After an interesting and varied career covering everything from fitness to horse feed to running the Summerhill School of Excellence, Heather Morkel has recently joined Bloodstock South Africa in a sales liaison capacity. With the BSA Cape Yearling Sale just around the corner, we catch up for a quick chat about what’s in store.
Heather grew up in the Western Cape, graduating, like a number of other prominent women in our industry, from Hottentots Holland High School in Somerset West.
Heather graduated with an Executive Secretarial Diploma (3 year qualification which included Finance and Mercantile Law), before following her real passion,personal fitness training, specialising in obesity and cardiac rehabilitation. Her husband, Russell is in forestry, as part of Mondi’s executive team and it was after relocating to KZN for his job that Heather found her way to Summerhill Stud in 1997. This was still some years before the Midlands Nursery had achieved its first SA Breeders’ Championship, so Heather has been an integral part of the Summerhill story.
The Summerhill Experience
“It was serendipity for me,” enthuses Heather. “I’d been working at a legal practice at the time and answered an ad. It is the most beautiful place.” Starting out as Mick’s PA, Heather quickly moved into HR, before Mondi transferred the Morkels to Joburg. It was the first time Heather resigned from Summerhill, but it wasn’t the last and has become the subject of good-natured banter between her and Summerhill boss Mick Goss. In fact, as she’d made herself such an indispensable part of the team by then, Summerhill simply opened a marketing office in Emmerentia to accommodate her. All of this happened while the industry was looking to set up the first Equine Trade Council and when matters had progressed far enough to need someone to head it up, Heather was a natural fit.
Congratulating her on a most incredible career path, Heather is typically self-deprecating. “Generally what happens is that Mick infuses everyone with his enthusiasm,” she says modestly. “I’m spectacular in my ordinariness, but I’ve been very fortunate with the opportunities I’ve had.” Ordinary or not, the Trade Council got off to a busy and successful start as locally bred horses started getting the ball rolling internationally. “It was probably a little ahead of its time, but I like to think we contributed to the start of something that will continue to support the export of horses and ensure that Government remains vested in the establishment and negotiation of practical export protocols. Obviously trainers like Mike de Kock and his stalwart band of owners have taken recognition of South African Racing to the next level, as did SA-bred horses.”
Aside from her professional pursuits, Heather has enjoyed long distance running and cycling, and fits in some trail running. Family is also very close to her heart and she and Russell celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary this year. They have two daughters, Amber and Megan. Twenty-five year old Amber is the oldest and currently doing a masters degree in population studies. Megan is 22 and recently graduated with a BSc in Dietetics and is currently working at Mseleni Hospital in rural Northern KZN.
From Johannesburg, the family moved back to KZN and Heather re-joined the Summerhill team as the head of Vuma Horse Feeds. “Vuma was an amazing experience and gave me the chance to translate my background in human nutrition, exercise and physiology into horses.” It also saw her work alongside fellow recent TBA recruit currently heading up Breed Affairs, Catherine Hartley. Heather is full of praise for her colleague saying, “Catherine is a phenomenal marketer. She is a dynamic, passionate person who thinks outside of the entrepreneurial box and will make a meaningful contribution in her new role at the TBA.”
School of Equine Management Excellence
Mick has always believed in education and the promotion of people, and Heather was instrumental in establishing the curriculum for the initial course in Stud Management. “I loved everything about the school. Many people contributed in countless ways to the initial success of the school and its graduates, and I met the most amazing, passionate young people, the future of our industry. To help them progress and see their dreams come true thanks to the opportunities the school provided was an incredible privilege, and I am honoured to remain a Governor, alongside Judge Alan Magid, Ronnie Napier and Dr May Mkhize.”
Women at Work
Bloodstock South Africa’s joint venture with Michael Holmes and the Equine Group (established in the late 1980’s with a board comprising Gary Grant, Chris Haynes and Christine Terblanche), was announced in July 2016, and the new team have already successfully executed the 2016 SIbaya KZN Yearling Sale, KZN Mare/Weanling/HIT/Fillies Sale, the National 2yo Sale and August and November Mixed Sales as well as the recent Shongweni Mixed Sale. They have assembled a fresh, hardworking group of accomplished women, including young and dynamic Ashley de Klerk (sales administration), Candiese Marnewick, Bonita Schwartz, and yard manager extraordinaire Jenny van der Hoff, and in true entrepreneurial spirit, are looking to improve the sales experience for both vendors and buyers. “I’m honoured that they approached me,” says Heather. “We’re a new team, so rather than putting people in boxes, things are still fluid in terms of who does what. I’d say my job is probably best described as sales liaison, and it’s an opportunity to make a meaningful contribution, something I’m really excited about.”
BSA Cape Yearling Sale
The 2017 Cape Yearling Sale will be Heather’s first in her new capacity. In typical fashion, she has hit the ground running and is getting to grips with the new sales facility at Mistico Equestrian Centre outside Paarl. Heather says, “The new venue ticks all the proverbial boxes, well-laid out airy arenas which can accommodate up to 900 people, superb show jumping facilities, and a resident livery.” This regional sale has produced a host of luminaries in its history, but perhaps none more so than the mighty Pocket Power, and this year’s catalogue offers just over 140 yearlings. Viewing days are Tuesday and Wednesday, 14 & 15 March and the sale will commence at 13H00 on Thursday, 16 March 2017.
Asked what she hopes to achieve in her new role in the longer term, Heather answers thoughtfully. “Winston Churchill once said, ‘Some people regard private enterprise as a predatory tiger to be shot. Others look on it as a cow they can milk. Not enough people see it as a healthy horse, pulling a sturdy wagon.’ Whilst the newly established BSA sales team, together with the TBA continue to represent the interests of both breeders and vendors alike, one hopes to see more collaboration between the sales companies going forward in order to better serve the industry as a whole.”