02/12/2016 - 10:48

CEO lunch with Christina Matthews

02/12/2016 - 10:48

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With the cricket season upon us, Business News sat down to lunch at Julio’s with the former Australian cricketer and CEO of the WACA, Christina Matthews.

CEO lunch with Christina Matthews
WACA chief executive Christina Matthews. Photo: Attila Csaszar

With the cricket season upon us, Business News sat down to lunch at Julio’s with the former Australian cricketer and CEO of the WACA, Christina Matthews.

Christina Matthews is (unashamedly) not a typical CEO. She has no MBA or university degree, instead learning her organisational and people skills through years of sports administration and playing a team sport at the highest level.

There were few leadership opportunities during her school years, however.

“I was sporty at school, but I went to a public school and there were no organised teams so I couldn’t be captain or anything,” Ms Matthews told Business News.

“I think I played in a hockey team for about five minutes, as I was very little. My mum came to see and said ‘you’re not playing that anymore – look at the size of them’.”

It did not bother the young Victorian girl. She played or watched sports with friends all year round, and loved footy (Fitzroy, now the Brisbane Lions, is her team) and cricket.

Ms Matthews’ father, a painter and decorator, was from Scotland and played soccer as a goalkeeper. Clearly his skills as a goalie were transferred to her daughter, who would go on to become a Test wicket keeper and hold the record for most dismissals by an Australian.

Both Ms Matthews’ parents loved sport, and they and most of her siblings became involved in sports administration in one way or another.

“There happened to be a women’s team playing (cricket) at the bottom of my street, which got me playing from aged 12,” Ms Matthews said.

“I loved the game. At aged 16, I was talent-spotted and played at the top grade.”

On leaving school, Ms Matthews was representing Victoria U-21s, so she took a secretarial job that would allow her to play as much cricket as possible.

National honours

Ms Matthews achieved her goal of playing for Australia after the second year with Victoria. A Test tour to India was scheduled but many of the more experienced players did not want to go. In those days, players had to pay their own way. This gave a new set of young players an opportunity, and was also the start of a more regular series of games, which gave Ms Matthews a chance to cement her place over a long period.

“I was never the greatest player, but I contributed to team morale a lot. I organised team outings, looked after new players, so I stood out a bit,” Ms Matthews said.

“I made that my difference. If I ever was going to be dropped, selectors had to realise what they might miss, that extra team dimension I tried to give.”

She went on to play for 11 years, and is still Australia’s most capped female Test player (20), as well as playing in 47 one-day internationals.

“The first half of my test career I was hanging on, but after that I was probably worth my place,” Ms Matthews said.

“The first time we were paid was on a trip to England, the grand total of £2 a day. We pooled our money together so we could buy a Big Mac.”

By the end of her career, Ms Matthews calculates she would have spent upwards of $30,000 playing for Australia.

“My education is all from experience,” she said.

“I volunteered for sports admin roles from age 14 right through to when I stopped playing cricket, aged 42. This taught me how to work with people, how to set up structures and get things done.”

As her playing career was nearing an end, Ms Matthews took on a role as a coaching and development manager in Women’s Cricket Australia. Participation in women’s cricket grew from 5,000 to 50,000 during this period, from 1991-1999. After this, she knew she had to get into the men’s game if she was to progress any further in a career sense.

Moving into management

Ms Matthews became general manager of her local district cricket club, which included organising an ING one-day game which made the club $45,000.

“I knew that if this one-day game failed, the club would be gone,” she said. “So it was stressful. But it showed us that we could do something pretty special.”

After this success, she became events and supporter clubs coordinator of Cricket NSW, and built a reputation as a good operator who got things done, moving on to be the general manager in 2005.

“Up to this point, they knew me as a cricketer, but nothing more,” Ms Matthews said.

“They realised I could put things together and work with sponsors. A few years later I was asked to apply for the GM position.”

There’d never been a female GM of the NSW cricket association before.

“I was a bit timid about being ‘the one’,” Ms Matthews told Business News.

“Once I switched in my head that I did not have to do it the way the previous man had done it, it just felt right.”

It was the same with the WACA CEO position.

“CEO positions in cricket rarely come along,” Ms Matthews said.

“The punt was whether they (the WACA board) would look at a woman at all. It was probably the hardest I have worked in preparing for an interview, but I wanted to know I’d given it my very best shot.”

This was as true in the boardroom as it was during her playing career – as the hardest trainer in the team, she wanted to know that, if she failed, there was nothing more she could have done.

WACA challenges

The biggest initial challenge for her time at the WACA was making a strong value proposition for the members and she recalls, upon seeing the members’ area for the first time, asking how it differed from the public area.

“In comparison to the SCG or Victoria, there seemed to nothing that suggested this was a special place,” Ms Matthews said.

“It was all drab and grey.”

By the time she took over, finances were solid and Ms Matthews focused on improving facilities, working with all major teams and getting the strategic plan in place.

The game was going through rapid change. Asset management became important and T20 (and then the Big Bash League) gained prominence.

“When we were not awarded a Test match in 2014, it was a real message that our ground was not good enough,” Ms Matthews said. “This made the Perth Stadium a live issue.”

With marquee Test matches and T20 games moving to the new stadium in 2018, moves are afoot to have a WAFL ‘game of the round’ played at the WACA Ground during the winter months.

“Our research shows us that people hold the WACA Ground very dear, but they are not wedded to what is actually played there,” Ms Matthews said.

Career advice

“You have to be passionate in what your career is,” Ms Matthews said. “If you are only focused on making money, it will not make you happy.”

Another of her strongly held views is the belief that sport is counter-recessionary.

“I think in tougher economic times, people turn to sport more,” she said.

“Corporate hospitality may be tougher, but interest in the game rises. We suffered a little during the mining boom as it consumed the state. Now, there seems to be a better balance.”

Ms Matthews is also busy on various boards such as the Bradman Foundation, the WA Sports Federation and she is chair of the Department of Sports and Recreations’ Champions of Change. She also encourages her 80 staff members to help in charitable works.

Women in leadership

“If the US election told us one thing, it told us we have a long way to go with gender equality,” Ms Matthews said.

“There is no way, if she (Hillary Clinton) was a man, with exactly the same background and qualifications, she would not have won by a country mile. She was even criticised for standing by Bill Clinton and his affairs.

“It’s ok to elect someone who has affairs, but not a woman who stands by her husband who has affairs? The world’s gone mad.

“You understand why there are fewer women leaders, as it is hard to get there – and when you get there you don’t get judged the same way.”

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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