.

When asked about what she enjoys about her role, Kathryn says, “I am here to serve my team, my customers and my suppliers.”

She explains that her career has always revolved around serving people. “From packing bags in a supermarket at 15 years of age, to managing operations and supply chain, to my role as GM – it is no different. I have described myself to my team as both their cheerleader and coach and no two days are the same. 

“I love seeing the journey many of our customers are on with younger generations taking over the business, new opportunities here, and overseas and new technology being developed.  I am constantly amazed at the talent we have in Australia.  I’m very fortunate to have a fantastic and talented management team at Ricky who support me and allow me to bring out my creative side,” she says.

Kathryn says she has never defined her ability by gender.  “I grew up in the UK in the late 70s and 80s and had Maggie Thatcher running the country and the Queen running the Commonwealth.  I had a dad who was not around much as he was in and out of oil rigs and my mum had a corporate career, so in my world from the age of two, I was surrounded by strong women who just got on with it.  At both my primary and high school the teachers treated us all equally whether it was Maths, Science or Art. The sky was the limit for all of us.”

She only noticed that gender played more of a part of who she was and that a glass ceiling really did exist, when she arrived in Australia almost two decades ago.

Over the years this has changed somewhat but Kathryn says she is still not coming across a lot of women in senior management roles within the big brand suppliers - both locally and overseas.

“It still seems to be a male dominated industry but I am seeing more women running great print companies and thriving. I think women are far more creative and more agile when it comes to trying something new - you can see that in the women who are striving forward. I think we have been pushing boundaries for so long that this is where we see real success,” she says.

Kathryn attends Women in Print breakfasts and is a member of  the National Association of Women in Operations (NAWO),  Women in Design & Construction (WIDAC) and  Business Chicks. 

“I was part of a mentoring circle at NAWO and all the women in my group were in large corporates who were leading the way in their fields.  It was inspiring to be part of that group and realise that no matter how big or small a business is, we all feel the same pressures as women to do it all and be it all.  The support I received was empowering and helped me climb a few mountains.”

She believes that the prevalence of industry groups and business associations that allow women to support each other, recognise and raise them up are invaluable and everyone needs to find that connection and experience. 

“We all have roles outside of work that can impinge on our work life, wife, mother, daughter, sister, carer and we need to embrace who we are as women to really see that growth.  I lost my hair over eight years ago and I totally embrace the bald.  While it does look weird seeing a bald woman, I have found that by embracing it, it has given strength to others and in dealing with men and women alike they know they get the real me.  There is nothing more challenging in having to redefine your femininity, especially in a workplace. “

To celebrate International Women’s Day and womanhood, Kathryn says “The theme of International Women’s Day 2020 couldn’t be more compelling to me. #EachforEqual drawn from a notion of ‘Collective Individualism’ is about having the conversation for gender equality in business, politics, in sports and in the playground.

“Regardless of cultural, political, socioeconomic differences, as women we support each other as equals.,” she concludes

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