Think HBR

Stephanie Mortel

On the Job Mortel web
1. What is your current role?
I am a co-owner of Mortels Sheepskin Factory along with my husband Tony. If and when I’m required to
give a position or title on any documents that would be General Manager as I generally manage most
things. As most small business owners do, we become skilled in accounting, marketing and sales, intellectual
property law, HR, WH&S, product development and innovation, graphic art, website development
and the list goes on. Having said that, I don’t sew and my company does a considerable amount of that.
2. Tell us about your career path?
After leaving school I obtained my commercial pilot’s licence but rather than pursue a career in this field I
married my high school sweetheart and diverted into accountancy. Tony’s parents had closed their family
business to retire and Tony thought it was a shame to let a somewhat unique business go. He decided
he would start “Mortels” up again, maybe give it ago for a few months or years, just in the interim until he
found alternate employment in a field of interest having just left his previous place of employment. I left
accountancy and joined my husband in the business full time maybe 6 months after he got started and
that was 21 years ago. I guess we’re both still trying to work out what we want to do with ourselves when
we grow up.
3. What motivates you in your job?
Change and winning. You’ve heard the expression “change is as good as a holiday”, well that being the
case, I take many holidays. I am driven to change whether it be something small such as how an existing
product is constructed or a larger project such as opening or building new premises. And, when my
changes are successful I have won. If sales increase, productivity increase, costs have decreased and profit
increases then I’ve won. If I experience a set-back or failure I’ve still won as greater strength and new
direction and opportunities arise from this. My 12 year old son posed this question to me recently “If I set
out to fail and I succeed in doing so, what have I achieved?” I will be keeping an eye on that boy.
4. How do you spend your weekends?
I have 3 children … the eldest does now have a driver’s licence so I’m only a taxi for two. Throughout the
year many of my weekends are consumed with cheerleading (daughter not me that is a cheerleader)
and the next competition wherever that may be, local, national and now international. I avoid working
weekends in summer in favour of taking kids to the Bay or enjoying quiet time at home but in winter I
work most Saturdays in one of the stores as does my husband and eldest two kids, that is when I’m not
required to be hairdresser, make-up artist, taxi and ATM at a cheerleading competition. Sometimes I can
get a little ride in on my motorbike on a Sunday but only when the weather is fabulous, not too hot, not
too cold and certainly no rain or gale force winds.
5. Do you have a special Hunter restaurant?
I like the Fox Bar in High Street, Maitland, a great place to go without kids. The atmosphere is warm and
inviting, the meals are superb, the staff are welcoming and engaging and the owner is most entertaining
with a story or two should the evening progress that way. I like 3 Monkeys in Darby St, Newcastle, a
fabulous boutique cafe that my teenage kids and I enjoy frequently. We love the food, the vast smoothies
and frappes selection, and the relaxed friendly atmosphere.
6. Of anyone in the world, who would you invite to a dinner party?
I believe a dinner party should be entertaining and fun. I don’t want to talk business, politics or religion
and I don’t want to be inspired or motivated, I want to laugh. Therefore I would invite a person of great
wit and of enormous humour and character and the first person that comes to mind is Robin Williams.
The second person that comes to mind is Jim Carrey as even silliness is entertaining.
7. Tell us something that people would never know about you.
A few years ago when I was 20, one very dark cloudy night, Sydney Air Traffic Control telephoned my
mother to inform her that my husband and I would be arriving late for her lamb roast due to diverting
landing fields from Maitland to Cessnock because of heavy cloud cover in Maitland and ultimately
causing a delay in our arrival. What they didn’t tell her though was on our final approach, the aircraft
that I was piloting undercarriage was not locked for landing and as such I was circling the airfield for
approximately 2 hours to burn fuel in preparation for a possible belly-flop landing. Anyway once I
had successfully landed, emergency services and police approached the aircraft and proceeded to
“interrogate” my husband, asking for his pilot licence details and flying experience in which he happily
replied “Geez no, I don’t have a pilot’s licence.”
8. Where do you see our region in twenty years’ time?
Hopefully in the rear vision mirror of my Winnebago as I join the world of silver nomads. But when
it is not always about me; commercial, industrial and residential developments, employment and
infrastructure will continue to grow and thrive in Maitland, Lake Macquarie and Newcastle’s population
will continue to age and maybe one day realise that marginal political seats may benefit them in terms
of infrastructure and private and business capital developments and investments which will ultimately
bring back a balance to the demographics, Port Stephens will not change too much and nor will
Cessnock … maybe improved roads.