Patrice Brown CEO CQG Consulting is an industry thought leader in environmental impact assessment. With over 30 years experience and an array of tertiary qualifications in industrial and environmental management, Patrice commenced her career in the sugar and agriculture industries. She established CQG Consulting in 2003 to provide a range of practical, creative and cost effective solutions to clients throughout Australia and South East Asia, and is an advocate for protecting environmental and cultural values through partnerships and finding better ways of doing things.
Patrice was previously Non-Executive Director on the Gladstone Area Water Board and a member of the CQUniversity Council. She has over 18 years board director experience on State, Federal and not-for-profit economic development boards, and regularly delivers keynote speeches at national and international conferences.
Patrice was awarded The Institute of Managers and Leaders 2017 Queensland Owner/Entrepreneur Queensland and in 2016 she won the Telstra Business Women’s Entrepreneur Award and the Gladstone Engineering Alliance Forty Calis award for contribution to the growth of the Gladstone region.
How did growing up in a rural environment in Central Queensland influence your leadership and your early career in the sugar industry?
Country kids learn early to think on their feet, put in a hard day’s work, and to work as a team member. Failure is not something country people accept. We are the ultimate optimists and we learn and adapt quickly. These traits coupled with my skills driving cars and motorbikes, and as a capable horse rider in my early primary school days and the eldest of the “kid’s team” gave me the confidence as a child to be a leader and have confidence in my decision making.
My mother and my grandmothers were wonderful mentors and my father always encouraged me to study and seek a career in roles that were traditionally male roles. My first four years at a girls boarding school run by nuns further enforced my belief that women ran the world so it was a great shock when I enrolled at the co-ed Rockhampton Grammar School where the first 15 footy players were the “kings” and some teachers refused to answer girls’ questions in class.
It was at the Grammar that one of my room mates read a letter from her sister explaining that she was appointed as a shift supervisor, only to have the job taken away from her before she started, as the board of directors refused to permit a female to be a supervisor in a sugar mill. I made my mind up there and then as a 16 year old that I would pursue that job and change the rules.
Sure enough after some years of study and working weekends conducting uncomfortable tasks – hot, sticky, confined spaces cleaning vessels, just to prove I could do a man’s job – I was the first woman to be appointed to a shift supervisor’s role. At the ripe old age of 25, I was in charge of a team of men operating machines and vessels in a physically demanding environment. I absolutely loved the role, and found my feet as a leader and a role model for other women seeking jobs in careers typically held by men.
Why did you decide to start CQG Consulting, and how have you managed the business through the industry cycles of upturn and downturn?
After working in the sugar and timber industries then for a couple of the large engineering consultancies I made the decision to start CQG 15 years ago to provide tailored, personalised, professional services to clients throughout regional Queensland. I was a little jaded with the aggressive focus of the larger consultancies on profit over outcomes and wanted my own team of people and style of consulting. The majority of our clients have been with us for over a decade. We are committed to helping them with their challenges through feasibility studies, assessments, regulatory advice and by adopting better ways of doing things.
The rapid upturn in 2010 to 2012 in the coal industry and the gas projects in Gladstone saw an incredible demand on professional resources. We grew from a team of 10 to over 40 staff by early 2013. Unfortunately the downturn that hit in 2013 saw my bank balance whittle away, the coal mining sector dived, government contracts were cancelled overnight and greenfield developments ceased in Queensland due to uncertainty with approvals for projects in reef catchments.
To survive we had to retrench some staff, we didn’t replace staff as they left, we looked at sectors that still required attention – waste, water supply, wastewater treatment and food supply and diversified our services and our geographical spread to ride out the ups and downs. I invested heavily in our brand, through marketing and promotion. We held onto our certifications and trained our staff to ensure we were ready for the economy to return.
It took longer than expected and we are really only seeing light in the horizon after five tough years. CQG is now more resilient and better prepared for the down turn in the economy thanks to our experience in recent years. I am glad we made decisions we did as several of our competitors closed their doors in the regions.
Your team is dispersed throughout Queensland, performing a range of services. Tell us about your service mix and how you approach leading a geographically remote workforce.
CQG’s core services include assessing potential environmental and cultural impacts from proposed developments, working with proponents to reduce these impacts and assisting with securing permits and approvals. Our niche services include sustainability, contaminated land, ecology, environmental monitoring, coordinating waste management after natural disasters, salt field and sugar industry advisory services.
Human connectivity is important, so it’s imperative that all our team members have daily contact with the team. We get together a couple of times a year to set the business strategy actions for the year ahead, for social gatherings and to exchange ideas. Our leadership group meets monthly and is made up of people from various locations. We use Skype where the connection speeds permit and I ensure all team members are involved in decision making and sharing of knowledge and learnings. This assists with keeping the team together regardless of locations.
You’ve held numerous Board Director roles over the last decade. How did you approach developing your board directorship profile, skills and experience?
Strategic leadership has always interested me from a young age. As the eldest of four children growing up on a cattle property I was involved in our family business from birth. Discussing future dreams in the spirt of country optimism and learning from failures were keys for my board preparations. Once I had completed my engineering masters I was keen to expand my learnings and I saw director roles an ideal way in which to develop my skills in governance, strategic leadership, financial management etc and actively sought out positions.
As a professional consultant I regularly update my resume so it wasn’t a difficult task to prepare my board application. My first board role was as a non-executive director for the Emerald Agriculture College, which ideally suited my background coming from the land in Central Qld. I then tailored the development of skills and experience for subsequent board roles and spent time with people with prior board experience to better understand what makes boards tick. Since then I have joined various women’s business networks and attended governance and other professional development networks.
What has been your greatest challenge?
Losing one of our key team members and star, Ange Grice suddenly to cancer in early 2017. Ange was one of my first employees and had a big influence on the CQG brand. She was fit, young and vibrant and had a brilliant can do attitude and was a mother to three children. CQG’s staff treat each other and our clients like family, we care and look out for each other. When Ange told us she was going to beat cancer we all believed her. No one expected her to die and we all in some way lost trust for a time in CQG as Ange represented CQG and she didn’t stick to her word.
My staff and many of our clients and suppliers were devastated. Some staff hadn’t lost someone close to them before so Ange’s death struck hard. We suffered the biggest staff loss than we had in the past. Some left to study, others to travel and a couple decided to work in a more stable jobs in government. To retain the remaining staff and put on a brave face at a time when I also felt like grabbing a back pack and heading off, was really tough. I brought in counsellors, we talked about Ange, we reminded each other that she would want us to go on and I deliberately decided to rebuild. Twelve months on we are continuing to rebuild with a deeper appreciation of the need to embrace each day and enjoy each other’s company and the work we do.
What are you most proud of?
It’s a cliché but I’m most proud of our three children who have grown into kind, smart, adventurous, independent individuals who enjoy hanging out with their parents. Mothers can be made feel guilty, guilty if you stay at home to raise children, guilty if you return to work, guilty if you are running late to work or late to pick up the kids from childcare. I am proud of the fact that my kids turned out ok in spite of the criticism I received from family and friends and strangers who had no idea of the fear of failure you can feel both at work and at home as you try and balance a career and motherhood.
I’m proud that I was able to breast feed my babies while working. I’m proud that I finished my degree and masters and climbed the corporate ladder even though at times I had to rush off to collect my children and sit up with them through the night when they were sick. I am proud my children were all involved in team sports and we travelled together as a family. I’m also proud that I have been able to grow a business in regional Queensland, in an environment where deals are done and mates looked after in the boys’ club world, where women are still judged harshly for their appearance and their success.
What’s one piece of advice for future female leaders?
Enjoy being a woman. Pamper yourself, take time out for massages and yoga and exercise. Network, network, network. Don’t sweat the small stuff, don’t use the fact you are a woman be the excuse not to have a go. Seek mentors and be a mentor. Be kind, go with your instincts. If it doesn’t feel right, it often isn’t.
Read, learn, ask questions and support other women in their endeavours. Put your hand up to take on challenges, enter competitions, do volunteer work, but don’t be afraid to be a tall poppy and reach for the sunshine.
This is a sponsored post.