Interview: Rita Burgett-Martell


Name: Rita Burgett-Martell

Where do you live:
USA – Sausalito, California part of the year and Nashville, Tennessee part of the year.

Known for:
I am an expert in helping individuals and organizations manage change.

Currently working with:
I’ve owned my own consulting firm since 2001. Prior to starting my firm, I was a Managing Director of Organizational Change at KPMG Consulting Inc., and Oracle Corporation from 1996 to 2001. From 1984 to 1996 I founded and managed a transition center for women in Nashville, Tennessee called A Woman’s Place Inc., consulted with organizations who were restructuring and provided outplacement career counseling for individuals who were displaced.

When did you realize that you were going to work with this?
After I made significant changes in my own life and encountered lots of resistance and little support, I knew there were others who had similar experiences. I wanted to be able to provide support to individuals who desired a better life or had experienced an unexpected change that left them questioning if they have a future.

If you could choose one place only to live, where would that be and why?
Where I currently live in Sausalito. It is paradise. I live on the bay with panoramic views of San Francisco, one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

How would you describe your creativity?
I’m very resourceful. I love creating something that hasn’t existed before. I focus on possibilities instead of limits. I think every problem has a solution, you just may not have found it yet.

How and when did you start to work with this in a serious manner?
When I started college as an older student with two daughters and a husband, who wasn’t supportive of the changes I wanted to make, I had to figure out a way to make it happen. I experienced similar challenges when starting my own business after graduating from college, but the confidence I gained by overcoming the challenges to go back to school made it easier for me to overcome obstacles to founding and operating a successful business. I had to rely on my resourcefulness a few years later when presented with an opportunity to expand my business to California, where I knew no one. It seemed like an unobtainable goal, but because I remained focused on the outcome I wanted to create instead of the obstacles I would have to overcome, I achieved my goal.

What do you do at the moment?
I’m currently leading a change initiative for a client in Washington DC and teaching online Business Transformation courses for Cambridge Corporate University. I’ve recently published my second book, Defining Moments: Seizing Second Chances to Create the Life You Want. My first book, Change Ready! How to Transform Change Resistance to Change Readiness, was published in 2012. Also, I’ve been asked to be the keynote speaker at the Transform Pakistan Summit in Karachi at the end of May.

A recommendation for those who think about starting and running a creative business?
Keep in mind that it is a business. You will either have to spend your time taking care of the non-creative and mundane aspects of operating a business or pay someone to do them for you. I believe the people who are the most successfully are the ones who focus on their talents and pay someone else to take care of the details of business operation.

Tell us how it all started.
My first business was A Woman’s Place Inc., in Nashville. We offered workshops for women who wanted to make positive changes. The center also included a small book store where we sold books on self-improvement and women’s issues. I couldn’t get a business loan so I sold my car to raise the startup capital and leased a car. I believed my business would produce enough revenue to pay the monthly lease payment. Because my car was paid for, I saw it as an asset I could turn into cash. I used most of my startup capital to pay two month’s rent on office space in an upscale shopping center. The location had a lot of visibility so I didn’t have to spend as much money on advertising. The location was an important factor in my success. After operating the business successfully for a year, I was able to get a bank loan to expand. It’s very difficult for a new business to borrow money.

To get publicity, I contacted the local newspaper and radio and TV talk shows. I was invited to be a guest to discuss issues facing women and the challenges of change. I became a regular guest on both the radio and TV shows and was soon seen as an “expert” on women’s issues and on change. I wrote a few articles and was asked to write a regular column called “The Nashville Woman” for the local paper. My business was unique and I was different. I looked feminine and led a very traditional life as wife and mother. But, the message I communicated and my philosophy was considered to be that of a radical feminist. This dichotomy made me more interesting to the media, and taught me the value of being authentic.

I was soon asked to give talks to women’s groups. When someone offered me an honorarium, I realized I could make money speaking. I started promoting myself as a speaker and developed a speaking business targeting conventions and association meetings being held in Nashville.

Organizations were just beginning to offer leadership classes to their female employees. Because I had become known as an “expert” on women’s issues in Nashville, I was asked by Nissan to do a series of women’s leadership sessions. I didn’t know a lot about the topic of leadership but thought I could do my research and come up with a workshop, so of course I said yes. Other corporations followed Nissan’s lead and that opened the door for me to add corporate training as another revenue stream. I would always say “yes” if asked to do something I had never done before. I soon developed an organizational training and consulting business in addition to the women’s center and bookstore.

The speaking and training business led to opportunities outside of Nashville. My first trip to San Francisco was in 1990. I immediately had the feeling that San Francisco was where I was supposed to be. I couldn’t imagine how I could make it happen, but knew that somehow I would. I got a mailbox and voicemail so I could have a west coast presence and started talking about my west coast office, which of course didn’t exist. In 1992 I was offered a 3 month consulting contract and the rest is history. My move to California, just like returning to college as an adult student, totally changed my life. Since then, I’ve been around the world twice and worked with senior executives, of the world’s largest corporations in multiple countries and across a wide variety of industries, to lead global change initiatives affecting thousands of employees.

What is the most important thing in a workplace/studio for you?
I need to be surrounded by beauty. I must have a window or be able to be outdoors. I always write while sitting on my balcony, unless weather doesn’t permit, and then I choose to be in front of the fireplace. My environment is very important to me.

What is your favorite film?
Educating Rita. I believe it came out in the late 80’s and was so similar to my story and the main character even had my name.

Who would you like to invite for a dinner and why?
Oprah Winfrey. We are both from the south and have overcome so many obstacles to be where we are today. She has made such a difference in the world. Also, Hillary Clinton. We would have so much to talk about. A dinner with both of them could go on forever and would be so exhilarating.

How do you like to spoil yourself?
A massage and/or day at a Spa.

What is luxury for you?
Flying first class. Drinking great Champagne. Having a hot stone massage while listening to beautiful music. Driving up or down the California Coast in my Jag convertible with the top down and music playing.

What is the nicest compliment you’ve received for your creative work, and from whom?
A woman at one of my speaking engagements told me that she liked me because I made her feel better about herself. Another younger woman said she wanted to be me when she got older. Another one said that my story motivated her to return to college. She later graduated from law school. Someone just told me that they carry my new book with them on their Kindle and read highlighted passages every day. That sent chills down my spine.

What do you fear most?
Delaying what I want to do next until it becomes too late to do it.

What is a happy life to you?
Always having something new to experience – new people, places, projects etc. Having interesting people to spend time with. Maintaining a balance between work and play and between family and work. Spending time with my two daughters and granddaughter. They are amazing women.

What does a regular day look like for you?
It’s a combination of writing, working with my client, teaching a class and enjoying wine and cheese at sunset with my husband – either on our balcony in Sausalito or from our deck on the lake at our home in Nashville.

Tell us about your dream project.
Opening and operating a retreat center in Hawaii for individuals who are at a crossroad and need support in deciding what’s next.

Who is your professional role model/inspiration?
Oprah Winfrey.

How would you describe your work style (academic field or fashion style, or both, or something entirely different)?
I like to make work fun because I believe that stimulates creativity, but I’m also very disciplined and have no problem focusing on what needs to be done. I also like to have the flexibility to work when I want to and avoid a rigid 9 to 5 schedule when possible. I can start writing or giving a speech and totally lose track of time. If I’m alone and writing, I always have music playing in the background.

Which is the one thing you can’t live without?
Living in a place where I am surrounded by beauty.

What inspires you?
Hearing stories about individuals who accomplished something they once thought impossible.

A book that has changed/made the most impression in your life?
The Power of Positive Thinking by Dr. Norman Vincent Peale. After I read that book, I realized that where I came from didn’t limit how far I could go. My only limits were my fears, and the only way to conquer those was to take action. I had the power to create the life I desired and the courage to take that first step that opened the door to unlimited opportunities.

Connect with Rita via LinkedIn
Visit her website & blog
Read more about her & visit her Author Page on Amazon

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