Advisor Insights with Richard McInnes

Advisor Insights

Published 17 November 2022

With an eclectic professional portfolio of more than twenty-five years working across multiple dimensions of sport from grassroots to elite, self-described “pragmatic optimist motivated by challenge,” Richard McInnes has held numerous roles including coach (with multiple World Cup titles under his belt), talent manager, business development manager, and since 2019, CEO of Water Polo Australia. Richard is a

As the pandemic started to unfold in 2020, Richard, along with many other national sporting CEOs, were grappling with situations that had never previously been encountered on such a scale, and not knowing how long it would last. Jamie Parsons, CEO of Badminton Australia, pulled together leaders to form a support group to share ideas, experiences contacts, even staff, and table solutions for each other’s concerns. Initially meeting every week, the group evolved quickly and as such a more formalised structure started to take place with terms of reference (charter) and Richard becoming Chair in mid-2020. Two years on, what is now a peer advisory board aptly named ‘The National Sports Collective’, meets monthly and has become incredibly diverse with members from thirty national sports, including disabilities and all abilities. The group also now acts as an interface for associations such as the Australian Olympic Committee, the Sports Commission, and the Australian Institute of Sport, and vice-versa.

In this Advisor Insights interview with Advisory Board Centre’s Founder and CEO, Louise Broekman, Richard discusses how the board continues to evolve with best practice principles, and the significant role it will play in the future of Australian sport.

The Advisor Insights series are unfiltered conversations giving you a lens into real people and real businesses within the advisor ecosystem.

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Louise Broekman: Welcome to the Advisor Insights Interviews. My name is Louise Broekman, I’m the founder and CEO of the Advisory Board Center, and I’m here with our very special guest and advisory board professional, Richard McInnes. Welcome, Richard.

Richard McInnes: Thanks, Louise. Great to be here.

Louise Broekman: Yeah, I’m very excited about having this conversation today with you, Richard, about talking about your advisory board experience at a sector level. But before we jump into that, I’d love to really just hear and for you to share a bit about your background.

Richard McInnes: Quite a diverse background. Started off as an electrician originally and then a development officer in cricket. And then spent sort of 20 years working in cricket all the way from being a development officer, doing school visits up to being national head coach at the elite level and then progressed into high-performance management roles. Spent some time working obviously within Queensland and within the Australian setup, but then went overseas lots of two years over in Bangladesh sort of setting up cricket programs and coaching over there, which was a very different experience but a really valuable one at the same time. And then within my coaching experience, working across both the men’s program and the women’s program.

So I got to see how the different programs operate and coaching different genders is different, subtle but significant differences in how you go about that. And then coming back from Bangladesh, spent a bit of time in a tech startup and around sport doing, building an Ashley athlete management system.

So that was a completely different environment to work in. And did that for about 18 months in that role, both from a system development point of view and a business development point of view globally. So that was exciting and interesting and learned a lot through that period. And then back into sports, so then in a high-performance management capacity, went into the netball world and was working with one of the professional franchises there and the state body. And from there into a CEO role now with one of our Olympic sports with Water Polo Australia. So a diverse journey and lots of learnings along the way and probably developed a reasonable understanding of the end-to-end sporting sector, I suppose.

Louise Broekman: And it’s interesting looking at the sporting sector, Covid must have had a big impact on the sporting sector. So you established the National Sports Collective as an advisory body for the sports sector. So do you mind just talking through how that actually started?

Richard McInnes: Yeah, so I can’t take the credit for starting it. It was Jamie, Jamie Parsons, who’s the CEO of Badminton. He and I started at a similar time, late 2019 in our roles. And obviously there’s always fairly high turnover in national sporting organization, CEOs for whatever reason. So there was quite a few of us that hadn’t been in the roles for very long. And that was late 2019. And then Covid obviously hit 2020, March, 2020. And Jamie sort of pulled together a group of people, group of CEOs to basically almost as a support group because we were all grappling with the issues that Covid was having on sport in terms of canceling events and whether you can go ahead or not go ahead, and how long is this going to last and what do you do about membership fees that depending on the season, the season of your sport whether you were going to have no membership fees if you’re a winter sport, or whether you had some money in the bank being a summer sport you already had your registrations in.

And so it started off as a support group. And initially we were meeting every week because the thing, the whole thing was evolving so quickly and the group grew. I think there was probably only maybe nine or 10 of us initially were meeting and I wasn’t even one on the first meeting. I think I got looped in on the second meeting. So it was quite organic. And yeah, we were meeting regularly and then as we got towards the end of 2020, we built momentum and we were still meeting regularly and we spoke about, well actually might have actually been a bit later, but we were sort maybe coming out of Covid a little bit, maybe the first couple of periods where we did start think we were coming out of Covid, it wasn’t the case, we went back into it again. But we talked in the group about okay, well what else can we do?

We provided each other with a lot of support and helped each other through. And on the back of that we developed a terms of reference for the group cuz we were really adamant that we wanted to have a bit of a focus. We didn’t want it to be a whinge fest. I think it’s really easy for and it happens in all domains of life, one level band together and whinge about the level above, whether it’s state government, federal government, local council, whether it’s sport, it happens all the time. And we were quite adamant that we wanted to be a problem-solving group, not a militant winging group that we’re just complaining about everything that the boss was doing, if you like. And so we put together terms of reference and essentially everyone had some input into that and we shaped that and put that in place.

And so I sort of took on a role probably mid-2020, mid-2020 where I started to chair the meetings. We had a good piece of software, I suppose called Go, which allowed us to manage and track all our action items and do agendas and it’s a board management software. So I started using that and started chairing the meetings and doing the agendas and working with, putting the call out for agenda items and that sort of evolved. So I’m still doing that and we’ve been meeting every month without fail since we started. We’ve now to 30 of the national sports and national sports for disabilities and all abilities. So we’ve got quite a diverse group now and meeting on a monthly basis. So, and we try and CEOs have changed in that time as well. So as soon as a new CEO gets appointed into a sport, we reach out, invite them in, bring them into group and try and help them get started help them learn some of the lessons that the rest of us stumbled through and discovered by accident. So yeah, that’s where we’re up to. And so we’re well, two and a half years on, we’re still going and it’s continuing to evolve and grow.

Louise Broekman: That’s great Richard. So if we just reflect on that, it started out of an immediate need for peer support and then realizing that you know could be doing more than what it was around the function and you started to formalize it by having a charter through in terms of reference and then nominating you as the chair for those meetings. And so the frequency of the meetings now is still monthly. So in a way, it’s a peer advisory group really, isn’t it? What’s the purpose of the group now and has it actually evolved with regards to the voice fors for the sporting sector?

Richard McInnes: The purpose of it at the moment is to, one is of sharing information. So if we all have to do, we all have policies, HR policies, operating policies, and most of those are quite sport agnostic. It doesn’t matter which sport, it’s the same issue. So we share a lot of information like that. If someone’s looking to build something, they’ll reach out to this group and say, Okay, I need to put this policy together. Does anyone have one? And if no one has it, well then whoever builds it will then share it with everyone else. So there’s a lot of sharing. We act as a group to interface with, whether it’s the AOC or the Sports Commission or a ai, Australian Institute of Sport. So rather than those bodies having to try and get to 30 sports, if they want to talk to us, they’ll come to one of our meetings.

And vice versa, if we have something we want to put forward or put an idea forward or talk about with any of our governing bodies, which is a few we act as that sort of interface as well. And then the other piece we look at is almost from a professional development or an opportunity space. If someone’s come across a company or an organization that’s doing something really well that’s useful for the sporting sector, we’ll invite them in almost not as a sales pitch, but as a come and share what you’re doing. And if people are interested or that’s a value or it’s affordable, then can we do that? And we’re now start, we’re starting to move into, okay, well how can we actually work together for collective good? So all of us as small Olympic sport NSOs, we don’t have massive databases. So commercially it’s hard for us to individually get sponsorship, which we desperately need, but it’s hard to get because we’re small.

But collectively, we’re now talking about, okay, well what if we bundle up five, six sports together and we go to a commercial partner because we can offer them much greater value collectively than we can individually? And so we’re starting to have those conversations now and even around shared services. And historically there’s been a desire to integrate. We operate in a federated model, so you’ve got national body, state bodies, clubs, and we’ve tried to get this vertical integration of shared services, which has not really worked. So now we’re talking about some horizontal integration, I suppose, of shared services that we think might work. So that’s some things we’re exploring at the moment,

Louise Broekman: So it’s almost reaching the next stage now, isn’t it? It’s constantly evolving. And so when we look at best practice for advisory board structures of which this is a peer advisory board structure at a sector level, you have clarity of scope you have around structure and discipline and measurement of impact and then independence and fit for purpose. When we look at the role of your role in particular, Richard, of being one of the CEOs of one of the representative groups, how do you manage potential, the issue around independence and potential areas of conflicts of interest?

Richard McInnes: Yeah, good question. I mean, my role in you sort of said I was appointed chair, I sort of volunteered, I started chairing it and let me keep doing that. So yeah, I sort of see my role is it’s facilitating the conversations and getting input from others about what we will want to talk about. But in terms of the conflict, I don’t know if we’re a decision-making body. So a lot of the conversations we have, it’s trying to be a win-win situation. So there’s not a decision that’ll be made that’ll impact negatively on one group and positively on another. All of the stuff we do around this collaboration and sharing all the aggregated commercial stuff is really opt-in. If you want to be part of it, you’re in. If you don’t, that’s okay. No, no harm, no foul, there’s no, yeah. So I don’t sense, we haven’t had to manage a conflict yet where if we make a decision a certain way I’m going to get advantaged over someone else.

I think as we evolve into this aggregated commercial space, we might, because a particular sponsor, for example, a potential partner may wish to engage with a certain group of sports or a certain location. There might be an East coast focused or a West coast focus. And so therefore only sports that have a presence there can be part of that. So that’s probably one that will have to manage going forward and we’ll need to be careful there. I think the way we are talking about potentially managing that is that we might engage a third party to do those, have those discussions. So I wouldn’t be leading that discussion with potential partners that would be a third party when we will tip in a few dollars and it helps to fund someone to go and do the procurement process for a commercial partner. But that’s one of the discussions we have to have about, okay, what does that look like?

Louise Broekman: And I guess it moves on it, it becomes more formalized and mature over time as well. But I think it’s fascinating to see the evolution of the advisory bodies at a sector level and the journey of when it, it matures in the market. When we are looking at sector-based peer discussion groups when we’re looking at collaboration for 2023, the things that are coming up for new pressure points in the market. It’s a really interesting approach where competitors collaborate together. Have you got any tips in Richard as a close-off to other sectors where they may be seen as competing that they can actually collaborate and use this type of model?

Richard McInnes: And sports have been a great example of that because there are so many at times we compete but it’s actually pretty rare between sports because we’re different sports, so we don’t actually compete against each other on the field of play. The way a lot of our funding, our high-performance funding has been provided historically has created some competitive tension because essentially there is one bucket of money that gets carved up and your ability to put your case forward. That’s the competitive piece. But there are more elements of operations where we’re not competing <affirmative> and it, it’s like a big organization that has lots of departments, if they operate in silos, they’re very inefficient. And I see that that’s the sporting sector we’re, there’s a lot of commonality, there’s a lot of stuff that is exactly the same, doesn’t matter which logos on top of it and we’re not competing on those things. And I think the ability for the leaders to realize that they’re not competing on the majority of things they do and in the areas where we do compete well that’s okay, well then you do that. But they’re few and far as I can tell, they’re few and far between where we actually are competing for something.

And equally, when we talk about the bucket of money, that is the bit we have historically competed over. If we collaborate and work together, we might be able to make that bucket bigger so everybody wins. And I suppose that’s a little bit of the competitive tension and it’s work we are doing at the moment with the Sports Commission and the AOC as to how we work together to present a better case to commercial partners, to government around the value of the sporting sector <affirmative>, because it’s quite significant to the Australian culture. There’s about 13 million, 13 and a half million people are involved in Olympic sports in some way, shape, or form. Now that’s a big chunk of the Australian population.

Louise Broekman: Absolutely, and it’s exciting to see that collaboration at a sector level too and how it’s changed from the immediate need to support each other and seeing the value of that. Richard I thank you for being part of the advisory board community and look forward to continuing to watch this space and support you as we can. But thank you so much for sharing this journey. I look forward to getting the next edition.

Richard McInnes: Yes, thank you. Appreciate the opportunity and thanks for the help.