Get to Know: Business Coach Maree Ferguson

An internationally renowned nutrition and dietetics expert, Maree Ferguson is the Founder and Director of Dietitian Connection. With comprehensive experience in leading Australian and international nutrition and healthcare organisations, Maree has a unique blend of skills in business, marketing, research and management.  

Previously Maree was the Director of Nutrition and Dietetics at the Princess Alexandra Hospital, where she successfully led a team of more than 30 dietitians. Before that, Maree was a Senior Research Scientist at Abbott Nutrition in the United States. She received worldwide acclaim for developing the Malnutrition Screening Tool to identify patients at risk of malnutrition; which is now used in hundreds of hospitals globally.  

Maree has held leadership positions within the Dietitians Association of Australia, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly American Dietetic Association), and the International Confederation of Dietetic Associations. An invited speaker at national and international conferences, she has received more than $2 million in research grant funding, and authored over 30 peer-reviewed journal articles. Maree is a reviewer for many international nutrition and dietetics journals. 

Highly lauded both professionally and personally, Maree’s accolades include the DAA National Award of Merit and the President’s innovation Award; the prestigious DAA Barbara Chester Award; and an Australia Day Achievement Award. 

Maree received her Graduate Diploma of Nutrition and Dietetics and Doctoral degrees from Queensland University of Technology and Masters in Business Administration from Franklin University in the USA.

 

My experience with using a personal coach

From age five through to today, I’ve been lucky enough to have a series of highly influential personal coaches impact my life. Each different, and each imparting a unique lesson, they collectively have changed me for the better and helped me hone my focus and my passions. 

Here are their stories. 

I remember, clear as a bell, my first experience with a personal coach. His name was Mr McMahon. 

At the age of about five, he threw me in the deep end of his backyard swimming pool in suburban Brisbane with a sink or swim philosophy. Luckily, I swam! 

He went on to teach me the correct swimming strokes, which culminated in first place and setting a record in the Ipswich 100m backstroke (not quite the Olympic record I was hoping for!). 

More importantly, he taught me many life lessons, in particular the importance of practice, practice and then practice some more, in many long sessions looking at the sky or a black line at the bottom of a pool. 

Many years later, I was extremely fortunate to have Professor Sandra Capra as my PhD supervisor. Sandra provided me with inspiration, motivation and encouragement; along with high expectations and sometimes brutal, honest, constructive criticism (tough love!). And, when I had a meltdown, complete with tears, towards the end (thinking my PhD would not be accepted), she opened up her home to me. 

The result was a malnutrition screening tool that is being used in hospitals worldwide, and what some would call “two PhDs”, but a rewarding experience that led to an international job offer. 

My next influential coach was David Brincks, who worked as a Business Development Manger at Abbott Nutrition in the USA. Dave’s support and belief in me so early in my career boosted my self-confidence, which contributed to a number of professional accomplishments at Abbott, far beyond my wildest imagination. 

Dave also motivated and challenged me to go beyond my comfort zone on many occasions, leading to positive results. Dave and I had such an amazing coaching relationship that, based on this, he decided to leave his day job and become a professional coach himself. And luckily for me, after more than ten years, he has recently agreed to take me on again and is helping me steer the path forward for Dietitian Connection. 

I was fortunate to work with Carl Butler as my coach at Queensland Health. Carl provided me with all the tools necessary to set the foundations and framework for successful management. He was a sounding board for advice on challenging situations and highlighted my blind spots. 

Carl also helped me to trust my gut when making important decisions. The outcome was a highly successful outcomes-oriented nutrition and dietetics department. 

Sandra, Dave and Carl have become lifelong mentors. Before any major career decision, I still contact them for advice, which often means they ask me to think outside the box and look at things from another perspective that I had not thought of myself. 

What do all of these coaches have in common when fostering a coaching relationship? 

Inspiration, motivation, support, confidence, honesty, loyalty, confidentiality, high standards, questioning approach, reflective practice and constructive criticism. 

Now, as a personal coach myself, I hope to emulate these great role models and provide a supportive and encouraging experience that helps my “coachees” confidently excel in their chosen passions, while surpassing their dreams.