"Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway"
“I have met and been amazed by the pioneering spirit of those that work in this extraordinary industry. I’m also passionate about educating the general population to understand that, in the modern day we live in, everything is either grown or mined.”
Having a passion for what she does wasn’t always her trademark though, if it was Kerry Stevenson might’ve been a Hollywood starlet.
One year into her first ‘real’ job Kerry was made redundant and decided it was time to chase the acting dream.
In her early twenties, Kerry arrived in New York to study acting under two of the legends of the American stage, Herbert Berghof and Uta Hagen. She thought it was her dream, after her parents, who had encouraged her initially by getting her roles in television commercials, pressured her to get a ‘real’ job after finishing school.
“By 23, I’d told Mr Berghof I was returning to Australia. When he asked why, I told him I hadn’t made it to Broadway and so felt it was time to leave. He said, ‘but you are so young you need time’. I retorted that I was 23 already and that, in my eyes, was old.
“How little the young know at the time!”
Imagine how different life might’ve been. If the passion she’s found for the resources industry had been focussed on acting, this would be a story about one of our great actors.
Kerry Stevenson instead of Julia Roberts playing Erin Brockovich, or nudging out Meryl Streep for the role in ‘The Devil Wears Prada’.
It should be some consolation to Berhof and Hagen, those acting lessons haven’t been completely wasted, the lessons learned not totally lost.
“We bring a touch of the theatrical to all our events, which means it’s hard to fall asleep as I see people do at other events.
“I have been told that my events, large or small, have a unique energy to them. I also love to MC each of my events and to remember people’s names wherever possible.”
But even after returning to Australia, Kerry still hadn’t found her passion, although she was heading in the right direction.
“I ended up working as a headhunter placing mining analysts in jobs. I had little idea at the time, but always lived by the adage of ‘jump in and say yes and then figure out how’, which has served me well over the years.”
When Richard Branson came along with his great quote ‘If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later’, Kerry felt an immediate affinity.
“I admire and respect him. He started a company called Virgin, when that word was not a word with a good brand image, but he knew it would have an impact and he was right.”
So the work ethic was there, inspired by people like Branson, but still searching for the passion, well at least a passion for business. A passionate romance sent Kerry on a 14-year detour to England and provided her with the highlight of her a life; a son.
“On the 13th January 1993 my life changed forever, for the better, with the arrival of Henry James, who continues to this day to astound me and is my proudest achievement.”
The pieces of the puzzle were beginning to fall into place for Kerry.
The mining connection had already been ignited; while in England she worked for an advertising company running events, and now a son who would play a key role in where her life was heading.
In 2003 Kerry returned to Sydney as a single mother, and few prospects of getting a job.
“The answers were I was either over or under qualified.”
Then her son made a move that finally set Kerry on her path to passion, a passion for an industry that is infectious.
“My son asked his Dad to help me. He said ‘why don’t you start up a mining conference’. My answer was ‘the only thing I know about mining is, that’s a large diamond’.
“Then he said, ‘you’re smart you’ll learn’.”
That hit a nerve, and that Stevenson philosophy of ‘jump in then figure out how’ came to the fore. She started her own company, Resourceful Events, in association with a Western Australian publishing firm.
“I owned 20% of the business, they owned 80 and they were great years. The business began in the basement of my townhouse in Glebe until one day a dear friend told me that if I was serious about building the business I needed to have a proper office.
“He gave me a break and I ended up sharing his office in the city.”
That began an association with the mining industry that has shaped Kerry’s life. She’s developed a perspective of the industry that will challenge many, but one you have to respect.
“I call many of the people I meet through the Australian Resources Industry ‘wonderfully amazing pioneers’. People who have that great Aussie spirit to get out there and give it a go.
“In Australia in particular, if you’re making a buck there’s this feeling of ‘let’s pull them down to our size’. Well if you talk about Andrew Forrest or Gina Reinhardt, they’re creating a lot of jobs, and people aren’t aware because they don’t skite about it. They are giving a lot back, a lot to the community. They just don’t talk about it.
“Look, let’s as a nation, start to stand up and be proud of our mining industry, instead of putting it down. I’m extremely passionate about this, I’m fed up with people saying mining is bad. It gives us jobs, it gives us an economy, so let’s celebrate it instead of being apologetic for it.”
Once Kerry had found her passion, the next step was to do it her way. She found the 80/20 partnership restrictive and felt the time was right to go out on her own.
“Symposium began when I decided that I no longer wanted to report to a company in WA, and that I could back myself, trust myself, jump in and just go for it.
“The best video I think that any business owner should watch is by Art Williams, ‘Just do it’.”
The challenges began immediately, none bigger than yet another meeting with ‘Cheeky Charlie’. He’s been there throughout her career, but has never taken control.
“He’s that voice inside my head that always asks if you’re sure you’re good enough to do this.” Everyone has their own version of ‘Cheeky Charlie’, and Kerry’s advice on how to silence him is simple.
It’s all about association. “Always make sure that you learn from other successful entrepreneurs. If you want to keep motivated, hang around motivated people.
“A great book to read and a great piece of advice to remember, ‘Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway’ by Susan Jeffers. Many people have dreams but fear holds them back.
“Hire people who are smarter than you are, and trust them to do their job. Hire slowly and fire quickly and trust your instinct. Most of the time you will find your instinct is your friend.”
There’s one other important piece of advice: “Chase your passion not your pension. If you chase your passion then it never feels like a job and your enthusiasm will shine through and people will follow your energy.”
2009 marked the beginning of Symposium, a name Kerry says she stole from the Greeks. “It’s an old Greek word for sitting around in a circle and sharing information, over a drink.” While her company isn’t a literal translation of the Greek, it is about bringing people together and sharing information.
“It is a business that connects investors with opportunities. We do this by way of specific events, mainly focussed on the Australian resources industry, but we also look at other areas such as oil, gas and technology. The key is connecting the companies with the investment community and understanding the industry you are promoting.”
It was a bold move, a little scary, but Kerry knew she had to make an immediate impact, so it’s not surprising she followed her own advice.
“When I started, once again I jumped in and took five high level executives to China to meet investors. I had never been before but decided it couldn’t be that hard. It was the start of a great love of China and its people, and understanding their culture and their friendship.”
Over the years there have been many examples where Symposium’s success can be related right back to Kerry’s belief in her philosophy.
In 2012, an opportunity presented itself for Symposium to take over the Australian pavilion at the prestigious MinExpo in Las Vegas, after Austrade had decided to pull out. It was an opportunity that needed a decision immediately with money she didn’t have.
“I rang the organiser and asked what I needed to do to secure the space, and he told me I needed to pay the deposit of $55,000 within 24 hours. That was a large amount of cash and we had only just run a massive event, so that sort of ‘petty cash’ wasn’t just lying around.
“I took a deep breath and paid on my credit card.”
It’s hard to imagine the type of nerve it would take to make that commitment, with no guarantee of success. It’s easy to say ‘jump in and just give it a go’, but so much harder to actually do it.
All the time, the threat of failure hangs in the air. ‘Cheeky Charlie’ bobs up, your son’s school fees are due, even the grocery bill looks massive and you question whether you’ve made a bad decision. Again the Stevenson formula for success is evident: “There are never any bad decisions, just learning points along the journey. As long as you listen and take note and move forward, there are no bad decisions.
“The best thing anyone can do is make a bloody decision. It’s the ones that can’t make a decision because they think it might be a bad one, that’s a challenge.”
Well, that decision to put $55,000 on her credit obviously wasn’t a bad decision, in fact it was a decision that had to be made, otherwise the opportunity would’ve been lost.
“We ended up taking 46 companies to the largest mining supply expo in the world. It’s held every 4 years and it was a huge experience and a wonderful feeling to make it happen.”
With the downturn in the Mining Industry over the last few years Kerry has found she’s been more ‘hands on’ in her business, although doesn’t see that as a bad thing. It has helped her to improve certain aspects of her business and prepare Symposium for the next stage.
“Innovation is the key to keeping ahead in this world of fast-paced digital communication. In five years’ time I would like to see Symposium as the go to place to connect companies with investors.
“I would also like to have my podcast channel as the place everyone knows to go to, to listen to amazing people and learn more about this wonderful planet we live on, and why rocks are so important to our future.”
Her podcast channel is ‘The Magic In Mining’, and in the first episode Kerry is quite candid about her journey and the success of Symposium. She also reveals another passion. “I’ve learnt an awful lot about why people should be educated. Don’t stick your head in the sand.
“Understand about economics, understand about how the world works, and understand that you have to make sure you get yourself covered.”
“I meet some wonderful people and not one of them is saying ‘it’s Armageddon, sell everything you own and put everything into gold’, they’re just saying be smart.
“As Jim Rickards says in his book ‘The Death of Money: The Coming Collapse of the International Monetary System’, the world is going through a challenging time, his view is that there is a collapse coming.
“You only have to look at what has happened to Greece, have a look at what the Euro is doing, have a look at how much money the US has printed. People just need to be aware that gold can be an insurance policy against a currency crisis.”
The worry though for Kerry is that the media is focussing on events and people that don’t matter. She fears we’re being ‘dumbed down’.
“I was talking to a friend recently, not just about why people are disinterested in the precious metals, but why they’re disinterested in the world at large.
“Have a look at what’s making headlines these days, ‘10 celebrities’ secrets you never knew.’ We’re creating a world where everything is being dumbed down, and we’re encouraging people to not think for themselves.
“We’re encouraging them to get excited about the father of the Kardashians changing from a man into a woman. Really! Is that what it’s all about? It’s encouraging indifference to what is really happening.
“So my passion is to encourage people to ‘sit up and take notice’. We have to re-engage people to get them excited about learning again.”
When Kerry hosts Symposium events, she looks out at the audience and has a vision that the average age of those attending will continue to drop. As more people are educated, as more realise the importance of taking control of their own lives, younger people will be fired up and bring a new energy into the mining industry.
“I’d love to be more of a spokesperson for the mining industry. I’m just an ordinary person, I’m not a Gina Reinhardt, but I passionately believe in the industry and it’s about getting other people who have a view on board.”
“If you dismiss the mining industry then you dismiss agriculture. Because, although they’ve had their differences, there have actually been a number of instances where miners and farmers have worked extremely well together.
“Farmers are very happy when the miners come along, mine their farming land for a little while and give it back to them in a better state; with better soil and better crops post mining. The facts back it up.”
Kerry believes in the youth of Australia and the importance they play in shaping this country and says organisations like the Take Kare Foundation play a crucial role.
“Take Kare is about responsible drinking, helping young people get home safely after a big night in the city. It’s about caring.
“The Foundation comes from the Thomas Kelly Youth Foundation, which was set up in his memory. He was the young man who was hit from behind in a cowardly attack in Kings Cross in 2012.
“Apparently his friends called him TK. I volunteer for them whenever I can.
“I also admire and support the work of the Salvation Army.”
- “Chase your passion, not your pension.”
- “Jump in and say yes and then figure out how.”
- “If you want to keep motivated, hang around motivated people.”
- “Most of the time… your instinct is your friend.”