Maree Ferguson gave up her secure, well-paying job and followed her dream by starting her own business – Dietitian Connection. Now, Maree reflects on the journey that led her to where she is today, and shares her thoughts on being a leader in the dietetics industry.

What made you step up and found Dietitian Connection, pushing you into a leadership role in your profession?

Maree: In the back of my mind, I always thought of starting my own business, but I never had the courage to take the big leap. This was mainly because I was afraid of giving up a secure, well-paid job that I enjoyed in exchange for the unknown — and a high probability of failure.

In 2011, I took a few weeks’ holiday, and ticked off one of my bucket-list items: an Alaskan cruise and Rocky Mountaineer train trip, across the most beautiful parts of Canada. The trip gave me much-needed time out to ponder what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. The other big driver in this quest to determine my future destiny: at that time, the big 4-0 birthday was approaching quickly.

My trip culminated in attending the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ conference in San Diego, perfectly timed to coincide with the last Alaskan cruise of the season! I love to attend the American dietetics conference every year, as I find the keynote speakers so motivational and inspirational. This year’s speaker was Jack Canfield, best-selling author of the “Chicken Soup for the Soul” series and “The Success Principles – How to Get from Where You are to Where You Want to Be”.

His presentation changed my life. I then decided that I was going to start my own business. I didn’t want to reach the end of my life regretting the fact that I never had the courage to realise a dream.

I am passionate about dietetics, and enjoy nothing more than seeing young dietitians grow and be successful in their chosen niche. Hence, Dietitian Connection was born. My vision through DC is to inspire and empower dietitians to realise their dreams.

Who’s a leader you admire?

Maree: I have admired Professor Sandra Capra, my PhD supervisor, for more than two decades. Sandra has had the most significant impact on my career of any leader.

Here’s four reasons why, for starters:

    • In Australia, Sandra has inspired a nation of dietitians. What’s more, in her role as President of ICDA, she has motivated and led dietitians worldwide.
    • Sandra is forward-thinking, innovative, challenges the status quo, has an opinion, and creates debate and discussion for the greater good of our profession.
    • I’ve yet to meet another dietitian with the breadth and depth of Sandra’s dietetic knowledge.
    • On a personal level, I used to look at Sandra and wish I was a dynamic, charismatic and extroverted leader like her. It’s only in recent years that I have realised you can also be a leader as an introvert. This was a key learning for me.

What is the most difficult part of being a leader?

Maree: Being vulnerable, putting yourself out there and believing in your convictions – even in the face of negative criticism (I highly recommend reading Brene Brown’s books to help with this).

Sometimes you also get things wrong. It takes courage to admit your failures, but I believe it’s important to do so – in that way, others can learn from your mistakes, too, and hopefully not replicate them.

How do you measure your own success as a leader?

Maree: When I see the successes and amazing work of dietitians I have the pleasure of working with, that tells me I too have found success as a leader.