Strategic Marketing Consultant - Story by Tony Cutting
The Early Years
Stephen was born in Palmerston North but grew up in Foxton in the 1970’s and 80’s. Family has always been an extremely important part of Stephen’s life. An only child to working class parents, he formed a strong relationship to his grandparents who cared for him after school and in the holidays while his parents worked.
Encouraged at an early age to pursue academic success, he would eventually become the first member of his extended family to attend university. He says he was fortunate to grow up in a family with a strong work ethic and a “can do” attitude, where he was positively encouraged to try new things and always do his best.
He also credits his teachers, first at Foxton Primary School and then Manawatu College for inspiring him to learn about, and challenge, the world around him.
Growing up in a small Horowhenua town meant that kids formed deep and lasting friendships. “There were limited opportunities and small numbers of kids so we invariably ended up doing everything together – school, sports, social events, and hanging out and getting into the usual mischief,” he says. Many of the friends he made growing up are still among his closest friends today. “In fact, many of them are more like family than friends.”
Like most Kiwi kids growing up, Stephen was encouraged to play sport although he readily admits to being more academically than athletically gifted. That said, he played soccer from the age of 6, competed at athletics (even winning his school cross country race one year), and went on to make the college 1st XI soccer and cricket teams. He also represented the college in volleyball, and played senior soccer for the Manawatu Foxton Football Club from the age of 15.
But the one area where Stephen differed to most of his friends was in the arts. “I was drawn to the theatre at a very early age. I got teased quite a bit, it wasn’t really the done thing in Foxton, but looking back it taught me some really valuable skills that I could use later in life.”
By the time he reached college he had performed in two shows and immediately signed up for the school’s junior drama club, and also the Kapa Haka group. “At the drama club I was the only boy in a group of 20 kids,” he laughs. “So I got the lead role, of course, and got to have my first kiss on stage!” Theatre was a constant through his college years, alternating between school performances and shows at the Foxton Little Theatre. At 16 he performed an entire show in just a pair of Y-fronts!
It was this passion for theatre and the arts that saw Stephen achieve a number of successes at Manawatu College, including Junior Prose, Senior Speech Champion (twice) and as a member of the school debating team.
Academically strong, Stephen was named 1st in Class in his 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th form years, and top in English and economics in his 7th form year.
Outside of school and sport, he was also involved with the Boy Scouts (Patrol Leader) – including attending a National Jamboree as a Patrol Leader, and was also an Assistant Cub Leader.
In 1987 Stephen enrolled at Massey University, having won a scholarship (from the Hutt Valley Energy Board, ‘HVEB’) to study marketing at university, and graduated at the end of 1989 with a BBS in Marketing. While at university he spent the summer holidays working fulltime at the HVEB.
Invited to enter the Honours programme, he declined the opportunity and commenced his working career instead. “I was bonded to the Energy Board and had to complete one year’s service for every year of study so I decided to get to work. Besides, I was tired of being a broke student!”
As well as his marketing papers, Stephen particularly enjoyed commercial law, completing a number of additional papers in this area. He also enrolled in an applied English paper that taught him how to write for various audiences using different channels. “This was without doubt the most useful paper I completed at Massey as it taught me many of the communication skills that I have been able to apply throughout my career.”
Outside his studies, Stephen played one year of soccer for Massey before switching to rugby and immediately being named in Massey’s top U21 side in his first season in the sport. The following year he transferred to Kia Toa U21’s where he would discover his lifelong passion for playing No.8. He also secured some small scale acting and modelling work to provide additional “drinking funds”, including a brief stint as a Sale of the Century model. “I copped a fair amount of crap for that one,” he laughs.
Working Life Begins
Having completed his degree, Stephen started his working life for the Hutt Valley Energy Board - the organisation that provided him with his University scholarship. He quickly moved up through the marketing ranks and, by the time he decided to move on after four years with the company, he held the position of Commercial Market Manager and had completed New Zealand’s very first energy management qualification, an Advanced Certificate in Energy Management from CIT.
In 1993 Stephen moved from the energy sector into financial services, an industry he would remain in for the next 12 years. Securing an account management role with CIGNA, he was responsible for managing relationships with key corporate clients and developing and launching insurance direct marketing campaigns to their client databases. During his time there he also launched and managed two telemarketing teams (Wellington and Auckland) and completed a NZ Certificate in Direct Marketing (Merit).
From CIGNA he moved to AMP, a company he fondly remembers as the organisation that influenced a large part of his future career. By the time he left AMP he ran a product team and was responsible for the organisation’s personal insurance product portfolio. Further senior product management roles would then be accepted at AXA (equity-based investment funds) and ANZ (term deposits and Bonus Bonds), before he decided to take a brief career detour and spend time at JBWere Goldman Sachs as a share broker (passing the Securities Institute of Australia exams with Distinction) – a role he says taught him a lot about himself and his personal values!
Keen to return to marketing, Stephen was approached by an emerging property company (Gillies Group) and agreed to join the organisation as Marketing Manager. “The Group was a completely new endeavour, so I was responsible for leading the development and execution of the new Gillies Group brand,” he explains. “I managed a multi-million dollar advertising and sponsorship budget which included high profile teams and events such as the Wellington Lions Rugby team, Wellington Racing Club (Oaks Day), Wairarapa Balloon Fiesta, Child Cancer Foundation and many more corporate charity events. It was an incredibly steep learning curve, and we operated at full power the entire time, but it was an extremely enriching experience. It was a pressure cooker training exercise, that’s for real.”
After a successful three year career with Gillies Group he left the company to launch his own marketing consultancy business in 2008.
The Perfect Angle
Stephen launched The Perfect Angle to provide small and medium businesses across the greater Wellington region with access to specialist marketing advice and expertise. “I knew most businesses couldn’t afford a fulltime marketing person but didn’t really have the expertise to handle marketing for themselves, so I wanted to offer a cost-effective outsourced solution for them”.
Based on the Kapiti Coast, Stephen provides clients with marketing strategy and planning as well as marketing/business execution capabilities. A skilled and experienced copywriter and media expert, he has built a team of specialists (including graphic designers and web developers) to deliver a full marketing agency service to his clients. “We deliver a high quality service but for a fraction of the cost that Wellington-based and other high profile agencies charge,” he explains.
He loves running his own business and meeting new clients and people every week. “I get a thrill out of meeting new people and learning about their particular stories,” he says. He also loves the challenge of quickly coming to terms with their business needs and adding value to what they’re doing.
Stephen has a long list of business achievements, from leading marketing and brand strategies for large high profile organisations through to working with small and medium business clients. He is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Marketing (UK), one of only 67 New Zealanders to attain the highest level with the Institute. He is also a supporting sponsor of the Electra Kapiti Horowhenua Business Awards and was responsible (in 2015) for writing and producing an eBook that promotes a number of the successful businesses to have entered the Awards in recent years. In 2016 three further stories were added to the book with two further stories planned for this year.
Outside of work Stephen is a member and long term sponsor of the Paraparaumu Beach Golf Club, a coach at Kapiti Hoop Club (junior basketball), and an active member of the Porirua Little Theatre. “I’m about to start singing lessons which is an entirely new, and terrifying, challenge,” he says.
He also enjoys regular exercise (mainly running and mountain biking) as well as relaxing in the kitchen cooking family meals and making coffee with his Wega commercial coffee machine (he’s also a trained Barista).
And, as always, family continues to be a key influence on his life and he enjoys spending time with his wife (Deb) and four kids (Hamish, Jacob, Brooke and Noah) - whether it’s a family BBQ, a ski trip (“it’s our family thing”), or supporting them at any one of the numerous activities they are involved in such as soccer, basketball, dance, cheerleading, and Guides/Cubs.
Stephen has a number of plans in place for his business over the next 12 months, including launching a new brand and a new service offering specifically for local businesses.
On a personal level, he is currently in the middle of home renovations (including a new wine cellar), and is beginning to plan their next big overseas adventure – likely to be in 2018.
Find out more about Stephen’s business by visiting http://www.theperfectangle.co.nz/