Interviews

Talking Business - John Eales

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On Talking Business I now have someone who has a two-word USP, or unique selling proposition, and those two words are Rugby Legend. Of course I’m talking about John Eales. Thanks for joining us on Talking Business, John.

JE T
hanks, Peter. It’s great to be back.

PS Now look, we’re going to talk about the business of John Eales and your views on business as well, but you’re also in a sense an ambassador for rugby and you still have a hand in rugby. What are you seeing for this year for international rugby coming up, for Aussies listening to you on the plane right now?

JE Look, it’s a pretty exciting year for rugby. I think every year is exciting in its own way but this year Robbie Deans has had a full year with the Wallaby squad now, and he took them away on tour at the end of last year to some pretty good results, but now he’s been watching the Super 14 all year with the specific goal in mind to pick and prepare the best Wallaby side that he can, and with half an eye out – not a full eye out, I think – but with half an eye out to two years’ time, the World Cup, which is in New Zealand in 2011. So it’s pretty exciting. June it all starts with a match against the Barbarians, early June, and then a couple of games against Italy in Melbourne and Canberra and then, of course, we take on the French in the last weekend of June.

PS And June’s a pretty special month for you and your memories.

JE Yeah, look, it is and we’ve got our ten-year World Cup reunion that weekend that the Wallabies play the French. We of course played the French in the final. It wasn’t in June, it was in November, but it’s 10 years since we achieved that goal. It was a wonderful squad that we had together at that time and everyone’s very excited about getting back together to share a few memories, and I think the fact that the Wallabies are playing France sort of makes it a bit more personal as well.

PS Do you think that the running of a national sporting team like the Wallabies has become, considering that you struggled the whole period from amateur to professional, do you think it’s become more business-like? Is Robbie Deans like a CEO who’s been appointed by a chairman, namely John O’Neal at ARU even though he is the CEO of ARU. It seems to me that Deans has this CEO type role?

JE Look, he sort of does but I’m sure he’d fi ght against being called that. He loves being called the coach and you still are. You’ve got to have those organisational skills and understanding how to bring a team together, and particularly the management team together to manage the team as they go through, but sport is still sport and success in sport will only come if it comes from the heart. It has to be a great passion. So how do you put this business structure around without sapping that great and very important culture and spirit in a team, and I think that is what Robbie has been very, very good at. The Crusaders were like a machine and the way they performed year in, year out, turnover of players, they kept the same spirit and function within that team. Now that is very clinical in a sense but to keep that spirit within it also, as a coach he has to have a lot of heart, and I think that’s what makes him such an appealing guy to be running the Wallabies.

PS Let’s just get off sport for the moment. I will bring you back along the way but you’ve also written books on learning from legends. Were there any CEOs who had the capacity to run the systems like the Crusaders? Obviously to be so good consistently, Robbie must have put systems in place so that the team could reproduce the great results but also had a fantastic spirit there as well. Have you ever come across a CEO who made you think, this guy’s like a sporting coach?

JE You know what, yeah, I have and it was a great privilege to be able to write those books and I did one on sport and one on business leaders and the guy that immediately comes to mind – this is not to isolate him alone as having these qualities – but Dennis Handlin who runs Sony Music.

PS Yeah, we’ve had him on the program.

JE Yeah, and like Sony, music is a passion just like sport is so there’s probably a lot of parallels between that but you can see that he still has the same passion now as he would have as the kid that was packing – it would have been the vinyl at that stage many, many, many years ago – and just the adages that he has and the passion that he has for the industry and the passion he has for the new acts and the passion he has not only for the performance from a dollars perspective but very very clearly the passion he has for the people, and I think that’s what a great coach also has.

PS In a sense Handlin has learnt how to keep, as I learn from my older days working with Doug Mulray, the vibe that goes with an entertainer, but also the professionalism that’s required in the new corporate setting.

JE Yeah, no he definitely has. I mean, the professionalism, the discipline that’s required, the fact that the numbers matter. If you look after the people, the numbers tend to look after themselves.

PS Of course we’re talking to John Eales, but for those people who’ve come from planet Mars and have never heard of John Eales in rugby, he was a great captain of the Australian Wallabies. Now let’s talk about some sporting people we’ve seen lately who’ve had difficulties coping with suspensions from participating at national level. We’re talking of course of the swimmer D’Arcy and there was a bike rider over in Adelaide. Is it difficult to walk away from sport and become a normal person, embrace another part of your life?

JE It’s actually more difficult than what you can anticipate, and no matter how well you prepare I think it is still going to be very challenging. There’s going to be times, and some people take to it better than others, but there’s always going to be times, no matter how well you take to it, that you’re going to get knocked around and say, well, this is a big adjustment that I’ve got to make and we’ve seen a lot of that lately. I think you particularly see it, and I think we’re going to see it in the corporate world now. I mean, in sport you get injured and sometimes you can never play at the same level again. Well people are corporately injured at the moment and they’re going to be taken out of the game for certain periods of time. And how they react in that period, you know, how they either put that on their family and take that within and learn the lesson and move on. I think the biggest thing as a sports person when you’re moving from a career where you’re potentially among the best at whatever it was that you did to another discipline in life where you might even not be the best around the table at what you’re doing, the biggest issue that you have to confront is humility. If you’ve got the humility and you’re prepared to not be particularly good for a while and to learn and to work hard to be better then I think that’s the best resource you can be. But if you’re not and if you expect to pick up where you left off then you’re going to struggle. It relies so much on the support you have around you and I think people that are prepared to tell you how it is, not how you want to hear it, and I know I certainly had a lot of great support around me like that.

PS So what you’re saying there is that even though it might be a tough time and you’ve copped the hit on the chin or losing a job or no longer being able to play sport, you’ve got to be able to confront the brutal truth, like you did, I guess, when you’re a rookie sports person and you’ve either accepted the truth and developed or you walked away from the game?

JE That’s very true. You’ve got to be able to accept the brutal truth, and I think one of the great cases in point in sport at the moment is a guy who actually was told he couldn’t play for two years and has just come back, Wendell Sailor. Now Wendell did the wrong thing; spent his time on the sideline. Two years is a long time when you’re on the wrong side of 30 as a professional sports person. He’s come back now. Left rugby, came back into rugby league, playing with the Dragons, playing exceptionally well, but his attitude I think has been outstanding and a great example to many, many people.

PS
You’ve obviously had to cope with losing the current legend status when you were playing the game. Of course, people still keep calling you “legend” so you can live with that, but dealing with the new things you’ve done. You’ve written books, you’ve created a business coaching organisation. How have you coped with the come down?

JE Oh look, I’ve had my challenges definitely but I think you’ve got to be prepared to make a lot of mistakes. I think the best thing I’ve done is I’ve worked with experts in the different fields I’ve gone into, whether it be like Rob Coombe at BT Financial Group where I joined when I finished. So you’re there with someone who’s been in the industry for many, many years and you can just turn to them and ask them the questions. Or Chris White who’s business partner with International Quarterback or Ian Bass who’s a partner with the Mettle Group, which I started. People like that you can just turn to and they’ve made a lot of the mistakes and as long as you’re prepared to listen, you cannot really take shortcuts but just get a bit of a jump ahead.

PS Yeah. One last question. I’m sure when you were developing your sporting career you created plans and goals and you worked towards them. When you went out of sport and went into your new areas did you do the same things and were you fanatical in learning and developing the skills to make you better at it?

JE I think you have to be and that’s one of the things you can forget. That in sport you are always learning, always trying to get better, and I think that has to be the case in life after sport and it’s a full spectrum. As a dad you try to get better and better. In business you do as well, and now Mettle Group bought by Chandler McLeod, that’s a whole new business that I don’t know an enormous amount about but you have to sort of get in there and learn a bit about it. It probably takes up about 50 per cent of my time so that’s been a great experience as well. Writing’s been another thing that I’ve always enjoyed doing but actually being able to do it to a standard where you are happy for it to go in the Fin Review or you’re happy to put a book out on the shelves, that’s a big step but it’s a step you’ve got to take. You’ve got to be prepared to listen and learn and read your stuff and say, “actually look, that’s not very good, I better start again”.

PS It’s funny. I was just reading a book on happiness and the opening line was “Happiness doesn’t happen by accident, you’ve got to plan for it”. It’s a great point, I think, it applies to all of us in life. John, thanks for joining us on Talking Business. If people want to know what you’re doing is there like a John Eales website that people can go to?

JE There’s probably not one website but I think the business we started is www.mettle.com.au

PS Okay, fantastic. Thanks for joining us on Talking Business.

JE Thanks, Peter.

Talking Business airs on Qantas Inflight Radio. Click here to download complete Talking Business transcripts from the Qantas website.

Published: Monday, June 15, 2009

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