Carolyn Tate was a disillusioned marketing executive until an epiphany revealed a whole new mission
She hated her work and daily life dragged. Carolyn Tate, stuck in the kind of rut painted on the faces of a downtrodden commute, didn't know what, but knew something had to give.
First she cast off the gloom by selling her home in Sydney. Then the single mum took her young son to France, where half a year in Provence provided the catalyst for life-affirming change.
The marketing expert who once struggled to define her own purpose is now on a mission to help other frustrated professionals find theirs. They'll do so at an unorthodox new business school where continuous growth refers to people rather than profit, and money isn't a prerequisite for success.
It might puzzle the pin-stripes, but Tate believes she is tapping into rapidly-growing disenchantment with how the world does business.
“I've met so many people who are fed up with the corporate treadmill or having to compromise their personal values to make a living,” she says.
“Many of them are doing work they don't love with people they don't like. They've done this for years or even decades, and they're really stuck and wondering what it's all for.”
Four years ago those feelings applied to Tate.
After many years working in corporate land – and then 10 running her own business – she was “sick and tired of the 'smoke and mirrors' world of marketing”.
In fact, she believed marketing and advertising was contributing to the decay of humanity, causing people to prioritise possessions over loved ones, and blames rampant consumerism for many of society's ills.
“It's made us sick, sad, fat, lonely, dumb, stressed, grasping and broke,” she says.
“Even worse, I knew I'd had a hand in it.”
Tate's professional and personal nadir came in 2010, when she decided to sell her home in Sydney beachside suburb Coogee, gave away most of her belongings and decamped to idyllic southern France. While 12-year-old Billy learned French at a new school, Tate wrote a book, practised yoga and pondered her working life and vocation.
She returned to Australia in 2011 intent on making a difference, but not until she encountered “Conscious Capitalism” did her true calling become clear. The emerging global movement challenges the traditional commercial imperative by arguing for a values-based free market based on collaboration and compassion, as well as competition.
Its philosophy is enshrined in the groundbreaking book, Firms of Endearment: How World Class Companies Profit from Passion and Purpose, which Tate had just finished reading when she heard its author speak at Conscious Capitalism's launch in Australia in 2012. Raj Sisodia describes a great company as one that makes the world a better place because it exists, not because it outperforms the market. Like Tate, his background is in marketing, and his assertion that marketers should be healers who primarily help their customers touched a nerve.
“I knew right there and then that I could make marketing a force for good in the world,” she says.
Now based in Melbourne, Tate is Conscious Capitalism's leader in Victoria and writing her own soon-to-be-published book, Conscious Marketing.
Her overriding focus is on helping other professionals create “purpose-driven and prosperous businesses that make the world a better place”.
Purpose is fundamental. It puts the 'why' behind what you offer, and exactly what you stand for, ahead of the actual product or service.
“I'm 100% of the belief that because I've been able to articulate my purpose I've been able to attract people who want and believe in the same thing,” says Tate. “I think it allows you to attract people to you, rather than promoting yourself.”
Proof comes from soul-searching business owners at workshops she runs to help create more rewarding professional lives.
“People I meet are questioning all of this stuff but feel like they don't have anyone around them who thinks like they do, or share the same imperative that there must be a better way to work.”
That's one of the reasons Tate is expanding the workshops into a wider-ranging venture that hopes to realise the potential of deep connections and collaboration. Her new business school will be based at co-working venue, Hub Melbourne, and foster an environment where like-minded professionals are encouraged to share problems and solutions.
The teaching topics are also unconventional. Business scales, she argues, are tipped in favour of “masculine traits” like power, control, money, greed and wealth. Tate's school will focus more on emotional, spiritual and physical wellbeing. “These are the soft skills vital for the hard task of building a sustainable business with purpose and vision.”
The name – The Slow School of Business (Slow School) – is inspired by the Slow Food movement, an antidote not just to traditional ways of doing business, but also how business is typically taught.
“I would also say it's a reframe of what success really means,” adds Tate. “A lot of people don't need to earn hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars.The world is in trouble because everything comes back to money. We need to find a balance between purpose and prosperity.”
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Thank you to Billy Adams of Two Web Feet for the news story.