Career profile: MYOB’s Caroline Ruddick is taking care of business

Caroline Ruddick, head of marketing at Australia’s largest B2B accounting software company, tells Marketing how a mixture of serendipity and unshakable tenacity has seen her work across an extensive range of marketing roles to New York and back.

Her parents wanted her to be an accountant, but MYOB’s general manager of marketing, Caroline Ruddick, had other ideas. She originally enrolled in journalism at the University of Queensland, but not two weeks before she was due to start, her parents convinced her to enrol in a ‘good solid accounting degree’ at the University of Melbourne.

After her pleas to follow a more creative career path fell on deaf ears, Ruddick finally agreed and went off to complete an undergraduate degree in accounting and business law at Melbourne – with the intention of going back to a more ‘creative’ degree later on.

After receiving her business degree, Ruddick left Melbourne for Sydney where she got a job with PricewaterhouseCoopers and, after 12 months there, she finally enrolled in a master of commerce in marketing and organisational culture at the University of NSW.

Marketing: Do you consider studying accounting before you got into marketing a waste of time?

No, I wouldn’t. It’s interesting. If you had asked me that question at different points my career, I might have answered it differently. In hindsight, looking at where I am now, and what I bring to the table with the experience of having had the financial and business acumen built up through the undergrad and the business law side of things, it has been invaluable.

So your very first marketing job was at Procter & Gamble?

I had done an internship with lingerie company Triumph. I knew I had a really strong financial background, and financial experience. Companies at that time were after accountants and finance specialists. That’s why I wanted to get some experience with a big multinational, so I could say I’ve got some marketing experience as well. I knew it would make me much more employable than someone coming out with a master’s in marketing without any experience, so I spent a summer working up in Brisbane and working for free to get that experience, and then went back and finished my master’s.

I was actually offered an accounting role with Unilever that would pay me double the money. At the time I was doing marketing internships, but I thought, ‘I don’t want to be an accountant.’ So I decided to intern for free instead and worked as an associate lecturer in finance at the University of Sydney part-time.

You definitely need to be driven to turn down double the money.

Yes, so when I finished my master’s, ironically, I was about a month away from deciding to move to Singapore because I thought there would be lots of marketing jobs there.

I went to a lunch as part of my job and I just happened to be sitting with the person recruiting for marketing from Procter & Gamble. She was sitting opposite me and she asked me to come and interview. So a couple of days later, I was interviewing while I was two weeks off moving to Singapore and they offered me the role. I was in two minds. It was just the right place, right time. I couldn’t have planned it. So that was how I got my first break of a real marketing job.

What did you work on there?

My first job was on Pantene Pro V. That was their biggest brand, so I felt like I hit the jackpot.

I’ve always been a bit hair obsessed. My mum and grandmother had three hair and beauty salons, so I had grown up in hairdressing salons, so they probably also saw that as a good fit. It was amazing – huge budgets.

Did you imagine that your first marketing job would be at Procter & Gamble on Pantene?

Never in my wildest dreams! It’s funny when I think back now because you forget about those parts in your career. You’re quite young and fresh and suddenly sitting in a boardroom in an ad agency looking out over Sydney Harbour and working on a brand with a global company and you’re like, ‘Wow, how cool is this?’ It blew me away.

And the smart people that I worked with, their drive and their passion, it was really inspiring. It was better than I could have hoped for.

Do you think that the master’s degree in marketing equipped you enough to go into that environment?

It absolutely did. When I think back to the subjects that I was doing at university and the calibre of people, and the way they really had adopted the US master’s case study-type program, it was really beneficial.

So, now as GM of marketing, what do you look for when hiring a marketer?

I look for the experiences they’ve had in the roles prior to coming there, and when I scan the CVs, I do look for their education and where it was. It doesn’t necessarily sway whether I need them or not, but I’m always curious to know.

We have hundreds of universities now in Australia, so there is a big spectrum, anyone can say, ‘I’ve been to university.’ For me, it’s generally about what companies they have worked for, what have they achieved and what have they owned and managed that will get them to the first interview.

I find it very interesting to see what someone will say on paper and then, when you probe them around it, you know that they maybe know 5% – but that’s it. You can work it out very quickly with the questions that you ask in the interview. So that’s the thing that I find most in interviewing now, that the breadth of knowledge may be there, but the depth is not as deep with some candidates.

If they do have that depth of knowledge, they will get hired.

Does international experience stand out to you?

Absolutely. For me, I just think it broadens your thinking and it opens you to other challenges and just springs back different learning. I think our marketplace is quite small, which doesn’t mean you’re not a great marketer from having worked here. I think just, as a marketer, you always want to be pushing yourself and learning and it really says something about the person’s get up and go for them to actually want to go and travel and get new experiences. That just says something to me about their approach and attitude.

Tell us about how you eventually moved on from P&G.

I was missing Melbourne, so while I was at P&G I was deciding whether or not I should go to Singapore, or move back to Melbourne. Then my dad told me he had seen an ad for a job for a brand manager working for Mars. I decided to apply for it. I had also connected with some head-hunters down here and was talking at that stage to Nike, and then started the interview process with Mars. Nike had said to me there was a women’s marketing role that they wanted to get up and running. They were really interested, but they couldn’t get the role approved for another six to nine months. Then I got the offer from Mars. I was thinking, ‘Do I take the bird in the hand or wait for the one in the bush to maybe come in?’ I took the Mars role.

I have always been particular about the types of companies I wanted to work for, and if you kind of see the theme in my career – Procter, Mars, Nike – they’re all American companies, so I thought if I work for one of these American companies, I can get to America one day and do the big dream.

In those early roles you had at P&G and Mars, did you have any mentors, either informally or formally?

Our marketing director, Peter West, to whom I didn’t really directly report was probably an informal mentor to me around career development, not just marketing. Some things that he said to me stuck with me. Even after I left, I would call him quite a lot. He once said to me, “If you look at people who have stayed in the one company and just gone up in their role, they will hit a plateau, because they don’t have that breadth and diversity of experience and other things to bring to the table.” He had come from a background where he had worked in sales and marketing, and he really encouraged me to go and lead a sales team. He said the skills you get from managing a team, and also understanding sales, will help you more in your career, and to be a better marketer.

That’s an interesting thing for a boss to encourage. So did you go into sales?

I did. I took a field territory manager’s role that came up while I was at Mars.

On the topic of mentorship, is that reversed now?

I’ve mentored quite a few different people, interestingly, mostly women. There were some sales guys that I mentored when I was at Mars. But mainly it’s been women. I was asked at one stage to help mentor one particular woman at Seek, who had taken on a team management role, but was also adjusting to being a working mum. At that stage I was a working mum and I had managed a sales team in the past, but also knew the organisation and the culture. That was one formal one, and then there had been other informal ones when I was working in New York.

You then took your career agency side, and worked at George Patterson: was that to help you get overseas?

Partially. I had always just adored the whole developing the campaign, getting the idea – that magic of developing that TV ad and developing that idea and seeing it come to life. I just loved that whole creative part of it. The account director that I worked with on Maltesers rang me and told me about a senior account director’s role working in the Patt’s Ad Town group and working on General Mills. So I called about the job and, in three days, I had it. It seems like those points in my career I’m at a crossroads and something just happens.

How did you eventually get to work in the US?

It’s a funny story. My dad and I were sitting in a coffee shop talking about how I had always wanted to move to the US. I said, “If I just had enough money to buy an airline ticket to go over there”, because I was paying off my house mortgage at the time. He said,

“I tell you what,” and he had this speculative share at the time and it was, like, 10 cents, “if my shares hit two dollars, I’ll buy your airline ticket.” Three months later, the shares, for some reason, hit two dollars and I’m like, “You owe me an airline ticket.” So it was just really funny. I resigned and went to the US. This had been my dream and I decided it was time.

So you went before you had the job?

Yes. I went over there just to network and meet people. I didn’t realise at the time I went over there that there were no working visas. So I just thought I would travel and have a career break. I travelled the US and I came back to Australia. I had done some networking with agencies, and when I was back in Australia, a job came up working on the fabric softener brand Downy.

I was like, “Hell yeah!” So I went back and interviewed with all the people. They got the paperwork done and said, “We’ll sponsor you for a visa” and on 1 October the visas were released and mine was issued on 2 October and they ran out on 3 October. So in three days, 47,000 visas ran out for highly-skilled workers, and I managed to get one.

What was the time in New York like?

Awesome. Every morning I would pinch myself on the subway going, ‘How cool is this? I’m working in Manhattan.’ I ended up leaving quicker than I would have to come back due to family reasons. It was really hard because there was this career side of me that [felt] this was just Nirvana, and then there was that family side of ‘should I be back home?’ So I decided to move back home and have the summer in Australia, and then I met my husband just as I came back.

I started looking at client side positions in Australia, because I knew at some stage I would want to have a family, and I just knew the hours you worked agency side, but I love both sides, both have their benefits. Then the job at Seek came up. It was probably the most well-known digital brand in Australia. I thought it would be a great experience and the dynamics of a different category and industry would really just stretch and challenge me. So that was why I decided to take the role with Seek.

What was your role there?

It was brand strategy manager. I had that role for the whole time I was there. My boss, her role was the one I would have wanted, but she had started there about a year and a half before me and was there about a year and a half after me, so there was nowhere for me to go. I had been on maternity leave with my second child, and I was going back at eight months and, about two weeks before I was due to start back, I had a phone call asking me if I was interested in a GM marketing job for MYOB. I had to think about it because it was in a category and an industry I hadn’t worked in.

So I made a few phone calls and did some research and got really excited because again I saw an opportunity to grow my career.

It’s interesting how you talk about choosing the brands you work for, rather than taking jobs.

I’ve never taken a job just because, ever. I’d rather not work than just take a job. And I’ve always said to myself if I’m ever unhappy, I’ve done waitressing so many times in my life, I’d rather pay the bills by waitressing than work on something that I don’t want to do. So I’ve been selective.

What does your current role at MYOB involve?

I’m the leader for marketing and positioning across the business, and I run a group marketing function, which covers about seven areas. There is the social media team, the corporate affairs and PR team and there is a project manager, an online team – that’s all our web digital marketing – and an internal agency.

So all of my team will generally do both the corporate work, but then all the go-to-market and insights and strategy work to support the four business divisions who will have their product marketing and go to marketing lead gen teams sitting within each division. So it’s quite an interesting corporate structure.

MYOB is currently making the transition from desktop to cloud, does this change how you approach marketing?

It certainly does. We have the spectrum [of customers] that are really into the cloud and they’re on live accounts and they love it, and the spectrum where they’ve been with us for a long time, been with us for 20 years, and they own their own store and they don’t really want to go to the cloud.

What do you think has been the highlight of your career so far?

It’s got to be working in Manhattan. I got to work on Downy’s 10-year strategy. So working [on a] 10-year global vision, getting to do all their training, going to Cincinnati to go and work on all this exciting stuff, living in Manhattan. I got to live where I wanted, but got to work on the company that I wanted to work on.

You make your career path sound effortless, but it can’t have been, right?

There are definitely times where, particularly as I tried to get into marketing at the start, you think, ‘Am I going to get there?’ I had to wait, but I went out to try and make it happen. So it’s that tenacity that you don’t give up and it’s not until you get there that you sit back and go, ‘I’m so glad I persisted.’