Holly is taking Australia for Ransom one landmark board appointment at a time.
When we meet at a Melbourne café, the 26-year-old has just made a concerted foray into the professional sports industry and joined the board at AFL club Port Adelaide.
“I’m on the advisory board at Swimming Australia and I’ve worked with a lot of sporting organisations, my [consultancy] business [Emergent Solutions] has done quite a bit in women’s and youth engagement, but in a formalised governance role definitely this is the first [foray],” she says.
It’s a notable appointment not just because the self-confessed “footy nut” is one of few women, next to Amanda Vanstone, on the board but also because she’s a millennial working in an environment typically pertaining to statesmen.
“Before I joined the Port Adelaide board I was on the phone to probably as many people about them as they were about me because I wanted to know, from AFL commissioners, from CEOs of other clubs, from people in the Adelaide community, what they thought about the leadership, the culture, where the guys were headed and if they believed it,” she says.
“For me, it’s always making sure as well you’ve got a diverse set of opinions inputting into contributions that you make at the table too.”
West is best
Ransom is well connected and her appointment came with the recommendation of two outgoing AFL commissioners. Asked how she has developed such an exclusive contact base, in AFL and general business, the West Australian offers geography.
“I feel lucky to have grown up in WA because WA was a very flat community and I was a very curious kid full of questions,” she says.
“I was fortunate that you could meet people on the side-lines of sport on the weekend, or at a function, and they could be the mayor, they could be the CEO of a company. You could ask them a question and they’d invite you for a coffee to talk about it."
“So I grew up with that mentality that learning was accessible like that,” she continues. “I remember one of my mentors said this great line, when I was 19, and I’ve implemented it ever since. He said, ‘how long does it take to learn from someone’s lifetime of experience? Lunch.’ I was like, hey, I can do lunch. I can do stacks of lunch. It was that idea. I wanted to learn and understand how to be a better leader, more effective in what I was doing and there were so many Australians who I admired out there doing exactly that. I figured why don’t I reach out and ask them if they’ll tell me how they did it.”
The words ‘mentor’ and ‘connect’ are part of Ransom’s vernacular and she employs both regularly.
We’re not bored by this board
It’s hard to see the now Melbourne-based businesswoman, who trains for triathlons in her spare time, wasting a single second of any day. She speaks with a broad Australian accent and is purposeful and polite in her approach. Ransom is also a politician and can move around questions. She doesn’t reveal anything when it comes to ideas she wants to implement at Port as a ‘disruptor’, charged with engaging fellow millennials as the team continues to expand under chairman David Koch.
“I feel there is a genuine want for what I can bring to the table and the club has set me up to bring it,” she says. “That’s a special situation, to be in a club that is that progressive and challenges the game on and off the field.”
The grounded director always does her research and has taken a particular interest to the club’s recent history, which she can run through off the top of her head.
“We’ve had a very interesting 10 years; it’s been an incredible turnaround story. The growth in our membership base, five or six years ago we wouldn’t have had 30,000 and now we’re just about to crack 60,000,” she notes.
Token? You must be jokin’
Ransom has sat in on her first board meeting when we speak for just on an hour and feels confident that she won’t have to raise her voice to be heard as a millennial and as a woman in an environment where tokenism is openly referred to by some.
“My impression of this board is that I won’t. It’s been a mixed bag over the course of my career. Have I had to? Absolutely. A bunch of times. Continually, for that matter in different circumstances I find myself in week to week. The thing I really liked about Port is again it’s a genuine want for your contribution,” she says.
“Kochie talked to me a lot about this through the [interview] process. He said, ‘you’re here not because I want your opinion on that one thing, I want your opinion on everything. You’re here as a director, we’re all on equal footing and charged with the responsibility of supporting this club to win premierships and make our community proud.’
“We have great conversations and debate but there’s a respect for everyone’s opinions and mine just as much as anyone else’s, which is great.”
Tokenism has been a discerning factor in Ransom’s career and one she was wary of when courting with the AFL club.
“This is why I was so intentional about calling around and genuinely sensing this club out before I joined,” she says. “I had a conversation with one of my mentors, Sam Mostyn, who was the first female AFL Commissioner, and I said to her I want to know if this is genuine because if this is token I’ll wait 20 more years.
“If it’s a token employment you’re never going to be able to deliver on why you’re there in the first place, which is that you love the game and you want to make a contribution to it.”
“For me that was a huge part because you can be a little bit jaded as a younger person growing up in interactions with government and with business because you do see tokenism happen quite a bit.
“Local government taught me a lot about this when I was a little tacker involved in a lot of youth advisory councils. They’d send someone out with a clipboard to sit-down with some young people so they could tick the box that said they’d engaged youth. Where that contribution went and whether or not it got interwoven into a project is beyond me but that was the process for engaging. I think the thing that is important around all organisation is not that box ticking mentality. You need leaders that genuinely value diversity.”