Working as an Investor Relations Manager in Sydney and also as a rare horse breeder on her farm in Upper Lansdowne, Stef Winwood definitely leads a double life. Stef explains that although one job calls for boots, and the other high heels – the keys to balancing these two diverse lifestyles are communication, integrity and ingenuity!
Hi Stef. Where did you grow up, and where do you actually live now?
I grew up all over New Zealand, as my father’s engineering work meant that we moved a lot over both the North and South Islands. I went to something like 16 different schools, including a period of home schooling. I found a love of horses at the age of seven.
Every spare moment from then on was spent roaming the countryside either in the back of a horse truck or on horseback … now I still do a lot of miles between Sydney, where I work, and Wedgetail, where I live with my husband near Upper Lansdowne.
You’re an Investor Relations Manager for a public technology company in Sydney. What does this job entail?
I work for an exciting green technology innovator in Sydney called BluGlass Limited. The company is bringing to market a revolutionary semiconductor technology which makes ultra high efficiency devices such as light emitting diodes (LEDs), which will begin to replace your current light bulbs in the next few years. The anticipated energy savings from LEDs globally is said to be enough to close 133 nuclear power stations.
The company also conducts fundamental research into concentrated solar cells, in the hopes to bring solar to grid parity with conventional energy generation techniques. My role in Investor Relations and Marketing is to work with our investors, manage the ASX communications requirements and translate the technical achievements into everyday language. It involves a lot of market research, government lobbying and juggling technical and investor requirements, but I get to work with really creative and innovative people in a really motivated workplace.
You also breed horses in Upper Lansdowne.
What breed do you specialise in?
We are a boutique breeder of performance horses based on heritage Australian bloodlines, that go back to the horses that helped establish Australia as a nation and those that served under the Australian Light Horse.
Because of the harsh environment that the pioneers encountered when they arrived in Australia, they had to set about establishing a hardier type of horse that could survive on what were very limited resources. Instead of having a separate horse for each job: plough, cart, saddle and sulky, they needed a horse that could do all of the above … and ultimately that, combined with the harsh Australian landscape, created a uniquely versatile and hardy horse.
Some of the foundation stock we have sourced comes from old remount stations, found in the same environment that they have survived in since the late 1800s. They are an old fashioned looking horse, perhaps more handsome than pretty. They are a warmblood horse and what really set them apart is their strength, soundness and stamina, combined with a lovely sensible and trainable temperament. We have bred some youngstock that we are quite proud of and we’re excited about their future, as we campaign them in dressage and possibly eventing.
Is your horse breeding operation a commercial concern? Do you sell stock, or are you breeding to add to your own personal stable?
A bit of both, although I have found that I am a few years down on the waiting list for my own foals! We do have a small number of saddlehorses, youngstock and stallion services for sale, but we are not yet commercial. We focus on breeding some very nice quality horses that our clients love, rather than breeding large numbers. (Although, we did have three stallions at stud last year!) The stud currently just pays for itself (well … that’s how I tell the story! My husband’s version would probably be a little different) and we would love to get it to the stage where it is growing and gaining reputation and have the foals out and about in some notable stables. It takes time for the youngstock to grow up and attract attention, but I’m pretty sure they will!
How do you manage to juggle two such diverse jobs?
I think the diversity is part of what makes it work. I want to have my high heels and riding boots too! Both my stud and the company that I work for are doing things differently. Beating a new track is always the hardest thing to do and while both roles have unique challenges, I think the skill sets are basically the same. Whether you’re communicating with government, investors or horses, the shoes are different, but ultimately you have to be a clear communicator, have a lot of integrity − and some ingenuity doesn’t go astray either!
Horses are the best judge of character, and I think if you can teach a 600 kg animal to load into a small box with wheels (horse’s perspective) willingly, other communication challenges look much smaller!
How often do you get to leave your day job in Sydney and visit your horses?
Actually, I spend more time on the farm than I do in Sydney now. I travel down for a few days in the office every fortnight, but the rest of the time I work remotely from the farm. Wireless broadband means I can be at work just about anywhere.
What do you like most about the different lifestyles you find in both the city and the country?
I love the autonomy of working on the farm and the connection that you have to have with the environment, as it is often unpredictable and untamable, so you have to work with it − not against it. In the last 12 months we’ve had to deal with both floods and bushfire (most recently this weekend) on our property. People think that the farm is the simpler of my two lives, but I’m not so sure! Working dawn to dusk wrestling with nature is not necessarily simpler than working nine to five and wrestling with a computer; computers are a bit more user friendly!
While it’s so hard to tear myself away for a trip to Sydney (this could be because I have to get up at 3am), once there I am totally immersed in my work and love the dynamic nature of my job.
What’s a favourite quote you feel particularly relates to your life?
My first job out of school was at the ‘Ecole D’Art Equestre’ (School of Equestrian Arts) in Ecublans, Switzerland, and there I learnt some trapeze and tight rope. I was terrified learning the trapeze and was refusing to leave the platform. My instructor told me, “Throw your heart out over the bar, and your body will follow! Your body cannot be anywhere but where your heart is” … and he was right!
It became easy from that point. I have interpreted this more broadly in my life to mean ‘throw your heart into it, and it will happen’.
Where can people contact you?
Stef Winwood Wedgetail Equine
Interview by Jo Atkins.