What do a medical practice general manager, a football club board member and a small business owner have in common? Short answer: success. CHERIE DONNELLAN chats to S&R Homewares owner Rebecca Martin, Kardinia Health’s Megan Somerville and Geelong Football Club’s Diana Taylor, who are proving top jobs aren’t just reserved for the blokes.
AT just 22 years old, Rebecca Martin had been studying nursing, something she considers a “conservative” career, despite her burgeoning desire to work in fashion.
But it wasn’t easy completing her placement in an oncology ward when her grandfather had passed away from cancer. Realising “it probably wasn’t really me anyway”, Rebecca switched her major to commerce, saw a gap in the market for unique home wares and “jumped in”. S&R Homewares was born.
“When I started (S&R Homewares’ first store location) Highton I was so young. I kind of just jumped in and did it, which, I dunno, is that really naïve?
“I absolutely believed in it though. I guess if you believe in it just jump in and do it because you’re never going to know and I’m not going to sit back with a whole lot of what ifs…”
But for Rebecca, “jumping in” has paid off. She now owns and manages three boutiques under the S&R branding: a home wares store in Highton, Barwon Heads’ clothing store, and Torquay which stocks a mix of both. Rebecca says both the decision to open the Highton store nine years ago and the expansion into fashion has been “organic”.
“I always wanted to work for myself and I’ve always loved beautiful things in the home and I loved giving gifts for people. That’s how [Highton and Torquay] started and the clothing just evolved… and [Barwon Heads] is the standalone [clothing] store.”
Rebecca remembers the beginning of S&R where she worked solo in-store while building her brand. And yet, almost a decade and seven staff hires later, she has come full-circle – perhaps not in the way she’d like.
“I could honestly say at the moment, I’m probably working too much [in-store]. I’m hoping to step back a little bit from being in-store and get a little bit more time.”
Luckily, Rebecca declares, her “beautiful” husband Simon – the full-time carer of their sons Charlie and Xavier – has been her “number one” supporter.
“He’s a stay-at-home dad and it’s pretty special. He does a lot of home stuff and he does running around behind the scenes [for the business].”
Rebecca reveals Simon’s handiwork was behind the eclectic beach-inspired interior fit-out of the Barwon Heads store GC visited.
She bustles around the store, excusing herself to answer multiple calls – “Yes we’re open”, “Of course, come in and try it on” – before coming back to our chat where she praises her parents for supporting her dreams.
“They’ve had family businesses for years and they gave me the background [knowledge] to do my own thing.”
Though Rebecca plays down acknowledging her success during our interview, its obvious customers appreciate her friendliness and eye for detail.
“I’ve got a vision and branding concept in mind. I want products that you can’t get in other places.”
She’s clued in to the concept that the region’s shoppers like to buy local, but says even visitors to the region have recognised her unique collections.
“[Visiting customers say] ‘there’s nothing like this in Melbourne’. I feel like, Melbourne, you’ve got the pick of everything there and then they’re walking in here saying ‘this is amazing’; it’s like little pats on the back.”
But she’s got no immediate plans to expand there, at least not while she’s building a plan to sell products online. Rebecca admits though, online will present a challenge for her.
“I’m not really great with computers, it’s a different language sometimes,” she laughs. “But I’m looking forward to it.”
Social media, Rebecca asserts, has helped build her brand.
“Instagram’s been working well. There are girls commenting, saying ‘where’s your store located?’ Others ring up and say ‘I want that whole outfit’.
Fashion advocates are “engaged users”, Rebecca says, but linking in brands has also helped expand her potential customer base.
“We follow, say, [Australian boutique footwear brand] Senso, and so I did a post and they’ve reposted it which is so exciting because it goes to all their [followers]. I think that’s how we’re going to build our audience really quickly, especially when we’ve got suppliers backing us. You’re working together.”
Rebecca expects a refurbishment of her first store in Highton will take her brand to new places. When reflecting on the past decade of owning and building a brand, Rebecca humbly marvels at opening a store, herself barley out of university, and then expanding her brand when her son Xavier – just three months old at the time – was having difficulty sleeping through the night.
“I look back and go ‘how the hell did I do that?’ I guess you just adapt,” she laughs, running to answer the phone again.
MEGAN Somerville humbly denies she built Belmont-based medical super clinic Kardinia Health from the ground up, but does admit “I’ve been here since it was dirt”.
She spearheaded the development process of Geelong’s – and one of Australia’s – first “super clinics”, the federally-funded practices offering “one-stop shops” for medical services.
She doesn’t flinch while mentioning the $7 million of Federal Government funding she was responsible for managing to open the clinic. Nor does she baulk at recalling the 18 months of long work days.
She established a solid team of staff and reported spending to various government bodies and the clinic’s board of directors. Despite inaugurating Kardinia Health, Megan was prepared to hand over the fruits of her labour to an incoming chief executive officer just three months after the clinic opened. But the board had other ideas for the then 27-year-old.
“They did the interviews (to find a CEO) and then they came back to me and said ‘we would really like it if you could stay’ so I did and I’ve been here ever since,” she laughs.
Only 30 years old, Megan has held coveted positions around the country, but in speaking to her for just a few minutes it’s easy to see how she has risen to the top so quickly. She began her career working as a nurse and psychiatric nurse in Mildura and Darwin, before finding her niche managing 350 doctors at Royal Melbourne Hospital.
“Doctors and HR (human resources) don’t speak the same language so I was the person in the middle. I interpreted each way.”
Then, after a Royal Melbourne medical director encouraged Megan to pursue her management talent, she landed one of six coveted places with the Australian College of Health Service Executives. The course was her “big break”.
“My first job [while studying with ACHSE] was negotiating a contract for Peter Mac oncology. I had to do the footwork on negotiating the service agreement and stuff like that… and I think that’s the whole point of the college – you’re supported the whole time, you know, you’re given a mentor – but that’s how you develop those skills.”
She has also earned her Masters of Business Administration and has this year resumed a law degree she began studying while working in Darwin as a psychiatric nurse. It’s a wonder she manages to find the time to compete at state and national level in show riding horses. But the crazy schedule doesn’t faze her.
“I think I’m a kind of manic type of person,” she laughs. “It’s funny isn’t it? When I stop something I just fill it (the time) with something else”. Megan believes she’s “pretty lucky” that her partner – a doctor at Barwon Health – understands her “busy lifestyle”. “It works,” she laughs.
But luck doesn’t factor into the career success she’s had, and there have been challenges, she admits.
“I guess my physical appearance, you know… yeah… and because I’m young and female… does make it harder. I find you just have to work that extra bit harder to get, oh, respect really.”
Being an attractive, under-35 boss is something Megan doesn’t keep at the forefront of her mind, though. “I just keep moving forward.”
And that she does. With her sights set on completing her law degree and further developing Kardinia’s Health range of primary care services, Megan says “the sky’s the limit”.
DIANA Taylor attributes her success as a corporate lawyer and a director or chairperson of at least seven boards to her belief in community and teamwork.
“I’ve always clearly understood that I’ve been a part of a team. The wonderful thing about the businesses I’ve been a part of, is that it’s never just been a group of individuals so you understand that your place, your role, is critically important.”
That very statement oozes through the subtext of her resume; Diana’s worked pro-bono for community organisations like The Big Issue and disability legal service Villamanta. She sits on the board of directors for Doutta Gala Aged Care Services. Her main role as a director of CT Management Group is enabling the consultancy to help local government make effective and financially-sound decisions.
She speaks passionately of every role she’s earned but there’s one team she was part of long before she sat at its boardroom table: Geelong Football Club.
“I’ve been a Cats supporter since I was a little girl. The Cats have always had a special place in my heart. They’ve been a very big part of my family life and growing up in Geelong, a huge part of the community.”
Diana remembers her “dream come true” moment speaking with then-Cats president Frank Costa, CEO Brian Cook and director Colin Carter over the phone about a board opening after Doug Wade stepped down from his position. But being a calculated and strategic thinker, Diana admits not taking the role immediately.
“In any role, whether it be a business role or a football role, you need to understand what your responsibilities are and what contribution you’re going to be able to make.
“We had those discussions before I joined and it was decided at that point that with my background as a lawyer, with my business background and with my community football background, that was a good synergy.”
Until then Diana had been making waves in community and state level football leagues. She had been involved with the Western Region Football League for some time and founded the WRFL Women’s Football Foundation.
WFF was established to support female involvement in sport. Diana believes women often shy away from opportunities, thinking about the formerly male-dominated culture.
“There are a lot of fantastic women who’ve been involved in football for a long time and perhaps aren’t seeing opportunities and options beyond their own club, and what I would say to them, based on my experience, is: talk to people around you, there’s always an opportunity.”
She also spearheaded a strategy to remove the alcohol-fuelled culture “creating issues” during finals for 7000 players in the WRFL. Her ‘light alcohol policy’ campaign was consequently adopted by Australian Football League Victoria.
“It was an achievement I was proud of,” Diana beams.
Since joining the Cats, she has also established its female-based group, Nine Lives which “has become one of the key voices for women at the Geelong Football Club”.
Diana doesn’t mention that she’s the only female on the Cats’ board of directors, but she does believe women bring a unique “insight and perspective” to the game.
“That may be because of a playing and a non-playing role, it may be because of a life experience, it might be because of professional experience. The important thing that whenever you’re sitting around a table engaging people in football, they understand the basis upon which you’re making the statement that you’re making and the experience that you’re bringing to the table. The Geelong environment has always been incredibly supportive.”
Like Megan, Diana attributes some of her success to mentors and executive coaches.
“They’re people with whom you develop a quiet but supportive relationship where they’re able to guide, support, lead you and open your mind up to opportunities and perhaps identify limitations that you’ve placed on yourself that shouldn’t otherwise be there,” Diana asserts.
She acknowledges her position to become a mentor for others now, too.
“I get a lot of questions asked of me and a lot of requests for coffees and time from younger men and women who wish to get involved in the industry and questions from young lawyers about how they can improve, how they can go about developing their own careers and I’m always more than happy to have those discussions with people because I know how important it is when you’re developing a career to know what those paths potentially look like and what the options are to get to where you want to get to.”
And yet, regardless of the numerous goals she has kicked in the boardroom, Diana doesn’t think of herself as being at the top of her game.
“I think I’ve got a whole lot more learning to do and I think that that never stops.”