Q&A: Cathie Reid


AJP chats with the pharmacist, founder of Icon Group and Epic Pharmacy Group, and 2011 Telstra Business Women’s Award winner

Cathie Reid is one of Australia’s most successful women in pharmacy, having founded Epic Pharmacy Group and Icon Group, the largest provider of cancer care in Australia.

She’s on her way to space with Virgin Galactica, and has been awarded an Order of Australia medal for her significant service to healthcare delivery and philanthropy.

Cathie credits her experience winning the Telstra Business Women’s Awards in 2011 as an important part of her professional life, as it helped give her the validation and encouragement she needed to keep working towards her goals.

She encourages other professionals in pharmacy to nominate the successful women they work alongside, to celebrate their achievements in the industry.

Here we chat with Cathie about the challenges and highlights of her career so far.

1. What were the biggest challenges you faced when founding Epic Pharmacy Group and Icon Group?

When Stuart and I started Epic Pharmacy, or Active Care Pharmacy as it was known then, it was the first time we had stepped from the manager to the owner role, and that in itself required a significant mindset change.

With no existing infrastructure in place, we were literally building the plane while we were flying it, and every day presented new and different challenges to overcome – everything from recruitment, to access to capital, to customer acquisition, supplier negotiations and more.

By the time we went on to found Icon Group we had significant experience and good infrastructure, with a great group of experienced people working alongside us, but the move out of the direct pharmacy space where the majority of that prior business experience had existed created numerous learning opportunities for us.

We learned early on in our business lives that one of the most important tools required to overcome challenges, whichever angle they present from, is the ability to articulate a clear vision for what it is that you are trying to achieve, and to ensure that all of your actions and activities are consistent with delivering on that vision.

Whoever the audience it is – from potential team members, to customers or patients, to doctors, to financiers to suppliers – it’s really important that they understand what it is that you are trying to create and deliver, and that your actions reinforce the commitments you have given.

2. Were there any specific difficulties you faced as a woman in business?

Something I have struggled with is imposter syndrome, a seemingly solely female issue. I’ve never met a man who understands it or has suffered from it. When I sat down to complete my application for the Telstra Business Women’s Awards, it was the first time I’d ever documented what I had achieved as a person. Having that as a reference to look back on when imposter syndrome rears its head has been really helpful to validate my success in times of doubt.

Another barrier women face in the workplace is coming up against the old boy network. The guys who went to school or worked together still open doors for each other, but it doesn’t work this way for women. The Telstra Business Women’s Awards has been invaluable in helping me meet like-minded women and establish my own network, just like the boys do.

Being available and accessible, and interested in the person, not just their disease state or prescription, creates a bond and a sense of engagement that is very powerful.

3. How has your training in pharmacy shaped your career going forward?

My pharmacy background has played a crucial role in shaping my career in so many ways.  My early days in community pharmacy provided a daily reinforcement of the positive impact that good healthcare professionals can have in people’s lives.

Being available and accessible, and interested in the person, not just their disease state or prescription, creates a bond and a sense of engagement that is very powerful, and that patient focus is at the heart of everything we have tried to create at both Epic and Icon.

My management roles in community pharmacy also delivered really valuable business training, highlighting the importance of understanding cashflow, profitability drivers, and the need to understand, report on, and importantly also communicate to the broader team the key metrics that contribute to business success or failure. 

4. What are your top tips for women in pharmacy who want to make it big in business?

Ask to see the numbers. If you don’t understand the numbers that drive business performance, you really limit your ability to contribute to the success of a business as you’re flying blind, and you’re also missing out on really valuable learnings that you’ll need when you’re the one calling the shots. If you’re not currently seeing KPI reports or management numbers, ask if you can – or set your own personal ones, and manage and monitor those.

You can’t speak to the value you’re personally creating if you can’t illustrate it. When I was working in community pharmacy, I always knew my personal metrics – things like how many patients per day I was interacting with, what the value of my average sale was, how many new customers the programs I had implemented had brought to the pharmacy.

It’s also really important to make sure you’re in an environment where you have the opportunity to learn and grow. If you have big goals, you need to make sure you’re working somewhere where you are constantly being stretched and challenged, not just sitting in your comfort zone. No-one ever achieved anything great being comfortable!

Make sure your manager knows that you’re ambitious, and where those ambitions lie. Don’t just sit back waiting for someone to tap you on the shoulder and ask if you’re interested in taking on more, your manager should know you’re hungry and wanting to learn and develop. Equally, if your manager does tap you on the shoulder and ask you to take on more responsibility, don’t tell them you’re not ready.

It’s a very female trait to not want to take on a challenge without feeling 110% ready for it. Reframe your thinking to the view that if you’ve been asked to take on a new challenge, the person asking believes that you have the capability and capacity.

5. What’s been the highlight of your career so far?

Rather than any single highlight, I would say that the best thing about my career in pharmacy overall has been the diversity of the opportunities that it has created. I feel like my initial decision to undertake a pharmacy degree has opened the door in delivering multiple different careers, and is still continuing to do so – I’ve just turned 50, and I can count more than ten different major role shifts thus far, and have no doubt I’ve still got plenty more to come. The singular most pleasing thing though continues to be the ability to create positive impact for patients.

Nominations for the 25th Telstra Business Women’s Awards are now open. They close on Tuesday 29 October. Anyone can nominate an exceptional business woman, even yourself. To do so, visit: telstrabusinesswomensawards.com/nominate

You may be interested in reading:

20 tips from 20 years: Last week marked the 20th anniversary of the purchase of our first pharmacy, writes Cathie Reid

AJP Podcast: Advice for pharmacy careers, featuring Cathie Reid, Karalyn Huxhagen, Kay Dunkley, Mark Naunton and Catherine Duggan.

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