Overcoming Leadership Tests With Cricket Australia CEO Nick Hockley

Nick Hockley

The first leadership test for the CEO of Cricket Australia gave him the impetus to go big and bold.

My very first job, which I absolutely loved, was as a coach on summer sports camps during the school holidays. I enjoyed teaching and seeing the kids improve and get a lot out of sport. But my first professional job was in finance. I really liked the numbers. I spoke to my uncle, who is an accountant, and he said, “The best way to learn about business and understand the numbers on a profit and loss balance sheet is to get professionally trained.” But the day I qualified as an accountant, I realised that I wanted to make stuff happen, not report on historicals. So I moved into corporate finance, which is where I started my love of deal-making.

My first significant mentor was [Lord] Paul Deighton, who was the CEO of the London Olympics. As well as making time and always keeping his sense of humour, he had this incredible way of helping you to solve problems. You’d have a really difficult, complicated problem, with massive time pressure, and he’d ask a whole load of questions, which helps you deduce the answers. So you’d walk out 10 feet taller, feeling like you’d solved it by yourself. Paul had a profound impact on me. All he really asked for was us to do the best work of our lives. And I think if you do meaningful work with great people, you can’t ask for too much more.

My first big win was with my team on the London Games. We secured the Olympic record for the highest-ever sponsorship. We generated $1.2 billion – £700 million – from 44 sponsors. Looking back, we were a bunch of kids in our late 20s, early 30s, but we had the privilege of speaking to the chairs and CEOs of the biggest companies in the United Kingdom and the world. We believed in the proposition and put ourselves in the shoes of the people we were talking to. Our approach was very much about understanding their business and thinking how the partnership could help them. You’ve got to sell the benefits and the value to the partner. I still love understanding businesses – whether they’re companies, broadcasters, governments, venues – and their objectives then thinking about how we can work together on a win-win. You can only be successful if you’re working together.

My biggest leadership test is my first CEO role, here at Cricket Australia. It’s an opportunity to really shift the paradigm. I’ve described myself as a pragmatic optimist but increasingly I love to do things that people think are impossible – and prove them wrong. A big challenge that we set ourselves was to play the final of the [ICC] Women’s T20 World Cup at the MCG [in 2020, in front of 86,174 people]. Previously, the biggest-ever crowd had been 5000 people at North Sydney Oval [in Sydney]. That decision was bold and brave but it wasn’t taken lightly. Lots of people were extremely sceptical and in the early days [of my leadership], that felt quite lonely. But ultimately you need a fundamental belief in the vision and the project. That’s the prerequisite for bringing everyone along. Luck is when preparation and opportunity meet but that needs to be combined with a conviction that you can make things happen.

My first major negotiation was during COVID. It was actually lots and lots of negotiations, including convincing the Indian team to have the faith to come to Australia when the borders were closed. We said it’s really important to the world, to cricket and for the morale of everybody in India and Australia to play the series. That became the north star. Successful negotiations are all about setting the context and concentrating on the bigger picture. We’ve just completed our next player deal. The previous deal, back in 2017, was very fraught so we spent a year getting aligned on what the main principles were. We said at the outset that we want to make sure we’re closing the gap between the women’s and men’s pay, we want the best players to be playing for Australia and that they remain the best-paid sports players in the world. It was about keeping it really, really simple.

My first real understanding of how life works came from my father. He was a doctor and worked with lots of very sick kids. So that would always put things in perspective. His mantra – which I’ve borrowed and my team is probably sick of hearing me say – was, “A living problem is better than a dead certainty.” There’s always a way and there are people in this world with the responsibility of working with life-and-death decisions so you’ve got to put things in perspective.

Defining moment
“Having the opportunity to work on the London Olympics was a combination of my passion and professional experience. Sport has the power to improve people’s lives, get kids more active, bring people from different generations and cultures together and ultimately bring joy.”

SEE ALSO: Margie Hartley: Leadership is a Relationship Business

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