S2E17 - Kate Strong of Strong Voice Podcast
Kate Strong is the world champion triathlete, entrepreneur, coach, TEDx Speaker, philanthropist and sustainability business consultant on a mission to inspire and empower people to be the step up and realise their full potential.
As consultant, Kate is pushing business boundaries for sustainable triple bottom line: For purpose, For the people, FOR the planet.
Kate is also hosts of the Strong Voice podcast.
- How Kate went from a double masters in mechanical engineering to Subway franchise owner
- How living in a world heritage park influenced her sustainability journey
- Training to be a world champion triathlete and representing Australia
- Culture of sustainability and Inspiring the next generation to fulfil their potential
Intro: (00:08) Welcome back to the Green Element Podcast where we feature business leaders and innovators transforming their operations to be more environmentally and socially sustainable. I’m your host will Richardson and I can’t wait to meet our guest today and help you on your journey of sustainability.
Will: (00:28) Hi Kate. Thank you so much for joining the green element podcast. Uh, I’m really, really looking forward to finding out more about how you ended up in sustainability and the course that you’ve been on and the journey that you’ve had. So welcome to the podcast and um, thank you for joining us. Thanks so much for having me. Well, let’s start off with understanding that if background, a bit of history of who you are and what you’ve been doing for the last 15 years I guess.
Kate: (00:55) Sure. Um, it’s quite diverse. I graduated with a double masters in mechanical engineering, um, and went traveling immediately after that arounds predominantly Latin America and fell in love with local indigenous communities, setting up grassroot projects as well. So whilst I was traveling, I was also helping leave a legacy if you want to make sure people weren’t just given $5 or a bag of pencils when I left. They were also left with a business they could, you know, continue and thrive and prosper from. But I did eventually return and got into aerospace for a couple of years. So finally put my degrees to practice, realized it wasn’t where I wanted to be, my heart wasn’t in it. So moved to Australia, um, set up a couple of hospitality businesses and that’s kind of where I sat for nine years watching people travel, learning about their journeys, getting to know humans as well.
Kate: (01:49) And I also picked up sports at the same time. So I started my own personal journey of healing and self-discovery. So it’s very, I lived in a world heritage parks. I was surrounded by a ma immense beauty in nature that attracted people for their own journeys, be it just to take a photo or a healing or whatever it was. And that’s where I became age group will champion in triathlons. I competed for Australia in I think six Lil championships in total and picked up the question of, you know, how can I impart with other people a way of opening up in themselves to be that it sounds very cliche and I apologize it to be in their best self, but also makes sure that they’re positively impacting the world that they live within. And so four years ago I discovered that people were prepared to pay me for the how. How they could start living a better life to be responsible to create a business, but also make sure that it was in alignment with other areas, their purpose and the environments and other issues. And now I’m going back into aerospace as well as the consultant to help them step up and make sure sustainability policies aren’t just coming from the top down. You know, it’s ingrained in every single thing that they do in their supply chains as well. So it’s quite, quite a circular movement.
Will: (03:05) Yeah, absolutely. Hospitality industry that you worked in in Australia, you said you worked for two different things. What were they?
Kate: (03:14) Well, the first one was I bought a subway franchise, so I didn’t want to go back to uni. I thought that the easiest way to learn is to put your money down and you won’t make the same mistake twice. So that’s what I did for a couple of years. But I did flip it up quickly into a guest house in restaurants. So I I own that in the blue mountains in new South Wales.
Will: (03:34) Okay. And what was the next one?
Kate: (03:36) The well the Subway franchise was the first business. The guest’s house restaurants was the second business.
Will: (03:42) And have you found that you have, I may have been a bit, um, if someone just walked past in the garden and I was going like, Oh, okay, fine. Um, the guest house and subway, has that helped you with the sustainability and environmental stuff? Looking back on it?
Kate: (04:00) Yes, because it, it made me ask questions. So I was in Australia surrounded by avocado plants and we were importing frozen other causes from Mexico. And it got me thinking as a consumer where, where do I get my things from? How can I discover this? And so in a sort of negative way it got me aware of the environment and I was, that’s why I ultimately sold the franchises because I wanted the best policy. I wanted to offer local home grown produce, not just the stuff that they, they forced me to purchase because it was subway approved. So this isn’t a some subway, there’s a lot of positive things about franchises, but for me it just opens up my eyes to how sometimes as consumers we just unaware, we just make assumptions and never dig a little deeper with the second question of well where does it come from? You know, I’m assuming it’s an Aussie avocado, but is it really,
Will: (04:52) I think, I think what you learn from different parts of your career is so interesting. I’ve worked run pubs for a while after leaving school and had inspires asking questions cause I do feel like draw on quite a lot of the experience I’ve had through my life. And I would imagine for you when you’re coaching people and when you’re talking to different individuals, everyone’s had different experience and to be able to relate to that experience is really probably really beneficial for you to be able to empathize with people.
Kate: (05:20) Yeah, definitely. And you know, I speak to quite a few startup coaches as well and I personally don’t have a coaching certificate by choice because I think we need to join our own personalities. We need to actually sort of have confidence to know that what we’ve learned in our 30, 40, 50 years of life is enough for us to move forward as well. We don’t need to always lean on that certification or degree life gives us a lot of lessons. And that actually to me, I think is the best teacher in the mall
Will: (05:48) from going on from there. And I’d love to talk to you about, because we touched upon this when we first spoke about sports and the mind fullness. Um, I guess the way you’re able to focus yourself and how that’s benefited you going forward.
Kate: (06:08) Sure. I mean we just need to sit on a bus or a bus station or walks on the streets day to see how distracted we are where we’re constantly getting burst or tweeted or vibrated by something in our pocket or our bag. And so for me, sport was a way to disconnect from the distractions and just be in the moment, um, to actually notice what is around me, what my body is telling me as well and how am I feeling. We love to stay in our comfort zone. That is, you know, by default and sometimes we feel we don’t want to do something or it’s easier to go shopping and buy plastic bags because we forgot or we just don’t want to go training at four o’clock in the morning when it is negative five degrees centigrade outside. By just being in the moment and committing to what we said we’d do and remembering the bigger goal, we can actually step away from our feelings and just be outside our comfort zone and know that it won’t be comfortable. But we still, we still get the stuff done and that’s actually where we grew up. And that’s where we can thrive and do things that excite us.
Will: (07:12) And there’s a longterm benefit as well. Isn’t that [inaudible]?
Kate: (07:15) Yeah, your shoulders grow so you can support more, but you can support greater stuff as well as the burden. So we accomplish more in other areas as well. So I might do well in sports, but I know that if I step up, as you know, just last week I climbed Montblanc with my father. I feel already bigger and more competent in my business that I’m addressing areas where before I was shying away from them cause I didn’t really like doing the sales calls or whatever, whatever I was avoiding. It makes me grow .
Will: (07:46) Did you see the glacier when you’re at Montblanc and how it’s receded and did anyone talk to you about that because I’ve got friends who live in Chamonix and have talks about that glacier.
Kate: (07:58) Yes. I also went to another one in Gran Parodiso in Italy and that was much more visibly shrunk because there’s a lot more debris around the area. So the gap of where the glacier was to me was much more obvious. I did talk about it briefly. I mean by nature, glass years recede and grow so that [inaudible] will recede and in winter the snow that’s fallen will then push the glass year forward. But that the rates of recession, if you want to use, I’m not sure if that’s the correct word to use, is significantly faster than its rate of growth. And it’s sad. And what’s sort of is sad to me was the amount. There’s lots of tourists there who catch a cable car out, take a photo maybe without, they’re not. When I see they’re not tourists, they’re not hiking there with intention to assume the relationship that they’re just to take a glass year off their ticket, let their bucket list.
Kate: (08:51) They’re still saying that climate change doesn’t exist. They’re still saying this is just, you know, uh, trends and it will return and to meet that is the sadness because we’re not actually seeing the reality and it’s again, that unconsciousness. It’s more comfortable to say there isn’t a problem to say it’s not receding than to actually sit there and go, we need to do something about this. What is that? Is that less flying is that, you know, eating less meat? Is that, what can we do as a, as a community, as a family, to make sure this last year we’d like to take the photo world and visit. We’ll still be here for my great grandchildren.
Will: (09:27) Yeah. So, so true. That so true. Um, when you were in Australia and you were doing the triathlons and you ended up running, cycling and swimming for Australia, how did you end up, have you always been really good at running, cycling and swimming?
Kate: (09:44) Well, physiologically I’ve got long legs I suppose, so you know, and broad shoulders. So I was always built to be able to do well in the sports, but I didn’t have the hunger. So when I was young, whenever my coach sat me down and says, you’ve got potential, let’s get serious. I’d shy away because to me life was never about getting serious. It was always about staying fun. So yes, I am built to swim, run well, but I never pushed myself further than what was comfortable.
Will: (10:12) Mm. And you just got into it that you can’t just, I would imagine getting to something and end up swimming, cycling and running for Australia. There’s got to be a lot of hard work. Um, you’ve got to be tenacious. You’ve got to be driven. You’ve got to really see the longterm goal of what it is that you’re wanting to do because it’s not, you’re not gonna wake up one day and go, Oh well Australia’s just asked me to run for them. Brilliant. You know? So can you take me through that and take me through what’s the feelings that you had and that kind of experience of moving up towards it?
Kate: (10:51) Yeah. With pleasure and I’d sort of put my life on hold for nine years. Well, I had a boyfriend for nine years. We had a job and I was living that life of when I have more money, when I have more time than I can look at my health that I can do a triathlon. Cause it was always on the list. It was just never dated. But after nine years, I realized that that day was never going to happen. And I just had this moment when I was celebrating my birthday with yet another drink and I thought there is nothing that’s standing out to my life. This post could have been last year’s birthday or the year before his birthday. When am I going to actually do something that excites me, not just sort of dumbs my life down to that moment. I’m sorry, I just sort of went, well today I’m never going to be any younger than I am, so I’m going to do something today.
Kate: (11:39) And that’s why I said, right, I’m going to do a triathlon. It’s always been on my mind for 10 years. I haven’t done an Ironman. I’m going to do it. But where did you go? Like I’ve never, I don’t know the times how far I could run, how quickly I could vent as well. So I thought, well, if I don’t know what I can do, why am I going to limit my potential? So I’m just going to look at what number one does. I’m going to do like the number one in the world training and see how close I can get to that person. Now it might be, they might be 2000 it doesn’t matter. But if I aimed for 500 so I would never have got to 200 so I’m going to aim for number one with no ego. I’m going to get as close as I can.
Kate: (12:21) And so that’s what I did. And some things I didn’t accomplish. I was age group number one, not world’s number one. So, and it wasn’t the full distance I wanted, it was two thirds iron man, not full iron man. But to me that’s not a failure. That’s, I found my potential. I find my maximum without that glass ceiling. So once I decided that I wanted to be number one in the world or my number one in my world, I then needed to write a plan. So at the time in hospitality, as I’m sure you know, it’s seven day a week job. I did work alone at the time. So that was key in the bedrooms and preparing the foods as well. So, you know, 12 hour days, seven days a week. I wrote the training plan that fitted in with that and be a true engineer.
Kate: (13:05) I think this is where the skill comes in. I wrote down all the skills I needed. You know, how to sleep better, what food is digestible quicker, you know, what swimming, cycling and running do I need to do? But how do I avoid injury? How do I win a business, you know, automated. So I wrote down every single tool that I’d need. I looked for online mentors or people who succeeded in those areas and I just copied or simulated what they did. I’m so sort of automated as much as I could of my business. I learned to operate off four hours of sleep a day for two and a half years. Um, I ate immensely clean foods, a whole food plant based from locally because I found that it was quicker to digest so I could actually repair my muscles from my training every day so I could double up my training as well.
Kate: (13:55) Um, so it was wake up at four o’clock in the morning. I had to like to fire cause I, I lived in the cold, I didn’t have heating at then run for three hours with a head torch, seeing my breath at night, get back to work, shower, do a 12 hour shift, then seven 8:00 PM at nights I’d either jump on my turbo trainer at nights I’m facing a brick wall cause I really wanted to break me down to the worst possible scenario. So no distractions, no music, no TV, no YouTube. Just me in this brick wall. And the [inaudible] to tell me how many minutes or hours at Pop’s I’m, so when I was on race day, if I saw a tree, I was excited because to me I’d never seen a tree when I’d cycled before it was always pitched black or facing a brick level.
Kate: (14:42) So I use the training as the worst possible scenarios. I trained to be the best, but I also trained in the worst conditions. So after that everything was a, you know, another stupid example. I don’t eat muesli with water for a week before my race, just in case I couldn’t find any juices to buy. So, at least to me, I was used to just having water and it wasn’t a disappointment, but if I found an orange juice, it was a bonus. So I became almost like a little kid celebrating the stupidest and simplest luxuries in life.
Will: (15:16) And if you found that what you learned over those two and a half years has been helpful. Um, moving forwards in your current role and in your future roles that you want to start to do.
Kate: (15:27) Yes. We as humans, we have such great potential to achieve stuff and the only thing stopping us is ourself. So when I’m working with my clients or even myself, I think, Oh, we’ll reduce carbon emissions by one and a half percent. I do ask the question, why not double it? I know one in a half is realistic, but why can’t we sort of push ourselves that little bit more uncomfortably to see if there’s a bigger solution out there than just a shift? Can’t we look for transformational change, not just shifting. And so that mindset of not fearing that if I don’t accomplish that 3% or 10% production, I’m a failure. It actually allows us to be a little bit more creative and dream that little bit bigger where maybe we were have been settling for the bare minimal or the baseline.
Will: (16:19) It’s so interesting, isn’t it? Talking to people and how it is that, cause I can relate to what it is that you’re, that you’ve done that accommodates the, you know, the amounts of cycling and swimming and running. You’ve done. But I can, it’s that bigger picture. It’s that goal that you had of I’d like to get to there and this is how I’m going to get to, and I think that’s so useful to think about it. It’s so pertinent within sustainability. And I think when I saw when we first spoke, it became quite apparent that we should all be thinking like that because as you say, it’s so easy to drift from one day to another and to have that drink on your birthday, that’s the same as every other birthday. But actually that’s not going to help with climate change and it’s not going to help with sustainability.
Will: (17:05) We need to all be thinking about the bigger picture. We need to all be thinking about where we can get to because it’s such an individual journey as well. So therefore the me or you or anyone else to tell someone else, well this is what you need to do. Great, but you don’t know my life. You don’t know how to, we all need to be thinking about ourselves and it needs to come from within, which is why it’s really interesting to listen to what it is and how you got to where you’ve got to. And so you ran for Australia and then you came back to the UK.
Kate: (17:37) I had five world championships in 2015 so I qualified for five different distances and triathlon and it just felt right to return to Europe after those. So yeah, I came back to Britain and eventually I’m settles where I know which is in Bristol. So you have this, what I call home.
Will: (17:53) I’ve got one question that’s probably not related to the tool is how come you didn’t do it for the UK being British or are you Australian?
Kate: (18:00) I’m British born. I do have an Aussie passport. Britain wouldn’t let me, so you have to do a British qualifying race. So even though I was Australian national champion, because my the race to qualify for world championships was in Australia. Britain said, no,
Will: (18:15) I found more full than, that’s ridiculous. Anyway, whatever.
Kate: (18:21) I prefer green and gold. I’ve got to say it suits my in my coloring better.
Will: (18:29) And so when he came back to the UK, you weren’t tempted to go back into hospitality or?
Kate: (18:35) With honesty. When I came back in October, I think I had quite a wall. So I knew that I wanted to stop triathlon. I didn’t want to go down the professional routes and that was the natural pull after, after my accomplishments and being in, I love Wales, but it was October, it was raining, it was dark, it was cold. I was alone, I was living in my parents’ flat. They weren’t there. And I think I got quite, I wouldn’t say sad, very miserable. And for days I wouldn’t leave the house and not knowing what to do, knowing that I wanted to see the world and change and impact the world positively, but feeling quite lost. So what I did after three minutes, I did return to hospitality, but on a zero hour contracts, cleaning toilets at a franchise, a Costa shop puny to get me out of the house and sort of understand my path.
Kate: (19:31) Um, I didn’t want to keep leaning on the, don’t you know who I was? I wanted to actually add value in that moment. So I did return to hospitality albeit briefly, but I think it was more as a me to work out who I really was and the value I was adding, not just to say, here’s my resume. Give me a high paying job I could carry on. I wanted to feel, not the pain of life, but to work from the grassroots again. So I was there for about three months. The toilets have never been cleaner. And then I started to sort of step back into coaching again. I found my groove. People were still attracted to ask me what I was doing, even though I was still just serving tables, et cetera. And so that’s when I started to coach people again into finding their passion and step back into that purpose driven pathway that I’m in now.
Will: (20:23) And what led you into sustainability though? Whether it, was there a deciding factor or was there a poignant events or what’s kind of led you to that?
Kate: (20:33) I’ve been reflecting this, I mean my first degree, so I graduated in 2002 so it wasn’t actually quite popular back then. My first degree was environmental engineering and that was as close as I could get to sustainable work. But I think it was around, I was about 12 or 13 I just come home from school. I come from a very, you know, safe, secure, traditional family. And I’d never really seen pain or suffering. So I’d always have comforts around me and assumed naively that the world was like this as well. But this one day when I came back, there was an advert for an African community. And I remember there was a little child, two weeks to swat the flies that landed on his face away. And just to see another human being suffering and not even having the strength for such a simple task is giving himself that peace without the flies around him.
Kate: (21:28) I just broke down into tears and my dad at the same time returned from work quite confused by his little daughter was crying and sad in a way to soften and soothe me. That was his only intention. But he said, there’s nothing you can do. Kate’s, you know, bad things happened in the world. The best thing to do is just push it out of your minds and carry on in your life. And in that moment I think I decided I didn’t know what I could do to help. So if I couldn’t help, I would play such a small game that I would never add to the pain and suffering of other people. So to this day, I still honor that decision. You were 14 year old to not have children. So that was a choice I made. But if I wanted to pass on anything, it would be through adoption or fostering and I started to play an immensely small game. Now fast forward to four years ago, I’m ready to flip that coin and to make sure my impact is positive. Not just minimize the negative, but I think of that. That was a hugely transformational moment for me. That still sticks with me to this day that I just wanted to play such a small game that I didn’t want to impact and just to push that out to my mind as much as possible because I just felt so futile. Impotence if you want, I just didn’t know what to do.
Will: (22:46) It’s amazing what, how when you’re young it can just, it does determine who you are, who either we think it has or whether it, you know, it’s amazing how many times you speak to people and they say, yeah, actually when I was young and it’s not until you kind of think about it. I know that I didn’t really think about it until I started thinking about it, if that makes any sense. Until you just realize that there is a pattern in your life that of how you get to where you’ve got to. And I guess it shouldn’t really surprise anyone, but I think it’s really, really useful to think about that and to think about why you’re doing what you’re doing. Yeah.
Kate: (23:22) And it explains really why as well. When I got to being world champion with a platform for a voice, I went straight down to toilet cleaning because I shied away from that big impact, you know, because my promise was to play a small game, not a big game. I wasn’t consciously aware and anytime I had an opportunity to play that big game, I’d push it away to psychoanalysis. I was living in that 14 year old decision up until quite recently and now I’m ready to buy. I’m flipping it. So yeah.
Will: (23:53) And here we are now in your coaching people and I guess organizations as well because there’ll be people that are running organizations through their own journey and you really only work with purpose driven sustainable organizations and people. Is that right?
Kate: (24:12) On the pathway to, yes. So they don’t just like me, we’re never going to be perfect or there, there is no utopia called sustainability. But I want people who are at least open to this conversation and ask them the question, how can I be more x? So they might not have even started, but definitely somebody who wants to make sure that we’re looking at other things other than just profitability. We’re looking at how we can, I mean there’s so many examples that putting sustainability first actually is a profitable decision anyway. But I am keen for companies like that to work with. Um, that’s pretty much who I choose to work with as well.
Will: (24:51) And do you find that people are open to it
Kate: (24:53) more and more? So yes, I’m finding a lot more startups are, and also millennials. The younger generation definitely have got their heads focused on the future because we’ve left them with such a big pile of mess. Then I’ve seen that as a great opportunity to clean up and also monetize it along the way. So I’m finding a lot of young, young kids, 20 plus year olds being attracted to work with me because they want to make sure their business is doing good from day one, not waiting till they’re a billionaire.
Will: (25:24) Thank you so much for talking to us today. Kate. Um, where can we find out more information about where you are on the internet and learn more about your journey and follow you?
Kate: (25:34) Sure. So I’m pretty social, but the best place to go is my websites, which is Kate Strong dot.co but I’m on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn as well. So I’m more than happy to receive private messages, answer any questions and I’m keep sharing.
Will: (25:51) Brilliant. Brilliant. Thank you so much. I think I learned from this how you, it’s so good to have a plan and to have a goal of where to get to and make sure that it’s not so much give up, but you don’t go, Oh gosh, there’s a dollars in that don’t put off today whether you can do tomorrow. Yeah, that’s what I got from this. And it’d be interesting to know what other people have got from there. So if you could and wanted to contact us, that’d be great. Thank you so much, Kate for this and yeah, thanks for being on the show.
Kate: (26:23) My pleasure. Thank you so much for having me.
Outro: (26:27) Thank you so much for listening to the end of this episode of the green element podcast. Do take a moment and share this with your friends and colleagues, rate and review the podcast, whatever you get your podcasts. I’d love to know what has been your biggest takeaway from this conversation. What are you going to do differently? Please share your thoughts across social media and tag us so we can see them too at GE underscore podcast, the links and show notes for this episode. Visit our website, [inaudible] dot co.uk for slash podcast. Thank you again. I hope you’ll join me on the next episode and together we can help create a better world.
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