A trailblazer for women in tech, CEO and Founder of VERSA, Kath Blackham, has been named Media Executive of the Year at the virtual 2020 Executive of the Year Awards.
With nearly 20 years of experience garnered over a career in tech solutions, Kath is a powerhouse, who heralds innovation as a means of changing the world. Not only that, Kath is also a leader fiercely committed to cultivating a supportive and happy environment for her employees.
"I’m super grateful for the recognition," she says. "I didn’t expect to win at all! It’s a huge honour. I am so genuinely impressed by the number of females that were recognised this year, and it should not be underestimated at any level within the wider community the impact that has. It’s exciting because the tide is changing!"
Having worked in market research at TNS and Red Sheriff followed by product management at SEEK, realestate.com.au and BlueFreeway, in 2010, Kath put her years of industry knowledge and skills to the ultimate test and founded her own full-service digital agency. The leap of faith paid off, and before long the company had grown into one of Australia’s largest independent digital experience and design agencies.
In 2017, Kath took the business to the next level, spearheading the creation of Australia’s first enterprise-level voice experience agency, VERSA. Only three short years on, VERSA is renowned as one of the world’s leading conversational artificial intelligence platforms, allowing companies to have intuitive, meaningful and tailored AI conversations with customers.
"Voice and conversational AI are rapidly emerging technologies that are transforming searches, purchases and payments, entertainment and customer experiences," Kath says. "And VERSA is leading the way in enabling its application. I drive an agency culture of innovation, diversity, inclusion and collaboration, and have transformed our business from a digital agency into a highly specialised business with world-leading expertise in emerging tech."
"Our innovation delivers industry firsts for clients and an unrivalled culture for our team." – Kath Blackham
"My life’s work is to use VERSA as a platform to move the needles on the things that I’m most passionate about," she says. "And that is mental health in the workplace, gender diversity and using technology for good. I want a really healthy business at the same time as changing the world."
Determined to take VERSA to every corner of the globe, the business now has teams in Sydney, the US, Singapore, Japan, India, Nicaragua and New Zealand. With a range of talented employees who speak numerous languages and have diverse skill sets as innovators, consultants, designers, technologists and communications experts, VERSA’s potential client base is ever expanding.
A firm believer in the power of supporting employees, Kath is particularly proud to have implemented a company-wide flexible four-day work week in a bid to improve mental health. As a leader, Kath wanted to make her duty of care for her employees a top priority for the company, and made headlines around the industry for doing so. She explains that as a result of the shortened time in the office, staff are healthier, happier and more efficient, with retention up and sick days down. Their profits have tripled, and revenue has grown by 46%.
"These strategies we’ve put in place are really helping people," she explains. "It’s about a culture of support. It’s really important to me that we’re working to destigmatise mental health in the workplace, and we should be talking about this all the time. When I started my own agency, I felt so passionately about the fact that business could be done a different way – that we could be kinder to people and be better at dealing with mental health at the same time as being a successful company. Winning this award has helped provide me with a platform and the confidence to go and get my message out there. Because there are so many people that think that if you do this, you won’t be as successful as the next company, and that is simply not true."
In addition, Kath has instigated a vast gamut of schemes that put mental health and gender equality at the forefront, including extensive care for parents, with a policy that heralds work–life flexibility and dogs as support tools. It’s hardly surprising that in 2019 FAST Company included VERSA in its global list of Best Workplaces for Innovators.
From here, the sky is the limit for VERSA, with Kath unafraid to set high goals for the business she so proudly founded. And given her immense passion for what she does and her drive to continue changing the world through technology, there’s no telling what the company can achieve.
"Our innovation delivers industry firsts for clients and an unrivalled culture for our team," she shares. "My vision is to be a global leader in emerging technology, and while currently that is focused on voice, as the tech evolves, so will VERSA. I have every intention to be the best conversational tech company in the world."