Stepping out onto Sydney’s freshly manicured Allianz Stadium dressed in the Sydney Roosters’ iconic red, white and blue jersey is a memory few are lucky to share, but one Steve Wrightson recalls well.
“It’s electric. I just loved playing the game of rugby league,” Steve says. “I played half a dozen games as a professional rugby league player until injury forced me to retire early.”
Steve was a proud Roosters player, but his heart always stayed with his childhood team, the South Sydney Rabbitohs.
Just recently, Steve visited the stadium where his sporting dream began, only this time watching in the stands donned in the Rabbitohs’ cardinal red and myrtle green colours. They didn’t win the preliminary final against their archrivals, the Roosters, but it did get Steve thinking about the parallels between sport and business.
“I’ve always said that sports teaches resilience, the importance of teamwork and how to dream big, and I apply the same values to my work,” he says.
Steve’s role as Head of Sales Australia and New Zealand at Mocopan Coffee is to encourage, support and educate customers to believe in a vision.
“It’s about bringing the smarts of specialty into scaled roasting and showing our partners that we can help make coffee the hero of their business,” Steve says.
After injury halted his rugby career, Steve completed a degree in business and went to work for big corporates such as Coca-Cola, Arnott’s and Nestlé. Steve was offered a number of international positions but decided to pursue a job a little closer to home.
“I wanted a role where I could dream big and make a difference, and I found it, or rather, fell into it, as most coffee people do,” he says.
When Steve started at Mocopan Coffee in 2007, coffee wasn’t on his radar. He worked in a food service role until a manager asked him what he knew about coffee, hinting at an opening with Mocopan. His first coffee was at 19 years of age on a whirlwind overseas adventure in Turkey, but somehow that “unforgettable memory” would be the catalyst for a rewarding career in coffee.
“I’ve loved working at Mocopan for the past 11 years with an incredible group of people. Mocopan Coffee is a humble brand that’s built its success on developing a quality product and connecting with its customers,” Steve says.
“Now, to think we are one of the largest coffee businesses in the country is quite incredible, and few would really know.”
Agostino Monici, Sergio Coperchini and Vic Panettieri are the three families responsible for the creation of Mocopan Coffee in 1953. Sixty-five years on, the family business has evolved into one of the industry’s greatest sleeping giants, quietly fuelling cafés, restaurants, and homes with its traditional range of espresso-based blends.
Steve says one of the reasons for Mocopan’s growth is its commitment to coffee freshness.
“Freshness is so big for us, even though we’re large scale. We want our coffee in customer hands within 30 days.”
The hurdle, he says, was convincing the staff they had the ability to do it.
“We often underestimate what we can do, and in this case the hardest thing was having belief that we could achieve such great heights. Mocopan Coffee is rich in history but we had an opportunity to create a great future – we just had to believe we could,” Steve says.
And it has. Mocopan is a strong player in the market that has built its business based on culture, transparency, and visibility. It is now in the middle of installing a new state-of-the-art roaster at its Preston site in Melbourne, and is set for expansion in 2019 to accommodate the company’s significant growth.
Unlike other roasters who are credited with helping start the country’s espresso culture in the early 1950s, Mocopan has stood the test of time in the fast-paced industry. It’s watched technology evolve, the capsule market progress, and specialty coffee excel, but what customers have valued most about the brand’s longevity is its commitment to quality and serving Australia’s coffee needs.
“Mocopan is coffee for Australians from all walks of life,” Steve says. “It’s a brand steeped in history that has stayed true to its values of quality, consistency, and expertise, and it’s clear our customers value this too.”
Steve says Mocopan’s investment is not just in its roasting ability, but in the quality of its systems, research, training, and the development of individuals.
“As a result, we’re building a passionate team and offering people career paths in coffee, not just a job,” Steve says.
“Winning big contracts will always give you a buzz but it’s more about how we’ve gone about it. We use Mocopan’s core pillars to develop other models and immerse ourselves in our partner businesses to help them grow – it’s not just about increasing roasting scale but the scale of our customers across the board.”
Steve’s role has seen him travel the world to build new business relationships, meet customers, develop brand strategies, seek out new equipment partners and learn from others. He’s travelled extensively in Asia, the United States, Europe, New Zealand, and origin countries such as Costa Rica and Brazil, and says each trip provides one good story and a lasting memory.
“This job has taken me to places I never knew existed, and, as a result, I’ve made long lasting relationships,” Steve says.
He recalls driving nine hours from Santos in Brazil to meet producers on a remote farm, enjoying a memorable coffee at Caffe L’affare in Wellington, and visiting a café in Florence that had a six-group espresso machine operated by a barista with the most impressive moustache Steve had ever witnessed.
“I admire people who are passionate and determined, and this guy was so focused behind the coffee machine. It’s moments like these that tell me that coffee is more than just a beverage. It’s about social interactions,” he says.
Reflecting on his 11 years with Mocopan Coffee, Steve says he’s most proud of the customer partnerships he’s developed, and the team culture he’s helped build in a company where an individual can really make a difference.
“Mocopan stands for family values and good old hospitality. We work with our customers. We don’t just sit in a boardroom,” Steve says.
“We are active in helping our customers grow and become successful so that they can create great experiences for their customers. It’s always a partnership.”
Mocopan Coffee’s coffee partners are also excelling in the convenience market, in large part due to the quality precedent set by Mocopan Coffee.
“We’re proud of what we’ve achieved. The convenience market has exploded in the past five years with customers realising that convenient coffee doesn’t have to equate to a reduced quality,” Steve says.
“We’ve tried to create great coffee for our corporate contracts and coffee-on-the-go suppliers by using our smarts and bringing that into scaled businesses.”
As for Steve, he is happily married with three sons and will continue to embrace his passion for sport and family with a healthy daily dose of caffeine.
“My other passion is running. I’ve won a few Australian events and had the opportunity to compete in the Singapore half marathon,” Steve says. “I still get to tell my boys I’m a professional international athlete.”