A woman who wears many ‘hats’ and who doesn’t shy away from putting her heart and soul into work and life here in Port Macquarie. Sue Faulkner tells us about her early career, love of flying and passion for community, networking and customer service.
Hi Sue. Where did your work life begin?
I started off in childcare, gaining my Certificate and working with children for a number of years. That was my passion – working with kids. However, it got to the point where the wage didn’t meet my share of the mortgage repayments, so I had to choose a new career.
I entered the public service in the staff training department and did some training for a number of years. Childcare was still a passion, so I gained promotion into a role working on national childcare policy – things like family day care and in-home care.
That led to some really challenging work, but a lot of stress with meeting the demands of the Ministers. I did the big corporate climb up the ladder from a very junior staff member to the dizzying heights(!) of Director level.
When did you decide to move to Port Macquarie?
We decided to make the break when we noticed that unfortunately people we knew were passing away from the stress of the job; it was just so full-on. We decided when Gregg turned 55 that it was time for a sea change, so we looked for a place that had amenities and services in the town and good opportunity for employment.
Port Macquarie offered us all these benefits. Also, the other thing we wanted was at least a grass airstrip, because Gregg had his pilot’s license, and 3 years ago I got mine as well.
What was the appeal of getting your pilot’s license?
I decided that if we were going to do a lot of flying together, and something happened to Gregg, then I needed to know how to land the plane. We discussed me doing a ‘pinch-hitters’ course. But then we decided that, if I was going to learn, I might as well do the job properly.
I started off quite half-heartedly, but then I discovered a real love for flying. It was also a huge boost for my self-confidence – doing something that I had never imagined myself doing.
We liked to take our little plane out and do some whale watching, or just fly around the region enjoying the ever-changing view. Gregg says he became an ‘aviation widower’, because I used to land the plane and order him out, so I could fly off and get some solo girl time in the air. It was also fun taking friends for a joyflight after I gained my passenger-carrying endorsement.
What career do you have now in Port Macquarie?
I do a couple of things. Four days a week I work at Country Energy in the contact centre working with customers, which is quite a challenge sometimes. I’m also the Customer Care Program consultant for this region (for Hastings Council), so I go into small businesses and work with them on improving their customer service skills. I work with them by exploring the services and products they offer to the community but also what customers specifically want from their business.
It’s making businesses aware that if we have really good customer service, then people who come here on holiday are going to keep coming back, and some people who holiday here will transition here to live permanently.
You were awarded for your contribution to Customer Care last year. Tell us about that and why customer service is something you are passionate about.
Gregg and I have both worked for the Customer Care program pretty much since inception, because we both believe it’s important to give back to your community, and because we are both passionate about customer service. During this year’s annual Customer Care Awards night, we were delighted to be awarded the perpetual trophy for outstanding contribution to the program.
Excellent customer service is recognised by customers, who will choose to patronise a business that provides well for them. Providing good customer service makes good business sense. Getting that message across to the business community in this region is what we are about.
You are also a principal of the local HOT WOMEN group. What is Hot Women, and how did it start?
I’m in partnership with Kylie and Tennille from Hot Graphics. The business idea came up over coffee, and we decided that a lot of women who are busy can’t always make it to breakfast social events to get out and network with people and promote their business. We decided to start up a network based around a website: www.hotwomenguide.com.au where we feature local women, because in business it’s important for people to learn from each other.
We do feature stories on local women who have been in business, or are in different styles of business, or women who have a unique story to tell. We have lots of articles for people to read and maybe learn something. We also have a directory of businesses for marketing.
We hold four special networking events every year, and we make them fun as well as useful in a business sense. We’ve held a ‘Death By Chocolate’ in the penthouse at Rydges. That was very successful and gave us confidence to continue. For our second event, I approached Paul and Joy Broad from Broadway Shoes, and they enthusiastically invited us to hold the event in their actual business, which was great.
Last weekend we held our final event for this year, ‘Hot Women Afloat’, sponsored by Port Badges & Engraving and Cruise Adventures. A capacity group of women enjoyed a very entertaining cruise on the new Discovery 2 pleasure boat. We like to keep our events contained to about 30-40 women, to ensure a level of personal contact and the opportunity to mix and meet.
What has been something challenging in your life?
We came up to Port Macquarie not knowing anyone, and we took that huge risk of up and leaving everything we knew in Canberra.
Now, 5 years down the track, we call Port Macquarie home, but at the time it was such a huge risk for us. The lifestyle here is just so different from Canberra. It’s much more relaxed, and we have really made an effort to get out there and tried to meet lots of people.
What community groups or charities do you spend time with?
Hastings District Flying Club was our first community connection with Port Macquarie. We actually joined the Club a few years before we moved up. The members were very welcoming and made us feel part of the scene straight away.
To return the favour, Gregg and I decided to sponsor a student pilot scholarship offered through the flying club. The Club selected the scholarships on a competitive basis, and our sponsorship went to a young girl named Megan, who was a student in Year 11 at that point.
Megan went on to complete Year 12 and, at the same time, she completed her flying lessons and gained her pilot’s license. She has since been accepted for ADFA and has joined the RAAF to become an air-force pilot. We like to think that our sponsorship helped her along the way. She recently wrote us a nice letter saying she has successfully completed her first year at ADFA.
Until recently I have been a Committee Member for the Hastings Business Women’s Network, where I have met and made friends with a large number of wonderful women. As the events organiser for HBWN, I’ve been able to contribute to some great events – most notable being our 10th birthday celebration last year, with an expo and dinner.
We enjoy volunteering for community activities. We manage an Aid Station for each Iron Man and Half Iron Man, and I enjoy working with Tastings of the Hastings.
Gregg and I have a philosophy of doing our own thing in a charity sense, choosing where we can ‘help out’ a little.
We hear you are a keen traveller too?
With a large family scattered across Australia, there is always a reason to travel. Gregg and I both enjoy exploring new places. For many years we have hosted international students in our home, so we have plenty of invitations to visit our former students in some wonderful countries.
We recently enjoyed a trip to Europe and Ireland, and now we’re doing the driving thing to catch up with my mum and Gregg’s dad before Christmas. We don’t seem to stay still for very long.
What does the future hold for you?
2011 is definitely going to be a challenging year, to expand our Hot Women network while maintaining the high quality standards we have set. I’m also looking for new opportunities, both personally and work-wise. Who knows what is around the corner?
I believe the key is to be ready to seize an opportunity when it presents, and not be afraid to follow your instincts, even if there is an element of risk. The world doesn’t come with guarantees, and too many people waste their lives trying to ‘be safe’. I want to do what I enjoy, and enjoy what I’m doing.
Thank you Sue, and all the best for 2011.