The millennial making a global impact

We talk with Holly Ransom, a young entrepreneur who has clearly earned her spot on the global stage

SOME PEOPLE are born leaders, and Holly Ransom is one of them.

At 26 years old she runs her own company, was the youngest person to be named in Australia’s ‘100 Most Influential Women’, is Chair of the G20 Youth Summit, Co-Chair of the UN’s Global Coalition of Young Women Entrepreneurs and the youngest Director appointed to the Board of an AFL Football Club.

She was recently appointed a trustee of The Prince Charities Australia (for His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales’s charitable endeavours in Australia), has presented at the British Chamber of commerce in London, and just weeks ago was speaking alongside Richard Branson to 650 innovators in London for the latest Virgin Distruptors event.

While the Melbourne-based CEO admits to being an extrovert and “insatiably curious”, she says there were two significant moments in her childhood which she attributes to her success today.

“When I was really young I was shopping with my Grandma and this guy was yelling at a girl behind the counter because she game him the wrong change and my five foot grandmother put herself between them and said, ‘how dare you talk to that young woman like that, now you apologise’.

“He almost ran out of the supermarket! I didn’t anticipate that she would challenge him and she said to me if you walk past it, you tell the world it’s ok. That was a formative moment.”

She says two of her teachers also had a big impact on her.

“When I was about ten there was a guy begging for money and I walked up and asked him what he was doing and he said I want to earn enough money for a feed and a roof and he had four dollars. It was raining that night and I thought why by lottery of birth do I have a roof over my head, and food, and he doesn’t?

“I went to school the next day and went straight to the principal and talked to him about it and he and my Grade Five teacher were game-changes. They took my concerns seriously and helped me come up with a solution to do a food drive and collect cans, which we donated and I realised you can do something about it. That’s underpinned everything I’ve done going forward.”

After high school, Ransom decided to study law and politics at The University of Western Australia because she wanted to understand how the system worked.

“I didn’t really enjoy it and found the trappings of theory frustrating, so at 19 as well as studying, I worked as a paralegal and dabbled in my own business on the side.” She says while it meant she wasn’t socialising in the traditional sense like most of her university colleagues, she enjoyed being with like-minded people.

“The great nature of volunteering is that they were my tribe and the joy was the friendships you made .. you connect with amazing people and you don’t feel like you’re trading anything off. You get the best of both worlds.”

That business she founded, formed the basis of Emergent, the company she runs today, which works with leaders, organisations and governments globally, who want to set the benchmark and be frontiers of change and innovation.

“I think there’s now an awareness from a change stand point it’s not just about the need to talk about technology, it’s about understanding behavioural change and people are realising 60 – 80% of leaders are going to be retired in the next five to ten years and how do we need to change things and what do we need to be doing.”

Of everything she’s achieved in her short career, Ransom says her proudest moment was when the Australian Prime Minister appointed her to chair the G20 Youth Summit in 2014.

“Setting a goal to say can we actually influence leaders  … and the journey against odds, having no experience in chairing that summit, but mobilising this team of young people across the world to produce those results was incredible.

“When they read the declaration and we’d succeeded in getting youth unemployment in the plan .. the first summit to secure its policy demands from world leaders … was so emotional and that’s an incredible example of what can happen when people believe in their ability to influence and pursue.”

She concedes making change isn’t easy, but says if you follow what you truly believe it can happen.

“I quit my job to focus on that role and spent three months living on a friend’s couch because I needed to be working full time volunteering to make that work. When it’s something I believe in I’ll take a punt on it and ask for support to make that happen.”

She says that’s one of the biggest mistakes young people make, not being brave enough to ask.

“There were so many times as a young leader that it was only the kindness of someone saying we’ll cover your flights or pay your registration fee that I could do it.”

She says all too often we expect people to just innately know what we want.

“The worst that can happen is they say no, but I believe if you paint a good reason … and don’t ask for time until you have enough questions for them, don’t waste people’s time.”

Ransom says it’s also vital to keep across trends and valuable networking opportunities.

“Get exposed to thought leaders and stay tapped into a community so you’re not isolated to the team you’re working in, and the business… our world is more connected than ever so it’s pivotal to ensure you’re sharing.”

Ransom says it’s important to sit down and write down what you want to achieve and how to get there.

“Write down what your definition of success is. Mine was to spend time with people I love, have the privilege to do work which will outlive me, the freedom to choose work I do and the ability to challenge and grow and learn. When I looked at those four things I wanted to go into my own business and that’s why I pushed that.”

She says it isn’t always plain sailing, but “approach the right people, don’t make it formal, just have a coffee and then ask for it to be more regular”.

“Don’t think for a second I wasn’t terrified when I started my business … you do think ‘can this work’ or ‘am I crazy’, but it’s encouraging when you see validation from people you admire who want to work together and that’s one of greatest things.”

Ransom’s now working on her first book because she says she “wanted something which shares the lessons from someone who is on the road, not someone who has made it”.

While most of us would agree she’s already well and truly made it, she says she’s still in the trenches trying to work it out and for her, it’s not about how many bullet points you have on your CV.

“I just hope I can be like my Grandmother. She’s one of my biggest supporters and she’s interested and has joined all the social media platforms .. and she’s a great sounding board too and a great person to talk about the world.

“I feel so grateful for the continual example she is – her integrity and how you live and treat people. I like to think she’s proud, and if I can be even a fraction of the person she is, then I’m happy with that.”