How an MBA education is playing it's part in Craig's leadership journey after a professional global ballet career.

  • Location: Queensland
  • Industry: Arts & Media
  • Job Function: Operations
  • Programme: MBA
  • Motivation: Develop knowledge and skills
  • Year of Graduation: 2023

We spoke with AIB MBA student Craig Cathcart, Head of Artistic Operations at Queensland Ballet, to find out more about his life after a professional ballet career and how his journey has led him to the path of leadership.

At the age of 5, Craig started ballet lessons and by 15 he had commenced his full-time training at the Australian Ballet School in Melbourne. From 18 years old, Craig joined The Australian Ballet for the next 8 years as a professional ballet dancer.

“As a ballet dancer, you really have to find the moments where your life isn’t your work. This is almost impossible, when everything you do, affects the way you perform and evolve as an Artist. It’s all-consuming and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.”

Looking for his next challenge, and the opportunity to take his career global, Craig joined the Norwegian National Ballet. After 7 more years, and a body that was ready for a break, he found himself needing to find a new career. With a love for learning, he decided a natural next step was to study a degree in Arts Management. “It was so strange, at the time, I didn’t really know why I chose an arts degree. As is the case for every professional dancer, comes the moment your body doesn’t allow you to perform at an elite level and you need to consider a new career. I just allowed myself to learn something new. Looking back, it was totally fortuitous.”

Around the time Craig retired, there was no real path or support for retiring dancers. “When I returned home to Sydney, my only option was to teach ballet and work in retail, but it was such a struggle to pay rent and keep up with life’s demands.”

Craig accepted an invitation to apply for the role of Company Manager by Artistic Director, Li Cunxin AO at Queensland Ballet, who put him forward for the role at the Brisbane-based ballet company. He’s been there 7 years now and currently working with Li as Head of Artistic Operations overseeing the strategic planning of the company’s world-class productions and the Artistic administration of his team. “I never really sought out a career in arts management, honestly, I just fell into it. It feels so familiar somehow being around the artform I’m so passionate about. I love it!”

We took the opportunity to delve deeper and find out more about Craig’s motivations behind starting an MBA.

You’re 3 units into the course, how are you finding it?

I had started a masters with another institution but wasn’t happy with the experience, so I transferred to AIB and received credits for the subjects I had undertaken.

I love AIB it’s just the most enjoyable learning experience. The teachers are so generous with their time and the OLFs are genuinely dedicated to helping us learn. If you email them with a question, they almost instantly get back to you and I just haven’t experienced that with any other educational institution. It’s nice to feel so supported.

Why did you feel the need to do an MBA?

Well, a pay rise, a bigger title, and more responsibility all of those things for me, are sure “nice to have” but they weren’t my motivator for doing an MBA. Ultimately when it comes down to it, I just love to learn, simple. I’m fascinated by how things work and bettering myself with more knowledge. I enjoy being lost in the process, figuring my way out, and feeling like I’m part of something bigger.

Another motivator is that I didn’t want to be seen as ‘just’ the ex-ballet dancer at the meeting room table. In a sense, I wanted to have the ‘books behind the ballet dancer”, and feel a bit more empowered. For me, it is critical to learn more about key areas of the business that I am involved with like governance, finance, marketing, and HR, to have a more well-rounded view with some sort of credibility.

What were your fears before starting the MBA, and what advice do you have for anyone feeling the same?

How massive it sounded. I thought this is going to be a lot of work outside full-time work. But now that I’m in it, while it’s an intense program because it is so targeted, with specific well-structured content, it’s much more manageable than I thought.

To anyone concerned about the same, I’d say, just don’t fear. You can take it at your own pace, and I honestly can’t believe how much AIB is there to support you.

What attracted you to management?

While I did fall into management, thinking about it now, it really does align well with my strengths. Perhaps even more so than being a dancer.

Honestly, I like telling people what to do and seeing people shine, but equally, I like having feedback to be a better manager, so I can better service my work. A bit like a car, it runs better when it has a full tank.

I’m also very organised and I like to understand how all the parts come together. It feels like home somehow, and it just makes sense to me.

How do you instil leadership in your role every day?  

First and foremost, through kindness and a willingness to listen. It’s about demonstrating your passion and having an ability to work in a team, valuing each other’s contribution. With a quiet ambition to serve the vision of the company.

What do you feel your studies have done for you so far?

The way I approach my own work has changed a lot already. I’m looking at it through a whole new lens and trying to use that knowledge. By adding this extra layer, I feel much more confident in the way I’m approaching my work.

Here at AIB, it’s the people that make us who we are, and we share their stories, because not only are these incredible people but they are a source of inspiration to those studying or considering it. And there is no doubt, that a master’s degree is hard work but with determination and will, just like Craig we can all be on our way to achieving our goals.