Bridget Coates grew up in New Zealand and earned her business degrees at the University of Auckland. She went on to win a Harkness Fellowship to the US in 1998. She has enjoyed a varied and extremely interesting business career in both the US and New Zealand and has five wonderful children, all now happily settled in their lives in various corners of the world. We spoke with Bridget regarding her career path, what leadership means to her and what International Women’s Day means for women everywhere.
"Leadership is all about creating opportunities for others to flourish and contribute as powerfully as they can"
I have always loved the challenge of learning new industries and taking on new roles – from equity analyst in the early days at CS First Boston to Board Directorships and CEO roles more recently.
You’re currently involved in companies both in the United States and New Zealand. How do you effectively manage the responsibilities that come with international leadership?
Both countries offer unique and exciting opportunities for investment and entrepreneurial activities. I enjoy both worlds even though they are so different! It’s so stimulating to find ways of working effectively in both environments.
What would you say has been the most rewarding part of your career?
I love the opportunity of leading a small startup in the natural food industry – we produce Kura, a great tasting protein smoothie powder based on clean, 100% grass fed, New Zealand protein. It’s been a highly enjoyable challenge building our business in this market.
In the US, women are still underrepresented in top leadership positions at many companies. What advice would you give women who aspire to executive leadership?
Fight to find opportunities to demonstrate your skills and talents. Believe in yourself and others will too. My most outstanding employees have been women, almost without exception.
This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is “pledge for parity,” encouraging men and women to help accelerate gender equality. What do you think is the most important action people can take to support gender equality?
Diversity in leadership will lead to better outcomes for every business and organization. Make sure that blind spots don't prevent our current leaders from creating great opportunities for everybody to prove their capabilities.
What does leadership mean to you?
I believe leadership is all about creating opportunities for others to flourish and contribute as powerfully as they can. I believe leaders should ensure a clear, value-maximizing strategic direction, provide appropriate resources and then guide and support their team to deliver great outcomes accordingly.
What do you think will change for women over the next 10 years?
I look at the millennial generation who are reshaping the world in many wonderful and positive ways. I am hoping for opportunities for all to live fully and fulfill their dreams while caring for themselves, their families and the planet.
If you weren’t doing what you are doing now, what would you be doing instead?
I have been a Director of BRAC USA for many years, one of the world’s leading anti-poverty organizations. I would like to spend more time in support of BRAC’s work around the world.