Self-portrait Of A Community
Chapter One: Banking And Finance
The catalyst for Christine Pope’s sudden and seemingly radical career change was her daughter’s lunch. More specifically, she was tired of never knowing what her daughter was taking to school to eat, so demanding was her long-held job in risk management.
So Pope retrained in health science with a focus on naturopathy, nutritional medicine and homeopathy. Seventeen years later she is still running her own small business out of an holistic health practice, Elemental Health in Sydney, a job that gives her career satisfaction and more time with her family. She couldn’t be happier.
The change in direction isn’t as dramatic as it seems. When Pope was growing up her Dad would frequently throw out his back, leaving him in serious pain on the floor. One day their neighbour, a chiropractor, saw it happen. Lying down next to him he asked Pope’s father to describe his symptoms and, after explaining what he did, was able to help him.
But when it came to thinking about university, Pope opted for a Bachelor of Commerce over Chiropractic, which in the 1980s would have meant studying in Melbourne where she’d grown up before the family moved to Sydney.
“My dad was at a finance company and I was already doing bits and pieces in the school holidays [for him] and because I was fairly numerate I thought that was something interesting I could do,” she says.
For the next two decades Pope worked her way up the finance and risk management business, initially at Citibank, later spending 14 years in various roles at Macquarie Bank.
“I worked in three different roles and had two stints of maternity leave there, which was pretty uncommon back then. It wasn’t paid but we were privileged to have our jobs back,” she says.
Dissatisfaction Creeps In
Becoming restless and keen to move into a job that allowed more flexibility with her two young children she shifted into a venture capital company that promoted itself as being family-friendly but was anything but. The hours were punishing and Pope could see the next role she was in line for was even more demanding, so after 18 months she resigned.
“My husband and I both had big corporate careers, someone had to be home for the nanny and I realised that if we kept going we’d end up divorced and miserable. The turning point was not knowing what my daughter had for lunch, such a little thing, but I thought, ‘this isn’t working’.”
Having paid off their mortgage – “part of the privilege of working at Macquarie Bank” – Pope knew she was in a position to study or work part-time in a career that really stimulated her. With the help of a careers coach she decided to attend an open day at Nature Care, a college that offers a diverse range of natural healthcare courses. She’d found her next career.
Within six weeks of graduating in 2006 with advanced diplomas in naturopathy, nutritional medicine and homeopathy, she had opened her first business within an holistic health practice. Happily, she’s still there today.
The Highs And Lows Of Small Business
The first few years were tough.
“It was appalling!” she laughs. “My goal the first year was just to pay my rent, more of a stretch would have been appropriate.”
With social media yet to emerge she would physically do letterbox drops and buy ads in the Yellow Pages in a bid to attract clients. She also spent what in hindsight was too much time in advancing her practitioner skills, when it was her networking and marketing that was lacking.
“There was a point at which I thought, ‘why am I doing this?’”
Effort Reaps Rewards
Pope reached out to a fellow female business owner who was the consummate networker and asked for help. She’s never looked back. Today she teaches a one-day course Transition to Practice, helping new practitioners establish and market their clinics, including a module on networking.
Joining various local groups such as She Business also proved helpful, providing a community of like-minded women she could turn to for advice and support.
“When you’re in a practice by yourself it’s very isolating, so meeting other women in small business and hearing we’re all having the same problems and challenges has been very rewarding.”
Today Pope works two days a week with 10-12 clients focusing mainly on healthy aging. Away from the practice she is the director and treasurer of the Australian Traditional Medicine Society and chair of the Society’s marketing committee. She is also the treasurer and a director of the Council of Small Business Organisations Australia (COSBOA).