Core skills to be a successful Executive in the Thoroughbred racing industry


The Spring Racing Carnival* is currently underway in Melbourne and is internationally regarded as Victoria’s premier sporting event. It attracts visitors from interstate and overseas, significant sponsorship dollars and gives the hospitality and fashion industries a major lift. The signature race, The Melbourne Cup is able to ‘stop the nation’ with once-a-year punters wagering more than $300 million on the Cup alone.

The Melbourne Cup Carnival and its positive economic, promotional and reputational impacts for Victoria are huge and require a diverse mix of talented, passionate and committed executives to lead the way. Attended by 325,519 in 2014, the four Melbourne Cup Carnival race days were again easily the four biggest in Australia. It will be interesting to see how 2015 compares.

Over the last few years, I have been retained by some of the most senior and influential sporting administrators within the thoroughbred racing industry, to provide counsel on succession planning, identifying and attracting highly commercial executive talent to a diverse range of key leadership roles. In providing strategic counsel to prominent Chairmen and NEDs within the racing industry, I have observed the following:

  • A strong sense of passion and pride in each club’s reputation

  • The customer experience is very important whilst also delivering exceptional value for members, owners and trainers

  • Offering world-class facilities

  • Sponsors are paramount to the success of the event and are therefore given every opportunity to promote their brands

  • Integrity is vital

  • TV and Media rights negotiation is essential for long term prosperity

  • The industry is highly regulated and therefore poses certain challenges

Some recent functional roles I have appointed include CEO, CFO, Executive GM Food & Beverages, GM Human Resources and GM Operations. Given the industry attracts international participants and significant sponsorship dollars, the sector continues to appeal to many senior executives that are currently working in large blue chip corporations.

From my insights and experience, executives considering a move into a membership sporting body need to demonstrate the following attributes to be successful:

  • Bring a strong level of commercial acumen (improving profitability, digital marketing, engaging with members, utilization of club assets) such as property and innovation (ways of diversifying revenues, creating meaningful connections with the community)

  • Financial (P&L, cash flow management, balance sheet, capital expenditure) and operational nous (creating a safe and healthy work place)

  • Ability to communicate, present, influence and negotiate with a range of stakeholders from government ministers, sponsors, horse owners / trainers, operations staff and senior executives

  • Whilst industry sector knowledge and proven track record in a similar role is often advantageous, bringing a different commercial lens to the organisation can prove valuable

  • Passion for the industry

  • Commitment to working long hours often on race day meetings held on week-ends and public holidays

  • Regular contact with the public and members

* The Spring Carnival consists of Group One race meetings held at Flemington, Caulfield, Moonee Valley, Sandown and Geelong during October and November each year.

Statistics in this article taken from The VRC commissioned IER report on the Melbourne Cup Carnival undertaken in 2014.

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Foley Durham are specialists in optimising the composition of C-suite executive teams, boards and organisations.

Foley Durham has superior strategic insights into the talent acquisition challenges facing specific market segments - enabling us to identify senior talent leaders that will fit each of our client’s unique strategic goals. 

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