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Mandy Foley-Quin CEO Stedmans Hospitality

07 March 2011

\"There's absolutely no doubt about it. You learn from your mistakes. And if you make them twice you learn twice as much again\"

\"It isn't normal to know what we want. It is a rare and difficult psychological achievement.\" From Motivation and Personality, by psychologist Abraham Maslow and quoted in Alain De Botton's The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work (Penguin Group).

This quote is not to say that Mandy Foley-Quin is odd... but having spoken with her many times about her business, Stedmans Hospitality, and her own passions, she appears to be one of the few people who has achieved what Maslow notes here is near nigh impossible.

This year's Veuve Clicquot Business Woman Award winner (an award presented in 17 countries annually to honour exceptional women in business), Mandy will tell you that it was through pure necessity she discovered her passion in life – the art of hospitality, training and building community.

In the beginning

\"I began the business [Stedmans] because I had to. I was in Sydney with a new baby... It was 1985, I had no money, no confirmed job, no partner, but great friends,\" Mandy states in her matter-of-fact, upbeat way.

\"Back then the hospitality/events industry was unstructured. Each job you worked was a new job, you had to collect your wages, you had to make sure you were paid, no one collected super for you, no one regulated anything. There were no systems and no real representation other than what you put in place for yourself and no systemised training or idea about presenting yourself.

\"I was interested in presentation. When I went to a job I looked professional and there were others I worked with who had the same feelings. I began employing people, forming teams and staff with uniforms (that was a radical idea then) and getting the bookings for public, private, government events, dinners, that sort of thing.\"

What Mandy and her then business partner did was to set up a one-stop shop – assuming responsibility for staff, superannuation and payroll for hospitality and personnel on behalf of its clients. The concept has gone on to serve as a model for many other similar businesses.

But the journey hasn't always been easy.

Needs and wants

\"I want to help: to educate, to employ, to help businesses start, to do charity work. It makes me feel connected and gives me a feeling of achievement. It's where the 'training hook' got me twice and why I made a mistake twice in business,\" declares Mandy.

It's unusual and riveting to come across a business owner who is willing to speak candidly about their perceived mistakes. People will freely admit they learn more from them than their successes but they rarely go on to explain them. And usually not with any level of self-awareness and analyses. Mandy believes she is now very aware of the difference between wanting to do something and needing to do it in a business context.

Training wheels

\"Training for me was this fabulous idea. But, once you analyse it, it is not a direct money-maker for my business. Our training is to service the community and to behave as a recruitment vehicle. It took me a while to get that but once I did I was fine.

\"Originally, our training was set up as it is now as a recruitment tool and also as a service back to the community to train young kids. I wanted to push it further and make it an accreditation, do the whole thing, make money off it, lots of money off it. That all fell over. It was a risk path that my previous business partner committed too but was not in step with. I actually lost the business because of my decision to focus on formalised government-backed style training.\"

Confidence

Beginning again was difficult: \"You function under this feeling that you're not good, that you made a mistake and people look at you and judge you for that. Rightly or wrongly that might exist. It doesn't really matter, what you feel is a lack of confidence.\"

It is here that Mandy admits to one of the strangest least expected things to happen to her in business life – apart from losing the business. She was bailed out by her now partner \"and he hardly knew me\".

\"He had this belief in my idea, in my business, in me and he saw the injustice of what had happened and wanted to correct it.\"

Not again

Stedmans has been rebuilt to the point where it now employs more than 1500 people annually. The simple ideas behind its success: internal training ensures quality control, leave the financial reward where it should be in the staff, the recruitment and provision of staff, give back to the community at all levels.

But Mandy admits even up to a few years ago, she was still under the influence of the training-bug as money-maker.

\"Can you believe it? I had all the work done and the documents ready to become a registered training organisation. I looked at the situation and went, 'there's something fundamentally wrong here'. I went back to intuition. What I learned was, you have to analyse and understand your ideas rather than going: 'Yeh, great. Run with it, run with it'.

\"I hated discovering this. It meant I had made the same mistake twice before realising what was good for the business. I don't like doing that.\"

Future perfect

Taking her own advice on board, Mandy has expanded Stedmans to include a film extras division and a talent management agency. She believes her major point of difference is the charity work she does herself, as well as encouraging staff to regularly donate time to support community causes. Not only does it add to 'well-being', it supports and markets the business within the community.

\"Our greatest marketing tool is the staff. Recommendations, word of mouth, it comes through them and because of them. Imagine: You're young and working through university and you work for Stedmans. You enjoy it. You hear the people you are working with admire what is done and you get out of university and into your first job and you need to do a work lunch or an event. You go back to who and what you know. It's long term.\"

Key Achievements

  • The Veuve Clicquot award
  • Chairing the Gold Dinner Committee for the Sydney Children's Hospital, Randwick
  • Starting talent management agency, Smith + Jones
  • Starting/restarting Stedmans

Personal Passions

  • My extended family
  • Philanthropy
  • Community involvement
  • Systems, systems, systems

\"I like diversity. The key is to find out what works for me and chunk it down so that I know what I have chosen meets my needs\"

Useful links

  • www.stedmans.com.au
  • www.alaindebotton.com
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