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Might and power

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There’s no feeling quite like arriving at Flemington Racecourse during the Melbourne Cup Carnival. International celebrities, corporate sponsors, media heavyweights, equine superstars and fashion’s frontrow have gathered trackside to be a part of what is best described as a spectacular.

Of course, in the thoroughbred industry the ‘race that stops the nation’ has always been a big deal, but who could have imagined the four-day carnival would bring an estimated $495m to Victoria’s coffers and $16m into the retail fashion industry. Today, across the globe it is seen as a model for big event corporate tourism.

Leader of the pack

One might say the Victoria Racing Club’s (VRC) Deputy CEO, Sue Lloyd-Williams, is a good judge of the zeitgeist. When she started at the VRC in a marketing role in 1979, the annual report didn't carry a single line on marketing, let alone the $30m revenue that accompanies it today. What’s more, there was no formal marketing department.

“My initial challenge was to introduce event marketing to racing, in particular the Melbourne Cup Carnival, through the concept of marquees and corporate hospitality,” says Ms Lloyd-Williams. “At times, achieving commercially seemed against the odds. We had the VRC’s traditions and values to consider and sports marketing did not emerge until the ’80s and women were definitely not encouraged to pursue this field.”

Recognising the need to market to women, Ms Lloyd-Williams began unashamedly promoting fashion as a vehicle and reintroduced ‘Fashions on the Field’ with unprecedented success along with initiating major promotions including the Cup Eve ‘Parade of Champions’ (the world’s biggest major city street parade of horses), all of which put racing in the public spotlight. In the late ’80s she took over selling the television rights and today, the Melbourne Cup boasts a worldwide television audience of more than 700 million people in 120 countries.

This impressive effort earned Ms Lloyd-Williams international recognition as one of Australia’s foremost ‘big event’ administrators, a tag she believes she earned through staying persistent and strong.

“As a female sports administrator, to have attained the highest position in racing in the country is a major achievement for me professionally, and one that has required a lot of persistence,” she says.

“The breakthrough was recognising that while I had a flair for the industry, success would only come from hard work and a strong sense of purpose.” 

Living the dream

The challenges are ever present in the racing industry as was evidenced with the recent equine influenza (EI) crisis in New South Wales and Queensland. Had EI spread to Victoria for their spring carnival the results would have been catastrophic. Ms Lloyd-Williams believes “passion is a lifestyle” and credits those very challenges with keeping her focused and motivated.

“The development of the Club’s new multi million-dollar grandstand development in 2000 saw the club’s membership double in a short period of time. This had a major impact on the culture of the club, its business structure, and its approach to cultivating its members and business partners,” says Ms Lloyd-Williams. “It was a time of great organisational change. It also greatly impacted on our approach to developing future revenue for the club, with non-raceday events becoming a significant area of additional business for the club. It propelled the VRC firmly into the international spotlight.”

If Ms Lloyd-Williams seems to shy away from tales of struggle it may be because she was bred to be fearless. Her mother, a successful businesswoman who also sat on the bench in the Magistrates Court for many years, instilled in her a ‘you can do anything attitude’.

Her early mentor, Ken Cox, Hon Treasurer for VRC during the early ’80’s encouraged her to back my own judgement and to believe in herself. Added to that, she admits she has the first-class posting.

“I definitely have the dream job. My role is constantly evolving – it offers enormous scope and opportunity to work at both a national and international level, across a diverse range of networks that are unique to any other profession,” she says.

“Business leaders, government bodies, retail heads, fashion designers, hoteliers, tourism operators, racehorse owners, trainers and jockeys – tell me where you can interact on such a scale each day!”

The iron lady

Such excitement, brings a frenetic pace where extremely long hours, weekends and evenings can fast become ‘normal’ business hours. “The challenge is not to blur the line between my professional and private lives.  While I advocate the need for a balance between business and home life, I have not always practiced what I preach, but I’m working on this one,” she says.

“I have been extremely fortunate to find the perfect partner, someone who has the same outlook on life, is very people orientated and loves to socialise. He understands the social pressures required outside of business hours.”

A racehorse owner, a keen and constantly improving golfer and an avid traveller, Ms Lloyd-Williams’ advice to other women is to work hard, remain grounded and achieve a sense of balance.

“Women possess unique attributes and skills that add enormous value to their respective industries. I believe we have an ability to be multi-skilled and work simultaneously on a variety of projects, which in turn stimulates us to be hard working and dedicated to being high achievers,” she says.

“Retaining this femininity is important to ensuring you don’t lose sight of who you are.”

For inspiration she looks to Margaret Thatcher during her time as Prime Minister. “She proved that nothing is more effective than willpower coupled with clear, workable ideas. People across the world closely studied her methods and achievements and looked to imitate them. She was known to possess great courage, loyalty and perseverance and she maintained these values, in the face of sometimes spectacular opposition,” she says.

“As Thatcher once said: “Power is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren't.’”

Published on: Wednesday, June 24, 2009

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