Passion, Persistence and Progression with Katie Matten

From kicking the footy in her backyard in Broken Hill to heading up RATIONALE’s esteemed Global Education Team, Katie Matten’s career trajectory is nothing short of remarkable. Here, we follow her journey from beauty-obsessed country girl to opening RATIONALE Flagships across the world—with a few serendipitous encounters with Richard Parker in between.

Hi, I'm Siobhan Wilkins, General Manager of Strategy at RATIONALE. Today, I have the honour of turning the mic on to our very own host, the marvellous Katie Matten. Her story is too good not to tell, and this is an interview you won't want to miss. A RATIONALE Client for 16 years, Katie joined the brand six years ago, first starting as a Flagship Manager before progressing up the ladder to her current role as Head of Education with an Advanced Diploma in Dermal Science.

Welcome to your podcast, Miss Matten. So, we all want to know what was it like growing up in Broken Hill?
Broken Hill's a funny place. It's known as a bit of a sleepy mining town, but depending on what's happening with the mines, it can really determine what the town feels like. It can be really exciting, or it can be kind of dead. But it was amazing. It was a safe place growing up. We never locked our front doors. We ended up at the neighbours most afternoons after school. It was a very kind of community-friendly place to be, so I wouldn't have it any other way.

Amazing. And what was your relationship like, particularly to the sun and to that environment growing up? What did you know about sun protection and the skin?
Thankfully, I've got my mother's genes, which is a bit of a Catch-22: she's as fair as me, but as prickly as me. She had a skin cancer removed on her lip when she was about 28, so she had worn lipstick for as long as I can remember.
So, I knew that SPF was the key to not getting skin cancer, but also keeping the freckles a little bit lighter. I kind of followed mum's journey into skincare. And I remember on my 13th birthday, I got that trifecta of Estée Lauder. It was the Cleanser, Toner and Moisturiser, and that was from mum. That kind of really kicked things off for the career that was to come.

Talk us through the journey from Broken Hill through to Sydney?
When I was 17, I left Broken Hill to study beauty. I was young finishing my HSC, so I packed up everything and moved to Adelaide as we have some family there. I did my Diploma of Beauty Therapy there. I worked part-time and really that was just about learning the industry. There was no beauty clinic or spa or business in Broken Hill that I thought I could learn from. They were all very waxing, tinting, tanning-focussed, and I wanted to explore the field of skin. I wanted to be a doctor when I was in Year 12, and I didn't quite get the marks to get there. So, then I wanted to explore what I could do in that skin field without having a medical degree.
I was working part-time and I interviewed for Myer as my first role in their beautiful spas as their beauty therapist. They only had one person and I was doing all the things: I was the brow go-to for a few months, then an amazing opportunity came up in Hyde Park.
I had two really amazing mentors who were about a decade older than me. Two incredible women who I'm still friends with to this day and they really taught me the importance of customer service beyond your hard skillset. So very early on, I was 18, I learnt the balance of both soft and hard skills.
I worked with them for about five years and I got a bit of an itch. I'd learnt so much and I just started putting my résumé into anyone who would be willing to meet with me from Sydney. I did a stint in Broken Hill at the Day Spa there in preparation for Sydney. I remember being out the front with my brother kicking the footy, and I got a phone call from one of Sydney's best brow artists—she was servicing all the A-listers in Sydney—and I was like, “Oh my God, imagine if I got this job!”
She said to me—I'll never forget it—I need to interview tomorrow. I went inside and booked a Regional Express one-way flight to Sydney, which cost me about $5000 at the time. I met with her the next afternoon, and she offered me the job that night when I was sitting at the airport waiting to go back to Broken Hill. She said, “I need you here in 48 hours if you want this role.” I lied to my parents, which I don't think they'll ever get over. I packed up my things and I cried the whole way to the airport.

You obviously had such a drive about wanting to be a doctor originally and your mother's experience. But what was the specific driver into beauty?
It was a combination of things. Seeing mum made up every single day was quite aspirational in itself. I learnt later that it was because she had the skin cancer removed, and thankfully it never eventuated into anything more sinister. So, I knew that protecting my skin was something I needed to do from very early on.

Having sensitised skin, I had to be really careful what I put on because sometimes even water would sting. And that was really the first conversation that Richard Parker and I ever had.
We first met randomly when I was living in Broken Hill. RATIONALE was stocked in the day spa in Broken Hill, and when I did that few-month stint between Adelaide and Sydney, that's where I was first introduced to RATIONALE. I was 18 or 19.

So, this kind of leads to a very fortuitous couple of events with Richard. Actually, you had a few more brushes with him over the years before you thought about entering the brand. Can you talk us through some of those incredible interactions?
Then first one was when I was working in Broken Hill. He did an education session to the team that was working there, and then I moved to Sydney. I was working on Queen Street, Woollahra, and RATIONALE opened down the road. I was walking past and thought, “Oh, that's the brand that was stocked in Broken Hill.”
I'd only used one or two Formulations, but I knew they were amazing. I knew they were powerful. So, I was like, okay, these guys are the experts. And this beautiful Flagship opened. They were having a celebration on their launch day. I saw Richard Parker in there and walked in, and he remembered me from Broken Hill. He'd spoken about the water, my sensitivity, my dermatitis, and he sat me down and said, “Darling, you need to use this and only this. For three months. Then we can introduce everything else.” I walked away going, okay, I'm going to do this and only this.
In three days, I had a different skin. It still gives me tingles thinking about it. I had a red, irritated, dull complexion and then 72-hours later I was creamy and luminous. It was so quick. So that immediately put real confidence in me to look into the brand and see what else I could use for my own skin.

You stepped in as Flagship Manager at RATIONALE Mosman. Talk us through the highs and the lows of opening your Flagship and what that meant. How did you build that Client?
Rapport and waitlist. We were lucky that Woollahra was very busy. They were thriving in the East and so we had a number of Clients on the North Shore who were ready and waiting on day one to come in. We had a couple of really big weeks and I learnt very quickly that the customer service was equally as important as getting results for the Client, because there's a lot of good skincare brands who do good facials, but we needed to really be the best at all of those things.
I made sure that the brand-new team we had there was giving the most wonderful Client experience every single time, and if it wasn't the best facial of their life, they weren't doing a paid Client. And every single Therapist needed to go through that extensive training and onboarding before servicing any paid Client.

Your dedication to education, there's a hint there as to what you would go on to do. You stepped into a Regional Manager role and again made a huge move. You left sunny Sydney for grey Melbourne. Can you talk us through the decision to pick your whole life up and move states again?
Sham [RATIONALE CEO] came to visit and she took me for lunch and said, “There's a regional opportunity in Victoria and New South Wales. There's someone we have in mind for New South Wales. Would you move to Melbourne?” And I don’t think she even finished the sentence. I said, “Absolutely, yes.” So, I ended my Sydney life, I did that 11-hour drive, slept on my friend's lounge for a couple of nights, found a rental, and then I was straight into the Regional Manager role for Victoria.

I don't think many people know that aside from being the Head of Education, you actually play a very large role in New Product Development and RATIONALE. It's a bit of a secret power of yours. Could you talk us through how you arrived at playing such a role?
I think the more time I spent in Flagship with the Teams, and through my own experience in training skin, we were able to identify there were some Formulations missing to be able to treat all skin types. So, in the last few years we've been able to introduce more Formulations that mean Teams can really recommend something from each Collection to everyone.
Conversations with our Senior Therapists and Managers—and even our newest employees—and getting their feedback has been really instrumental in shaping what our new Formulations have been over the last few years—and what will continue to come. Normally what happens is there's a gap that's been identified and I sit down with Richard over coffee and decide what should go in that Formulation. What is the delivery system? Then we sit down with the Research Team and talk about how we can bring that to life, what innovation will be required. Then we hand it over to the Research Team to create the magic and any prototype that comes from that, I will test in trial on my own skin along the way until we get it right.

If you had to give one piece of advice to a Therapist that's just starting out a RATIONALE, what would it be?
I would say, put your hand up for everything: exposure and connection. Sometimes it's doing the hard thing. If it's staying late for a Client, coming in early for a Client, at the end of the day, the Client comes first and we need to do whatever we can to make sure that they are well looked after and coming back. Sometimes that means sending my team on a plane with 24-hours notice. I think it's the opportunity and not being scared to jump in with two feet, even if you think you're not ready.